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Totally terrapins

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 1:57 p.m. CST
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(Doug Oleson - doleson@shawmedia.com)
Nolan and J.T. Littlefair of Kingston get to know Hercules the tortoise at the Midwest Museum of Natural History on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013.
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(Doug Oleson - doleson@shawmedia.com)
Josephine Jordan, 2, of Sycamore pats a turtle named Twitch at the Midwest Museum of Natural History on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013.
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(Doug Oleson - doleson@shawmedia.com)
Museum educator Heather Williams shows off a tortoise named Twitch at the Midwest Museum of Natural History on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013.
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(Doug Oleson - doleson@shawmedia.com)
Jenna and Aleena Vogel of DeKalb check out a turtle named Jill at the Midwest Museum of Natural History on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013.

SYCAMORE — Aleena Vogel, 5, of DeKalb likes turtles “because they’re calm.” Mallorie Pigott, 7, likes them “because they’re fun.”

Turtle and tortoise lovers of all kinds attended “Totally Turtles” at the Midwest Museum of Natural History last Saturday. During the program, the audience, composed mainly of preschool and elementary students, learned a lot about both reptiles.

According to museum educator Heather Williams, the main difference between the two is that the tortoise is more of a land dweller while the turtle spends most of  his time in the water. A sea turtle, she said, can spend as much as two hours underwater at a time before it has to emerge for air.

Probably the most famous tortoise at the museum is Hercules, a 10-year-old sulcata tortoise who weighs about 30 pounds. “He’s getting heavy to carry now,” Williams said. He could live to be 50 years old and weigh as much as 100 pounds. “He’s a native of Africa, so you won’t see him walking around Illinois.”

The largest known tortoise of Hercules’ species got up to 236 pounds. The largest known tortoise was eight feet long and the oldest lived to be 188 years old.

Williams said another museum tortoise, Jill, has a tendency to hide one of her legs so people think she’s only got three. “She’s crazy,” she said.

Although the visitors were allowed to pet the tortoises’ shells and sides, intern Angie Buesse asked that no one touch their heads, because they don’t like it and it can sometimes set them off.

Williams noted that turtles and tortoises can’t get out of their shells because they are connected to their spines.

According to executive director Molly Trickey, the museum houses more than 20 reptiles and amphibians, including six turtles. “Guests are often surprised at what it takes to properly care for a turtle,” she said. “They make wonderful pets, but you’ve got to be willing to be in for the long haul. Many turtle species sold in pet stores have the potential to live 50-100 years.”

The museum’s next live animal program, “Big Run Wolf Ranch,” will be held from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 16. A live wolf, coyote, groundhog, skunk and porcupine will be featured.

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