Otis, New Jersey's newest 'shell-ebrity,' finds audience on social media
He's a rising star from New Jersey whose first YouTube video drew a half million views on YouTube and whose image is now featured on T-shirts that are selling at a solid clip.
New Jersey's newest budding internet celebrity, Otis, is an Eastern box turtle who acts more like a friendly dog than a species known for boxing itself up in its shell.
Otis' owner, Chris Leone, knows a reptile with a unique personality when he sees it. He and his wife, Casey, run Garden State Tortoise, a 10-year-old turtle rescue and breeding facility in Atlantic County. They handle a bulk of all the reptile rescues for the state.
"In over 30 years of doing this professionally, I have never met another reptile [like this], and even the other ones that are shared on YouTube and stuff. They're are personable animals. He's on another level," Leon says.
Otis eagerly follows people around, and seems to want to climb into your arms, or sometimes take a taste of your nose. Clips featuring Otis have sent Garden State Tortoise's video views on Instagram and YouTube soaring.
Otis's affinity for humans does not extend to his fellow turtles, however. His aggression towards them means he gets his own solo suite at Garden State Tortoise, although there are plans to hopefully find him a mate.
He appears to have been well cared for by his prior owners, but little else is known that might lend clues as to how he got so frisky or why he was abandoned.
Leone thinks Otis's personality will make him a great spokesturtle for his species. See, Eastern box turtles are declining in New Jersey and the state Department of Environmental Preservation has listed them as a species of concern, mostly due to habitat loss and being crushed by cars.
Garden State Tortoise does educational programs in schools an zoos to teach the public about reptiles and the need for their care and habitat protection.
"He's so captivating that we can really teach, especially kids, the importance of New Jersey native wildlife," Leone says.
While Keeping turtles as pets is legal in New Jersey, collecting them from the wild is not as long as one has a state permit.
Otis, however, can't be returned to the wild because he's lived in captivity so long.