By Karen Carmody-McIntosh
No, that’s not the title of a new children’s book in our Kerlan Collection. Leonard is a real turtle — a yellow-bellied slider, to be specific — and she lives at the U of M’s Natural Resources Library.
Well, she used to live at the library. She can’t stay there anymore now that our buildings are closed due to COVID-19.
On March 17, Mark Desrosiers, Operations Manager of the St. Paul campus libraries, emailed University Libraries staff to ask an important question: ”Does anyone out there have a freshwater habitat and the ability to temporarily care for a wonderful turtle?”
How Leonard got her name
You may be wondering how a turtle ended up at a library in the first place. It was simple, really. Leonard first belonged to a librarian’s daughter. When the librarian’s daughter couldn’t be Leonard’s caretaker anymore, the Natural Resources Library adopted her.
According to Desrosiers, Leonard was named by her first human — a daughter of a staff member — “who like her father is a huge fan of Spock and Leonard Nimoy.” Desrosiers said that it’s likely the daughter assumed Leonard was a male, as sexing a juvenile turtle is notoriously difficult for non-experts.
When the Natural Resources Library adopted Leonard, they had her examined by a veterinarian, who determined that Leonard is a female.
“Since she’d already had the name Leonard for four years, none of us felt we had the arrogance or even the right to change it just because of her sex,” Derosiers added.
Finding Leonard’s foster home
Desrosiers kept on advocating for Leonard while searching for her foster home. In the meantime, another Libraries staff member from the St. Paul campus volunteered to be Leonard’s temporary caregiver. She moved the turtle into her apartment, where she had a small fresh-water tank ready and waiting. Librarian Shannon Farrell stored Leonard’s usual habitat, a 75-gallon aquarium, at her home.
Last week, after some careful deliberation, Librarian Jan Fransen volunteered to adopt Leonard while the library is closed. Fransen decided it would work because her house had enough space for Leonard’s extra large habitat. And fortunately her husband, Carl Stover, has plenty of experience with freshwater aquariums.
“I’ve been keeping fish in aquariums since I was a kid, and I cared for a snapping turtle when I was in grad school for a while,” said Stover. He’s already following good procedures for turtle care — monitoring water quality and changing the water to keep down the concentration of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates.
So far, Leonard seems happy with her foster home. According to Fransen and Stover, she hasn’t bitten them yet. And she especially likes hanging out under the heat lamp. They are already thinking about making some modifications to her basking platform, perhaps to make it larger.
“Apparently, she’s grown quite a bit since the Natural Resources Library has had her,” Fransen said. “There may be a DIY basking platform in our future. I’ve already been researching it.”
Life with a wonderful turtle
When welcoming a new animal companion into the home, there can be an adjustment period. Fransen reported that she and Stover are adapting very well.
“Carl has been talking about an aquarium ever since we moved into this house a year ago,” she said. “And now I know what it’s like to have a very large aquarium in our sunroom!”
As for Leonard, “she seems very comfortable with social distancing,” Fransen said. She even has an Instagram account — @hardcoverleonard — so she can connect with her fans in an online environment while #WorkingFromHome.
Thank you to the U of M’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, and veterinarian Dr. Felicia Duke, DVM, who provided guidance for Leonard’s care and wellbeing during this transition.