Nfld. & Labrador

Lost turtle survives winter to be reunited with owner 10 months later

Mikey — as her owners call her — has always been a little mischievous, but she pulled one of her greatest stunts yet this winter.

Turtle expert says it's impressive, but not impossible

Mikey the turtle is back at home after getting lost 10 months ago. (Submitted by Hailey Pudan)

A red-eared slider turtle that is more at home under the blistering hot Florida sun than in Newfoundland's foggy, wet weather was able to survive one of the province's harshest winters, while being lost for nearly a year.

Mikey — as her owners call her — has always been a little mischievous but she has pulled one of her greatest stunts yet.

After escaping her cage on a warm day last August, she was recently reunited with her family.

"It's a miracle that Mikey is alive," said Hailey Pudan, Mikey's owner. "I guess you can say [she's] a survivor."

All started with a nap

The rescue turtle was brought to Newfoundland at the end of July after Pudan and her daughter made the trek from Ontario to their new home in Carbonear. 

Pudan, who was travelling to the province with a number of animals, was exhausted after putting all her pets away in their new homes and went down for a nap. 

When she went out to check on her turtles, who had been sunbathing in their cage, she noticed Mikey was gone.

The three rescue turtles are pictured just before their move from Ontario to Newfoundland. (Submitted by Hailey Pudan)

That scenario wasn't totally out of the ordinary, as the turtle often buries herself in flower pots around Pudan's home. But after putting up some flyers and speaking with neighbours Pudan and her daughter still couldn't find Mikey.

"It was such a heartbreak.… Coming to Newfoundland, we lost the turtle," said Pudan. "We were both crying, we were so upset and in shock."

A welcomed tip 

Pudan said as she was asking people if they'd seen Mikey, she kept hearing about a Facebook page called NL Lost Pets Network, an online group for people who are searching for missing animals. 

She was skeptical at first but in January she decided to give it a shot and soon received a tip about a turtle in a pond located close to her home.  

The turtle was underwater, hibernating. 

"We were all excited as could be, but it's the middle of winter. At least we knew the turtle went somewhere, but now what?"

Then January's historic blizzard hit. 

Pudan said both she and her daughter were becoming less and less hopeful that Mikey would stay alive as the winter got worse, but in April, they received a message that a turtle had resurfaced and had been picked up.

Mikey sunbathes with her brother Donney and another rescue turtle. (Submitted by Hailey Pudan)

Pudan said being in the middle of a global pandemic made getting Mikey even harder but on June 18, more than 10 months after Mikey went missing, they were able to bring their turtle back home.

"We go to the house and, yep, there's Mikey sitting on a rock. They walked right up to Mikey, picked her up and brought her home," she said.

"I was just like, 'Holy smokes, buddy, you made it.' I was so thankful, I was so appreciative of the people who gave their little input as to where Mikey might be."

Pudan said although she's alive, Mikey has suffered infections to her eyes and is being treated.

Impressive but not impossible

Sean Boyle, a postdoctoral researcher at Memorial University who studied reptiles while getting his PhD, said Mikey's story is "really interesting."

There are no native turtles on the island, said Boyle, so there's not much evidence to go on, but that doesn't mean turtles can't survive in cold winter conditions. 

He said the turtle could have burrowed into the mud at the bottom of the pond, where the water doesn't freeze and gone into a period of dormancy called brumation, where the turtle's metabolism slows. It doesn't eat or really even use oxygen.

"The reason it's able to adapt to other places is because during the winter, no matter how cold it is outside, the water underneath the ice layer will hover just above zero. It will be that temperature almost no matter where you are." 

As for the blizzard, Boyle said it likely did not have much of an impact on Mikey.

Boyle said red-eared slider turtles have become common pets across the world, but with an life expectancy of up to 80 years, they are increasingly being released into the wild, making them an invasive species.

"Having a turtle as a pet is a very, very long-term commitment. I think a lot of people don't recognize that fact when they get a turtle," he said. 

'A lifetime commitment'

That's why Pudan said she rescued Mikey and her brother Donney in the first place — someone didn't want them anymore. 

Donney died while Mikey was away, and Pudan believes it was due to a broken heart.

Pudan said it's a "lifetime commitment" to take care of a turtle, which was something both she and her daughter signed up for. She said they don't have close relatives and considered the turtles a part of their family. 

"Since [my daughter] was a toddler, I would teach her, let's help somebody, let's help something," she said.

"So we would always pick up an animal or two that were in need of a home and we would promise to take care of them right up until the end."

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About the Author

Meg Roberts is a video journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in St. John's. Email her at meg.roberts@cbc.ca.

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