Notes From the Zookeeper: Another Day, Another Lizard

Yesterday was our third day of volunteering at the Turtle Survival Center is South Carolina. We made mud pies and played in the water. Technically, we made hide boxes out of concrete and built recirculating water systems for turtles. Potato, po-tah-to.

My co-worker is chomping at the bit to get over to the center this morning, so you get a truncated view of yesterday’s fun times.

As promised. Cappuccino the water buffalo, aka “Cappy.”

 

Today we go home. I’m going to miss this place. I wonder if Cappy would fit in a Nissan Juke…

Notes From the Zookeeper: I’m Surrounded By Turtles!

It’s day two at the Turtle Survival Center. I may never leave. Yesterday we scrubbed 40 turtle enclosures and did water changes, and I fell in love with a water buffalo named Cappuccino. Today, we prepared all the food for both veggie eaters and carnivores for some of the most endangered turtles in the world. I didn’t include any pics of the meat-based diet. Let’s just say I cleaned some blood off the walls when we were done and leave it at that.

This is a Leucocephalon yuwonoi, a name that is really fun to say! The boys have bright white heads. They have the best feet!

I have better pictures of the animals, but we have to wait until I am home because I am on my computer that has the screen that is pixelated and pink. You get my phone pictures. I put them in gallery form to make for easier viewing. Click to enlarge and read the caption.

I’ll try to have photos of the water buffalo tomorrow. What’s new in your world?

Notes From the Zookeeper: ROAD TRIP!

As you can perhaps tell from the title, I’m on the road. The boss, in his infinite graciousness (or in his desperation to get rid of me for a few days) budgeted to send me and a co-worker on a learning expedition.  He gets to go to France and Madagascar and New Mexico. I get to go to Detroit in February and South Carolina in June. He might be trying to get rid of me for MORE than a few days. All he has to do is make it look like an accident, you know.

But I could not be happier. In February, I attended Amphibian Management School in Detroit, which was an incredible experience. And now, I am deep in the wilds of South Carolina, no cell phone reception and mosquitoes the size of small dogs. And I am happy. I’m at the Turtle Survival Center. I know. Pinch me. I can’t believe I’m really here.

We arrived last night (thank you, MapQuest, giant raspberry to Google Maps) in the middle of nowhere. A middle of nowhere that boasts 1,000 cornfields, a car show (sorry for almost greasing you, kid on the motorbike with no lights at dusk. But we both know it was your fault.) and enough Dollar Generals to keep Ravenclaw in Mousies for the rest of her life.

This cat is so addicted to her mousie that the person who gifted her the first two went out and bought her eight more!

The nearest real grocery store is an hour away, but the most endangered tortoises and turtles in the world are right outside my door.

We’re here to volunteer. We brings some knowledge to the table already, but the director and chelonian keeper are prepped to drop some learning on us. After discussions with our lead keeper on what he’d like us to see, they’ve set up an agenda for us. We’re going to jump into some current projects involving plumbing and construction and try not to get in the way or lose a finger help complete them. I want to learn construction, and I also want to learn what kinds of browse they feed here. We try to give our animals a varied diet, and now we can get some info on how to expand our menu.

I don’t have any images to share yet because we just got here. AND I don’t know what I am allowed to share. So you get something from my archives. Kind of a chef’s surprise.

Al says “Nah!”

We have a tour this morning, and I’m taking lots of photos, but if they say they’re just for personal use, you’ll just have to make a trip to my house to see them. In the meantime, random photos from my phone.

Happy Trails!

Looking For the Joy

It has been a while, friends. Two months. I know this because two days after my last post, my department suffered an unspeakable tragedy. Two months. And I still can’t speak of it. Not yet. Looking at the image on Time’s website, I can barely breathe. The snake I am holding in the photo died the next day despite our best efforts. Such a stupid phrase, really.  Despite our best efforts. As if we would give an animal in our care less than our best. The snake I was training on in my last post is gone. And it’s hard.

Moving on for the moment. Because I have to. The last couple of months has been a series of tests and more tests and inspections and questions and answers we don’t even have, and if I focus on it too hard, I’ll never be able to get out of bed. So I am looking for the good. Because it’s always there if I look. When I get to feeling sorry for myself, it’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of despair. So I am choosing good today.

Here’s what’s good in my life, what brings me joy. The little things that make every day worthwhile. Click to enlarge and to read the captions.

There are other things, too, things that are not possible to capture in a photograph. The zoo guests who stop us in our work and tell us how sorry they are for our loss, the people who come each week as volunteers to help meet Al’s need for attention. My daughter, upon learning her cousin didn’t have an officiant for her upcoming wedding, takes it upon herself to become ordained online. She is now a card-carrying, ordained minister in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. That’s right. The Girl-child is now a Pastafarian. Our kids inherit our eyes, our hair, and our genetic garbage. It brings me great joy that mine has also inherited my off-beat sense of humor. And she’s available to perform weddings if you’re looking to get hitched. Who wouldn’t want to go to a wedding where the keepsake is a package of Ramen noodles?

What brings you joy today?

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?