Notes From the Zookeeper: Working With Venomous Snakes

One of the most common questions I get is “Do you handle the venomous snakes?” The answer isn’t a straight “yes” or “no.” The answer is, we do work with them regularly (we offer food, clean the enclosures, and fill water bowls at least once a week), but we only put our hands on them if we absolutely have to. But sometimes, it’s necessary. A veterinarian might need to check a snake over do diagnose a problem, etc. So how do we do it? With lots of training, and some special tools.

Last week, our Lead Keeper, Stephen, needed to catch up a Catalina Island Rattlesnake (also known as the rattleless rattlesnake – they are a true Crotalus rattlesnake genetically, but they don’t grow a rattle), and he let me take some pictures to share. The photos were taken with my little phone, so they aren’t great, but I didn’t want to use a flash.

Step one: put the snake on the counter.

snake in trash can

We use large trash cans with modified lids for holding venomous snakes for feeding, cleaning enclosures, etc.

Step 2: Move the snake to a counter. It’s important to work a snake in a place that they can’t easily escape from.

Catalina island rattlesnake

We use long hooks to move venomous or nippy snakes from one place to another.

Step 3: Since Stephen actually needs to get his hands on this snake, he is going to have to “tube” it. You can see a selection of tubes of different sizes under the counter in the photo above. The idea is to choose a tube that is big enough for the snake to move into easily, but not so big that it can turn around while it is in there.

Snakes have poor vision, and they will instinctively choose a hiding place into which they fit snugly.

Stephen uses the hook to encourage the snake to move toward the tube. Since this is a fairly small snake, he can hold the tube with his hand. If it were a longer snake, like a cobra, he would hold the end of the tube with a pair of tongs.

Step 4: It’s hard to tell from the photo, but there are two tubes – one inside the other. The snake didn’t like the small tube, so it was offered a larger one. Once it slithered into the big one, the correct size tube was inserted. The snake wriggled right in.

tube a snake

The snake is finally moving into the tube. Sometimes it can take forty-five minutes or more to convince the snake that the tube is a great hiding place. This time, it only took a few minutes.

Step 5: Secure the snake in the tube by grabbing hold of it. Now the snake is safely restrained. The use of a clear tube means that not only can a veterinarian see any medical issues, we also know exactly where the snake’s head is.

hooks poisonous snake

Once the snake is about half-way into the tube, it’s safe to grab tube and snake together. Note that the tube is much too small for the snake to turn around and deliver a bite.

Stephen needed to “tube” this animal because the zoo we received the snake from requested photos of its vent area for comparison. Tubing is also used when a snake needs to be given an injection, must be anesthetized for a medical procedure, or even to get an x-ray of a non-venomous snake (it’s hard to radiograph a spine when its coils are all piled up on top of each other!).

I have so much to tell you about my week at Amphibian Management School and field work with Stephen!

What other questions do you have?

Good Things Thursday: My Joy in Pictures

This week has been a tough one, both personally and politically. It’s easy to focus on all the horrible things because they stand up and scream at us, while our joys can be a little less flamboyant. But if I focus on the bad all the time, how could I ever find the energy to get out of bed. So I’m going to show up for joy.

I’m first off grateful for my little phone because now I can snap pics of things when I need to. They aren’t great pictures, but they don’t have to be, do they?

The time change. Yeah, I hate the time change, but if we hadn’t set clocks ahead, I’d have missed this view when I opened up the building at the start of my work day.

gratitude

Old window, new day.

——-

what does radiated tortoise eat

Meatball takes over the sedum snack and polishes it all off. Go, Meatball!

K-brew coffee Knoxville

Coffee and yearbooking with a friend. Thanks, K-Brew!

Phelsuma klemmeri easy to breed

Second generation breeding of my Neon Day Geckos, a critically endangered species. Look at how big those eggs are!

flour beetles, fruit flies

Insect cultures! ALL the feeder insect cultures! I will get my frogs to BREED! I had my water bottle confiscated by TSA, but they somehow missed my feeder insect cultures in my suitcase.

giant tortoise diet

Making good use of found objects. I gave my giant tortoises a 400lb stump. Anderson (pictured in the back) likes to scratch her bum on it, but it’s also great for tucking greens into so they really have to work for their food. Sometimes I have good ideas.

crotalus molossus in zoo

Crotalus molossus. I am training on venomous snakes, and I only have one more session with this snake until I am checked off on this level. It is very exciting and not at all scary because my lead keeper is an excellent teacher. But don’t tell him I told you that.

And my latest joy is that I expect to receive a shipment of tadpoles today. After losing our cat on Monday, I slipped straight through the first stages of grief and onto the lesser-known Order-tadpoles-off-the-internet stage of depression. I’ll let you know if they get here alive. I am doubting it at this point because it is so cold, but there is still hope.

And new surprise goodness, I am off to have lunch with a friend. It might even include FALAFEL!

What is your joy this day?

That One Time I Did a Thing

So I did a thing. It’s a cool thing, too. Let me back up for a second.

A friend of mine has a cinnamon tree. Like, real cinnamon. You peel the bark, let it dry, and BOOM! Cinnamon for tea, baking, sticking up your nose… (just me, then? I’ll move along.) I didn’t know that cinnamon came from a tree at all. I thought it came from a can.

Last February, my friend asked me if I wanted some cuttings to try vegetative propagation ( a fancy term meaning: start a plant from cuttings). Of course, I did. She brought me several. I read all kinds of stuff on the internet, but almost no one had any real info on growing from cuttings, so I improvised. I dipped the ends in rooting hormones. One was potted in a plastic bag full of soil. One was in straight water. Another was  planted in normal potting soil and set outside.

Two died right away. One lingered. For nine months. It never turned brown, but it never grew, either. By that point, I knew I had to have a cinnamon tree of my very own. So where does one turn in times of such crisis? Why, to Ebay, of course. And that’s when I learned how expensive these things are. Like, eighty bucks.  For a tree. Yeah. My husband would totally be on board with that.

I looked through all the listings, and I found a little six-inch baby tree for $15. It was unseasonably warm for November, but I was afraid we’d have a cold snap and the tree would freeze before it arrived in the mail, so I contacted the seller. We chatted back and forth for a bit, and I realized I had found a seller who wanted me to succeed. So I placed my order.

When the package arrived, I discovered that Dave’s Garden hadn’t sent a six inch tree. They’d sent seedlings instead. Five of them. They said a seedling is tougher than larger plants, and they had sent extra so that I had a good chance of ending up with at least one thriving tree.

So how does a small, warm-weather, humidity-loving seedling survive in a house that stays 65 degrees in the winter? The only answer was a greenhouse. So I made one. Out of stuff I had lying around the house – specifically, a ten-gallon aquarium, two ziploc bags, some packing tape, and a light bulb.

I planted the seedlings and placed the pots in the ten gallon tank. Then I split the two bags along the sides to make a cover to hold in humidity. Then I put the little makeshift greenhouse on my baker’s rack and set it under a regular 60 watt bulb.

A month or so after setting up the seedlings, and look!

grow trees from cuttings

The new growth is a beautiful red color. It’s so pretty!

And now I’m three months into the project. The trees are growing so well that I have had to peel back the plastic to make room for new growth! And I have five healthy seedlings to show for my efforts.

This project has been such a success that I’m trying to grow some other things, too. What’s next for me? I’ve got my eye on one of Dave’s Garden’s nutmeg seeds…

What cool projects have you tried recently?

Notes From the Zookeeper: Miracles

I missed last week. It wasn’t that I had nothing to say. Trust me, I had LOTS to say, but I ran out of time in which to say it. We went to see Lego Batman, and it was past my bedtime when we came home. I’m planning ahead this time.

Our zoo works with many endangered species of turtles and tortoises, and in most cases, our goal is to breed them. With few exceptions, these animals are sneaky when it comes to nesting. They create a nest chamber, lay the eggs, and then cover it up completely with any material in the vicinity. Unless you catch them digging, you’ll never find the eggs. It’s difficult in captivity, too. Sometimes the nest is hidden so well that our only clue that they have laid eggs at all is the mud on the back of their shells.

how to breed pancake tortoise

Check it out! She is digging a nest for egg-laying! Note the dirt on her back. She kicks up quite a bit of it as she digs.

Indoor enclosures are smaller, so there is less surface area to cover, but it’s still tricky. Looking for loose soil will get you nowhere. A female will soak the dirt with her own urine to pack it down. And digging straight down yields nothing. The nest tends to hook around in one direction or another to throw off predators. Luck is the best guide.

Sometimes things go wrong. It has happened to all of us. If you’ve spent any time breeding wildlife, the unthinkable will occur. It happened to my co-worker. She had located the newest nest of Radiated Tortoise eggs, but then while digging them up, she broke an egg, a large piece of it falling off in her hand.

It’s a terrible feeling, the crushing weight of all the what-ifs. What if the egg was fertile? What if it was the only one in the clutch to be fertile? What if the female never laid anymore? When I inadvertently broke an egg, I had to go to bed early. My co-worker holds our institutional record for Radiated tortoises. Doesn’t matter. It still hurts.

But maybe all was not lost? The shell was broken, an inch-and-a-half piece gone. But she noticed that the membrane inside was still intact. There was no way to wash the dirt off of the egg like we usually do. There was too great a risk of introducing bacteria through the thin and porous membrane. She chucked it in the incubator, dirt and all, and carefully balanced the broken piece of shell over the gaping hole. And hoped for the best.

And sometimes hope is not misplaced.

We call this baby “he” because this species has temperature-dependent sex determination. The temp the egg is incubated at can determine gender for many, many species. An aside, climate change can have devastating effects on such species since only a variation of 4F degrees determines gender. Another aside, I cannot spell “devastating” without help from spell-check.

Updated for extra squee:

The only evidence of his precarious beginnings is the number of scutes on his shell. All species of turtle and tortoise in the world, from the tiny Padloper to the biggest Galapagos Tortoise have the same number of scutes (scales) on their shells. There are 22 around the bottom margin (appropriately named “marginal scutes”) and 13 of the bigger ones. Native Americans even referred to the calendar as “13 moons on the turtles’ back” because there are 13 new moons in a year. But sometimes incubation issues can result in too many or too few.

turtles have belly buttons

The little zig-zag in the middle is what you’re looking for.

Meatball has a couple of extra ones, referred to as “split scutes.” It is a purely cosmetic issue and only adds to his charm.

Updated a second time to include the best shot of tortoise tushy EVER!

how tortoises hatch

TUSHY!!! Look at those chunky thighs!

I hope you have a great week! What are the miracles in YOUR life?

The Introverted Activist: Things Will Get Better

I’m still tired. Are you still tired? But are you in it to win it? Yeah, me, too. Rah, rah, and all that. Did I mention I am tired?

But things are going to get better. Maybe they already are. 45’s first pick to be National Security Advisor is *poof* and the second pick doesn’t want the job. What happened to Flynn? Depends on who you ask. Fired? Quit? Abducted by aliens? Who cares? He’s gone. And the Labor Secretary? Remember him? Whatshisface Pudzer? The guy who would like to do away with a minimum wage and automate everything? He’s gone, too. And the person who has been nominated to replace him might actually be qualified for the job. Or maybe the bar has been set so low by this administration that a rabid puggle seems qualified.

I made a thing. It’s a Trumpertantrum drinking game, designed to make this administration more entertaining.

did flynn talk to Russia

But then I realized it could also be deadly. I thought I could suggest switching to water after every 2 drinks, but then there’s still hyponatremia to worry about. So I thought about milk shakes. But is there a pancreas in the world that can handle THAT much sugar? Diet soda? Nope again. An overdose of artificial sweetener can be deadly. So then I considered deep breaths instead of drinks, but then everyone would hyperventilate and pass out, maybe hitting a head on the floor and dying. And I can’t be responsible for that, so instead of drinking each time he hits one of these milestones, think a happy thought or pet a puppy. Nobody ever passed out from petting a puppy. Just be careful not to rub all its hair off. It’s going to be a long four years.

Calls and protests work, and not just for this whole train wreck of an administration. In case you have never heard of Bresha Meadows, at the age of 14, young Bresha shot and killed her abusive father. She was sent to an adult prison. An adult prison. Remember Michael Carneal? He murdered 3 students and injured 5 others at his high school in 1997. He was sent to a juvenile facility until he turned 18. But Bresha has been held in an adult prison. Until recently. Letters, protests, and phone calls put enough pressure on prosecutors that she was moved a few weeks ago to a juvenile mental health facility. Her family has to pay the cost of her treatment, so there’s a link where you can donate if you are so inclined. But she can go outside, she is with other kids, and she can get the help she deserves.

What I did this week:

I wrote a lot of letters. A lot of them. To Republicans, to Democrats. I went to a huddle at my friend’s house. We encouraged each other, and we made plans for the next four years. That feels like a long time, but we can do it.

what are people doing besides marching

This is what democracy looks like. And friendship.

I made an action plan for each week. I am going to make 5 calls a week and write 3 letters. I wrote 5 letters this week, so I am ahead of the game. I even wrote one to President Bannon.

The call I made to my Senators this week was focused on 2 things – keeping Bannon out of the situation room and keeping the Affordable Care Act intact until there is a decent replacement (and insisting that the replacement include those with preexisting conditions – an aside here, I knew a woman who didn’t tell anyone she was pregnant at her new job until she qualified for health insurance. She was 8 weeks pregnant when she got the job, and so was 20 weeks along before she went for her first prenatal appointment because she knew otherwise insurance wouldn’t cover it because her pregnancy was a preexisting condition. No prenatal care until it was essentially too late to prevent most issues. Do Republicans really want to go back to those days?)

I made plans to attend the local march on April 15 to protest Trumpertantrum’s refusal to show his tax returns.

I made plans to attend some Nashville events, too, later in spring.

I made a list of my local representatives at the state level. I am going to become quite familiar with them and their work because I have letters and calls to make there, too.

And I took some time away. Because I’m tired.

This week, why not write a letter yourself. Or show up at a local office and share your wants with your Congress person’s staff? Write a letter sharing your story and your expectations for affordable care. You can do it! We can do it! It’s already working, friends. We’re pushing a ball uphill, but we’ve learned this week that it isn’t likely to roll back over and crush us!

Need more ideas? Check here. And visit here for a breakdown of enrollment in Affordable Care Act by congressional district. Share what you find. A study this week revealed that around 30% of Americans don’t know that ACA and ObamaCare are the same thing. Republicans successfully obfuscated the issue by using the term “ObamaCare,” so be kind to anyone you encounter who might have been confused. They aren’t alone. Raise your hand if you have never been sucked in by rhetoric. We’ve all been there, done that.

Face-palm of the week: Good ol’ Betsy “Keep Bears Out Of Public Schools” DeVos is doing a spanking good job in her new post. Wait. There is no spanking in public school. A time-outing good job? Whatever. Anyway, she managed to not only misspell the name of civil rights activist, W.E. B. DuBois, she misspelled the apology, as well. Go, team! Dear Betsy, how do you spell “derp?”

Need a laugh? Download this awesome app. It’s called “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again.” And it does this:

What did you get up to this week? Have a favorite hashtag you have been involved with? Share it in the comments.

Good Things Thursday

I am in a low place right now. The political climate is eating me alive. Every day it feels like there is a new disaster, and I feel like one of the dogs in the learned helplessness experiments. Remember those studies from Psych 101? A dog that received an electrical shock that it couldn’t avoid eventually learned to give up and quit trying. I feel that way. I’m shocked every, single day, and I don’t know how to not just give up.

But I’m NOT giving up, and that is what today is about. The political maelstrom may scream all around me, but I will find the little things that give me peace and happiness. Stolen joys.

  • This one is the only one of political nature. It’s pretty funny. It’s a PSA about gerrymandering, and it’s great!

  • My new boots.
Bestwaterproof boots

My beautiful Muck boots

They say you can’t judge someone until after walking a mile in their shoes. This means you can never judge me because I will not let you WEAR my boots. So there. They are lovely and warm and waterproof, and I ordered them on a Tuesday, and they arrived on Wednesday. I’ve never had free shipping mean “get it in 24 hours” before!

  • This kid:
do cucumbers help puffy eyes

He decided he wanted a spa day, so he begged his dad to buy cucumbers. Best fifty cents ever spent.

Also, this kid:

Is skating still popular

He was a skater boy, a young alligator boy… I don’t know the song.

Yeah, same kid. He has anxiety issues and some irrational fears. Well, to me they are irrational; to him they make perfect sense. But this kid who is so afraid of getting hurt went to a school skating party and decided he was going to learn to skate. He spent a lot of time sitting on the floor, and he was a walking bruise, but by the end of the evening, there was this:

best songs to skate to

Look at him go! May we all have the determination of a second-grader who decides they’re gonna skate, come hell, high water, or far-too-solid floor.

  • This kid:
are snakes good pets

His eyes are kind of wild because he is my son. He can’t keep his eyes open when his picture is taken unless he opens them ALL the way.

He has turned into a Herp kid. He loves snakes and lizards, and he has taken over my snakes at home. Pictured here with Colonel Shucks.

  • Baby tortoises enjoying some mushrooms.
The little bite marks in the piece of stem makes me laugh. They're so serious about their mushrooms!

The little bite marks in the piece of stem makes me laugh. They’re so serious about their mushrooms!

  • It’s half-price candy time! I can’t share a picture because I ate it all already. Sue me.
  • It’s also Girl Scout Cookie time! All the district cookies were distributed in the zoo’s lower parking lot today. I could have staged a heist and made off with a semi loaded with the things, but I didn’t.
  • I leave for Amphibian Management School in a week-and-a-half. Yes, it’s a real thing.
  • I was invited to talk to a group of first graders about my job! Yes, please!
  • My Christmas presents for 4 people got here today! I love giving gifts.
  • Phones that can get $1000 texts for $5.
  • My new siphon at work. It sucks. Like, in the literal good way. It has revolutionized maintenance of one of my exhibits. If you have a decent-sized aquarium, don’t go with the cheap knock-offs. Go for name-brand Pythons. No, they didn’t sponsor my post (they can if they want to, though!). It’s just a product that works beautifully!
  • Sweet, sweet sick cat is hanging on. She is not eating well, but she is still here.
  • Then there’s this:
How beautiful are these books? It's a rhetorical question. Because the answer can only be SO BEAUTIFUL!

How beautiful are these books? It’s a rhetorical question. Because the answer can only be SO BEAUTIFUL!

The Bloggess held her second annual Booksgiving, which was an opportunity for people to gift one another books via Amazon wishlists. I received Spanish Harry Potter on Sunday. I am planning a trip to the Galapagos to study Giant Tortoises, and I want to increase my Spanish fluency. Reading is a great way to do that. And then today I came home and found The Bloggess’ own book in my mailbox! Someone had bought a second book for me! Is there anything better than the kindness of strangers?

What’s good in your world right now?

The Introverted Activist: We’re Still Fighting #Resist

What can I tell you that you don’t already know? I have not been as plugged in as I usually am because, frankly, I’m tired. Also, this year I implemented “No-tech Tuesdays” at my house because I enjoy giving my children yet another reason to resent me and because it is nice to have one day where I can say “Oh, no. I am not allowed to read anything else that Trumpertantrum has done,” so I missed some of the action.

Is Trump getting impeached

Again, I am going to have to odd because I just…can’t…even.

The low points of the week:

  • Senate confirmations of Betsy “Bought My Post” DeVos and Jeff “Too Racist To Be a Federal Judge, So I Have To Be Attorney General” Sessions.
  • the sexist censure of Elizabeth Warren
  • Kellyanne Conway’s commercial for Ivanka’s clothing line. It’s a low point mostly because I am so frustrated that the Senate is unlikely to do anything about it any time soon, though it was a clear violation of ethics.
  • My Representative, Jimmy Duncan, refuses to hold a town hall despite many requests. He denies the request based on the notion that he has received unkind emails since Trumpertantrum’s reign of terror, and he is sure a town hall will bring out “kooks and extremists.” He hasn’t held a town hall in over 20 years. If he is that paranoid, perhaps it is time for someone to oppose and depose him. Perhaps I am that someone. I don’t know yet.

The high points for the week:

  • 9th Circuit Court of Appeals smacks down the travel ban most gloriously. The fact that his tweets and rants about targeting a group of people based on their religion helped seal the deal is icing on that particularly scrumptious cake.
  • Then there’s this:https://twitter.com/XGroverX/status/829818984094654465
  • After Kellyanne Conwoman’s shameless (and I mean that in the most literal and astounding sense of the word) plug of Ivanka’s clothing line, the Office Of Government Ethics website crashed due to people filing complaints against her for using her public office in such a manner. They received 300K page views in 2016. In the first 40 days of this year, they have had 5,000,000 views. Hmm.
  • Preliminary paperwork has been filed to impeach ol’ 45.

 

What I did this week:

Honestly, not as much as I had planned. I hit a wall, but I am dusting myself off and preparing to dig in again.

I bought more cards to send to Senators. I want to  encourage those in Congress who are standing up to the Trumpertantrum. It is a tough job to do, and I don’t want it to be a thankless one.

I filed a complaint with the Office of Government Ethics over Kellyanne Conwoman. I’m sure I’ll be filing more in the near future.

I joined a “Huddle,” which is a small, local group that comes together to fight all of this garbage. We’re making t-shirts this weekend, and we’re sending cards to Congress and letters of admonition to certain others. More importantly, we’re encouraging one another and reminding ourselves that we are not alone in this fight.

For funsies, I signed a petition to discipline the Conwoman. These petitions don’t usually do much, BUT by signing it, I agreed to receive activism updates. I am all for that. I am new to this bidness, and I want to learn as much as I can.

Self care. I read an incredible book, and I treated myself to an autographed copy of another book that is due out soon and has had quite the buzz. And I slept when I was tired.

We are in this together. We can do it. We can’t give up, even when it feels like the chips are stacked against us and all that other cliche stuff. Want to learn how to be more effective in influencing Congress? Read this piece. There is even a link to a free e-book to help you learn more.

Face-palm of the week: Republicans aren’t telling us what the replacement for the Affordable Care Act will be because if they tell us ahead of time, we probably won’t like it. Uh, okay. Call me convinced, then.

What did you do this week?

 

 

Notes From the Zookeeper: Field Work

You guys! Guess what! Go on, guess! No, I’m not pregnant. Thanks for that, though, sj. Guess again! No, I am not getting a pony. My surprise is NOT as good as a pony. Now I’m disappointed. Thanks. Oh, now I’m supposed to just tell you? Fine. Whatever.

Today, maybe even as you read this, I am going to do a little field work! I haven’t had a ton of opportunities yet. I have been to the bog a couple of times to check nests for the zoo’s ongoing bog turtle project, but that one started years before I joined the zoo (or even graduated college!). I came in just as the actual field work was winding down, so there was not much point in training me. Today, though, I have been invited to travel along with my lead keeper, Stephen, as he pulls and checks traps for his big project. He’s studying mudpuppies, and we’re going to catch some. Hopefully.

what is a mudpuppy

If you’re thinking we’re out to catch one of these, you might be a little incorrect. Just a little. We’re looking for salamanders.

He believes he has found a new species, so after filling out mountains of paperwork to get permission, he has been setting live traps for the animals in many different places. He sets traps and checks them daily for a week or so out of each month. He is hoping to determine that this is indeed a new species, or a previously described species that has never been found in the current range, which will yield information about stream ecology. Any animals that are captured will surrender a tiny bit of DNA for gene sequencing before they are fitted with a PIT tag. Basically, a tiny little transponder that is the same kind of microchip inserted into a dog or cat for identification should they get lost, is inserted under the animal’s skin. This chip will let him know if the animal is a new individual, or if it is a recapture. The Hiawasee is a pretty big place, so finding a recapture is like looking for a needle in a haystack, but Stephen has already recaptured one. This could shed some light on movement within a territory at some point, so a recapture is still a win.

So tomorrow, I meet him at an undisclosed, top-secret secret meeting location. Like maybe the Bat Cave. Or the zoo.  I am not at liberty to say.

Oh, man! The only thing that could make fieldwork cooler is if we could meet at the Bat Cave! Maybe Stephen really IS Batman. But even if he were, I couldn't tell you.

Oh, man! The only thing that could make fieldwork cooler is if we could meet at the Bat Cave! Maybe Stephen really IS Batman. But even if he were, I couldn’t tell you.

Then we’re going to drive to his trapping site, which is about an hour away. We’ll jump in his boat and paddle out to pull the traps. If there are mudpuppies in them (please, oh, please!), he’ll show me how to take genetic samples, record weights and measurements, and how to insert a PIT tag. Then we’ll let the little rascal go and move on to the next trap. A good time will be had by all.

I won’t have my camera because water + clumsy = disaster. So I will draw pictures for you next week to show you what I saw. In the meantime, I pack. What do real scientists take on trips into the field?

  • Snacks – We’ll be gone several hours, and no food makes one zookeeper very cranky.
  • A change of clothes – we don’t want to expose our captive zoo animals to diseases and parasites they may have poor resistance to, so we will change clothes from head to toe before returning to care for our animals. You’d be surprised what kind of yuck can be carried in on shoes.
  • A second change of clothes – for when I drop the first set in the water
  • Cool tunes – we have an hour of driving each way, and we need something to listen to. I’m thinking “Hamilton,” or maybe “Les Mis.” Anybody know the official soundtrack of field work?
  • Book or e-reader – again, an hour drive each way. I have to do something, right?
  • Barf bag – I get sick when I read in the car. But 2 hours seems like a lot of time to NOT read.
  • Water shoes – we’re going to be on the river, and maybe IN it. Most likely in it. Because it’s me.
  • Water-proof notebook – who knew they made such a thing, but they do.
  • Towel – Because if when I fall in the water, it would be nice to be able to dry off a bit. 50 degrees is chilly even when you’re DRY!
  • Water wings – Field work is sink or swim, and I am allergic to sinking to the bottom of the river and dying.
  • Plastic-coated form of ID – Because when I get swept away in the current, hit my head on a rock, and forget who I am, the authorities will know whom to call.
  • Adult diaper – The sound of running water + a bladder the size of a Lego brick+ the sheer terror of being in a boat (I had red beans and rice for dinner. What if I lean over to quietly relieve a little, um, pressure, and capsize the canoe?)
  • Rubber duckie- all work and no play, ya’ll

What’s exciting in your world this week?

 

 

The Introverted Activist: How About Some Good News?

We’re 2 weeks into this regime, and it’s hard to even catch my breath.  Like so many others, I have spent far too many hours fuming, and furiously retweeting government shenanigans.  Seriously. I am going to have to odd, because I just. can’t. even. But there are good things in this world, too.

In my too-big-to-call-small, but too-small-to-call-big city, we have our own community of Syrian refugees. . On Tuesday night, one of our local restaurants, owned and run by a former Syrian refugee, hosted a fundraiser for Bridge Refugee Services. This non-profit gets housing ready for refugees, provides job training, and helps its clients get accustomed to their new life in their new country.

Yassin’s Falafel House has phenomenal food, and we do love falafell, so we piled in the car the second I got home from work. I had never been (husband was always the one who picked up the take out), so I told the fellas to help me find it. But it was much easier than I thought, what with the line that stretched for three city blocks and all. The event was from 6-9. At 10pm, there were still 260 people in line. The last customer was served at 12:30am. Yesterday, Yassin announced that they had raised over $8000 for Bridge! So one smallish-but-not-too-small city in a red state made a difference in the lives of some fellow human beings. How’s that for awesome?

Muslim ban

Mmmm Falafel

Have a few minutes? Scroll through the video posts on Yassin’s Facebook page. Have a few extra dollars? You can donate directly to Bridge by going here. If you’re an Amazon or Kroger shopper, you can earn money for them just by using Amazon Smile or by connecting your Kroger card.

Another tasty tidbit – the ACLU raised $24 million last weekend alone. They were instrumental in getting the Federal judge to call a temporary halt to the immigration ban. So many Americans are infuriated by the heavy hand of this regime, that they’re fighting back. Change will come.

What did I do this week?

how to get rid of Trump

Write a letter. A tiny card. I bought 8 cards for $1 at a dollar store.

My family and I wrote thank-you cards to the first five Republicans who were brave enough to speak out against the Muslim ban. It didn’t take long, it wasn’t expensive, but it made us feel like we were doing our part to encourage those who are just starting to realize they’re going to have to gather their courage and work against the party line if they are going to stop this tyrant.

I called both of my Senators to ask that they not confirm Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos on the grounds that Sessions is racist and was once denied a federal judgeship because of it and DeVos knows absolutely nothing about education. I also sent emails, but calls are better.

I went to a protest against Betsy DeVos after receiving a polite email from one of my Senators that stated that DeVos is “an excellent choice.” Even though she was ill-prepared for her hearing and didn’t know the difference between growth and proficiency. That was my second protest in as many weeks.

I took the Padawan to see “Hidden Figures.” It was an excellent movie. It’s important for kids to understand how far we have come but also how far we have yet to go. If you haven’t seen it, DO IT! Octavia Spencer is incredible, as always.

I studied and thought and pondered on how to run for office. There’s a website where you can take free online courses to learn what it takes. Visit it here. Remember, some of these clowns go home in a year. Maybe we want to run against them.

Face-palm of the week: Gosh, so many to choose from. Was it press secretary Sean Spicer tweeting his password… twice? Was it Trumpertantrum thinking Fredrick Douglass is still alive? The Douglass link is satire, but it is delicious. Was it the Black History Month speech that mentioned the three Black people our current president actually knows of? Or that the whole speech was posted on McSweeney’s, one of the best satire sites out there? And didn’t have to change a word. Maybe it was the president using the annual prayer breakfast to send up fleeces for his TV show and for Arnold Schwarzenegger (And holy cow, I spelled Schwarzenegger correctly the first time without looking. I am rocking it today!). It’s hard to pick just one.

What have you been up to this week? Want to get more familiar with the ins and outs of calling your representatives? Check out Emily Ellsworth has a downloadable e-book that is FREE! You can find it here. You can follow her on Twitter here. We can make a difference together. Resist, friends, and remember to take care of yourselves.

Need a laugh to get you through the week? Check out The Bloggess’s post from a year ago.

Notes From the Zookeeper: Tiny Tortoise Videos and Also Playtime

Last week I showed you some pictures of newly hatched Northern Spider Tortoises. And I do believe I promised you a video. I am one to keep my promises, so here you go. You’re welcome!

It’s really not dancing, of course. It just looks that way. It’s trying to bury itself. Tortoise eggs are laid several inches underground, and when they hatch, they hang out and rest for a while before heading to the surface. They like to emerge when it’s dark. If they can see light, they are too exposed, so it is trying to dig itself a little hole. It works in dirt. Not so much in paper towels. Never fear. I tucked it in under a piece of wadded up paper towel, and all is well.

Here’s hatchling number 2 showing this instinctive behavior before it is removed from the vermiculite.

So now for the part about playtime. Pet animals engage in play behaviors that aren’t actually play. A cat turning a ball of yarn inside out, for example, is a tiny hunter honing its mad disembowelment skilz. You never know when you’re going to need those, you know. Zoo animals do that, too. It’s important for them to have an opportunity to engage in natural behaviors, otherwise they get bored, fat, or even stressed. The word we use for eliciting these behaviors is “enrichment.” Treats, toys, scents, new bedding or furniture, even something like leaving an exhibit without a top so that a Prairie Dog or Meerkat has to watch out for predators like they would in the wild are all considered enrichment. The more intelligent the animal, the more enrichment they require.

Imagine driving the kids to Grandma’s house six hours away with no video games, books, music, cell phones, snacks, talking, etc. *Shudder* Without something to do, it takes kids about 2.1 seconds to start inventing games we don’t want them to, like “smack-a-sister” or “let’s kick the back of the driver’s seat until they scream.” An animal in captivity that is bored will begin to do those types of things, too. It’s called stereotypy, and manifests in many different ways, from pacing to rocking, to paw sucking, and everything in between. It’s up to their caregivers to make sure that they have the mental stimulation that they need to thrive. In fact, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums requires that accredited zoos provide enrichment for their animals. Mammal keepers provide it up to several times a day. Only 50% of enrichment offered should be through novel foods (stuff they don’t eat on a regular basis) because there’s only so much an animal can and should eat.

As a reptile keeper, the needs of our charges are a little different. For the most part, their brains are not terribly complicated. Most snakes, for example, understand eat, poop, breed, repeat. We enrich them by changing out branches and plants periodically, offering new insects, or even sprinkling some spices around to encourage them to move and explore.

Komodo Dragons (Varanus komodoensis) are kind of the geniuses of the reptile world. They have a greater ability to learn than most other species. Our young male figured out within a couple of months that if his exhibit light went out in the daytime, we were going to catch him for something. He would hiss before we ever got our key in the lock. Pretty smart, yes? So they require more enrichment than the average reptile. Khaleesi, our lovely female, has some great climbing structures, and her main keeper has done some training, which also keeps her brain engaged. When she is off-exhibit, we also have the petting zoo staff bring up sheep and goats to run around her exhibit. They poop, pee, shed, and generally make the exhibit more interesting for her. Since they have no experience with a large reptilian predator, the goats just think it’s all in good fun. Then they go home, and Khaleesi is placed back in her exhibit to run around and sniff things. She spends hours in activity after a visit from the goats.

This week, we offered her fun food – hard boiled eggs. They are slippery and easily lost in the leaf litter, but they smell delicious, so she uses her long, forked tongue to sniff them out. They have a Jacobson’s organ like a snake, so they essentially use their tongues to smell.

And I’ll leave you with my favorite shot from last week. Tiny Northern Spider Tortoise with yolk barely absorbed. It couldn’t quite walk yet because its plastron was so bubbled that it couldn’t get all four feet on the ground at the same time. Can I get a collective “Awwwww!”

Do tortoise have bellybutton

Welp…

What did you do for playtime this week? Did you chase an egg? Climb a tree? Read a good book?