Notes From the Zookeeper

I’ve decided to add a regular feature on this blog. My topics bounce around a lot from work to cats to kids and back again, and I’m okay with that. But I thought it would be fun to add a weekly feature and give you a peek behind the curtain. I will primarily stick to my department, but there may be times that I branch out. Because I’m a giver. I put way too much thought into whether to set this thing down on a Monday or a Friday. But Friday is technically one of my Mondays, and that just got confusing, so I went with the real Monday. Consider it a tiny pat on the head to ease you into the work week. Unless you’re like me and you’re already into the work thing by Monday. In that case, forget I said anything.

I have thoughts and ideas of what I want to show you, like how we work venomous animals, the key to breeding certain species, and anything new that has hatched. I invite you to share in the comments anything you’re curious about, too.

In my last post, I covered some of my goals for the new year. Most of those were personal . I have set some goals for myself at work, too.

Neon Day Gecko Hatchling

Neon Day Gecko – Phelsuma klemmeri. This new hatchling is under an inch long.

  • I’m hatching these things left and right. I want to set up at least one new colony by dividing up the current two. Okay, really I have three. These are Neon Day Geckos from Madagascar. As adults, they are only about three inches long. They were first described only about 25 years ago, and they are considered endangered because their range is confined to a pretty tiny part of Northwest Madagascar. They live in dense colonies. Most recommend only one male per enclosure and several females, but I have had success keeping two males with a single female.

There’s a level of parental care that is not typically found among lizards. The babies that are hatched and reared in the same enclosure as their parents seem to grow more quickly than the juveniles that I pull to raise on their own. And these animals are fascinating. They move at a frequency that is much faster than our eye can register. It’s akin to watching a reel-to-reel from the 1920s, all jumpy. And babies are tiny. If there’s an opening larger than a millimeter, you can pretty much kiss a hatchling goodbye!

My goal is to study them for another couple of generations and possibly report some of my findings in a journal somewhere. I also want to get more practice at determining males from females. Boys have femoral pores that look like tiny braille dots, but when I say tiny, I mean tiny. It’s hard to tell. I want to get good at it.

Breeding pyxis arachnoides

Northern Spider Tortoise, Pyxis arachnoides brygooi

  • My second goal is to breed more of these guys. Some years are good years. 2015 was a decent year. I hatched all three sub-species of Spider Tortoises in decent numbers – a total of 15. 2016 wasn’t great. Like, at all. I hatched 6 Northerns, and that was it.  The trouble is, the eggs that hatched in 2015 were actually laid in 2014. With a 9-month span between laying and hatching, it’s a little hard to pin down the problem. Were the eggs not incubated properly, or were they not fertile to begin with? So many moving parts.

I’m going to start, though, by building an outdoor pen for my pairs of Northern Spider Tortoises to see if natural sunlight can improve egg-laying. The other subspecies go outside already, but not these guys. I also separated boys and girls for winter dormancy. I turned the heat lamps off on Christmas eve, and they won’t go back on until March. In April, I’ll put the boys back in with their ladies. Sometimes absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

That orange streak in the middle is its belly button. In a few days, it will close up and disappear.

That orange streak in the middle is its belly button. In a few days, it will close up and disappear.

  • My third goal is to complete my venomous training. I’ve already got a copperhead in my section, and I am training on Helodermas (that’s Gila Monsters and Beaded Lizards). Soon I’ll have one of those to care for, as well. We take safety seriously, so training is slow and methodical. It’s a good thing.
  • Angolan python - my first successful snake breeding

    Angolan python – my first successful snake breeding

     

    I also want to breed Angolan Pythons again this year. I have paired my male and female, after setting temperatures down to a chilly 84 degrees. But after the first night, I have seen no evidence of breeding. I am afraid my good buddy, The Professor, has been relegated to the Friend Zone. Or the female is too fat to breed.

  • My last goal is to get some weight off of that female python. If she does lay eggs, she’ll go without eating until May, which will help. If she doesn’t lay eggs, she needs some exercise. Angolan Pythons are adapted to a really harsh environment and don’t need to eat all that often. Turns out, every two weeks is too often. So I’m going to set her up on an exercise plan, maybe build her a snake gym to crawl around on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What would you like to know more about?

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24 thoughts on “Notes From the Zookeeper

  1. Fascinating! The teacher in me would love to know more about the training that goes into your work, too — how does one become a zookeeper in the first place, how do you develop your skills as you go, etc.

  2. YOur SNAKE is too fat to breed!? Wow, it affects them all. I am impressed. We had geckos living in the rock garden under Mums bedroom window when we were kids. What a fantastic job you have – I am always so impressed.. c

  3. Fascinating. My dream was to be a Joan Embery type person and I applaud you for following your dream. My minor is in Biology, so I taught science before becoming a librarian. One millimeter…yikes! That would have to be a very secure enclosure. I have fed a gila monster before, an raw egg, I think. It was years and years ago. It was very docile tho. My partner at the time was babysitting a friend’s reptiles for a while. There were many poisonous ones including a rhinoceros viper…I was nervous until they were all gone, but I did interact with the gila.

  4. Now THAT’S a New Year’s resolutions I haven’t seen before: getting a PYTHON in shape! 😉
    There was a gecko living in the closet of my dorm room at University of Hawai’i… He was noisy, but not nearly as colorful as your Madagascar beauty…

  5. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but — Good golly, Heather, you lead a fascinating & unusual life! I LOVE this “Notes from a Zookeeper” idea!! And I totally can’t wait to see the Python gym 🙂

  6. Heather, I am not a big fan of snakes; actually, can’t stand them. But turtles… oh how you have me at turtles! And I love the geckos! The colors are stunning! I sent this blog to my niece, who works with birds of prey and reptiles and wants to be a vet. I think she’d be brilliant at the work you do. I’d love to connect you. She’s such a delightful 18 year old, and so passionate about her work! Can’t wait to see more of these posts; I love it when you take us to work! xo

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