The Magic In My Everyday

I haven’t blogged in an age. I blame the snow. We’ve had lots of it. I didn’t blog about the snow because everyone had snow. There was nothing particularly interesting about mine.

And I didn’t blog because I was tired. Remember that snow part? I live in a neighborhood that is lovely all other times of year, but during snow and ice, it’s impassable. In order to get to work, I had to hike to the main road for someone to pick me up. Then at the end of the day, I had to walk home. Carrying all my stuff. So early bedtimes and no blogging. But I don’t mind one tiny bit. I’d walk through snow AND fire to get to my job.

Ever have a job that’s made of magic? I do. Every day the sun rises, I get to do something I love. Each shift brings its own lessons, disappointments, satisfactions. And this year promises to be the best yet.

This is the year of potential. There are more species, families, and orders represented in our wardrobe-sized incubators than I have seen in the four years I’ve been peeking into incubators. Tortoises, turtles, and even lizards. Give me a few months, and I may even get to toss a clutch of snake eggs in there, too. One of my pairs of pythons has knocked some boots recently, so I am hopeful.

Chicken eggs hatch out with unfailing predictability in 21 days. Reptiles are different. So many variables come into play. Species, the presence or absence of a diapause, humidity, and temperature all come into play when hatching reptiles. Typically, an incubation period will be 60 days or longer, sometimes much longer.

Here’s the cool thing.  Every few weeks, we take a peek to see how things are cooking. It’s like witchcraft. A dark room, a decent, focused light source, and poof! We see what’s going on in the egg.

Here are two eggs from Red-footed tortoises, Chelonoidis carbonaria. These images were taken on January 28, about a month after they were laid. Click to enlarge.

I’m excited about these eggs. The animals are new to our collection. They have bred before, and it’s a very common species, but this is the first time I’ve been in charge.

And here is a shot from March 1. Click to enlarge. There’s some detail that’s hard to see at this size.

You're looking at a baby tortoise. An embryo. If I m not mistaken, its head is toward the left. I watched it move. It has months to go before it hatches, and I saw it wiggle. Mind = blown.

You’re looking at a baby tortoise. An embryo. If I m not mistaken, its head is toward the left. I watched it move. It has months to go before it hatches, and I saw it wiggle. Mind = blown.

And here’s your bonus. Oustelet’s chameleon egg. Furcifer ousteleti. In real life, this egg is the size of my index fingernail.

This is pretty cool. The dark dots are called blood spots. Note the veining to the left. Things are happening here!

This is pretty cool. The dark dots are the earliest sign of development. Note the veining to the left. Things are happening here, finally!

This chameleon egg was laid… wait for it… in July. And we didn’t see any development until a month ago. If this egg hatches, it likely won’t happen until… wait for it… July. This particular species takes an age to incubate – an average of 9-12 months. The babies will be smaller than my pinkie, miniscule copies of the adults. Is it July yet?

In another month, I’ll take a few more pictures and see what’s new in egg-land. And though it’s only March, hatching season has already gotten off to a very good start. Watch for info on our first three babies very soon.


What’s the best job you’ve ever had?

37 thoughts on “The Magic In My Everyday

  1. My current job is my best job! I don’t have eggs, but I have reporters and they…um…hatch stories? I got nothin’.

    I am SO EXCITED about your eggs and your babies! This is the best!

  2. What an extraordinary series of images. I am gobsmacked actually.. a year! Do they need to be kept warm? Or do they bury them in the sand like a sea turtle. Are they in an incubator. I know the turtle is not going to sit around for a year tending them. Wonderful.. c

    • They do need to be kept warm. The chameleon eggs are too delicate for our incubators, which are set for 84 and 88 degrees (the temperature determines the gender of many of our species). The chameleons prefer around 78 degrees, so they are incubating in a safe corner of one of our toasty warm buildings. The females do bury the eggs and then leave. They cover the nests so completely that we would never know they were there if we didn’t look for them. We remove them from the nests and set them up in vermiculite, which doesn’t grow bacteria and holds moisture well. It’s the perfect medium.

  3. That sounds scary, being “in charge” of the eggs! But you are so lucky having such a wonderful and important job.
    I wish I was in touch with nature every day, instead of sitting in a newspaper office, in front of a computer screen.
    All the best with the hatching 🙂

  4. My grandmother raised chickens and I remember looking at eggs with a light to make sure they were clear. Seems weird to have year old eggs and that they could be dormant (kind of like a tree in winter?) most of the time.

    • Candling is fascinating stuff. When a reptile takes a year to hatch, it indicates that there is probably a diapause present – the egg stops developing until one or more factors in the environment change, giving the egg the most favorable conditions for survival after hatching. Unfortunately, with many species we don’t know exactly what breaks the diapause. One reason I love this field is because it is in its infancy, and there are new discoveries all the time.

  5. Do you ever wonder if the writing has any affect on the eggs? Science studies everything, but what it seems to study least, is itself. Beautiful images, beautiful background too. And thank you for sharing your personal vision, thoughts and feelings.

    • I am learning to question everything I think I know because this field changes so rapidly. We use a mechanical pencil, and the egg is hard like a chicken egg, so my guess is that marking has minimal effect. BUT the act of observing anything does change it in some way, so you never know. Soft eggs like lizard eggs are more permeable and you really do have to be careful what you mark them with.

  6. Holy cow; I’d heard you talk about your job before, but I’d never quite been able to envision it. I know there must be some dull days – there are at every job – but moments like this that take you breath away make it all worthwhile.
    Again, wow.

  7. I love that you love your job. I can’t say the same. Work is something I do to pay the bills.
    Your shots of the eggs are awesome. The beginnings of all life are such a mind-blowing miracle to me.

    • One day I may have to have another work-a-day job, but for now, I am living my dream. I wish everyone could!

      And I know what you mean about the beginnings. Somehow that ball of goo and cells rearranges itself into something that has complex instincts and behaviors.

  8. OMG, a year to hatch, the chameleon?

    Down in AZ this year some doves built a nest and the mom sat on the nest for weeks, and wouldn’t even budge when I offered her gluten free hoe made cinnamon streusel and bird seed. (Both equally appetizing, in my book.) The babies have finally hatched, and I know they’re just doves but it’s been so interesting seeing them go from eggs to little naked things and now feathered things. So I can imagine the excitement that’s building up when you see reptile eggs incubate for so long, and the changes that are taking place. Can’t wait to see them hatch!

    • I KNOW! It’s incredible. Herpetologists learned long ago not to throw any egg away because sometimes they surprise us. Just when you think nothing is going to happen, something exciting does!

  9. Pingback: Hurry Up and Wait: Hatching Oustalet’s Chameleons | Becoming Cliche

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