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?

Ending the Debate

I don’t usually address hot-button topics on my blog. I’m a fiery and passionate individual, and I’m learning that my knee-jerk reactions make me prone to put my foot right in my mouth. When I get really fired up about something, I wait before I address it. When the smoke clears, I don’t want to discover that I have totally embarrassed myself by not thinking things through properly.  Today I don’t care anymore. I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer or hide how I really feel. I’m speaking out. I don’t care about making people mad or fights in the comment section. I can’t keep silent anymore. You want to know my stance? The correct one. Under. The issue is question is, of course, toilet paper.

This patent proves nothing. This is a DESIGN patent, not a utility patent. It shows how it's made, NOT how it is used. So take that, all you hung-over people. Welcome to the Under-world.

This patent proves nothing. This is a DESIGN patent, not a utility patent. It shows how it’s made, NOT how it is used. So take that, all you hung-over people. Welcome to the Under-world.


It is simple science. It’s a little-known fact that Sir Isaac Newton was one of the earliest proponents of “under,” about 150 years before TP ever had a patent. Remember high school physics? Me, neither. But I do remember his first law of motion. An object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. At first, I thought he was talking about Squish. He used to run into walls a lot. But then I gleaned the deeper meaning.

Clearly Newton was talking about the proper way to hang the bog roll. Give a tug to a hungover roll of Charmin (or any brand at all. I’m not picking on you, Charmin. Please don’t sue me for insinuating you are less aerodynamically sound than your counterparts), and it goes on forever. There is no outside force to act upon said object, and therefore no way to control how much comes off the roll. A rear-hanger, however, provides its own outside force. A mere yank to the left or right (no preferences here!), and the proper amount needed to complete the paperwork tears right off.

Under is more practical for kids and pets. Cats, dogs, and kids have a habit of playing with the toilet paper.  A curious hand or paw bats the paper, and it rolls off into the floor in an ever-increasing pile, and the next thing you know, the living room looks like the morning after a Halloween frat party. A rear-orientation, however, means that a kid or critter can paw to its heart’s content without causing any damage. ***

Less ick-factor. If the toilet paper doesn’t unroll wildly, there’s less chance that the end of it will come into contact with floor-cooties. Floor-cooties are real, and they are disgusting.

It is avant garde. Over is so easy to support. It’s too easy. It looks all fancy when you fold the outside piece into a little triangle. Whatever. Under is subtle. You have to look closer to appreciate. Over is the Starbucks coffee of toilet paper orientation. Just because a lot of people use it doesn’t mean it’s right. Under is the hipster, fair-trade coffee shop. It just tastes better. Wait…

Cooler people go under. Guess who’s a hung-over girl? Tori Spelling. Because “it’s chic.” Don’t get me started. Guess who’s an under-guy? Gerhard Richter. You know. The dude who painted this? I know it looks blurry. It’s supposed to. It’s an oil-painting of toilet paper.

Kolorolle. Yes, it's art. IT'S ART.

Kolorolle. Yes, it’s art. IT’S ART. It sold at Sotheby’s for about $180,00, so that makes it art, and therefore RIGHT.

Know who else is “over?” My husband. I found that out tonight. Wow. 20 years of marriage, and you think you know someone. I’m considering asking for an annulment. He misrepresented himself.

Want the other side of the debate? Visit Rae at Peas and Cougars. She thinks she knows something on this topic. I think we all know that she does not. Visit her anyway. It’s bound to be funny.

So, join in the brouhaha. Are you an over-achiever or an under-dog?

*** Except for my old dog, Magic. She ate the paper straight from the roll in big chunks so we were cleaning ourselves with what looked like an endless roll of Swiss cheese. But she doesn’t count. She wasn’t an average dog. I’ve had houseplants that could outperform her on IQ tests.

Fun Friday: Hatching Season Begins

In my job, each season brings its own mystery and magic. In the winter, many species lie dormant waiting for the warmth of spring. In summer, they are at their peak of activity, breeding and otherwise. In fall, they begin the mysterious process of shutting down for the winter to come. And spring itself? That’s the time of renewal. It’s at this time of year that when we check the incubator, we often see eyes staring back at us.

This year, hatching season got off to an early start. Our adult Pancake Tortoises (Malacochersus tornieri), a species native to countries in southern Africa, such as Tanzania and Mozambique, begin laying their eggs in the fall. This species is unusual, both in their day-to-day behavior and in their breeding. These tortoises can climb. And I don’t mean a little bit. They live in rocky kopjes, and they are gifted with the ability to scale rocks.They are also squishy. Their carapace has numerous fontanels that never close up, which allows the tortoise to squeeze into tight spaces between rocks to escape predators.

The females tend to seek higher ground when laying their eggs. They usually lay one egg at a time, and may lay 4-5 eggs over the course of a 4 month laying period. The eggs are huge at about 42mm (1.7 inches), impressive when you consider that the female is only around 6 inches long.

Here’s where things get weird. If a keeper were to place the egg into the incubator at 88 degrees, nothing would happen. Like, ever. This species experiences a diapause at the beginning of its development, which means it is laid in a state of suspended animation. Nothing happens unless conditions are right. Guess what the right captive conditions are? A wine chiller. The eggs are placed into a chiller at 65 degrees. Though other zoos do it differently, we’ve learned that a week or two at these cooler temps is all they need to get them going. After chilling, the warmer temperature of the incubator breaks the diapause and development begins. Diapause presents differently in many species, and one day I’ll do a post just on that. It’s weird and wonderful, setting up the juveniles to hatch at times when conditions in the wild are ideal for their survival.

So now pictures! Click any image to enlarge.

The hatchling waits until most of its yolk is absorbed to begin emerging.

The hatchling waits until most of its yolk is absorbed to begin emerging. This egg was laid in October and hatched in January. Incubation lengths vary widely depending on methods used. Note the completely shredded appearance of the egg. The hatchling did all that with just its egg tooth.

Calcium aids in muscle contrations. After a long rest, they begin to eat the egg shell, possibly for a calcium boost.

Calcium aids in muscle contractions. After a long rest, they begin to eat the egg shell, possibly for a calcium boost.

Happy Friday! I have more pictures and species to share soon. So far this year, we’ve hatched 10 individuals representing 3 threatened or endangered species.

What’s the good news from your week?

Consent: Not actually that complicated


I rarely reblog. This is worth a read. Share it with your friends, your family. A brilliant analogy of consent.

Originally posted on rockstar dinosaur pirate princess:

http://kaffysmaffy.tumblr.com/post/780535517 http://kaffysmaffy.tumblr.com/post/780535517

A short one today as my life is currently very complicated and conspiring against my preference to spend all of my days working out what to blog. But do you know what isn’t complicated?


It’s been much discussed recently; what with college campuses bringing in Affirmative Consent rules, and with the film of the book that managed to make lack of consent look sexy raking it in at the box office. You may not know this, but in the UK we more or less have something similar to ‘affirmative consent’ already. It’s how Ched Evans was convicted while his co-defendant was not – and is along the lines of whether the defendant had a reasonable belief that the alleged victim consented. From the court documents it appears that while the jury felt that it was reasonable to believe that the victim had consented to intercourse with the co-defendant, it…

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The Magic In My Everyday

I haven’t blogged in an age. I blame the snow. We’ve had lots of it. I didn’t blog about the snow because everyone had snow. There was nothing particularly interesting about mine.

And I didn’t blog because I was tired. Remember that snow part? I live in a neighborhood that is lovely all other times of year, but during snow and ice, it’s impassable. In order to get to work, I had to hike to the main road for someone to pick me up. Then at the end of the day, I had to walk home. Carrying all my stuff. So early bedtimes and no blogging. But I don’t mind one tiny bit. I’d walk through snow AND fire to get to my job.

Ever have a job that’s made of magic? I do. Every day the sun rises, I get to do something I love. Each shift brings its own lessons, disappointments, satisfactions. And this year promises to be the best yet.

This is the year of potential. There are more species, families, and orders represented in our wardrobe-sized incubators than I have seen in the four years I’ve been peeking into incubators. Tortoises, turtles, and even lizards. Give me a few months, and I may even get to toss a clutch of snake eggs in there, too. One of my pairs of pythons has knocked some boots recently, so I am hopeful.

Chicken eggs hatch out with unfailing predictability in 21 days. Reptiles are different. So many variables come into play. Species, the presence or absence of a diapause, humidity, and temperature all come into play when hatching reptiles. Typically, an incubation period will be 60 days or longer, sometimes much longer.

Here’s the cool thing.  Every few weeks, we take a peek to see how things are cooking. It’s like witchcraft. A dark room, a decent, focused light source, and poof! We see what’s going on in the egg.

Here are two eggs from Red-footed tortoises, Chelonoidis carbonaria. These images were taken on January 28, about a month after they were laid. Click to enlarge.

I’m excited about these eggs. The animals are new to our collection. They have bred before, and it’s a very common species, but this is the first time I’ve been in charge.

And here is a shot from March 1. Click to enlarge. There’s some detail that’s hard to see at this size.

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.

And here’s your bonus. Oustelet’s chameleon egg. Furcifer ousteleti. In real life, this egg is the size of my index fingernail.

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 the earliest sign of development. Note the veining to the left. Things are happening here, finally!

This chameleon egg was laid… wait for it… in July. And we didn’t see any development until a month ago. If this egg hatches, it likely won’t happen until… wait for it… July. This particular species takes an age to incubate – an average of 9-12 months. The babies will be smaller than my pinkie, miniscule copies of the adults. Is it July yet?

In another month, I’ll take a few more pictures and see what’s new in egg-land. And though it’s only March, hatching season has already gotten off to a very good start. Watch for info on our first three babies very soon.


What’s the best job you’ve ever had?

The One In Which I Realize We are Doomed as a Society

The Girl-child and I went to the movies last week. We bought our tickets for Pass the Light. Given the movie’s premise, we expected to leave the theater full of hope and with spirits lifted. How wrong we were.

I don’t mind shelling out for a quality picture, and therein lies the rub. Hollywood and I don’t often see eye-to-eye on what constitutes quality. The Imitation Game? High quality. Noah? Not. So. Much. And of course now producers are really into remakes because they’re all out of ideas. If they’re going to make imitations of great movies, I should be able to print my own imitation money to pay for the ticket, right?

If I'm going to make my own money, I'm going to put my own image on it. Still rockin' the track suit.

If I’m going to make my own money, I’m going to put my own image on it. Still rockin’ the track suit.

I know. I’m not turning into my mom. That ship has sailed. I’m turning straight into my grandma. Let me just seal that particular deal by saying “Movies today? They’re all sex, sex, sex, and blowing people up! In MY day, producers knew how to make good movies, movies that make you think!”

After our movie trip, I firmly believe that society as a whole is going to hell in a handbasket. Producers will show anything to make a quick buck. There is no modesty anymore. The most intimate moments are broadcast for everyone to see. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is left to the imagination. I cannot believe people want to see this stuff! We are quickly becoming desensitized, and the definition of what is appropriate is being rewritten at frightening speed. I left the theater horrified, uncomfortable, disillusioned. Because of the pre-move commercials.

I do not want to live in a world that thinks it is even a little bit okay to advertise something like this *** (click to enlarge):

Here's a hint. If it's sold at Skymall, it probably needs to be kept a secret.

Here’s a hint. If it’s sold at Skymall, it probably needs to be kept a secret.

I know that *ahem* personal products like this exist, just like I know things like tax auditors and  boy bands exist. That doesn’t mean I want them shoved in my face. Some things are best kept to ourselves.

I was okay with the product itself. It was the demonstration that gave me the screaming willies. Beautiful model? Check. Pumice sander? Check. Closeup of the bits of beautiful model’s feel sanded off in a floating cloud of skin particles? CHECK!

MY EYES! MY POOR, POOR EYES! Why did anyone think it was advisable to be so graphic? It didn’t used to be that way. Anybody remember the good old days, back when commercials promoting maxi pads were careful to use only blue liquid in their demos? Can we not leave something to the imagination? I believe I speak for everyone when I say “Get off my lawn, you darned kids!”

I have comprised a list of things that should never be demonstrated. Ever. This list is in no way comprehensive.

  • any product that trims hair from anywhere on the human body
  • pooper scoopers
  • bogie removers
  • nail clippers
  • adult diapers
  • toilet plungers
  • bikini wax systems
  • cat litter
  • Cabbage Patch dolls (Just me, then? Fine. Whatever.)

Where does the over-sharing stop? Some things are just meant to be kept private.

***this was not the exact product. Sadly, there are more than a few out there. I cannot remember the name of the one advertised, which indicates an advertising fail on a whole different level, doesn’t it?

What gives you the heebie-jeebies?

A Cool Thing Happened at Work the Other Day

It’s no secret that I love my job. Becoming a reptile keeper last year was a dream come true. Incredible things happen there every day, and I’m so honored to be a part of it.

We have a new exhibit. It’s a series of exhibits, actually; a building with lots of beautifully designed enclosures that house lizards. Many of the animals are very new to to our public, and most of them are new to me, as well.

One of these new animals is the Chinese Crocodile Lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus).

Shinisaurus crocodilurus. Amazing little lizards!

Shinisaurus crocodilurus. Amazing little lizards!

This species gets its name from its crazy crocodile appearance. All those bumps in its skin are osteoderms (literally, “bone-skin”). Tiny bits of bone offer protection and camouflage. Bumps break up the outline and allow the animal to hide. Its coloration is so cryptic that often, I have trouble seeing them even when I’m looking right AT them! It’s a semi-aquatic species, primarily found in China.

One cool fact? It’s monotypic; the genus consists of a single species. It is also endangered. Experts estimate fewer than a thousand animals left in the wild, with populations so splintered and small that their long term viability is in serious question. Some individual colonies have as few as ten animals.

Reproduction is slow for these guys. After a winter cooling period, the pair mates. The female then carries the offspring for 8-14 months. Let that sink in for a second.  A lizard that weighs less than a pound can be gravid for over a year! Shinisaurus are live-bearers, which is an expensive reproductive strategy. Most of the female’s resources will be allocated to her offspring, so in a bad year, the female may not survive long past the birth of her babies. No wonder they’re having such a hard time adapting to a changing world!

Anyway, a few weeks ago, the Shinisaurus keeper was doing afternoon checks. And he found…

shinisaurus crocodilurus, zoo

Baby Shinisaurus! Squee! It looks a little skinny, but it has had a few good meals since then. (click to enlarge)

This little guy was so well-camouflaged that we almost didn’t see him. She birthed in the water, and the babies found safe places next to the walls with only their little yellow heads visible above the water line. It was pretty exciting. We left her alone as much as we could. Every hour or so, we’d check to see if there were any new surprises. And sometimes there were.

shinisaurus crododilurus neonate, zoo

And here he (she?) is with Mom. That’s a big baby!

Shinisaurus eat insects, worms, snails, and the like. They are consummate little carnivores. The three babies are happily eating crickets and other feeder insects, and they’re growing like crazy.

shinisaurus crocodilurus, zoo, neonate

At about 2 months of age

The babies are being raised off-exhibit to prevent stress to them. They can achieve adult size in about a year. Their rapid development is probably one reason there are still a few of them left in the wild. Mom is also doing well. She’s having a well-earned rest before she is reintroduced to the male.

Does anybody wonder why I love to go to work? Congratulations to my co-worker, Brad! What a great addition to our collection!

Last Will and Testament, You know, Just in Case

By the time you’re reading this, surgery will be over and done with. That’s good.

My brain is getting the best of me. On the outside, I look like this:

I'm cool. Rockin' the track suit.

I’m cool. Rockin’ the track suit.

But on the inside, I think I kind of feel like this:

Not so cool. But still rockin' the track suit.

Not so cool. But still rockin’ the track suit.

How do I know? Maybe because I feel the anxiety sneaking up on me. And sometimes with no warning I screamed out expletives. And squawked like a chicken. Or maybe because it’s almost midnight and I’m working on a blog post with a pile of medical forms sitting next to me that I have yet to fill out.  As the nice lady at the surgical center reminded me today, anything could happen, and I should be prepared.  I realized there are things I need to say in case things go wrong.

To my husband: My years with you have been something else. We  married so young. At 23 I didn’t always make the best decisions, but man, I really nailed that one.  No regrets, babe. I’d say yes again in a skinny minute. As we discussed, my wish is to be cremated and the ashes made into a diamond, which you will then wear someplace very tender so that I can continue to be a constant irritation to you. It will be almost like I’m still with you, except you’ll have to make your own coffee. Don’t eat my MoonPies until you’re sure I’m really dead. Poke me with a stick a few times if you have to.

To my Girl-child: You are growing into a remarkable young woman. May your college years be filled with wonder. You can have my iPod if you promise not to delete Minecraft. You can imagine me hanging in the Nether. And take care when choosing guys and tattoos. They’re a lot the same – choose the wrong one, and they hang around forever and are a real and expensive pain  to get rid of.

To the Padawan: I look with pride at how you are growing up, the choices you’re making for yourself, the responsibility you are taking. You can have my Harry Potter Legos. You just can’t actually open them. You’re welcome.

To Squish: Look at you, big kid! You’re learning to read! You can have ALL my Mercer Mayer books. We like Little Monster the best, don’t we? My wish for you is that you grow up to be like your dad, but with less of a fascination for looking over your left shoulder when you drive.

To the guys in the Herpetology department: thanks for making me one of the guys. It was even better than I could have imagined. If we hatch any Angolan pythons this year, I’m taking all the credit. Don’t screw it up.

So there. Hopefully in a few hours, I’ll be safely tucked back into my own bed with a cat at each corner. Until then, friends, peace.


The Blogger’s Guide to Social Media: Twitter

Of all the social media out there, my heart belongs to Twitter. I like its concise format – no giant walls of text to plow through. Twitter’s reach is better than Facebook’s. Anything you tweet will show up in the timelines of those who want it to. End of story. Here’s how to make Twitter work for you as a blogger.

This post isn’t so much about how to achieve a million followers. That part is easy. Follow 2 million people. Statistically speaking, about half of them will follow you back. There you go. This post is more about how to use Twitter to make connections and promote your blog.

For those who are completely new to Twitter, here’s how it works. Follow people, and then their tweets will show up in your feed. A blue check mark beside someone’s name means they are a verified famous person, though  I can’t guarantee you’ll have heard of them. You can use the Publicize feature on WordPress blogs to automatically send a tweet with a link each time you publish a post.

Don’t know whom to follow? Twitter can help. They offer suggestions based on those you have followed before and on the preferences of those followers. It’s pretty much the same algorithm Facebook uses. Sometimes it’s spot on, sometimes it’s not. I’d like to say the more you use it, the better it gets, but that would be wrong.  “You followed a field biologist? Here’s another one for you. And another! You could follow ALL of them! No? You want field biologist who study frogs, not beetles? TOO BAD! You like rock bands? Here’s a geologist for you.” It’s all kinds of fun. But once you get started, you’ll find some peeps.

When I am on the prowl for people to follow,  I look for:

An active feed. Sometimes people take a break from the internet. That’s no big deal. But if I look at someone’s feed and see that they seem to tweet only once every six months or so, I’m probably not going to give them a follow. On Twitter, I’m looking for the potential for interaction, so unless I know them personally, I’ll probably skip them.

Varied content. I read a formula somewhere that explained the ratio of original tweets to retweeted stuff. I then promptly forgot it because that’s what I do with formulas. But the general idea is this – a Twitter feed  should ideally be a mix of links to your blog posts, conversation with other Tweeters, and retweets (also known as RT) of other people’s stuff. A timeline that contains only tweets linking back to a blog doesn’t tell me much about the account holder. If they’re new to Twitter, I might follow them anyway. Someone who tweets only reviews of their books and the Amazon links to purchase them get skipped. I have definitely bought books (and music) from people I’ve discovered on Twitter, but that’s usually only after I get to know how they present themselves.

Use photos judiciously. Many people do not love pics on Twitter. (click to enlarge)

Use photos judiciously. Many people do not love pics on Twitter. (click to enlarge)

An interesting bio. Be personable. And humble. If you’ve published a book, say so, but don’t belabor it. I prefer it when a writer links me to their website, not to Amazon. If you tell me the title(s) or have images of your titles as part of your header, I can find your work. There’s a place to link your blog, too. Be sure to do so.

Conversation. I mentioned this under varied content, but it’s important enough to warrant a bullet of its own. Conversation tells me a few things. It shows that a tweeter is engaged on the site, and it gives me a clue how they interact with others.

Spelling. I don’t care if a tweeter makes spelling errors. We’ve all done it, and there’s no way to edit without deleting the tweet and starting over. I will not, however, follow someone whose tweets are composed entirely using text-speak. My preference is in no way universal. Lots of people don’t care. But using it too often will pretty clearly define your demographic for you and limit your reach.

A respectable number in the “following” column. Sometimes I come across accounts that have a number of people following, but not so many that are being followed. I like ratios that are fairly even, give or take twenty percent, unless they are a legitimate celebrity. Refusing to follow other people maybe means Twitter isn’t the best fit for them. Tweeps want at least a little interaction.

Twitter is a useful tool and a pretty fun place once you get the hang of it. It’s more like speed-dating than an engagement, so don’t feel too badly if you lose a follower here and there.

I wrote a post about Twitter a while back that contains some of my Twitter pet peeves. You can find it here.

What do you like to see in a Twitter timeline? I’m @becomingcliche over there.

I’ll be offline for a few days. I’m having minor hand surgery on the morrow, so I may not get to comments as quickly as I usually do. I’ll be reading them, but unless I can convince my husband to be my personal scribe, I’ll be quiet for a bit.