Of shells, scales and dandelions

Just because they carry their homes around on their backs doesn't mean that they don't need a roof over their heads.

While not native to Carson Valley, three new native Carson Valley desert tortoises hatched at East Valley resident Jennifer Hinnant's house.

"Another one popped out last night," Hinnant said on Monday. "We now have three babies. They've just popped out."

Flutter, Princess and Bobafett broke out of their shells over the past few days, most recently Sunday night. Each of the tiny reptiles is 2 inches long.

"This morning's model still has some egg sack attached to him," she said. "They're not officially eating yet."

A nurse, Hinnant has been caring for desert tortoises since she arrived here in 1995.

The family has set up a tortoise run for the seven adults they own.

"When we adopted them 13 years ago, we were told they had a long incubation period during which they had to have 80-plus degree temperatures," Hinnant said. "We never even gave it a second thought. We never looked for babies until last year."

That's not to say the tortoises didn't lay eggs.

"We've seen them lay the eggs," she said. "But they cover them up and by the passing eye, you could never see where the nest is."

Last year, Hinnant spotted a dead baby tortoise in mid-November.

"We were walking around outside setting up a horse shelter, and I happened to find a dead baby, who dug himself into a burrow," she said. "We did a search of the pen and found three eggs."

It turns out one of the best places to find out how to care for the hatchlings was at the University of Nevada, Reno.

"The graduate students walked me through what we needed to do for the babies, set up for the lights," she said. "They ended up being a gold mine of information."

The family kept the resulting tortoises inside during the winter, and they've now grown to 4 inches long.

"We have a special area in a terrarium where we're keeping them awake under a heat lamp," she said.

This year, though something else found the eggs first.

"I came out and found the eggs on the ground," she said. "A kangaroo rat or some sort of rodent dug up the nest. We sorted through the eggs and kept the ones that felt like they might be viable."

In all the Hinnants removed 15 tortoise eggs from the clutch, so there may be more on the way.

The family's seven adult tortoises live outside during the warm months.

"We have a special fenced grazing area for them," she said. "It's a long run that's covered so crows and ravens can't get to them, but sunlight can still get through."

When the weather cools off, they bring the tortoises, who are estimated to be 40-60 years old, inside where they hibernate through the winter.

"When it starts getting below 45 degrees, they start slowing down, and stop eating," Hinnant said.

They fill up a bathtub with electrolyte solution, and give the animals a soak.

"Then we dry them off, and tuck them into plastic boxes with some newspaper," she said. "We don't hear a peep from them until April.

The tortoises generally are up and around by the end of May, where they eat clover, alfalfa, California poppies, dandelions and their favorite treat, rose petals.

"We have a hard time growing dandelions," Hinnant said. "Sometimes I'll pick the dandelion puffs out of people's yards to bring them home."

Hinnants said she and her husband Jamie are long-time reptile fans.

"My husband and I have always been herpetology people," she said. "I always owned snakes when I was younger. I guess coming together was a blessing for us."

She said watching the tortoises, which can live to be a century old, was both entertainment and education for her three children, Koby, 10, Kyla, 8, and Leonna, 4.

"It's been a fantastic experience," she said. "The kids get to grow up watching our state reptile. I tell them, 'Hope you don't mind, but you're going to be raising these when all said and done.'"


















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