Tonca the Turtle at the Museum of Science and History

October 6, 2012 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article visits the home of a very special four-legged reptile.

When thinking of attractions at the Museum of Science and History, the first kinds that come to mind are likely either science exhibits, like The Body Within, or history exhibits, like Currents of Time.  However, there’s another alluring aspect to the museum that's not related to either subjects -- it’s Tonca the turtle.

Tonca being hoisted from his pond for his annual birthday party and checkup.  
photo cred: MOSH

Though his home is shared with many different species of turtles, Tonca stands out among the rest.  The 46-year-old 160 lb. alligator snapping turtle surpasses his other reptilian neighbors in age and weight by a landslide.  But he's not just the largest living pre-historic looking animal at MOSH, either.  His species are the biggest freshwater turtles in North America, not to mention one of the biggest in the world.

The Hixon Native Plant Courtyard which surrounds Tonca's home

He was added to the museum in 1994 when he was only in his late twenties and weighed about 50 lbs.  All animals that are featured at MOSH are rescues that often can no longer survive in the wild, and Tonca was no different -- he was saved from a drainage ditch off Losco Road in Mandarin.

Tonca and the turtles' living area

Since then he’s become a must-see for children as well as adults who visit the museum.  But even with all of his interaction with humans, MOSH communications manager Kristi Taylor said he is still a shy one and can even be “not so friendly” at times.  Mostly the aging turtle keeps to himself and hides under his favorite rock, perhaps because it is actually large enough to camouflage him.

A glimpse of the elusive Tonca trying to remain undetected

Hope to see the beloved museum pet should not be lost though, as there are events where his appearance is guaranteed.  On July 14, MOSH holds a birthday party for Tonca where he is fed, weighed and given a yearly physical, and those who come out to celebrate get to enjoy a slice of cake.  Otherwise he can be spotted three times a week during Tonca Talks, when the museum naturalists publicly feed him 2-3 lbs. of Tilapia or Whiting courtesy of Winn-Dixie.

Riverside Animal Hospital veterinarian Dr. Rossi giving Tonca his annual physical during his 46th birthday.
photo cred: MOSH

Even if the mysterious reptile refrains from popping his head out to say hello to every passerby, he does muster up the courage to come out of hiding from time to time.  When he does, trust us, the site of the gigantic, ancient creature is worth the wait to see.  

article and photos by Melanie Pagan

Like MOSH on Facebook

Follow MOSH on Twitter