This Might Be the Strangest Thing I’ve Ever Seen

I see weird things. When you work in a zoo or have kids, weird becomes a way of life.

Chameleons who have outgrown the tiny branches scrunches down like baby Huey so it’ll fit? Nah, that’s normal.

Go play in the big yard, kid. You're not a toddler anymore!

Go play in the big yard, kid. You’re not a toddler anymore!

Memorial auto decals?

A generic decal with an oddly specific lifespan. 2003 was a bad year for 16 year-old hog enthusiasts.

A generic decal with an oddly specific lifespan. 2003 was a bad year for 16 year-old hog enthusiasts. I do not like. Source

Yes, weird. I haven’t changed my mind. But not the weirdest. I just saw something that took the taco when it comes to the inexplicable.

I was walking in a park I’ve visited a dozen times or more, and tonight for the first time, I noticed this. Click to enlarge. It’s still a terrible picture, but you can see it better.

A head. On a wooden post. Just a head.

A head. On a wooden post. Just a head.

Need a closeup? Brace yourself.

I'm frightened

Hold me, Mommy!  I’m SCARED!

I walked around this… I don’t know what to call it. Statue? Obelisk? Travesty? I’ll go with that one… and I walked around it some more. I thought I was tired, or maybe someone had slipped some drugs in my Fiber One snack cake. (Shut up. They’re tasty, and who doesn’t like to poop?) But no. It’s a head mounted on a post.

A nice plaque rests right in front identifying the disembodied head as that of a former mayor. Questions. I have questions.

  • Was it sculpted out of play-doh by a class of preschoolers? The stump neck has too many thumb prints for my comfort.
  • Could they not afford a whole statue? Did they, perhaps, buy it on time? Will the torso arrive this Christmas?
  • Is this statue a warning to the surrounding counties as to what happens when you cut the library budget?
  • Did the former mayor step down, or was he cut down in a battle with a goblin?
  • Was his successor Vlad the Impaler?


I know bronze work is expensive, but maybe save some money and plant a nice tulip garden instead? Just a suggestion.

What weird things have you seen this week?

For Alice On Her Birthday

Today I’m going to tell you a story. Because Alice asked me to, and it’s her birthday. Happy birthday, Alice! You don’t know her? Oh, you should! She’s funny and so, so smart. I love her posts. Sometimes her posts make me laugh, sometimes they make me cry. Sometimes it’s both. Read her. You just might love her.

I’ve gone back and forth about which story to tell. Fiction? Not fiction? Embellished not-fiction? I want to come up with a good one. For the last week, my internal dialog has gone something like this:

There was the time that… no, that’s no good.

How about… nope. Funny only to me.

I’ve got it! Yes! Um, are you kidding me? You can’t admit to that in a public setting.

So here you go.

Sharon slid the box across the counter. It didn’t look like much. About eighteen inches square, it had been white at one time, but trotting the globe had acquired a layer of grime. One corner was dinged, and the shipping label had begun to peel, but the packing tape held fast. That bit was all that mattered to Sharon.

“Here,” she said with a furtive glance at the ceiling. “Better hurry. Dad’ll be down in a minute.”

Thad’s eyes glowed. He pulled the box to himself and began to dig at the packing tape with his thumbnail.

“Don’t open it here!” Sharon hissed, terror in her eyes. She flung an arm toward the door. “GO!” she cried. “And don’t tell Dad!”

Thad dropped a pile of cash on the counter without bothering to count it and gathered his precious box gently, mindful of its delicate cargo. Balancing the box on his arm, he was gone with the jingling of the shop door.

Sharon watched him go, not daring to breathe until she heard him climb the stone steps to street level and saw his feet pass by the basement window. She turned to the new girl.

“I can’t believe I did that,” she whispered hoarsely. “Dad will kill me if he finds out.”

The new girl said nothing. She simply wondered. Then she turned back to sorting the shipment of live fish that had just been delivered to the little basement shop.

“Okay,” Sharon said, collecting herself. “Let’s see what we have here.” She lifted a gallon-sized bag teeming with tiny, colorful fish. “Guppies,” she announced. “We’ll put those in one of the 20-longs in the back.”

The new girl did as she was told. She collected the bag of fish from Sharon. It was surprisingly heavy, but she did not drop it. She upended it gently, pouring fish and water carefully into a waiting bucket. She shook out the corners of the bag to dislodge any remaining fish and then discarded it and dropped an air hose into the bucket.

Shipment days were the best days, every available surface in the tiny shop stacked with cardboard boxes and Styrofoam coolers. She liked sorting it all out, seeing order come from the chaos, but mostly, she liked the new fish. Shipments from Florida were the best. Not only did they require a trip to the airport to collect, but they contained the greatest surprises.

In the mid-1980s, few fish species beyond basic livebearers and a few cichlids were regularly bred in captivity. It was easier, and usually cheaper, to import animals freshly caught from the wilds of Africa and the Amazon. Sometimes, swimming right alongside the common side-sucking plecostamus they had ordered, she would find something weird.

When one of these tiny mysteries appeared, she snagged it, put it in a catch box and ran for the books. Sometimes even after studying Axelrod and Practical Fishkeeping, she came up short. It was her first introduction to the enormity of the world and its diversity. She could barely comprehend she was holding a creature that Herbert Axelrod, that demigod of fish keeping, had never even seen. On those occasions, she put down her money and carted her new treasure home. Sometimes it died. More often, she kept i a few months until she grew bored with it and returned it for something newer and more exciting.

So  many weird and interesting things came into the shop unexpectedly that it never occurred to her to ask Sharon to special-order things for her. It did, however, occur to Thad.

“You can order it! It’s right here on their inventory list,” he’d said, thumping his index finger on the paper for emphasis. Sharon looked at him doubtfully.

“I don’t know,” she answered, frowning. “Dad wouldn’t like it. He said no. He told me, and he told you, and he’d fire us both if he knew.”

“He doesn’t have to know.” The new girl hated his wheedling tone, hated how many girls caved to it, hated that  Sharon, who was an adult and supposed to know better, was no exception.

“Alright,” she said. “But you have to pay for it, dead or alive, and Dad can’t know. Dad hates snakes.”

Harry, her father was the owner and namesake of the little aquarium shop. He had started it with just a few aquariums in his basement twenty years previously. The business had grown over the years until he was forced to either quit his full time job or hand over the reins to Sharon, his youngest daughter. He still lived upstairs, but she managed the place on her own. He would likely never see the invoice.

Sharon placed the order against her better judgement. When the shipment arrived, she called Thad immediately, and the transaction went down with neither hitch nor Harry’s knowledge. She thought she was out of the woods, but then the snake, a Haitian Vine Boa, escaped into Thad’s apartment and was gone for good, likely cooked in the heating vents, and he was back on her doorstep begging her to order another. And then another. Today’s shipment was his third.

The new girl worked the following day by herself. Sundays were usually slow and sleepy, and this day was no exception.

She stood at the sink scraping the hard water line from an aquarium with salt and a razor blade. She looked up when she heard the jingle of the door and was surprised to see Thad. He never came around on his days off. It was one of the many things she disapproved of when it came to Thad. She had a list.

She was even more surprised to see him holding a pillowcase, or more correctly, holding something inside a pillowcase. She frowned.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“My new snake,” he said proudly.

“Why is it here?” she asked haughtily, pretending disapproval to mask her terror. She had never seen a living snake up close, and she was pretty sure she didn’t want to now.

He laughed, seeing right through her and making her hate him more. “Is Harry home?”

“No,” she said, stuffing down her fear and turning back to attack the hard water line with new zeal.

“Good,” Thad said gleefully. She looked up to find him reaching into the bag.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, her voice an odd point somewhere between a his and a squeal.

“Hang on,” he said, furrowing his brows in concentration. “Relax. It’s a ball python. When they get scared, they roll up in a ball.”

She didn’t answer, her blade squeaking on the aquarium glass like fingernails on a chalkboard.

She didn’t look up until she heard him say “Oh, no.” The snake, a wild-caught, thin specimen about three feet long,  had clearly not read the manuals on typical ball python behavior. It showed no inclination whatsoever to roll into a ball but a rather strong desire to bite Thad somewhere in the vicinity of his face. He managed to pin the snake’s head, pressing the animal’s mouth closed with the balls of this thumbs while the snake twined its back end all the way up his arm.

The new girl took a step back, away from crazed snake and handler. She looked over her shoulder to plan the best escape route should Thad drop the snake at the same time the snake dropped him. A thump from above stopped them both in their tracks. Harry was home.

Thad said a word the new girl had only read on bathroom walls. “Help me!” he squeaked, gesturing as if he thought she might actually step forward and assist him in his snake-handling endeavors. His hand was turning purple.

“No way,” she said, shaking her head fiercely. He frowned at her. She frowned back. Another thump and the shuffling footsteps of a knee replacement from above. Harry was coming down to the shop.

Thad said another word unfamiliar to the new girl. She was pretty sure it was German, and totally certain it was bad. He did a little dance on the spot to loosen the coils constricting his arm. By some great miracle, he was able to shake the snake into the pillowcase and tie it off. Thump-thump. Harry descended slowly down the basement steps.

Thad thrust the bag at the new girl. “We have to hide it!”

“Washer?” she suggested?

“What if he’s doing laundry? Closet?”

“He might be getting fish food for upstairs!”


Out of time and optionsThad dropped the bag into the empty display aquarium at the front of the store beside the counter just as Harry rounded the corner and appeared behind the counter, scratching his grizzled head and looking at least as grumpy as the snake.

“Thad?” he said with a frown. Men, it seemed, were immune to Thad’s charm. “What are you doing here?”

“I, uh, I just came by,” Thad squeaked, standing in front of the aquarium to block Harry’s view from the contents.

Harry walked around the counter. Thad took a step back, pressing himself against the aquarium as Harry walked toward him. Thad shot a look at the new girl over Harry’s shoulder, a look of sheer hopelessness. It was all over. Harry was going to find the snake and learn that both Sharon and Thad had disobeyed his orders. Thad would lose his job on the spot.

With the look of a hunted man, Thad darted around the corner and out of Harry’s reach. He could fire Thad, but he’d have to catch him to hit him. And hit he might. Harry hated snakes.

Harry stopped in his tracks and turned on his heel to face the new girl, his back to the aquarium and his expression inscrutable. She thought she might soil herself. Did he think her complicit.

“I thought I made myself clear,” he said sternly. Her knees felt weak. Would he fire her, too? She gulped.

“Yes?” she whispered.

“You’re listening to television.”

“What?” she asked, genuinely puzzled.

“The radio,” he barked. “The radio! You’re listening to Judge Wapner. I told you and told you, the radio is for classical. It makes customers spend more money!”

The radio! She felt positively wobbly with relief. He hadn’t seen the snake bag in the aquarium. But she could. She watched in horrified fascination as, behind Harry, the snake bag came to life and slowly rose up the side of the aquarium. Thad had not tied the pillowcase down very far, giving the snake plenty of room to stretch out.

The new girl did not hear a word Harry said, so focused was she on the snake making its slow and careful way up the front of the empty aquarium, impeded only by its pillowcase. Harry, oblivious, continued to chastise her radio choices while the snake bag danced behind him.

The new girl didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It seemed impossible that he did not see the bag contorting and stretching itself… stretching itself to the top of the tank! Oh, dear God! It was going to climb out, pillowcase and all! The snake pushed up on the lid of the aquarium and it rose a fraction of an inch. She stood transfixed, terrified. The snake pressed the lid a little further. Its head, covered by the knot in the pillowcase, was an inch from Harry’s arm. One tiny poke, and Harry would undoubtedly suffer heart attack, aneurysm, or stroke, maybe all three at once. The new girl silently lamented skipping CPR class when she was a Campfire Girl.

The snake, hampered in its exploration, fell on its side with a hollow thud as loud as a gong. Harry didn’t hear it over the radio. He made a few more points, and she nodded her head in blind agreement, eyes fixed on the snake so determined to announce its presence. Finally, he walked over to the radio, changed the station, and heaved himself back upstairs.

As soon as Harry was out of sight, Thad snatched the snake out of the aquarium and beat a hasty retreat himself, leaving the new girl to fall into helpless, hysterical giggles on the counter. Harry never found out about his close encounter of the reptilian kind, but the new girl learned that she never, in fact, hated Thad. Or snakes, and in fact went on to work with reptiles herself 20 years later.

to alice

Happy birthday, Alice! Your present will be there later this week. And no, it’s not a snake in a bag.


Lost In Translation: College Edition

It’s done. Last week my husband and I packed the car, loaded up the Girl-child, and transported her to her new life at college.  Such stress does funny things to your hearing.

On the road:

What I said: “Why don’t I drive?”

What I probably meant: “Take some time to relax. I’ll get us through the worst of the traffic.”

What he heard: “You’re going to kill us all, you crazy rage-monster!”


At Target buying last-minute things:

What I said: “I think we should get her the blue pillow.

What I probably meant: “The teal will brighten the place up. “

What he heard: “The dog has better taste than you, and she’s color blind.


Touring campus:

What I said: “Do you want some coffee?”

What I probably meant: “I could use a pick-me-up. Does anyone else want one?”

What he heard: “You are a giant, Debbie-downer turd. Please drink some caffeine so you can stop being a turd. Stat.”


On the way home:

What I said: “The speed limit is 70 now!”

What I probably meant: “Yay! We’re finally out of the construction zone!”

What he heard: “You drive like my grandma.”


On the road:

What I said: “Put a Clif bar in your cakehole.”

What I probably meant: “Put a Clif bar in your cakehole. NOW! You’re driving me nuts!”

What he heard: Yeah, okay. He had to get one right.


At home:

What I said: “She’ll be okay. She’s ready for this.”

What he heard: “I never loved her like you do. I should have raised show rats.”

What I probably meant: “I miss her, too.”

Me and my girl.

Me and my Girl-child


Sweet Girl-child, don’t you even worry. You’re going to do great! And we’ll be okay, too.

I’m About To Do the Thing I Am Not Ready To Do


I have years of experience hatching and raising a variety of creatures. There is this little one:

Baby Oustalet's Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti)

Baby Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti)

And then there’s this one:

Angolan python - my first successful snake breeding

Angolan python – my first successful snake breeding

We usually do one of two things. After hatching, the animals are either surplussed to other facilities , or they are reared to adulthood and become a part of the program. I’ve entered uncharted waters this time around. For the first time ever, I’m preparing for a release directly into the wild.

My feelings are mixed. On the one hand, it’s incredibly exciting to know that I am potentially contributing to future generations. I’ve worked really hard, and it’s  time. On the other hand, I’m having a hard time letting go. It’s impossible to raise a hatchling and watch it grow from  glorified larva into something that can fend for itself without becoming too attached. To say I’m emotionally invested might just be the understatement of the year.

I knew what I was getting into when I signed on for the project. At least I thought I did. I read the books, talked to people who had done it themselves, read all the research. I knew my involvement would be time-limited. That’s the way it is supposed to be, the way it has always been. Keep them in captivity for too long and they don’t thrive the way they should. I knew that. I know that. But it’s hard.

The launch date is set, and as it looms ever closer, I worry. That’s just how I’m made. I worry, and I wonder. When facing release, there are so many questions.  Will the hatchling find a safe place to go? Find food? Will she live alone, or will she wander until it finds another of her kind? Has she learned all that is necessary to survive and thrive? These are the normal questions, and sometimes we never learn the answers.

The most important question remains, the only one that really matters. Will she ever find her way back home?

Girl-child and her grandma.

Girl-child and her grandma. My first hatchling. I miss her already.

I’ve never raised a human being to adult size before. Someone tell me what I’m supposed to do now. I am feeling a little lost.

No, I Didn’t Forget

Today we revisit an old story. I didn’t forget, you know. I’ve been completely slacking  building the suspense. Now I can share the secret.

Remember the Red-Footed Tortoise eggs?


Note the uniform color. This egg is an empty. Nothing but goo in here. We'll keep it until we are absolutely certain, but it's probably a dud.

Note the uniform color. This egg is an empty. Nothing but goo in here. We’ll keep it until we are absolutely certain, but it’s probably a dud.

These eggs were laid on Christmas eve. Lupita, the female, retained these eggs for a month longer than she should have. Much digging of test-nests and our addition of more substrate yielded nothing. When a female holds on to the eggs this long, her own health is at risk. On Christmas eve, the vets gave a dose of pitocin and some calcium to boost the efficacy of those egg-laying muscles. Within an hour, she had, in the words of the vet, pooped them out. Radiographs revealed she had managed to pass the lot, but the eggs were likely a write-off. We set them up in vermiculite and put them in the incubator anyway, just in case.

After a couple of months of incubation, candling (the egg version of an ultrasound) revealed this:

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.

Red-Footed Tortoises typically take 5 months to incubate, so it’s a lot of hurry up and wait. We check the incubator daily because we have SO many eggs from different species that the odds of finding a hatchling in one of the boxes on any given day is pretty good. That being said,  on May 1 I still wasn’t quite expecting to see this:

This? It's egg #3! That embryo up yonder is about to reveal itself!

This? It’s egg #3! That embryo up yonder is about to reveal itself!

I crack my hard boiled eggs the same way! The hatchling basically blew out of its eggshell like a four-legged Hulk. I have to admire the effort it made. All that work was done using the egg tooth on the end of its nose.

This clutch contained five eggs. Four of them hatched. I was pleased with the odds. The fifth egg had some dark speckles which often indicates death in the egg. In our department, though, we don’t throw eggs away until we know for certain there’s nothing living inside. So I continued to incubate. About a month later, that fifth, dark-speckled egg hatched! The offspring was significantly smaller than all of the others (about 25% smaller at hatching), but small doesn’t always mean it’s not viable. It is now two months old and is keeping up with its siblings just fine.

So ends my first endeavor with breeding non-Malagasy tortoises. It’s not rocket science by any means, but the more experience I gain in tortoise breeding, the better able I will be to help the global turtle and tortoise crisis in the future.


So have you been holding out on me, too? What juicy secrets have you been sitting on? Tell me!

My Million Excuses

I sit here frozen at the keyboard. All the words that have been rattling around in my head for the last two hours have disappeared, flitting away like figments of my imagination. Wait. They were figments of my imagination, and they’ve left me, the little traitors.

My ailment isn’t a new one, nor is it undiagnosed. I am suffering from the dreaded Rewrite Paralysis. A few weeks ago, I got the bill for Girl-child’s first year of college tuition, and I came to the conclusion that, if I want to continue my day job, I am going to have to sell a book. If you’ve been around a while, you’ll know that leaving the zoo isn’t an option. I love it too much. If you’re a new reader, click the “turtles and tortoises” tab at the top. Yeah, I’m with the zoo forever. So, it’s time to pee or get off the pot.

Lampropeltis knoblochi, or Chihuahua Mountain Kingsnake. I don't talk about my snakes as much because they tend to squick some readers out, but isn't she beautiful? She's very sweet, too, and a contestant in the on-going "Longest Tongue competition over at Animal Couriers.

Lampropeltis knoblochi, or Chihuahua Mountain Kingsnake. I don’t talk about my snakes as much because they tend to squick some readers out, but isn’t she beautiful? She’s very sweet, too, and a contestant in the on-going “Longest Tongue” competition over at Animal Couriers.

I have a metric crap-ton** of excuses for not rewriting this novel sooner. Let’s get them out here in the open.

  1. That novel was just for fun.
  2. No one will really be interested in this character.
  3. It’s too hard to sell a book with a niche hobby like showing dogs. No one will be able to relate to it.
  4. It’s a damaged book, too far off the mark for redemption.
  5. I don’t have time.
  6. My kids are still young too young.
  7. My other hand hurts.
  8. Is it lunch time yet?

But if I’m really honest, there’s only one reason I haven’t delved head-first into rewrites.

I. Am. Scared.

The what-ifs are, quite frankly, eating me alive. What if I dedicate my whole world to this book only to discover that no one really DOES care? What if I do just fine with short little blog posts, but I’m not good enough to write a novel? What if I fail?

My answer to that last what-if is simple. I might fail, but I won’t die from it. Unless a potential agent reads it and finds it so horrible that they ouleave their big city office, come to my house, and bludgeon me to death with the e-file. I am still scared, but I am fairly certain this scenario won’t actually play out. I’m unlisted.

So this summer, I am stretching out of my comfort zone by joining Teachers Write, a four-week online camp for educators. If you’re a teacher, I recommend you join. It’s free. We get valuable feedback and a supportive community.

In keeping with the busting out of my wheelhouse, I will share the character sketch I wrote yesterday n response to this assignment. I am uncomfortable with this work because I am conflicted about writing in dialect. But it feels inauthentic not to. It won’t be for everybody, and I need to stop thinking that it will be. Not everyone loved Harry Potter, you know. Also, what is a wheelhouse?

She used to be skinny. She’s not no more, not since she come over to live at Grammy Sparks’. She likes Grammy’s cookin’, especially the hamburgers, fried in a pan. She likes those a lot.

She has brown eyes and blonde hair, but not same kind of hair as Sleeping Beauty\’s got, unless Sleeping Beauty slept a real, real long time and her hair got all dusty and kind of grey.

She don\’t like school. She done been to Principal\’s office so many times that they don’t bother with the teachin’ no more. Teacher puts the sum sheet on her desk but don’t say nothin’ when she crumples it up and drops it on the floor. Most people think she’s stupid. She’s not stupid. She knows better is all. Ain’t no reason to learn two and two when her Mamma done gone to jail for doin’ math.

Her front tooth is gone. It shoulda growed back two year ago when it first come out, but it didn’t. She didn’t even get nothin’ from the tooth fairy for it, neither. But she don’t believe in the tooth fairy, anyways. Except maybe she wishes she did.

She likes Grammy Sparks’ house good enough. Except for that cat. She hates that cat. He don’t like her much, neither. He squinted up his one good eye and scratched her good and proper the first day they met. He’s a mean old cat. He prowls outside her room at night and yowls. The same sound. Ra’o, ra’o, ra’o, over and over again, like he forgot he already said it.

He’s always there, that cat, always bein’ mean. Sometimes he takes the food straight off her plate, just plops up in a chair and snakes out that stripey paw, and next thing you know, he’s got her french fry. No one knows where he come from, but she surewishes he’d go.

Auntie June says Grammy Sparks is good at dragging in strays.

Am I alone? Anyone else ever let fear stand in their way? How did you conquer it?


** Little known fact: the official system for measuring excuses is metric.

Challenge Accepted!

A few months ago, I found a blog out there in cyberspace. I don’t even remember how I came across it, but I started reading, and I just couldn’t stop. The woman can write, and about all manner of topics. Smart, funny, and did I mention smart? So anyway, imagine my surprise when I logged in last week and discovered she had tagged me in a post. Not just any post, but one containing a challenge. A photo challenge, no less.

You KNOW how much I love photographs!

You KNOW how much I love photographs! Click to enlarge. Because I said so.

So the first part of this challenge is to thank the person who tagged me in the first place. So, thank you, Alice. It was a huge honor to see my name on your blog.

The second part is to share one photograph and quote per day for three days. But I am nothing if not lazy, so I’ll give you three photos in one day. Click to enlarge because apparently you can’t read the text without enlarging the pics. I’m so sorry. I’ll learn photoshop for next time.

Okay, fine. Not technically a quote, but there are at least 50 shades of grey here. And they look so good on him.

Okay, fine. Not technically a quote, but there are at least 50 shades of grey here. And they look so good on him.


And this:


And last, but definitely not least. My favorite.


So the last part of the challenge is to tag 3 other bloggers. I’d rather share with you three bloggers that you should be following. Besides Alice, of course.

Peas and Cougars. Web comic. Hilarious.

The Middlest Sister. She really gets childhood.

The Kitchen’s Garden. Sustainable farm, mind-blowing photography.

So there you have it. Do you have a favorite quote to share? Clearly I stink a quotes.

And Now For The Good Part: Hatching Oustalet’s Chameleons, Part 2

Where were we, now? Ah, yes. I left you with this.

The chameleon breaks out of the end of its egg. See that pink bit? That's its TONGUE! It laps water before it hatches.

The chameleon breaks out of the end of its egg. See that pink bit? That’s its TONGUE! It laps water before it hatches.

After a ten month incubation, these Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti) eggs began to hatch. A teaser image, I know. I have taken hundreds of shots of these little guys, and there were just too many to share in a single blog post. Please accept my apology. To be fair, I didn’t put you through anything I didn’t experience myself. It was several days after I saw the tongue before I saw the baby. Are you ready? Hang onto your hat.  Click any of the images to enlarge. There’s more detail when the pictures are full-sized.

The hatchlings rest in their egg for what feels like a long time.  Some of the eggs showed tears in the end for several days before their inhabitants finally emerged. All the juveniles seemed to end with one final step before hatching: sleeping.

Such hard work for a little guy!

Such hard work for a little guy!

I took many photographs of the babies asleep in their eggs. Hatching is hard work. Imagine getting caught in the rain and having to peel off your skinny jeans. That are a size too small. Without using your hands. It’s exhausting. In addition to resting, the hatchlings were also absorbing the remainder of their yolk.

Some of the babies took right off after a quick nap, while others slept in their egg for over 12 hours. Note the color change between the first set of images. The lighter color seems to indicate the hatchling is sleeping. When the baby is actively working to emerge, the color shifts to brown. The brown coloration is similar to the dark, dark grey they turn when they are stressed, possibly indicating that hatching is a stressful experience. It’s hard to say for sure, though, because sometimes the act of observing something changes what is being observed.

And then… Ta-da!

That's my thumb. Yeah, he's tiny. The little gold flecks are bits of vermiculite, the medium we prefer for incubating eggs.

That’s my thumb. Yeah, he’s tiny. The little gold flecks are bits of vermiculite, the medium we prefer for incubating eggs.



A couple of days after hatching. Note the white spots on the side.

A couple of days after hatching. Note the white spots on the side. The grey coloration appears to be their default setting. How tiny is this animal? It’s holding onto a bit of honeysuckle.

These animals are beautifully camouflaged. They are nearly indistinguishable from the branches.

These animals are beautifully camouflaged. They are nearly indistinguishable from the branches.

I can’t stop taking pictures. They sit across from my desk, so my lunch hour is usually spent snapping interesting poses. Can you blame me? Could you eat lunch or read a book when a little guy is doing this?

Small chameleon goes Full Yoda - "Take my picture, you will.."

Small chameleon goes Full Yoda – “Take my picture, you will..”

These chameleons are growing well. They are fed at least once a day on tiny crickets and fruit flies. I mist them a couple of times a day, as well. Because they are completely arboreal, they don’t recognize standing water as something to drink. They lap water droplets when it rains, so I make sure to “rain” on them often. Juveniles tend to dehydrate easily.

Most of these babies will eventually find their way to homes in other zoos. Once we get a little size on them and they can handle travel, they will go out and help create a healthy captive population, which will help take pressure off of wild populations. In the meantime, I’ll have my camera handy, and I do like to share.

Celi has hatched some things, too. Go pay her a visit!

Hurry Up and Wait: Hatching Oustalet’s Chameleons

Way back when (it does seem like an age ago), I wrote about candling reptile eggs.  Remember this picture?

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 called blood spots. Note the veining to the left. Things are happening here!

This egg is from an Oustalet’s Chameleon, the largest species of chameleon in the world. The egg is smaller than it looks. The light shining on it is 1/4in wide. These eggs are small, about the size of my pinkie fingernail.

Many species of lizards hatch in about 60 days. These eggs were laid way back in July 2014, and the first signs of development weren’t seen until six months later. We knew this lengthy incubation was normal for Oustalet’s Chameleons, but we didn’t know much else. So often, species that are considered to have adequate numbers in the wild are overlooked for captive breeding programs, sometimes until their numbers drop and it’s too late to turn things around. Those who do breed them are often private keepers, and they don’t always think to take the best notes.

This is our zoo’s first clutch of Oustalet’s Chameleons, and I’d like to share what I have learned, the good, the bad, and the things that will give you grey hairs.

There doesn’t seem to be much obvious courtship. The guy finds an agreeable lady and does his thing. A female who is not carrying eggs is bright green with white spots down her sides. Once breeding has completed and the female is gravid (carrying eggs), she turns greenish or tan with ribbons of red. This coloration is a visible cue to any passing males that she is officially off the market. Click photos to enlarge. Resolution and color is enhanced when the pics are larger. Weird.

The female carries the eggs for a couple of months, and then she deposits the clutch, which my consist of as many as 60 eggs, in a hole she has dug with her hind feet. They dig deep, too. A foot of substrate is ideal for her to work with. Though the eggs show no signs of development for many months, it’s easy to pick out the healthy, fertile ones. After a few weeks, the infertile eggs collapse and turn rather yellow, while the good ones stay nice and plump and turn white (known as “chalking up” in the trade).

The eggs may develop at different rates. We have no idea why. Our tray of eggs was incubated at room temperature (our Main Area ranges between 76-78 degrees), but some eggs began to show their first sign of development (see photo) well before others. Same temps, same box, same relative humidity, but a few eggs were quicker to begin developing.

Fast forward to late May. We began to find these:


The first sign the egg is about to hatch is sweating. What is inside is about to come outside.

A sweating egg means hatching is imminent. But even after ten months of incubation, nothing happens quickly. The egg  with the goo on it did produce a live hatchling, but not for an entire week. After two days, the egg began to collapse. A day after that, slits appeared in one end where the baby chameleon used its egg tooth to shred it’s way out.

The chameleon breaks out of the end of its egg. See that pink bit? That's its TONGUE! It laps water before it hatches.

The chameleon breaks out of the end of its egg. See that pink bit? That’s its TONGUE! It laps water before it hatches.

And then we waited some more. The baby spent its remaining time within the egg resting and absorbing its yolk. Three days after the first slits appeared, we had our hatchling.

Stay tuned for Part II on Monday. I have so many images to share, I couldn’t fit them all into one post. Trust me when I say it’s worth the wait.

The DIY Tip That Home Depot Didn’t Tell You

A garden hose is one of the tools I use daily. I have a tip you may not have heard from Lowe’s or The Home Depot.

A hose will work better and have greater water pressure if there is not a 523lb giant tortoise standing on it.


He looks pleased with himself, doesn't he? It took 15 minutes of scratching his neck to get him to finally move. Every week, Al? Really?

He looks pleased with himself, doesn’t he? It took 15 minutes of scratching his neck to get him to finally move. Every week, Al? Really?

You heard it here first.


Love tortoise and turtles and want to aid in their conservation? Enjoy a glass of wine? Shop here! Each bottle sold raises money for the Turtle Survival Alliance, an organization committed to zero turtle and tortoise extinctions in the 21st century.