Hurry Up and Wait: Hatching Oustalet’s Chameleons

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

This is pretty cool. The dark dots are called blood spots. Note the veining to the left. Things are happening here!

This is pretty cool. The dark dots are called blood spots. Note the veining to the left. Things are happening here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The DIY Tip That Home Depot Didn’t Tell You

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

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


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

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

You heard it here first.


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

The Things I Didn’t Know

It’s my anniversary. It’s a big one, too. Twenty years ago, I stumbled, blinded by tears waltzed gracefully down the aisle and attached myself, for better or for worse, to the man I had been dating for three years. I thought I knew everything. There were so many things I didn’t know.

I didn’t know:

How difficult it would be to learn to share a bed with someone else. Is there ever a mattress big enough?

That the man I married is a cover-hog.

That neither of us is perfect. I’m not sure which came as a bigger shock – that I had flaws, or that he did.

That he knows swear words. Even if he never uses them.

How quickly a tiny, insignificant spark can spawn a devastating blaze. The War of the Roses has nothing on the Dishwasher War of ’99.  Seriously, premarital counseling should have a chapter in Dishwasher Loading. And don’t get me started on wet clothes in the hamper.

That doing the laundry can be an incredibly romantic gesture.

That I would learn how to speak an entirely different language. Washing dishes is Husband for “I love you.”

How fast I would switch from always saving the last chocolate cupcake for him to hiding treats in an empty tampon box.

What a minimalist he is. He’d be content to own only a pair of running shoes and a decent pillow.

That his biggest competition for my affection would be a hook-nosed professor from Hogwarts.

sj found this gif for me ages ago. It still makes me weep.

sj found this gif for me ages ago. It still makes me weep.

How he would have to compete for living space with my collection of snakes and lizards.

How tolerant he is of snakes and lizards. Even when said lizards keep him awake at night with their noisy breeding activities.

How big a hole would be left in our hearts when we lost the cat we adopted when we got married.

My old friend

My old friend

How healing it would be to watch him parent our children. I never knew what it meant to have a dad in the house. Now I do.

How balding and predominantly grey could be so deliciously sexy. Sorry kids. Forget Mommy said this.

The sheer number and size of the storms we would have to weather.

That if I had the power to change the past and skip over some of the rough patches, I wouldn’t do it. Each and every trial has taught us something – about ourselves, about each other,about our faith. Skipping the hard parts would be like jumping to multiplication problems before ever learning to count. Without the foundation, there’s nothing solid on which to build. If you’re going to construct an earthquake-proof residence, you must first learn what an earthquake can do.

How the quirks I found endearing back then would become irritating. And how those irritations become endearing once again. They’re part of who he is.

How quickly 20 years would pass.

Happy anniversary to my beloved. I’m pretty sure that according to Hallmark, the 20th is the chameleon anniversary. Twenty-fifth is silver, 40th is ruby. Yes, I’m certain that the 20th is Oustalet’s chameleon. There’s a perfect spot in the living room…

I'd do it all over again.

I’d do it all over again.

True Confessions: My Biggest Parenting Fail

I have no doubt that if you know me in real life, you’re scratching your head and saying “Yeah, are you sure this is your biggest parenting fail?” To which I say, “Go do the dishes.” Because if we know each other in real life and you’re reading my blog, I probably married you or gave birth to you, and I’m sure you have a list of the wrong turns I’ve made along the way.

I was a kid once, and as a former child I am a big fan of the various mythical creatures that populate most childhoods. I enjoy passing down those traditions to my own children. Not to toot my own horn, but I rock the Santa gig. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not Mom #4. (Click the link, thank me later. That blog’s hilarious.) I don’t go nuts, but I am really good at choosing a cool gift for each of my kids. We do Easter baskets and all, but we don’t do the Easter bunny bit, mostly because the Girl-child was totally creeped out by the whole bunny idea by the time she was in preschool. I get a pass on that one. But one creature is my magical Achilles heel. I suck at tooth-fairying.

My tooth fairy with his little bag of teeth. He disappointed me.

I didn’t have the best example to follow. When I lost my first tooth, I put it under my pillow. The next morning, there was no money, only a note. It read “I’m sorry. I had too many teeth to carry, and I’ll come back for yours tonight. Love, Timothy.” The note rocked my world, and I wept as only a heartbroken child can weep. I don’t know which was more upsetting – that I had no quarter, or that my Tinkerbell tooth-fairy friend was a dude.

When Girl-child was little, I was all over the tooth-fairy gig. She was our first baby, and such rites of passage as cash from a fairy were like crack to me. For about two years. By the time she was seven, the shine had rubbed off that particular coin, and I had lost interest. More often than not, the kid woke up the morning after losing a tooth, shoved her hand under her pillow, then wandered into the kitchen to inform us that while she appreciated that the tooth-fairy had let her keep the tooth, she couldn’t find any money.

In my defense, some of the time we hadn’t forgotten; our wallets were just empty. Something told me a second grader would not be satisfied with a ticket stub for “Fellowship of the Rings” and a car wash coupon. It wasn’t my fault Tinkerbell doesn’t accept debit cards. The rest of the time, the blame was all on us, and we’d shoot each other a look of sheer panic, whispering “It was your turn this time!” Then one of us would secretly unearth a dollar from her piggy bank and insist she hadn’t looked for her money properly, and we’d help her find her pay out. Which she would promptly put in her piggy bank for next time. We’re awesome parents.

Um, what do you mean that dollar looks familiar? Don’t be silly. All money looks alike. It has the same red smiley face on the back? What a coincidence.

The Padawan began losing his teeth right about the time Girl-child stopped believing in the tooth fairy. I’d like to say I got better at tooth-fairying, but that would be lying. I got worse. How much worse? The Padawan doesn’t even bother with the pillow ritual anymore; he just leaves the teeth where we can find them. At the moment, we have two molars sitting on the coffee maker.

When we planned our kids, we did so with the intention that we not have two in college at the same time. It sounds good on paper until you look at the fine print. It means fifteen straight years of deciduous teeth. Fifteen straight years of crushing childhood dreams, one premolar at a time.What were we thinking?

I may be off the hook with Squish. He lost his first tooth on Friday, and he insists that the tooth-fairy does not exist. I’m torn; On the one hand, I want the kid to experience the same magic of childhood that I did. On the other hand, no tooth-fairy.

I don’t think I have to tell you which way I am leaning.  If it’s childhood magic I want, I can always read him Harry Potter.

Am I alone here? Do you have a least favorite magical being?


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.

rockstar dinosaur pirate princess

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…

View original post 930 more words

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?