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?

Notes From the Zookeeper: Saying Goodbye

I love to share the good things. There is so much about my job that is good, hopeful, wonderful. I hatch baby tortoises fairly regularly now, I have the privilege of taking care of an Aldabra Giant Tortoise that I met for the first time when I was on a class field trip in the first grade, and my job is never, ever boring. There is so much to learn, so much to question, so much to DO! Happy is when a kid overcomes their fear and pets Big Al for the first time. Happy is when a new baby tortoise hatches and thrives. Happy is changing a guest’s mind about the value of snakes in their yard. But with light comes dark, with sweet comes bitter.

A few weeks ago, we lost Khaleesi, our beautiful female Komodo Dragon. She would have been nine in August. Captive dragons don’t live as long as their wild counterparts, a phenomenon we have begun to understand and correct, but a captive life expectancy is around 25 years. At 9 years old, she was still a young dragon. We are still reeling from her loss.

One Saturday she looked like she was favoring one hind leg. A few days later, she was gone. Necropsy (an autopsy for animals) revealed that she was carrying eggs, several of which had begun to decay. Had the eggs been fertile, she would likely have laid them days, even weeks, prior. Infertile eggs don’t pass through the reproductive tract as easily. Retained eggs lead to infection, and that is what got our girl.

Dog and cat owners can tell you how strong the human-animal bond can be and how much it hurts when our pets die. We loved our dragon the same way other folks love their cats and dogs. She was one of a kind, and we miss her.

She arrived at Zoo Knoxville eight years ago, as a yearling. Komodo Dragons have an excellent sense of smell, so one way to get to know her keepers was to have each of them put a dirty work-out shirt in her exhibit with her a few times per week. Dragons are intelligent, as well, and they recognize individuals by sight and by smell. Very quickly, she had picked her favorite person. Each time the shirts were hung in her exhibit, she would yank his down and sleep on it. Years later, when he had been promoted out of the department, he could still do things with her that none of the rest of us had the nerve to. He could hold her to have her claws trimmed when she was nearly grown.

People were stunned that we would go into her exhibit with her, but she was a pleasure to work with. We always took precautions. She was a wild animal, after all. But we knew her – knew how to read her behavior. We used a Komodo stick, basically a long, thick stick with a fork at one end, useful for pinning a tail, pushing a head away, or cupping the back of a chunky thigh to encourage her to move forward when she was dug in and refusing to go inside. Sometimes she surprised us. Last summer, she learned to pin the stick with her thigh so she could try to whack it out of our hand with her tail.

Khaleesi was very intelligent. Not only did she recognize individual keepers, she responded to each of our expectations differently. Stephen, her primary keeper, didn’t hesitate to open the door to feed her when she was right in front of it. He could get by with that. He had known her longer and had worked with her more. It took her only a couple of tries to learn that if I was feeding her, she needed to go up on a platform under the lights. Considering she only ate once a week, it was a pretty impressive feat on her part.

Intelligence also means curiosity. Any time we brought something into the exhibit that she hadn’t seen before, she would run over as quickly as she could, tongue-flicking to beat the band. I once brought in a temperature gun to make sure the exhibit was warm enough, and tried to climb my leg like a temp gun was exactly what she wanted for her birthday. How could you not love an animal like that?

We’ve been asked quite a bit whether or not we’re getting another dragon. The short answer is that we don’t know. The longer answer is that there aren’t any available dragons right now, and we don’t know if that will change. We don’t even know right now if any zoos are incubating viable eggs. So we wait to see what will go in her exhibit.

We wait. And we miss her.

 

 

Notes From the Zookeeper: Change Is Hard

I know. Saying that change is hard is about as cliché as it gets. Oh, hello. You’ve read the blog, right? I’m nothing if not a giant cliché. It’s worth repeating. Change is hard. Painful. Awful. Some people thrive on trying shaking up the routine, whether it’s adding a new spice to a favorite comfort food, or visiting new churches for fun. I am not one of those people. I don’t even like to take a new route home. I want the same, and I want it now. And tomorrow, and the day after that… But nothing stays the same forever, and my job is no exception.

Some things never change. Big Al is one of those things. He can always be counted on.

Let me add a little context before I jump right in. Successful zoos (and successful people), are always working toward a master plan – 5 years, 10 years, etc. They spend a lot of time thinking about where they want to be, what projects they want to undertake, what animals they want to exhibit. These plans are what takes a zoo to the next level, and my zoo is no different. We are preparing for a major construction project (more on that in another post), and before site work can begin, our Central American Aviary will have to away. For months (years?) Boss Man Michael, who is curator of both Ornithology and Herpetology, has been been preparing for this project by sending the birds that we won’t be exhibiting anymore to other facilities.

So there won’t be an aviary. That shouldn’t affect me too much, right? You would think. But because our bird collection is being downsized for the next  of 5-10 years, and because of staffing changes,  the entire Ornithology department is being disbanded, and the Bird keepers are being absorbed into other departments. And so are the birds themselves. Instead of a department dedicated to them, the birds will be cared for by the department they are closest to geographically. And that, gentle reader, is the crux of my problem. Herpetology is getting birds.

Now, we’re not getting ALL of them. And one of their dedicated keepers is coming over to our department and will be the primary caregiver for our feathered friends. But as the boss pointed out, she won’t be working seven days a week. And that means we all have to learn to take care of them.

I don’t *hate* birds, yo, so go easy on the hate mail. But I wouldn’t say I *like* them, either, exactly. Birds are messy, and they are often loud, and those stupid things bite. A lot of them are sharp on every end, too. I would rather be bitten snake than by a bird. And birds are so needy. Did you know they expect to be fed more than once a day? What is up with that? I like my creatures slimy, scaly, and mostly quiet, with a slow metabolism. But I must learn.

Fridays are now my days to shadow Bird keepers to learn how to take care of our feathered friends. I don’t want to resent it because I like to think I am up to learning something new, but, man they’re birds! Last week was my first time on the routine. I learned that our department will be getting a Eurasian Eagle Owl, the only one that reads Winnie the Pooh, I am sure, because he actually says “Hoo!” We will also be getting Western Burrowing Owls, Edward’s Pheasants, nearly extinct in its native Vietnam, Blue-Crowned Laughing Thrush, and White Crested Laughing Thrush. We are not yet sure if we will be getting White-Naped Crane exhibit, so we’re learning their care just in case.

I survived my first day on the job. It was even kind of interesting. The White Crested Laughing Thrush have a chick, and it was fascinating to watch a species with parental care. I stood for a long time watching the three adults in the exhibit picking up meal worms and stuffing them into the fledgling’s cake hole. And the Burrowing Owls were cute. The Edward’s Pheasants were all up in our business, which kind of reminded me of Big Al, and I get to keep all the owl pellets for dissecting. That’ll be cool.

I’ll survive, I know. I may even succumb to the charms of these new, feathery dinosaurs. I hope. In the meantime, I will just have to take comfort in the fact that none of them poops as much as Big Al.

Stuff I No Longer Care About, and One Thing That I Do

So a few days ago, I wrote about a book that has changed the way I view the world. Read it, practice it, love it, quit caring about stuff that doesn’t matter. To be honest, it’s not easy to let go of the emotional stuff. It’s funny that as a borderline hoarder, going all KonMari on my vast collection of *STUFF* has come more easily to me than not giving a… shall we say “fork.” Point me in the direction of a cluttered dresser, and I can sort, and organize, and spark so much joy that the house nearly catches fire. But not caring? I have taken the book with me everywhere so I can re-read parts and get it stuck in my brain. But when I CAN let go, it’s really so wonderful! I feel unburdened.

That’s the beauty of the “Not Giving A Fork” method. If I miss obsessing over stuff, if that anxiety sparks joy, I can have it back. Here are some things that I decided not to waste any more energy on, at least for now:

  • My weight. This one was surprisingly easy given my decades-long struggle with an eating disorder. I am what I am. I go to the gym now several days a week because I frickin’ LOVE the gym (no joke!), and if I lose weight, fine. If I don’t, that’s okay, too. As long as I am active, that is all that matters.
  • The 2020 presidential election. I will care about it later, but dear God! There is too much going on right now to spend an iota of energy worrying about 2020. I’d like Congress to sort out the Now before moving on to 2020.
  • The economy. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I can’t do anything about it. If I can’t fix it, how does worrying help? I’ll write my representatives, of course. But obsessing until I make myself sick? No can do.
  • Whether my kids eat what I cook. This is a big one because I tend to take it kind of personally. But one has sensory issues, and one gets home from school and eats a big snack because he is starving, so he isn’t really hungry for dinner. Know what this means? I can cook what I like!
  • Whether my clothes match when I go to the gym. I am just going to get sweaty. Might as well start out looking like something the cat dragged in.
  • Grouchy people. I didn’t do anything wrong, so I am not going to shoulder the burden of someone else’s bad mood.
  • The Wall. I’ve let my representatives know exactly what I think about the ridiculousness of such a venture. I’ve done what I can do. Yelling at the radio every time it is mentioned does not do me any good.
  • Understanding all the implications of Brexit. I am nosy, but this issue is just too complicated to spare any extra forks for. Over the last 2 years, no one has explained it in simple enough terms for me to understand, so odds are I’m not going to gain a sudden understanding of the complexities of such a big event. I am okay with that.
  • The Oscars.
  • People who claim that e-readers aren’t *real* readers.
  • When someone cuts me off in traffic.
  • Being over-charged at Sonic. $2 isn’t worth getting worked up over.
  • When I make a minor mistake. I apologize, I mean it, and then I let it go.

Now here’s something I DO care about. I’m trying to turn my blog series “Notes From the Zookeeper” into an actual book. I have some chapters laid out already, but I would love some input. If you were reading such a book, what would you hope to learn? This book is going to be primarily factual, with lots of references, but there will be room for anecdotes about animals. What do you want to know? Help me bring this idea to fruition!

I had so much fun with “Unscienceandanimal” hash tag!

The Thing That Has Maybe Changed My Life

If you read my last post, you may remember that I have begun to employ the KonMari method around my house. If you missed it, you can catch up here. Embarrassing photo and all. It’s so simple. Look at all my things, one by one. If a thing makes me happy (or is something I *need*), I keep it. If I don’t need it, and it doesn’t make me happy, I have permission to let it go. This notion is huge for me! I grew up low-income, and with tight family ties. This combo is a giant-double whammy, and has led me to be a borderline hoarder all my life. But now, I have permission to let it go. My brain does not operate in any kind of linear manner, so organization has been a huge struggle until now. But using KonMari, I have less *stuff* to process, and packing what I DO have in clear bins makes sense. I get it! And it’s easy for me to maintain because I can see immediately when something is out of place and return it to its home. But there’s something that has helped me even more.

I have started going back to the gym, too. I had a wake-up call that reminded me that I need to take care of my body. The gym seems cliche (have you met me?!), New-Years-Resolution Driven, but the truth is that I love the gym. After spending an hour on the treadmill, reading and listening to music, I feel so good. It’s like a spa treatment. I have not prioritized going because it felt like a guilty pleasure, and because it has been difficult to get there. The Destroyer has had full-on panic attacks when we have tried to get him to stay at the facility’s childcare. It just wasn’t worth it. But now The Padawan can babysit, and The Destroyer even likes to work out on the treadmill, too, so it can be a bonding experience, at least in the short term. But that isn’t the thing that has revolutionized my take on the world.

I went to the used bookstore the other day, with $90 in credit from the books I had KonMari’d because I didn’t feel like I needed them anymore. In the humor section, I found the most incredible book, a gift from God. It’s called The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*** by Sarah Knight.This is a family blog, so we’re going to say the f-word is Fig. The idea behind this book is so simple. Set a Fig Budget for how many figs you have to give overall and then see where they *really* matter and where they don’t. Where the figs given do not matter, cut them out. That’s it. There are even tips for how to do so politely so that feelings don’t get hurt when we say no. It’s all about prioritizing, and it’s glorious.

As a result, just a few days after buying the book, I am sitting at my kitchen table at 8:30 in the morning. School is delayed due to ice on the road. Husband has an early-morning meeting, so it is up to me to stay home and disperse kids. I normally leave for work at 7:15, and Wednesdays are busy days. But can I change the weather? I cannot. So why invest the energy of giving a fig? So I am blogging and drinking coffee while my son and his buddy play football outside. It’s not even an inconvenience. This re-route is a gift.

I went out to move my car for husband, and the car wouldn’t start. The battery is sick and needs replacing. That will take me a half-hour this morning. Can I control it? No. Will buying a new battery after I drop kids off make my life better? It will. No more mornings wondering if today is going to be the day my car won’t start. I can put that fig back in my pocket. And if it’s a battery? They’re expensive. But electrical issues in the car are MORE expensive. So a battery seems like a good deal. I will save this money-fig for another day.

So there it is. All that time and energy spent worrying about things that I can’t control today have been invested in writing. Do you spend more figs each day than you have? I have your solution. Read it, love it, share it. I’m serious.

A Zookeeper’s Gratitude

Please don’t ask me why I have put off this post for so long. I simply do not know. It’s not that I am a whiny ingrate. I have been practicing gratitude daily for a while now because it really works. But I’m tired. Somehow, the act of creating a post, and finding the right pictures, and editing, and feeling a little exposed has felt like more than I could do. I have been ill for a while, and illness has taken its toll. I’ve been doling out my energy by the tablespoonful just to keep functioning, and the hoops have felt too tiny to jump through. But I promised my sweet friend, Dawn. Gratitude is worth giving some energy to, even if I don’t count my blessings all the way up to fifty. I am not on the verge of death here, I promise. Even though this first paragraph is kinda heavy. I’m just tired, ya’ll. Physically spent. There are worse things.

So here I am. And what am I grateful for? Lots. So much. I have good things, and more good things on the horizon. Some of them are more obvious than others.

  • I am so thankful for Marie Kondo. Let me just tell you, the Netflix series really was life-changing for me. If you’re not familiar, Marie wrote a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Now she has a TV series. If you know me in real life, you know that I am a borderline hoarder. I have sentimental attachments to every, little thing. And I lack a linear thought process, so my house is perpetually a mess. I can appreciate a tidy space, but my brain doesn’t always know how to get there. But I watched the entire season in a couple of days, and now I get it. She doesn’t tell anyone to throw anything away, ever. Ever. She gets a bad rap on the internet because the internet is for people who like to complain about things. She says that if an item “sparks joy”, (or if you NEED it, like pots and pans) keep it. There is a way to store it. In the last three weeks, I have donated about 15  trash bags full of things that I was ready to let go of. It is an incredible feeling. For the first time ever, I feel like my living space is getting tidy. And I traded books to our used bookstore and got $90 in credit. Which I am saving for something cool.

 

  • FROGS – It has been a good frog-year for me at work. I got my first eggs from my Bumblebee Dart Frogs, which are easy to breed but had eluded me. I got 2 clutches, and I have four froglets. They are tiny enough to sit on my pinkie nail. I have learned from my mistakes as I went, and they have not suffered for it. I am pretty stoked.

See that little tadpole? It’s not so little anymore!

 

  • Big Al. Because always Big Al. He has so much personality, and he gives me hugs when I need them. Al, for the record, I always need them.

Big Al is pressing his face into my shoulder. It’s how he gives hugs. I love him.

  • I got to take a trip to San Diego this summer. For free. Getting there was a nightmare, but I learned that I do like to travel. And I can pack light. I can go cross-country for four days with only a backpack. As long as my e-reader is in it, I’m good.
  • This is my favorite picture of all.

 

  • My e-reader. I love my Kobo. Don’t @ me. I get a little tired of the “I don’t like e-readers because I like REAL books” crowd. I love physical books, too, but I am running out of room. Literal floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in our family room are filled to overflowing. I do buy some nice print editions – most books related to my job are either not available in e-format, or they are so beautiful that I buy physical copies. I get all the illustrated Harry Potters, too. But my e-reader can hold 10,000 books without gaining a single gram. And I can fit it in my pocket to take it anywhere. And it is backlit, so if I can’t sleep, I can read without disturbing my husband. And when my hands start cramping, I can prop it up on my lap and turn a page with a single tap. I don’t have to fight to hold open a huge volume.

 

  • My Tweeps. I love Twitter. I have found a band of fairly like-minded people there, and they are often my soft place to fall. I have also found some people that I don’t necessarily agree with on all things, but that educate me on the other side of lots of issues. Twitter has been a good learning place for me.

 

  • Books. I have read so many great books recently! I have been on a roll. Not one stinker, DNF in the entire bunch!

 

  • My tortoises groups are laying eggs in record numbers, and some of them are developing. I got six shoe boxes of eggs this year, which is impressive because they only lay one egg at a time, and I don’t start the incubation process for an individual box until there are at least 9 eggs in it. Not all of them will hatch. Most of them will not. But I am collecting some really valuable data, and I am trying some new things to see if I can hit the sweet spot and increase the hatch rate.

Common Spider Tortoise is awake and ready to hatch.

  • Power tools. I was able to build a new series of outdoor enclosures for the Northern Spider Tortoise adults, and as a result, they got to spend their summer outdoors. The natural sunlight does WONDERS. UV produces vitamin D, which in turn helps the females shell their eggs properly and utilize the calcium in their food, it gives them signals that can’t really be replicated indoors. Sometimes it takes a year to reap benefits, so it might be this upcoming breeding season before I see results, but I am hopeful. And proud. I did a thing with very little help, and I did it with power tools and an 8lb sledge-hammer.

 

  • Home Improvement Stores
  • My plants. Sorry, husband. They spark joy, so they stay…
  • My cell phone (it’s so much more fun and useful than I ever thought that it would be!)
  • The Padawan got his first job.
  • Family meals when Girl-Child tells stories from her days at private school
  • I’m getting better. One day at a time, one step at a time, if not feeling better, I am functioning better. I can at least make dinner some nights before getting into bed.
  • Little surprises. This banana plant was, to the casual observer, dead. Look what popped up yesterday while I was off!
  • My bed. My comfy, cozy, welcoming resting spot, covered in cats who want to be near me.
  • Puppies catching treats. You’re welcome.
  • Friends who prompt me to get the blogging done.

Alright. I have completed my post. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write your own post. Visit Dawn to get complete rules and link up, and make sure you check out some of the other folks in the link-up. Come on in. The water’s fine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Introverted Activist: Be the Light

I was so depressed this morning that I could barely get out of bed. This administration becomes more monstrous by the day; there is so much evil in the world, and I can’t take it anymore. There aren’t enough anti-depressants in the world to make me feel better. Like, I asked the world to quit turning because I wanted to get off. What can I do? I called my senators (both Republicans, both speaking out against the abuses at the border), I called the Department of Justice (1-202-514-2000), but I didn’t feel better. Not at all. Again, what can I do? I am one person. And I figured it out. My most important job right now is to make my own tiny corner of the world the very best that it can possibly be. And so I did.

I did anything I could think of.

  • I picked up trash
  • I checked a reservoir before the end of the day so my co-worker didn’t have to fill it
  • I paid for the groceries of a little elderly lady whose check kept getting rejected at the check out
  • I let a birthday boy help feed Al his watermelon
  • I let cars into traffic, and I didn’t honk when someone cut me off
  • I talked to lots of zoo guests who had questions and tried to make their day a little better
  • I let son choose what we watched while we worked
  • I made falafel for husband and son
  • I didn’t expect son to eat the tabouli
  • I let smallest pick his own dinner – ramen noodles – and didn’t bark about nutrition (there’s always tomorrow!)
  • I fed my silver Arowana a little extra goodness. Roaches. Her favorite
  • I gave the dogs extra biscuits
  • I am making plans to take my husband to see the Mr. Rogers documentary – something that we BOTH need!
  • I wrote the report for today so my co-worker didn’t have to
  • I gave my intern some fun jobs to do – like feed Al. It was good for both of them

Am I cured? Not by a long shot. My heart still hurts, and I am struggling to breathe sometimes. But tomorrow is another day, and I will do it again. As much as I can for as long as I can. You do it, too. Do what you can to make your world better than it was without you. You do it, I’ll do it, and before you know it, we will have our world back. We can do it. Together. Be the light.

Notes From the Zookeeper: Team Player! And the Cutest Thing

Gotta make this quick because I woke up late. But I promised to share an amazing video, so here I am.

Here’s a sneak peek:

Grumpy little Northern Spider Tortoise.  Freshly hatched with plastron still folded

I did something crazy a few weeks ago. No surprises there, really. I am kind of unpredictable a times. But the zoo is a corporate sponsor of the local marathon, and that meant we needed a TEAM. I am a team-player, friends. I likes me a good team, and I LOVE a long walk, so I signed up for the 1/2 marathon. Not to run it, mind. I was put together out of spare parts, kind of like a platypus. I cannot stay sound enough to run anywhere unless chased. Even when I’m chased, I am not fast. I can only win in the survival of the fittest by pushing someone down. Don’t gotta be fast, just faster than someone else, right?

Anyway, yesterday was the day. I originally had a goal of finishing in 3:30 – three hours, thirty minutes. That’s how fast you have to walk it before they start taking the course down. But then I developed this pesky arthritis in the ole spinal column, so my plans changed. Finish the thing with no time goal. Finish, or die trying.

My view yesterday morning:

The Sun Sphere, a Knoxville landmark from my childhood. I have some bitterness about this beautiful thing. Remind me to tell you about it sometime. No, Marge, I did not forget.

Who’s an excited girl?

40 degrees, not quite daylight, but here I am with about 5000 of my closest friends!

And the crowd builds energy. So many people of different body shapes, all out here with a common goal. Also, something I didn’t expect.

Yeah, that’s a T-rex. See that yellow bib? That means it’s running the full marathon. Godspeed, my Cretaceous friend!

I hung with some of my teammates for a while, but though I am not built for running, you can wind me up and I’ll walk all day. It was actually more comfortable for me to open my stride and walk faster. And the miles fell down behind me. I started passing people, especially on the hills. You’ve never seen my legs, but I do not have calves – I have steer. I am MADE for climbing hills. Plus. I walk our neighborhood, and it is uphill in both directions. I am a rock star when it comes to churning up hills. Then the sun came out, and I got to see some of the prettiest parts of my city on my stroll.

Mile 13. I am so happy, having SO MUCH FUN!

I could not stop smiling. An officer at mile 13 barked “There’s no smiling in marathons!” I yelled back “The course hasn’t been taken down yet! I am achieving my goal!” He tossed me a thumbs-up.

And then, there it was. The finish line. This marathon finishes runners on the 50 yard line of our football stadium. We’re projected onto the jumbo tron as we cross, and then a volunteer hands us a space blanket and a medal. It was an incredible moment!

And here I am!

Selfie at the finish line! I did it! LOOK AT MY SHINY MEDAL! Sparkly, pretty, and heavy enough to be used as a weapon! Yes, that’s a Gryffindor shirt I am wearing. It also has a cape, which isn’t visible in the photo.

And now for news of the cute. My co-worker has had some incredible success hatching Malagasy Flat-tailed tortoises. Pyxis planicauda are hard to breed, even harder to incubate. But here we are!

Hatching is a lot of work. I’mma take a little nap.

First delicious meal. Is that a mushroom?

And now she is hatching some Taylor’s Shield-tailed Agamas. I’ll share more about those later, but it’s school and work time now. I’ll leave you with these.

The pink in the egg is the head of the embryo. The pointy thing is it’s head.

And if you do nothing else today, watch this video. Embryos move long before they hatch.

What’s magical in your world this week? Did you attend a march? Tell me about it!

Notes From the Zookeeper: Gratitude

I love my job. There are so many things to be grateful for.

The first call is the critically endangered Golden Dart Frog. The second call is a Bumblebee Dart Frog. I have played these calls back to them for fifteen minute stretches three times a day, five days a week for several weeks now. It gets them grooving.

  • Ingenuity and success. Bowers made of coconuts cut in half are recommended for breeding Dart Frogs. I only have one, and my Annulated Boa has commandeered it. So I made due with what I had – black snake hide-boxes set atop the lids from Chinese food takeout containers. And you know what? It worked!

These are just a few of the eggs hidden in the exhibit. If they hatch, Dad will carry them to a water source on his back. Check back in about 10 days days.

  • Hoses that don’t kink
  • Hoses that aren’t frozen
  • Brand-new hoses that save us from filling our rearing reservoir with a bucket in the cold
  • Guests that show up on bitter cold days because they love the zoo
  • A raise
  • Good water pressure
  • Disposable food storage containers. Seriously. We use these for everything from storing food to raising dart frog tadpoles. Thank you, Glad and Ziploc! Wanna sponsor a post?
  • When the youngsters start to figure out what they’re meant to do

Egyptian Tortoises (Testudo kleinmanni). He’s only seven, so he’s maybe not quite got the hang of it yet, but he’s trying!

  • Surprises. My female Chinese Crocodile Lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus) has babies every two years. So we thought. She had eleven babies last year. In December, she surprised me with eleven more. This species is critically endangered due to habitat destruction, fragmented populations (some groups have 10 or fewer adults, which isn’t sustainable), over-collection for the pet trade, and a long gestation period (9-14 months!) which combine to make population recovery difficult

Newborn Chinese Crocodile Lizard. It’s tiny until you think that there were ELEVEN of them all curled up in there!

  • This guy.

    Tex, wearing his best opuntia fruit lipstick.

  • When my snack drawer is full. Zookeeping is hungry business!
  • Hidden opportunities. In 2017, I got to volunteer at the Turtle Survival Center in SC, and I got to go to the Turtle Survival Alliance conference in Charleston. I also had a trip to Amphibian Management School. This year, I’m going to Amphibian Research School, and I have a lead on a trip to California.
  • Weird animals
  • Mossy Leaf-tail Gecko (Uroplatus sikorae) shortly after hatching

  • Guests who ask questions and are genuinely interested in learning more
  • The sense of wonder and amazement when guests finally see a well-camouflaged animal on exhibit
  • Plants. I just started two small green houses at work with cuttings to make some really interesting additions to exhibits
  • My iPod. A lot of what I do is solitary. It takes me 6-8 hours a week to maintain my aquatic exhibit. It’s great to have music to listen to. This year, I may expand to podcasts
  • Lowe’s. I love home improvement stores, and it gives me jollies to know where everything is
  • Toboggans and gloves. It’s cold out there!
  • Possibilities. We’re working on planning our new facility. It is going to be incredible and state-of-the-art. Stay tuned!

What are you grateful for? Today is the last day that the linkup is active. Want to participate? Set a timer for 15 minutes. Make a list of what you are grateful for. When the timer goes off, stop. Post, link.

From Dawn at Tales From the Motherland:

How to join in: write your own post and publish it. Copy the link from the post. Then click on the frog below, and follow the instructions to add your link. If you have any trouble, please let me know, and I’d be happy to help. I will also add a link to each post on my own blog post, as they are published. For extra fun, please add the hashtags #BloggersUnite and/or #50HappyThings… because, well, everyone loves a hashtag! The link-up expires January 15th at 11:59pm.

Click here to link

 

 

The Daily Post : Weathered

I haven’t tried the Daily Post in a number of years, but I was inspired by today’s theme: weathered. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t put a zookeeper slant on it, though, would I?

Riverbanks Zoo has a herd of Galapagos Tortoises. We have Aldabra Tortoises at our zoo. These two species are a fascinating example of convergent evolution – animals that develop similar traits, but in different parts of the world. Galapagos Tortoises are found off the coast of Ecuador in South America, and Aldabs are found off the east coast of Africa in the Seychelles. They last shared a common ancestor about 20 million years ago. But they are so similar.

Here’s an Aldabra Giant Tortoise:

Big Al and his watermelon that was donated by a child. If I cut up the watermelon, it’s gone in 10 minutes. A whole watermelon gets shoved around for 5 hours.

Galapagos Tortoise in Riverbanks Zoo, SC

There are minor differences. Galapagos tortoises can get up to about 600lbs, depending on the subspecies, whereas Aldabs top out typically at 350. Though Big Al is a plus-sized model. He’s 525lbs. Galaps typically lack the little scale on their shell behind their neck, called a nuchal scute. Their shells vary, and some have really high arches at their necks to allow them to reach taller shrubs. And Galaps have a very round head by comparison to Aldabs, but you have to really know them to notice. My favorite difference is that Aldabs stretch out their necks to be scratched, while Galaps look straight up. ADORABLE!

The thing about both species is, they can live for, like, ever. Not really. Eventually they peter out, but they live a very, very long time. One animal died in 2006, and there were records on it going back 252 years, and it was a wild-caught animal. The oldest confirmed tortoise was 189 years old. That’s a lot of wear and tear.

Time takes its toll on all of us, tortoises included.

It’s like looking into the face of a dinosaur. Weathered.

Time, wind, and water wear us down. The scales on this Galapagos tortoise girl’s neck have worn smooth with time. Her shell, too, sports that lived-in look. She had a nice hole in her carapace (top shell) that is now a cozy home to a spider.

See the spider web? It was nice and fresh. The damage is purely cosmetic. Shells are tough!

She looks pretty good for her age, don’t you think? Just imagine, a century ago, she looked more like this:

Juvenile Galapagos Tortoise

This tortoise is under six months old, all shiny and pretty and new. There are plenty of growth rings in her shell, too. They are like trees. As they grow, they get new rings. The center of the ring is essentially dead shell, like our hair or fingernails, and the rings are fresh growth. This little baby is all bright-eyed and represents the future of her species.

And this girl? She’s bursting with history.

If this girl could talk…

What do you think of when you hear the word “weathered?” Show us your best photos. Join this week’s Daily Post.