2017-02-19 / Insight

Ed‘Aggie’ the tortoise slow-moving fixture at Ed-Tech building

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 •


Aggie the tortoise Aggie the tortoise ATTICA TWP. — When an Attica Township family spotted a softball-sized desert tan reptile trudging through their yard back in 2006, most of the current crop of agriscience students at the Lapeer County Education and Technology Center (Ed-Tech) on Lake Pleasant Road were kindergarteners and first graders.

Aggie, as the African Spur- Thigh Tortoise has come to be known, will be seeing his 11th crop of graduating seniors leave the school this spring. And, it’s entirely possible he’ll be around to see the Class of 2143 get their diplomas.

Since his arrival at Ed-Tech, Aggie has grown from the size of a softball to the size of a large Thanksgiving turkey, tipping the scales at about 35 pounds. Debbie Thompson, a paraprofessional at the school who takes Aggie to her North Branch home every summer, said he could grow to be three to four feet long and weigh in at 240 pounds.

Tammy Hyatt, the school’s agriscience instructor, thinks the tortoise is somewhere between 19 and 24 years old. While African Spur-Thigh tortoises live on average to be 70 years old, there are reports of individuals living up to 150 years. “He’ll outlive us all,” Thompson laughed.

“He loves being around girls,” Thompson said. “He’s like a cat.” That’s a cat that moves with the speed and tenacity of a WWI tank. “He’s stubborn,” Thompson said, noting Aggie will just keep pushing against something until it moves.

“He brightens up my day,” said Samantha Ignash, a junior from Lapeer. “He’s the first thing I look for when I get here. I want to make sure he’s okay.”

Thompson said when Aggie first came to the school, they tried to find him a home at a zoo. That didn’t happen, but “things worked out fabulously,” she said.

“He’s so good for the kids, especially the special needs kids,” she said.

Despite his size, Thompson said Aggie is actually fairly easy to care for. “He’s solar-powered,” she said and while they keep the green house around 70 degrees, on cool, cloudy days, he tries to burrow into the loose rock on the greenhouse floor.

About 75 percent of the desert dweller’s diet is grass. Ed-Tech’s culinary students supplement his diet with trimmings from the kitchen. “He can have anything but tomatoes. Tomatoes are bad. He can’t have anything acidic,” she said. Thompson also periodically gives him some tortoise minerals that she picks up at local pet shops.

From September through June Aggie has the run of Ed-Tech’s 30-by-60-foot greenhouse. And while he’s “very friendly,” nobody can wear flip-flops or open-toed shoes in the greenhouse. Aggie can’t tell the difference between brightly colored toes and the fruits he loves to munch.

Like all reptiles, Aggie can’t be housetrained. And, Thompson added, when Aggie’s nervous, he goes more often. Part of being a greenhouse student means cleaning up after Aggie.

Like a small dog, Thompson said, Aggie will come when called.

“Everything here is alive, but Aggie’s a different kind of alive,” said Mariah Gadanes, an Imlay City senior.

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