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?

Notes From the Zookeeper: Tiny Tortoise Videos and Also Playtime

Last week I showed you some pictures of newly hatched Northern Spider Tortoises. And I do believe I promised you a video. I am one to keep my promises, so here you go. You’re welcome!

It’s really not dancing, of course. It just looks that way. It’s trying to bury itself. Tortoise eggs are laid several inches underground, and when they hatch, they hang out and rest for a while before heading to the surface. They like to emerge when it’s dark. If they can see light, they are too exposed, so it is trying to dig itself a little hole. It works in dirt. Not so much in paper towels. Never fear. I tucked it in under a piece of wadded up paper towel, and all is well.

Here’s hatchling number 2 showing this instinctive behavior before it is removed from the vermiculite.

So now for the part about playtime. Pet animals engage in play behaviors that aren’t actually play. A cat turning a ball of yarn inside out, for example, is a tiny hunter honing its mad disembowelment skilz. You never know when you’re going to need those, you know. Zoo animals do that, too. It’s important for them to have an opportunity to engage in natural behaviors, otherwise they get bored, fat, or even stressed. The word we use for eliciting these behaviors is “enrichment.” Treats, toys, scents, new bedding or furniture, even something like leaving an exhibit without a top so that a Prairie Dog or Meerkat has to watch out for predators like they would in the wild are all considered enrichment. The more intelligent the animal, the more enrichment they require.

Imagine driving the kids to Grandma’s house six hours away with no video games, books, music, cell phones, snacks, talking, etc. *Shudder* Without something to do, it takes kids about 2.1 seconds to start inventing games we don’t want them to, like “smack-a-sister” or “let’s kick the back of the driver’s seat until they scream.” An animal in captivity that is bored will begin to do those types of things, too. It’s called stereotypy, and manifests in many different ways, from pacing to rocking, to paw sucking, and everything in between. It’s up to their caregivers to make sure that they have the mental stimulation that they need to thrive. In fact, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums requires that accredited zoos provide enrichment for their animals. Mammal keepers provide it up to several times a day. Only 50% of enrichment offered should be through novel foods (stuff they don’t eat on a regular basis) because there’s only so much an animal can and should eat.

As a reptile keeper, the needs of our charges are a little different. For the most part, their brains are not terribly complicated. Most snakes, for example, understand eat, poop, breed, repeat. We enrich them by changing out branches and plants periodically, offering new insects, or even sprinkling some spices around to encourage them to move and explore.

Komodo Dragons (Varanus komodoensis) are kind of the geniuses of the reptile world. They have a greater ability to learn than most other species. Our young male figured out within a couple of months that if his exhibit light went out in the daytime, we were going to catch him for something. He would hiss before we ever got our key in the lock. Pretty smart, yes? So they require more enrichment than the average reptile. Khaleesi, our lovely female, has some great climbing structures, and her main keeper has done some training, which also keeps her brain engaged. When she is off-exhibit, we also have the petting zoo staff bring up sheep and goats to run around her exhibit. They poop, pee, shed, and generally make the exhibit more interesting for her. Since they have no experience with a large reptilian predator, the goats just think it’s all in good fun. Then they go home, and Khaleesi is placed back in her exhibit to run around and sniff things. She spends hours in activity after a visit from the goats.

This week, we offered her fun food – hard boiled eggs. They are slippery and easily lost in the leaf litter, but they smell delicious, so she uses her long, forked tongue to sniff them out. They have a Jacobson’s organ like a snake, so they essentially use their tongues to smell.

And I’ll leave you with my favorite shot from last week. Tiny Northern Spider Tortoise with yolk barely absorbed. It couldn’t quite walk yet because its plastron was so bubbled that it couldn’t get all four feet on the ground at the same time. Can I get a collective “Awwwww!”

Do tortoise have bellybutton

Welp…

What did you do for playtime this week? Did you chase an egg? Climb a tree? Read a good book?

Notes From The Zookeeper: When Tiny Tortoises Hatch

Last week was a banner week for me. It’s the very beginning of tortoise hatching season, and I never know what I’ll find when I go into work. Last week was full of fun surprises. Like this:

Baby tortoise hatching

Northern Spider Tortoise, Pyxis arachnoides brygooi

Notice that this egg was laid in June. Incubating is a slooow process. I’m a little surprised that this guy is hatching already. When the eggs are laid, they go into an incubator for a month, then they go into a chiller for another month. Without a little “winter,” the eggs never develop. They have to go through a cold period (a frosty 65 degrees is winter for these little tortoises from Madagascar) and then warm up again before the egg “knows” conditions are going to be warm enough for hatching. Otherwise it’s all Game of Thrones, and the egg always expects that “Winter is coming.”

We write all kinds of information on the egg so we know who the parents are and which egg is which because they are in a tray with 10 or 11 other eggs. This time, I candled the eggs at two months, and out of 13 eggs, only three showed signs of development. I put the other 10 eggs back in the chiller for a recool. In fact, I was just coming in to recandle these eggs to see if they were still developing when I found one pipping. Click to enlarge.

And here’s the crazy part. These guys have belly buttons. They stay in the egg and absorb their yolk so it doesn’t get covered with dirt. Sometimes the yolk doesn’t go far.

I have a video to show you, but I was up too late last night to put all of this together. Next week. It’s pretty cute.

Notes From The Zookeeper: The Pancake Predicament

One of the things I love about my job is the constant need to problem solve. It’s an unending puzzle.  How do I get a fat snake to breed? How do I help said fat snake reduce her girth so that she is healthier? How do I keep each animal’s brain and instincts engaged according to their needs? As a zookeeper, we have to think outside of the box all the time. But this week, a puzzle popped up that was totally INSIDE the box; the nesting box.

Pancake Tortoises (Malacochersus tornieri) are one of my favorite species. They are weird and funny, and they have unexpected super powers. I spray the tortoises daily to raise humidity, and this week after I sprayed them, I found this (please forgive the quality of photos, or lack thereof. I had to use the camera on my little phone):

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.

Tortoises are not domesticated animals. Although they have the ability to learn, they operate almost entirely on instinct. Pancake Tortoises, like most other tortoises, like to dig deep in order to lay their eggs. Like, really deep. When they nest, they dig, dig, dig with their hind feet, and if they hit a hard spot, say a rock or in this case, the bottom of their enclosure, they stop. Their tortoise instinct says that a shallow nesting spot is worst than NO nesting spot. They abandon the hole and move to higher ground. That’s what happened here. She dug, she dug, she quit.

Here’s the tough bit. I don’t know exactly what conditions she is looking for. Depth, of course, but she doesn’t know how deep the soil is until she starts digging. Other factors come into play. Some tortoises (and it can vary even within a species) will choose a warmer spot. Others will prefer a cooler one. Some want shelter, some want space. So what does she want? When I add soil to make it deeper, she might choose a shallow spot. When I add water so that it holds together, she choose a dry one.

This is where it gets fun. Remember that super power I mentioned? This species of tortoise can CLIMB! They live in kopjes, which are basically giant rock piles. To visit the neighbors or make a love connection, they may need to scale a few rocks. They especially like to climb…wait for it… when they are ready to nest. So if the soil is too deep, she can climb out of the house and go on walkabout. It’s for this reason that we keep a heavy cover on the enclosure.

My solution this time was to heap up a pile of wet soil that was wider than she is long so that she would have deep soil no matter which way she angled her body. She nested under the heat lamp last time, so that’s where I built Mount Pancake. Would it work? The next morning, here she was:

Look! She's basking! Reptiles are cold-blooded, so she may be warming up for the hard work ahead

Look! She’s basking! Reptiles are cold-blooded, so she may be warming up for the hard work ahead

A couple of hours later, I came back, and she was nowhere in sight. I found her under her hide box, but the mountain looked the same. Most tortoises and turtles cover their nests so completely that you would never know they had been there. Had she nested? I checked.

The egg was so fresh, it was still slimy. But it looks good! How do I know? The egg couldn’t have been more than 90 minutes old, and it had already started to band.

Banding is the first indicator of fertility. It’s a sign that the embryo and air pocket have begun to make their separation.

This egg was immediately popped in the chiller. Without cooling for a few weeks at 65 degrees, the egg embryo will never develop. Once placed in the incubator at 88 degrees, it will take about three months before it hatches.

Stay tuned next week when I share photos from my most recent hatching and maybe let you know if The Professor has made any inroads on wooing his lady.

She's on the left. The Professor is on the right. It sure looks like he's been friend-zoned.

She’s on the left. The Professor is on the right. It sure looks like he’s been friend-zoned.

Notes From the Zookeeper

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

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

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

Neon Day Gecko Hatchling

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

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

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

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

Breeding pyxis arachnoides

Northern Spider Tortoise, Pyxis arachnoides brygooi

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

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

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

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

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

    Angolan python – my first successful snake breeding

     

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What would you like to know more about?

The Real Reason I Can’t Get Anything Done

I love my job, and I try to do it well. Each day, I set goals for myself, taking pride in crossing tasks off my list one after the other. This week, one of my jobs was to take some pictures for a special event. It took me several days and 52 photos to get a shot that was workable, but there went one more big item off my list.

Luke, the Buff Crested Bustard (Eupodotis gindiana). These guys are crazy-eyed, and I love them. Even though I'm not bird lover.

Luke, the Buff Crested Bustard (Eupodotis gindiana). These guys are crazy-eyed, and I love them. Even though I’m not bird lover.

I had another big task to do this week. I almost didn’t get it done. It should have taken me an hour or two at the most, but instead it took the better part of the week, working off and on. Due to excessive rain, the hay in the Aldabra Tortoise lot looked rather shabby, so I wanted to rake it up and put down fresh hay. A number of things got in my way – tours, weather, other important tasks.

Meet my biggest obstacle.

You remember Al, I am sure. A quarter ton of love.

You remember Al, I am sure. A quarter ton of love. Check out old Tex in the back, minding his own beeswax.

Al has been at our zoo since 1974, and he knows how to get what he wants. Currently, what he wants is my attention. I have turned over some of the maintenance of his exhibit to two trusted volunteers, and I haven’t had as much time to spend with him. When I brought in the fresh bale of hay, he parked himself ON it. So there was nothing I could do but wait. And pet him. Who is training whom, here? Eh, I believe we know the answer to that one.

A better view for you. That's his giant shell, right smack dab in the middle of my hay bale.

A better view for you. That’s his giant shell, right smack dab in the middle of my hay bale. Looks right comfy, doesn’t he?

Click to enlarge the following images. They may not make sense otherwise.

So what is a girl to do?This task should have taken 15 minutes. It took over an hour. No regrets. I first met Big Al when I was 8 years old, and I fell in love with him on sight. Now it seems the feeling may be mutual. Today I was a little less task oriented, and a little more loved. It was a good trade.

 

Three Things Thursday: What Made Me Smile

I don’t blog hop. I have bad knees, so hopping is usually contraindicated. Actually, that’s a lie. I don’t have bad knees, but it’s what I have to tell my husband to get out of running. I’ll hike all day long, but ask me to run, and I’ll drop to the floor clutching my knee like I’ve been hit with a tranquilizer dart. So far it has worked for me. Please do not tell my husband.

Anyway, I don’t normally hop with blogs. But today, I need to. I discovered Nerd In the Brain through Alice. I had to follow, because TOILET CANDY! Seriously, someone send me some. I needs it. And where there’s toilet candy, there is also some gratitude. I am grateful, but I know I’m not nearly grateful ENOUGH. Know what I mean? So today I work on that and share three things that made me smile.

A tear comes to my eye. He is just the mostest.

A tear comes to my eye. He is just the mostest.

I ordered some of this, and it shipped. It shipped yesterday. I am so happy I could weep. My husband loves coffee as much as I do. He got a Chemex a couple of years ago, and we’ve only used a drip coffee maker a couple of times since. It’s not hipster, it’s just good coffee. Husband is okay with me ordering Severus Snape coffee, but he draws the line at my life-sized cut out in the bedroom. No, I don’t understand him, either. Husbands are just weird, I guess

That's my thumb it's sitting on!

That’s my thumb it’s sitting on!

Hatchlings. So many hatchlings! You may remember this fabulous little guy. And it appears that he is indeed a male. Apparently, it’s a bigger deal than I realized, his hatching for me. I am receiving congrats from other zoos. That’s kind of cool. Who am I kidding? It’s totes amazeballs (the only time I have ever in my life used that phrase, I can promise you. And not only has he hatched, I’ve got some other new babies, too! I hatched two more Neon Day Geckos (Phelsuma klemmeri) and a Pancake Tortoise (Malachochersus tornieri)! Want to see a tortoise belly button? Of course, you do!

https://twitter.com/zooknoxville/status/717448098893664256 That’s MY GUY! Or girl. Probably girl.

Phelsuma klemmeri, a critically endangered lizard from Madagascar. This new hatchling is about 1.5 inches long. So tiny!

Phelsuma klemmeri, a critically endangered lizard from Madagascar. This new hatchling is about 1.5 inches long. So tiny!

And my third thing? I don’t know. Is it that after two months of illness, I’m finally starting to feel better? Is it that I printed a spiral bound copy of one of my manuscript and have begun rewrites and edits? Is it that the Padawan has been accepted into the Youth Volunteer program at my zoo? Is it that I have so many photos for the family album that it is headed toward a whopping 100 pages? Is it that I am making new connections with people in my life and am spending a wee bit less time hiding under a rock? Is it that I have a road trip coming up? Or that we have new animals coming into our department and some will be mine to care for? Or that someone made my family a chocolate coca-cola cake? I can’t decide which makes me smile bigger, so I’m throwing all of them out there.

And how about you? What three things made you smile this week? Come and join the blog hop by clicking here and adding your post to the hop. Then visit some of the other people there. Community is a good thing.

 

 

 

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!

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.

Happy

A year ago, my dream came true. A year ago, after years of agonizing wait, I walked into the Herpetology Department as a full time employee. Sometimes when a long-anticipated dream comes true at last, the sad discovery is that the reality doesn’t quite live up to the expectation. But sometimes it’s even better than imagined. And that’s where I’m sitting right now.

A year later, I still can’t believe my good fortune. Every, single day is an exciting adventure. Sometimes I stick to my regular routine, but most days there is some variation that provides color and makes me love my job even more.

One of my favorite new friends. A Corucia zebrata - Prehensile-tailed skink. They have no eyelids, so he looks this crazy eyed all the time.

One of my favorite new friends. A Corucia zebrata – Prehensile-tailed skink. They have no eyelids, so he looks this crazy eyed all the time.

I’ve learned so much this year, not the least of which is that I have so much more to learn. Routine is not equal to knowledge, friends. In many cases, I know what to do and how to do it, but not necessarily the why. But that part will come. Every day I make some new discovery that is old hat for my co-workers but is brand-spanking new knowledge for me. I stick those nuggets of learning in my pocket.

The year hasn’t been perfect. There are down sides to everything. I miss things at home sometimes because I have to work. My worship schedule is catch as catch can these days since I work on Sundays, and that leaves me feeling a little off balance at times. There are heartaches, as well. But there are also glorious triumphs. I savor those, each and every one.

I never get tired of looking at new hatchlings. Do you?

I never get tired of looking at new hatchlings. Do you? How squished up they are in their egg. This is a pancake tortoise.

A year ago, I was working in the afternoon with a rack of colubrids, mostly Grey-Banded Kingsnakes. While I was cleaning their cages and refilling their water bowls, a song came on the radio that I had never heard before. The song was the music in my heart, and I felt like it had been written just for me.

A year later, it’s still my song. It still holds true. I don’t know what magic this next year will hold for me. It could be the year I hatch a tortoise species new to me, or maybe my first ever clutch of snakes. I don’t know what my future holds, but I can’t wait to find out! I do know it’s going to be another happy one. Here’s to my old year, my new year, and my theme song. A year later, it’s still the song of my heart.

What is your happy today?