Notes From the Zookeeper: I’m Positively Giddy

We’re used to making history in our department. Is that bragging? I’m okay with it. Our successes have, in many cases, perpetuated the propagation and potential rescue of entire species. The beauty and frustration of the field of Herpetology is that it is still in its infancy, with so many discoveries yet to be made. But we’re making them, slowly but surely, with research and a large helping of patience.

Our zoo (my curator, Michael Ogle, really) has made some historic firsts. Lots of zoos, our own included, got eggs from their Malagasy tortoises regularly, but not only did they not hatch, they never even began to develop. Embryo development is quite easy to see just by turning out the lights and shining a pen light through the egg. An egg that is developing has distinct veining, and eventually, you can see the shape of the tiny little reptile. It was extremely unlikely that the dozens of eggs produced over the years were ALL infertile. There was something keepers were missing, some cue, some signal. But what was it?

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.

My boss (he hates when I call him that!) solidified the gold standard for hatching Malagasy tortoises by reading a field guide and taking a risk. After egg-laying season, the temperatures drop in the wild. Michael speculated that by cooling the eggs to 65F (18C) for a couple of months and then replacing them in an incubator at 84-88 degrees, fertile eggs might begin to develop! He was right!The egg waits until weather warms up to begin developing, otherwise it’s like Game of Thrones. Winter is Coming. There won’t be food when the egg hatches if it starts before winter is over. Michael hatched the first Flat-Tailed Tortoise (Pyxis planicauda) in the Northern hemisphere, with many others to follow.

By applying these same principles to the other species of Malagasy Dwarf Tortoises, our department has had amazing success. In 2006, Michael hatched the first captive Northern Spider Tortoise (Pyxis arachnoides brygooi) in in the world. Heady stuff, right? Now we are headed full circle. Look what happened a couple of days ago!

The first egg from the very first hatchling in the world! She isn’t the first captive-bred to lay an egg, but this is still a significant event for us. And I am trying to hatch an F2 (grandkids of the wild-caught animals) of all three sub-species.

The chances that this egg will hatch are very slim, mostly because the male she is paired with did not figure out what girls were for until this breeding season, so chances are that the space shuttle didn’t quite hit the dock. But it’s an excellent sign. Eventually they will get it right! I have hatched one F2 this year, just 2 sub-species to go, and I now have eggs from ALL of them!

Maybe this is too much information to process. TL;DR A rare hatchling laid her first egg.

This is what’s rocking my world this week. What’s great in yours?

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Notes From the Zookeeper: I’m Positively Giddy

  1. This is SO exciting!!!! Can’t wait to see the “baby pics.” You guys definitely needed this after Khaleesi. Second filials for the win! 🙂

    One of our LONG-timer dogs at the shelter has been adopted; I met the couple and they are going to spoil him rotten! That’s been keeping a big, goofy grin on my face for the past several days.

    Please give Al a few neck skritches from me.

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:

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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