SALADO — Sunday afternoon patrons of the Barrow Brewing Co. in Salado learned a few things about raising tortoises, and all of the children got to go up and handle the live tortoises on exhibit.
Mark Heinrich, a semi-retired veterinarian, and his son Kaleb Heinrich, a college biology professor, focused on the effect of supplemental heat on captive African leopard tortoises and spurred tortoises. Their presentation was part of Barrow’s summer lecture series.
Kaleb Heinrich said that as a kid in Carlsbad, N.M., he grew up with tortoises.
“I slowly saw my backyard disappearing,” he said. “We kept getting more and more tortoises.”
His father said he’s been raising tortoises for about 30 years.
“They are readily available to be kept as pets,” Mark Heinrich said. “It’s a good idea to do some research before you buy one. There’s a lot of good information out there now.”
He recommended finding a turtle whose natural habitat is similar to the one the buyer lives in. The spurred tortoise lives primarily in the Sahara desert, he said, but the leopard tortoise can be found from the Sahara to the Cape of Good Hope, and thereby offers more flexibility in adaptation.
It’s common for tortoises to grow abnormally in captivity, he said. A prime example is carapacial pyramiding, where the shell becomes noticeably convex. The Heinrichs ran a two-year study to see if they could figure out why.
Kaleb Heinrich said the leading hypothesis was that pyramiding was caused by higher humidity in the captivity environment. They took 60 hatchlings of both the leopard and the spurred species, and controlled diet and humidity. When they took the tortoises inside for the night, they put one group on heat pads, a normal practice in captivity. But they left the other group without heat pads, which would be more like the typical African night.
At the end of the two years, they found the heat pad group grew faster, but it also demonstrated carapacial pyramiding.
Dave Null of Georgetown said he and his wife, Tammy, just happened to drop by. They don’t have turtles, but Tammy Null, being a former science teacher, went up and asked the Heinrichs about their study.
Tim Cole of Georgetown said he had a few turtles, and that his girlfriend, Deb Sydney, has a lot more. She lets her tortoises graze on grass, and supplements their diet with hay and green vegetables, she said.
“They have great personalities,” she said. “They recognize people. They learn their names.”
Studies have shown that turtles in the nest might be able to communicate with each other, she said.
“They make great pets,” she said. “They don’t make noise. They don’t have allergies.”