CURWOOD: The state of Maine is famous for its lobster and its moose, but not necessarily for its turtles. But at least one turtle is making a name for himself in Maine. His name is Moe. And like countless other pet turtles, he was purchased in a department store in the 1960s. But unlike most of his fellow reptiles, Moe has survived for almost 40 years now. Maine Public Radio's Matthew Algeo visited Moe and his owner in Portland.
ALGEO: Every night Michael Lotfey feeds his pet turtle Moe.
LOTFEY: It'll last in his bowl about 14 seconds.
ALGEO: Lotfey has been feeding Moe for a long time, 36 years to be exact. Lotfey was six years old when he bought Moe and another red-eared slider turtle named Minnie at a W.T. Grant store in 1965. Minnie was dead within weeks, but Moe is still kicking -- or crawling, as the case may be.
LOTFEY: He's been a really good pet, you know? He's got his own personality. It's really funny. He's tough. I guess he's been through a lot of things, you know?
ALGEO: Lotfey and Moe have been together since the Johnson administration, and Lotfey says he knows Moe pretty well. He describes him as nosy.
LOTFEY: He seems to, like, follow you around. Like, even when he's out of the bowl, if I say to him, "You better not be coming over here," he comes over.
ALGEO: Lotfey says he doesn't know the secret to Moe's longevity. But he says he has survived a couple of close calls. Twice, once in 1978 and again in 1983, Lotfey's mom accidentally left Moe outside on a cold day, and he froze solid inside his bowl.
LOTFEY: We came out one day and there was the two, three inches of water frozen. Moe just like a turtle cube, if you will. And she thought for sure he was gone. But she brought him in the house, and next thing you know he just kind of woke up, and said where's my food?
ALGEO: Moe is definitely a creature of habit, says Lotfey. A typical day includes plenty of lounging in the sun and lots of crawling around the house, albeit very slowly.
ALGEO: Lotfey says Moe also enjoys sleeping and listening to music.
(Music plays: Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love")
LOTFEY: He likes everything from Patsy Cline to Led Zeppelin, you know? Anything in between.
LOTFEY: He'll stay busy in the aquarium or whatever, but when a certain song comes on he just sort of lolly-lags around. And so I just kind of feel that he likes it.
ALGEO: Moe is about four inches across, but he wasn't much bigger than a quarter when Lotfey bought him, much too small to be legally sold today. The FDA banned the sale of turtle hatchlings in 1975 because they carry bacteria, such as salmonella. As for his age, Moe is believed to be between 38 and 40 years old. Not bad for a common red-eared slider turtle.
McCURDY: It's actually pretty amazing.
ALGEO: Dean McCurdy teaches biology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.
McCURDY: There are really millions of these turtles sold in the United States. And of all these turtles that are sold, very few of them actually survive to adulthood, let alone 40 or 50 years, which is probably the maximum range of lifespan for that species.
ALGEO: Red-eared slider turtles have long been popular pets, sometimes too popular, McCurdy says. He says owners who get tired of their pets have been known to release them into the wild, and that can make life more difficult for a region's indigenous turtles.
McCURDY: They carry diseases, some of which they pick up in captivity, which could harm native turtles. And in the case of the red-eared slider, in places like Florida, it's actually invading in certain areas and competing with native species.
ALGEO: But Michael Lotfey has no intention of releasing Moe into the wild. He says he hopes they have many more years happy together.
LOTFEY: He's been kind of a ninth wonder of the world. I mean, nobody ever expected Moe -- most people go, "Do you still have that turtle?" I don't know, he's just -- through romaine lettuce and tuna fish and fish sticks and sunlight and good music, I guess he's happy.
ALGEO: For Living on Earth, I'm Matthew Algeo in Portland, Maine.
(Music up and under: The Turtles, "So Happy Together")
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