The Secret Keeper.

I know something you don’t know. I think. Maybe. Unless you’re my boss, and then you already know. But that only accounts for one of you. The rest of you are in the dark. I’ve got a secret. A cool one. And I can’t tell you. Maybe tomorrow, or next week. Soon. Very soon. It’s killing me. I want to blab. Since I can’t yet, I’ll share some pictures instead.

Many of our animals at the zoo are maintained in breeding colonies. Most of them produce eggs in their season. We have a big incubator to house all the eggs. There’s a reason, though, that we don’t count our tortoises before they hatch. Sometimes, for whatever reason, they don’t hatch at all. Sometimes embryos don’t ever complete their development, or they never actually develop at all. Sometimes they weren’t fertile to begin with. Things go wrong, and it’s just a part of the job.

And sometimes we get surprises. We were surprised this week. There was this egg, see. And candling… Remember candling?

Candling a snapping turtle egg. Note that it is vascularized. The shadow on the right is the developing embryo.

Candling a snapping turtle egg. Note that it is vascularized. The shadow on the right is the developing embryo.

When the light was shined through the egg, there was a lot of empty space. It appeared that the embryo just didn’t make it. There’s a reason we hang on to eggs for months beyond their expected hatching date. I took a quick peek in the incubator the other day and saw this:

See  the little nose peeping out?

See the little nose peeping out?

It’s a pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri)! So cute and flat! The next morning, I checked his progress, and he was still hiding out in that egg, probably absorbing his yolk before he made his way into the world. Later in the afternoon, I noticed he was on his way out!

These images are best viewed as a slideshow. Click on the first one to enlarge, and then click the right arrow that appears to see them in order.

So you want to see something crazy? Of course you do!

And does he still look like a pillbug? You tell me:

Nope! All resemblance to pill bugs was your imagination!

Nope! All resemblance to pill bugs was your imagination!


In case you didn’t get to read all the captions, this is the first tortoise I have ever seen emerge from its egg entirely. I’ve caught dozens in various stages of hatching, but never like this. Amazing. I love my job!


18 thoughts on “The Secret Keeper.

  1. Great pics. Have never seen a turtle come from the egg, snakes, but not turtles. That is way cool. You have a great job.

  2. My daughter just finished her freshman year of college—on her way to becoming a zookeeper. We both just “geek out” (her words) about things such as this. So glad you’re living your dream!!

    • Tell her to snag every internship that comes her way. That’s what makes the difference in employment. Zoos want to know potential keepers have more than theoretical knowledge and are willing to get their hands dirty. Best wishes to her in her career goal. I can’t think of anything more enjoyable!

      • Thanks for the advice!! She’s volunteering at our little zoo here in Austin this summer. Little to no hands on animals, but lots of dishes and laundry and food prep. We bought boots today because she got to clean up baby bear poop with one of the keepers and was just in tennis shoes. She’s in heaven!

        • Volunteering is fantastic, as well! That’s how I got my job. It’s the hands-on, right-there-in-the-trenches stuff an employer will be looking for. Because so much of the job isn’t glamorous. It’s washing the dishes and laundry, prepping the diet, scooping the poop, doing endless spreadsheets and paperwork. All so important, but some folks don’t realize that zookeeping isn’t about petting the big kitties. Your daughter is getting off on the right foot!

  3. Great pics! I bred rat snakes a long time ago, just for the experience, and somewhere I’ve got an old-school photo of them hatching. It’s just one of the coolest things ever to see those little suckers pipping in person.

  4. Pingback: Tuesday Tangles | bemuzin

  5. Pingback: Lose Some, Find Some: or Today I Spill the Beans | Becoming Cliche

A penny for your thoughts! And by penny, I mean a warm-fuzzy in your heart.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s