turtles even die slowly -- 1/10/24

Today's selection -- from Of Time and Turtles: Mending the World, Shell by Shattered Shell by Sy Montgomery. Turtles live slowly, breathe slowly, and even die slowly:

“Everything takes a long time for a turtle.

“They live slowly. They breathe slowly. (In cold water, an olive ridley sea turtle can hold its breath for seven hours.) Their hearts beat slowly. (The heart of a red-eared slider can slow to one beat per minute.) During the turtle summit, we were astonished to learn how slowly the patients here react to drugs. Many analgesics are useless, because a painkiller that would work on a mammal in seconds or minutes could take hours or even days to take effect on a turtle.

Turtles from different families; clockwise from top-left: Red-bellied short-necked turtle, Indian flapshell turtle, Hawksbill sea turtle, and Galápagos tortoise

“Turtles also die slowly— so slowly that The Turtle Hub, a website advising turtle owners on proper care, includes a video titled “How to Tell If Your Turtle Is Dead.” Turtle’s bodies are so different from ours that we can’t judge the difference between life and death by mammalian standards: A 1957 newspaper article recounts that the heart of an alligator snapping turtle caught by a college student in Mariana, Florida, kept beating for five days after the turtle was decapitated. In laboratory experiments, even when completely deprived of oxygen, the brains of sliders can continue to function for days. For reasons like this, at Turtle Rescue League, Alexxia and Natasha never declare a turtle dead until rigor mortis sets in and/or they detect the smell of decomposition. Until then, because of turtles’ amazing healing powers, there is always hope. ‘We never give up on a turtle,’ Alexxia repeats.

“But, while they heal remarkably, turtles heal slowly. ‘It takes time, but that’s what we can give them,’ says Natasha. ‘Time is what turtles have.’”

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Sy Montgomery


Of Time and Turtles: Mending the World, Shell by Shattered Shell


Mariner Books


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