The Twins and I meet Herbie and his – or her – family

29 March 2013

One morning, Aunty Lissi was busy in the kitchen, slicing up some cucumbers and tearing some lettuce leaves off a fresh and crunchy head of lettuce.

“Are you making a salad?” I asked, trying not to appear too curious. We’d just had breakfast after all, and I thought it was a little too early to prepare lunch already.

“No,” chuckled Aunty Lissi. “I’m preparing a snack for Herbie.”

“Herbie, Herbie,” chanted the Twins in unison in the background, before giggling hysterically at each other. They have a rather odd sense of humour sometimes.

“Who is Herbie?” I asked.

“Come on, let’s introduce you to him. Bring the Twins, Flat Kathy.”

I grasped the two firmly by the hand, and we marched behind Aunty Lissi to the front verandah. She threw the lettuce leaves and the cucumber slices on the grass next to the fishpond. A rather large round rock was sitting in the middle of the grass patch.

“This is Herbie,” pointed Aunty Lissi.

Er… what?

This is Herbie, a very big tortoise
This is Herbie, a very big tortoise

The Twins had dashed out onto the grass, and were jumping up onto the top of the large and very prettily patterned rock, and down again.


“Ooohhh! Mommmyyyy!!!”

The Twins ran to hide behind me, peering out either side. The rock had suddenly grown four short, stumpy legs, and was moving towards the pile of lettuce!

“That’s Herbie,” laughed Aunty Lissi. “Herbie is a tortoise. We originally thought it’s a boy, but we’ve since realised she’s a girl! And she doesn’t like people jumping ontop of her!” She bent down to waggle her finger sternly at the Twins, who were looking at her with big eyes.

The Twins watch, fascinated, as Herbie munches his salad
The Twins watch, fascinated, as Herbie munches his salad

“She’s much, much older than you, so you must treat her with respect,” Aunty Lissi said firmly. “Don’t poke her or try to lift her up. Besides, she’s very heavy, and she’ll probably squish you flat if she steps onto you!”

The Twins were staring at Herbie with mouths open. I suppressed a giggle. For the next fifteen minutes, they stood stockstill, staring at Herbie, as she munched her way through the pile of lettuce and cucumber. Even better than the nature channel on TV, I thought to myself.

Eventually, Herbie had had enough salad, so she stomped off to find a more peaceful and secluded spot, away from the Twins’ attention.

Herbie has had enough of all this attention, and marches off to somewhere more peaceful
Herbie has had enough of all this attention, and marches off to somewhere more peaceful

“Why don’t you try to find the other three tortoises?” instructed Aunty Lissi helpfully, evidently realising that the Twins needed constant excitement in their lives. “And when you’ve found them, fetch me and I shall tell you their names. A clue, though: Herbie is the biggest of the four. The other three are much, much smaller.”

“But don’t pick them up!” I cried, as the Twins disappeared among the bushes and shrubs, already focused fully on their mission.

“Shall we have a cup of tea in the meantime?” offered Aunty Lissi. “They’ll be busy for a while.”

We had about half an hour of peace, before the Twins trotted into the house, beaming excitedly.

“You found them? All three?”

They nodded eagerly.

“Alright, show me.”

One fairly large tortoise had tucked itself into a corner of the house.

The Twins are introduced to Troubles the Tortoise
The Twins are introduced to Troubles the Tortoise

“That one is called ‘Troubles’,” explained Aunty Lissi. “He is a bit of a naughty character. Reminds me of… oh… a certain pair of Twins!” She lightly tweaked their noses and tickled them playfully, as they giggled.

Then we followed the Twins around the corner of the house, to a large palm tree, which was encircled by a barrier of stones, and some green plastic sheeting, which formed another low barrier. The Twins pointed to a couple of old broken flower pots that had been laid on their side and filled with a bit of soil; near these, they had found the two smaller tortoises.

“That’s where the tortoises sleep,” explained Aunty Lissi. “The larger one is called Bella, and the smaller one is Berta. We’re not sure if they’re girls, or boys, so we may have to rename them sometime! They are still very, very young, perhaps two years old.”

I posed for a quick photo with Bella and Berta, and then we left them alone to enjoy their pile of salad in peace, without every bite being closely observed by the fascinated Twins.

“Do they eat a lot?” I asked.

“They eat a lot when it’s warm, like in summer,” explained Aunty Lissi. “But as it gets colder, they become more sluggish. They sleep longer, and they eat much less. They hibernate during winter, and then they don’t eat anything at all. I’ve made a couple of warm and dry sleeping places for them around the garden for the winter.”

Now isn’t that fascinating? It’s great to have these opportunities to learn new things!

I am introduced to Bella (the bigger tortoise) and Berta (the smaller one)
I am introduced to Bella (the bigger tortoise) and Berta (the smaller one)

3 thoughts on “The Twins and I meet Herbie and his – or her – family

  1. Are they “pet” tortoises or did they stumble across your yard and decide to stay.
    I have a small pond in my small suburban back yard and some frogs found it and moved in. Last year six went into hibernation, in and around the pond. I was delighted in late spring to see that all six had survived and were out sunning themselves on rocks. Over the course of the summer, all but one left for greener pastures or bigger ponds.


    1. Hello Sybil – they’re not exactly ‘pet’ tortoises, they didn’t come from a pet store. I think they were all rescued.

      What a funny story about your frogs! I haven’t seen many frogs up close…


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