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Embrace Your Inner Tortoise (and Maybe Save the Planet)

3 toed box turtle
Bruce, a 3-toed box turtle, lived in various places both wild and captive before our paths crossed. I knew right away that he was very hungry and scared and in need of a forever home, which he now has with us.

A fellow tortoise-loving friend sent me an article with the most fantastic title: “We are all tortoises.”

YES, I thought. Finally someone who truly understands me.

But as I started reading, I got very sad.

Our planet is dying. So are the tortoises who live here. So are we.

Here, I don’t mean eventually or inevitably. I mean consciously and continuously.

For instance, did you know that as our ecosystem gets increasingly warmer, this affects whether newborn turtles are born male or female? Without going into too many specifics, too warm and you get a clutch full of girls. Too cool, and every egg hatches out a boy.

This isn’t just true of turtles, either. All cold-blooded species (fish, lizards, et al) are temperature and environment-sensitive genetically.

Unlike my redfoot tortoise, Malti, and my 3-toed box turtle, Bruce, I have warm blood. So does my soul bird, my 20-year-old cockatiel, Pearl.

But the fate of the cold-blooded amongst us deeply affects us all, whether it is within the confines of our little flock or out in this greater round blue world we share together.

Here is something else I find interesting that you might find interesting as well.

I realize that my kind is doing some very bad things to warm up the planet rather too quickly. I also believe the planet is warming up on its own and likely would be anyway even if we weren’t here.

As proof, I submit the following: Climatologists tell us there are times in our distant past that were much hotter than what it is right now. We also have proof (sorry, dinosaurs) that our planet has previously been much colder.

So yes, this whole global warming thing is our fault. And no, it isn’t our fault.

Either way, we can still do something – lots of things – to help.

I would like to propose we start by each embracing our inner tortoise, just like the article encourages us to do.

We all have one (you know you do).

No matter how extroverted and people-loving or life-loving or even animal-loving you are, we all have that moment when we just need a break already – the moment our invisible shell was quite literally made for. I use mine on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis even today, and I truly believe it saved my life during the years I was struggling so hard to survive an eating disorder, depression and anxiety.

redfooted tortoise
Just looking into Malti’s deep brown eyes is like looking into the soul of the planet itself.

Speaking of shells, I have spent the last four years caring for not one but two cold-blooded beings with visible shells on their backs. And let me tell you – it hasn’t been easy, not for one second. Everything about their needs often feels backwards from my own for one simple reason: blood temperature.

Can you imagine walking outside into 100+ degree weather (something we get regularly here in Texas where my little flock lives) and having your body instantly heat up to 100 degrees? How about 105 degrees? 110 degrees? Higher?

What would it be like to walk outside in the winter, wearing only the protection evolution gave you, into freezing or even sub-freezing temperatures and feel your body instantly adjusting down, down, down, until you couldn’t feel or move your feet?

This is the life my small shelled family members signed up for when they pipped their shells and popped their (adorably cute) little turtle heads out for the first time to take a look around. If it is hot, they are hot. If it is cold, they are cold.

And they do have some inbuilt tools to help survive and self-regulate. For example, I just found out baby turtles can actually move about inside their eggs to find cool or warm spots, thus influencing their own gender at birth to some degree. Smart!

I can attest to the fact that tortoises and turtles often stay buried in the earth for hours and days at a time  after they hatch. They will then continue to seek out these same hiding places throughout life to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. Again, smart!

So they can do a lot to help themselves survive both our impact on the planet and the underlying warming cycle our planet appears to be in that we have nothing to do with.

They just need a little help from us along the way to do it.

In caring for Malti and Bruce, the one thing I have learned that has perhaps surprised me the most is this: despite our vastly different blood temperatures and biochemistry, we are actually much more alike than we are different in almost every other way.

For instance, they know who their friends are just like I do. Both of my turtles recognize me, my parents, Pearl and our dachshund, Flash Gordon. They can beg like champs for food and anything else they want. They are smart, curious, creative about getting their needs met and wildly inventive about getting their wants met. They respond to kindness and love in very similar ways to how Pearl and I respond.

dad with pearl cockatiel
My dad (and mom) with their favorite feathery flock member, Pearl.

Each turtle is incredibly unique in their personality, mannerisms, preferences and daily habits. If you have ever wondered what your own pet dog, cat, bird, turtle, snake, et al, would be like if they were suddenly turned into a person, you already understand exactly what I’m talking about here (and if you don’t, watch an adorable little movie called “Unleashed” and all your questions will be answered).

The other day my dad looked at Pearl and said to me, “He’s just a little person with feathers.”

Yes he is. Malti and Bruce are just little people with shells. Flash Gordon is just a little person with fur. I am just a, well, big person with no feathers or fur or shell but still a person nonetheless.

Somehow, I truly believe the more we embrace our inner tortoise, our inner parrot, our inner dog, our inner cat, our inner cold-blooded self and our inner warm-blooded self, the more natural it will be to start the process of healing our planet for all of us, one precious life at a time.

With great respect & love,


Embrace Your Inner Tortoise (and Maybe Save the Planet)

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Songwriter. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). Embrace Your Inner Tortoise (and Maybe Save the Planet). Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Sep 2019
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