This is my favorite time of year in the reptile department of my zoo. Spring is here, and that means one thing. When I come in on Wednesdays, I’m often greeted by sights like this:

(click on them to enlarge)

There are four babies hatching here. See them?

There are four babies hatching here. See them?


How about now?


In this box, we have two different subspecies of Madagascan spider tortoise; Pyxis arachnoides arachnoides and Pyxis arachnoides brygooi. I can tell the difference from here. I’ll show you how.

P.a. brygooi like to burrow. They hatch, they burrow. P. a. arachnoides hang around on top of the substrate.

P.a. brygooi like to burrow. They hatch, they burrow. P. a. arachnoides hang around on top of the substrate.

These babies are all genetically pretty valuable, as both species are critically endangered in their native Madagascar. Any successful hatching is significant, but sometimes some offspring are even more valuable to the program.

There’s someone I want to you meet, but allow me just a moment to tell you its story. When animals are taken out of the wild and reproduce, that next generation of offspring is known as F1. It’s not unusual for animals to reproduce in captivity after being removed from the wild. Tortoises, rhinos, cheetah, elephants. The real trick is in getting an F2, that next generation, one that is truly captive bred. F1 and F2. Sounds like a series of astromech droids, doesn’t it?

Now allow me to introduce you to our very first F2 Common Spider Tortoise.

Sleeping in its egg.

Sleeping in its egg.

A couple of days later, it emerged completely after having absorbed the last remaining bit of yolk. And lest we forget the gratuitous belly button shot:

It may take a few weeks for its umbilicus to disappear completely. Currently there are tiny wrinkles around its belly button where it is closing up.

It may take a few weeks for its umbilicus to disappear completely. Currently there are tiny wrinkles around its belly button where it is closing up.


It’s roughly the size of a quarter, the very first offspring of both parents. There are very few, if any, other F2 of this type anywhere in the world. I am so proud of my zoo and their dedicated staff for what they have done to perpetuate this species! Well done, Michael!

Nobody’s Perfect

What can I say? We all have our limitations. I lack the ability to draw more than a stick figure with bloated hands, tortoises tend to lack depth perception and many are very far-sighted. Adaptations don’t develop unless there’s need.  I don’t need to draw well because I have other obvious talents. Like toenail painting. I’m good. I almost never get polish on my shoes anymore. And tortoises tend to live in tall grasses and have never needed to catch a baseball, so no evolutionary energy was expended in developing good binocular vision.

Tortoises can see at least some colors and can be counted on to try and taste anything that is bright yellow or orange. I choose my footwear carefully when I will be working with the giant tortoises. Combine far-sightedness with a penchant for bright colors, and you have this:

That yellow stripe looks like tasty fruit, right! Don’t judge! See the egg? This little guy may actually have fallen off the turnip truck yesterday.

For all my friends who love baby tortoise videos, a present from me to you. Enjoy!

Hitting the Trifecta

Any zoo or breeding facility that produces one of the three subspecies of Spider Tortoise (pyxis arachnoides) from Madagascar can consider the breeding season season successful. A spectacular year would see the arrival of all three. Last Saturday marked just such a year for my zoo.

The first to hatch this year was the Northern Spider tortoise.

Pyxis arachnoides brygooi, the Northern Spider tortoise


Then we added a Common Spider tortoise.

Pyxis arachnoides arachnoides, the Common Spider tortoise which, despite its name, is endangered.


On Saturday, I stopped by the Herpetology department to soak the larger tortoises. While I was there, we checked out the incubator, and who should we spot?

Pyxis arachnoides oblonga, the Southern Spider tortoise


It’s cause for celebration when one of these species hatches. It’s a banner year that sees all three of them. I removed it from the incubator box and set it up in a container of its own. While I was giving it the first misting, I got the surprise of my life. I saw movement in the incubator box.


This egg is pipping. The process takes hours. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

One hind leg out, one foreleg out.

It's sideways in its shell. Its hind leg is on the left, its foreleg is resting on the edge of the eggshell on the right. You can see the dark blotches on its plastron, which is how this species is identified.


Pushing Pause

Last week, I shared some pictures of two subspecies of tortoise with an unusual requirement. When the eggs are first laid, they are in diapause, a complete suspension of embryonic development. The eggs are laid, but nothing happens. The only way to break the diapause and jump-start the embryos’  development is to cool the eggs for several weeks. Without this period of enforced inactivity, the embryos never quite develop.

My children and my husband have this entire week off. And I am going into diapause. I am unplugging for a week to be with my family. I’m pressing pause so that my spirit will be refreshed and can grow and develop in whole new ways.

I’ve been working on  posts for the last couple of weeks, so they’ll magically appear in your inbox including a tortoise-baby post. I love my blog, and I committed myself to writing five days a week, so I’m not wiggling out of that deal. I’ll be slower to respond to comments than usual, but next week I will respond to all of the comments that are from real people who aren’t trying to sell me Viagra or computer software.

So if you’ll pardon me, this egg is chillin’.

Without a pause, some of life’s great treasures would be lost.


When I reported for duty on Tortoise Day, guess what I found waiting for me?

Pyxis arachnoides brygooi aka Northern Spider Tortoise

And its lovely counterpart

Pyxis arachnoides arachnoides aka Common Spider Tortoise. Its pale face is so beautiful!

These tortoises are endemic to Madagascar and both subspecies are critically endangered in the wild. It is only in recent years that these guys have been hatched successfully in captivity. Standard procedure for hatching reptiles is to immediately place the eggs in an incubator and wait. The magic with certain Malagasy species lies in actually cooling the eggs down for a few weeks first. Sounds weird, right? But unless captive eggs spend a few weeks in a wine chiller, the eggs never develop.

A better shot of its ghostly facial markings.

Four days after hatching

Here’s to a successful hatching season.

Update: My friend Michael left for Madagascar today. He will be attending the grand opening of the school. Our goal in that fund-raiser was $2000 for desks, benches and school supplies, and I am so happy to share that when all was said and done, together we raised $3200, all of which goes to the school. Thanks to everyone who shared or donated. You knock my socks off.