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! 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.




The One Where I’m Caught By Surprise

If you’ve visited in the last couple of weeks, you already know about the amazing things happening at my zoo. If you need to catch up, click here, here and here. I’ll wait. There. Ready?

I’ve been keeping a secret. When I went in last week and took photos of the baby box turtle, someone else was there, too. But I couldn’t tell you until now. Click to enlarge. They’re pretty amazing little tortoises.

These are impressed tortoises (Manouria impressa) from southeast Asia. This species is considered vulnerable in the wild, meaning that if things don’t change, they will be threatened with extinction. Impressed tortoises are commonly collected for food, and more recently for the pet trade. This trend is worrisome because impressed tortoises do not adapt to captivity well. Wild-caught animals are devilishly difficult feeders and often starve to death. Setting up a healthy captive breeding population is tricky under the best of circumstances. Last week, we hatched three. Hats off to our reptile department.

The red dots mean that they have been accessioned into the collection and are official. You know not to count your chickens before they hatch. The same rule applies to tortoises. Hatching is a difficult process, and not all hatchlings survive. All three of these did.

Not to be outdone, the box turtle had a surprise for me yesterday. Siblings. Click to enlarge.

The egg teeth are impressive, aren’t they?

And a gratuitous bellybutton shot. Because that’s how I roll.




Happy Friday! What surprised you this week?

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: A Fortune Cookie and a To-Go Box

Remember this guy?

Yep. That's a fortune cookie, alright.

Yep. That’s a fortune cookie, alright.

The next day, this is what it looked like.

That's its tail. When I touched it, the turtle would curl its tail up. I think it's ticklish.

That’s its tail. When I touched it, the turtle would curl its tail up. I think it’s ticklish.

I would show you a photo of the finished product, but I can’t. Because there are eight of them now, and I have no idea which is which. Eight. I was pretty wrong. And there are still a couple of eggs that might hatch. We’re almost at 50% as it is. Not bad considering their story.

Full to the top with cute? Ready for that to-go box? Coming right up.

I want to stick it in my pocket and take it home. I won't. No, really.

I want to stick it in my pocket and take it home. I won’t. No, really. Can you see that egg tooth.? It blows me away!

Here's your to-go box. Box turtle, that is. It hatched yesterday. It's an Eastern Box Turtle, Tennessee's state reptile.

Here’s your to-go box. Box turtle, that is. It hatched yesterday. It’s an Eastern Box Turtle, Tennessee’s state reptile.

Its plastron is completely different from the snapping turtles'. You can see the beginnings of some yellow, though it may take a few years for real color to appear. Note how its yolk is almost completely absorbed.

Its plastron is completely different from the snapping turtles’. You can see the beginnings of some yellow, though it may take a few years for real color to appear. Note how its yolk is almost completely absorbed.

This post is for my friend, sj. I hope she knows why. All the purty turtles to you, sj!

Making Things Right

Sometimes bad things happen. This summer, I have been able to watch as an unfortunate circumstance was made right.

Turtles and tortoises are pretty much hard-wired to do what they were made to do – find food, find shelter, mate, lay their eggs, hibernate, repeat. Being so instinctive has helped them to survive for a very long time, but sometimes those instincts work against them. They don’t adapt quickly to changes in their environment, such as roads intersecting their nesting routes.***

This summer, a female common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina serpentina, was struck by a car and killed while crossing a road. A quick-thinking observer picked up the turtle and took it to the local vet school. The turtle turned out to be a gravid (egg-carrying) female. Her eggs were promptly removed and were brought to the zoo for incubation.

Snapping turtle eggs in early June. 19 eggs is on the low end of average.

Snapping turtle eggs in early June. 19 eggs is on the low end of average.

Incubating reptile eggs is a trickier business than hatching other critters. When the eggs are retrieved from a nest, they must remain in the exact position in which they were found. If they are turned, the embryos can separate from the egg and drown. They need to come with a giant “This end up!” sticker.

I don’t have a lot of experience with turtle eggs. I’m a tortoise gal, myself. When I looked at these eggs, I didn’t have a whole lot of hope. So many of the eggs were dented, and those bright white spots are calcifications. Weird. But It have learned enough to know that we will always err on the side of caution. The eggs were carefully placed in vermiculite and set up for incubation.

The eggs were also candled. Candling is when a light is shined through the egg to check for any development.


As expected, no development was noted. It would be very unlikely to see growth in recently-laid eggs, anyway, so the eggs were incubated with crossed fingers.

A few weeks later, the eggs were candled again.

Note the veins running through the egg. This egg is fertile! The shadow beneath is the developing embryo!

Note the veins running through the egg. This egg is fertile! The shadow beneath is the developing embryo.

Holy cow! Several of the eggs showed signs of development.

Yesterday, I got an email telling me there was someone waiting to meet you all.

Check him (her?) out! Yes, that's a quarter for size comparison.

Check him (her?) out! Yes, that’s a quarter for size comparison. The turtle is covered with vermiculite. Once it has its first bath, seeing features will  be much easier.

Click to enlarge any of them you’d like to see more closely.

Looking at the tray of eggs, I would guess there are at least five others that will hatch. How soon? Hopefully really soon. Once the babies have emerged, they will stay at the zoo only a week or two before they are released back into the wild. They know all that they need to know to survive. That’s where the hard-wiring has the advantage.

I hope to post updates and pictures of any subsequent hatchings.. Fingers crossed that a few more make it. About 70% of nests in the wild are lost to predation, so this little guy is ahead of the game, despite its precarious entry into the world.

***Turtles sometimes cross roads to get to and from breeding grounds. If you ever find a turtle walking across a road and want to help it, put it across the road in the direction it was facing. If you put it back where it came from, it will only turn around and head back to where its homing device is telling it to go. Also, don’t stop in the middle of a busy, busy road. You’ll both get squashed.

Bad Hair Day, Meet Bad Belly Button Day

There’s a new arrival at the zoo. I wanted to blog about it sooner, but I couldn’t. I’ll explain in just a bit. You remember Short Stack, the pancake tortoise that hatched in February?

Baby Pancake Tortoise

Baby Pancake Tortoise

The zoo has two pairs of pancake tortoises. Both laid eggs this winter that were intact and able to be incubated. This species is apparently a little tricky to incubate, and there can be as much as 40 days’ variation in hatch-times, unlike mammal gestation which can often be narrowed down to a two day window. A couple of weeks ago, Short Stack was joined by our second pancake hatching.

Each morning, keepers check the eggs in the incubator for signs if hatching, also known as pipping. The assistant curator knows how much I love this species, so he sent me an email to let me know the little critter was making its way into the world. I missed his email. Because I was already at the zoo. I got pictures. Crazy pictures.

Remember this turtle from last year?

The curve of the carapace (top shell) is incredible, but check out the wrinkles in the plastron (bottom shell)! I love how it has its little nose pulled in. Its face reminds me of Homer Simpson. And those bumpy things on either side are its legs.

See how its shell is folded over like a little burrito?

And how after a few days it looked like this?

It's a Spiny Hill turtle. It took it a couple of days to flatten out.

It’s a Spiny Hill turtle. It took it a couple of days to flatten out.

I thought all flat shelled tortoises and turtles developed in the egg the same way, with the sides folded down. Not Pancake tortoises! They actually develop rolled front to back. Look at how the baby flattens out over a few days’ time.

The reason it has taken so long to blog about this guy is because I don’t write about them until they have been accessioned (added) into the collection. And they can’t be accessioned without complete measurements of their shell. It’s hard to measure something that has been folded up like origami. It normally takes a couple of days for a tortoise to unfold completely. It took this guy about a week before it was flat enough to measure!

Day 5. Still a little wrinkled.

Day 5. Still a little wrinkled.

And here he is about two weeks after hatching, looking all ironed out. Finally.


I call him Squashy.

*** Nancy over at Not Quite Old asked why tortoises have a belly button at all. It was such a good question that I thought I’d answer it for those who are new to reptiles. Animals that develop in an egg are fed during their incubation by their yolk. They are attached to that yolk by an umbilical cord. After they emerge from the egg, the umbilicus closes. Sometimes that process takes a few days, sometimes traces can be seen a year later, but at that point it is nothing more than a mark on the shell.


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!

The Post So Exciting I Forgot to Title It.

In yesterday’s post, I featured photos of two tiny bog turtle babies. They are roughly the size of a June beetle and hide like you wouldn’t believe, so I was delighted to be able to photograph them this young. As promised, I’ve got some other tortoise-y cuteness to start your weekend with.

For starters, here’s our newest hatchling.

That’s a bit of egg shell on its carapace. A brand new hatchling.

It’s a Pyxis arachnoides brygooi, or Northern Spider tortoise, one of the species of dwarf tortoises from Madagascar. The breeding program at our zoo is top notch. This is the ninth brygooi to hatch this year, and the 28th overall. Not too shabby considering that the first successful hatching in the entire country didn’t occur until six years ago. And you guessed it. That first hatching occurred at our zoo.

Because everyone loves a belly button image. Look at that little face!

And now an update on a pair we’ve been following for awhile. It’s Nash and Navi! The link takes you to the day that they hatched, way back in February.

They have really grown, but they’d still fit in my pocket. If I was so inclined. And if they wouldn’t pee on me.

Back in July, the pair weighed 52 grams combined. That’s the equivalent of about 17 American pennies. Nash was the bigger of the two by about 2 grams. Today, they tip the scales at 30 grams each! Navi was the tiniest of all the Indian Star hatchlings, but she has caught up. I wonder if she’ll pass her sister.

She looks like she’s been dining on powdered sugar doughnuts. It’s calcium powder, good for building a strong shell.

To get an idea of her size, that’s a clover bloom on her right.

And one more friend before we go.

Pyxis arachnoides oblonga, the Southern Spider Tortoise.  This one is my current favorite in the collection. Because I can play favorites if I want to.

Happy Friday, friends. If you’d like more tortoise updates in the future, be sure to say so in the comments. Someone I know doubts that people enjoy my tortoise posts as much as I do.

Another Bonus Tortoise Day!

I start my new job today. I’m nervous and excited, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. This morning, I’ll share some favorite Tortoise Day photos. These are juvenile flattail tortoises, a species of dwarf tortoise from Madagascar. My zoo’s breeding program has been pretty successful, which is exciting since this species endangered in the wild. Flattails are mushroom specialists, but they also enjoy blooms off of certain plants when they can get them.


It looks so tasty, I’m almost tempted to try it. Almost.

Have a great day!

Test Your Eyes

If you’ve been with me any length of time, you know how proud I am of my zoo. If you’re  new reader, the easiest way to catch up is to Google “tortoise belly button.” No, for real. You’ll even see some of my images right there on the first page. Those are my current contribution to society. I am so proud to be famous for something. It beats being infamous for anything. Anywho (which is a word, according to Urban Dictionary, and may be the only entry that has no inappropriate connotation. I don’t think. Let me double-check.), back to the zoo.

One mark of a great zoo is that they not only take excellent care of the animals in their collection, but they also support and participate in relevant conservation projects outside their own facility. I can easily say that my zoo does just that.

My zoo’s reptile department has been involved in bog turtle conservation and research for over 20 years. The late Director pioneered the project, and it’s still going strong. They’ve discovered some amazing things over their years of captive breeding and re-release. For one, bog turtle hatchlings are tiny, and they grow so slowly that it takes them 10 year to venture forth from their hiding places to search for a mate. When I say hatchlings are tiny, I do mean tiny.  Remember these little babies? They are giants compared to baby bog turtles. Don’t believe me?

Do you see it?

Look at how small the eggs are compared to my finger tips. Oh, wait. What else is in there?

How about now?

Look closely! You may already see it.

How about now?

Here’s the fun. There are TWO of them in here! See them? Larger than life.

They’re about the size of a June bug. Imagine traipsing around a bog looking for one of these! If you still can’t see both of them, here they are.

How cute are they?

For more information about the bog turtle project, visit The Nature Conservancy’s.  26 species of rare plants and animals call this nature preserve home. It’s such a great story about the great things that can be done in a teeny, tiny corner of the world.

Gratuitous Belly Button Shots

Remember this?

It’s now this:

One week old. See how much the umbilicus has shrunk? Eventually it will disappear entirely.

The hatchling Indian Star tortoises are growing well. On Wednesday, they had their first soak. This species is from a more arid region. Soaking offers them the opportunity to drink. And to poop. The little guys seemed to enjoy it. Their heads dipped into the water immediately, and they took their first drink.

First drink. For a size comparison, they're in an 11x9 food storage container. Sorry about the wonky angle.

There were occasional mishaps. But don’t worry. The water isn’t deep.

As helpless as a tortoise on its...oh, wait.

Nap time. Everyone is sleepy!

Note the red marks on their shells. Even though each tortoise’s pattern is unique, the colors will shift and change a bit over time. For accuracy of record-keeping, each tortoise is marked with fingernail polish on a different scute (rhymes with “scoot” or “cute”), and the marks are recorded. Scutes are the scales on the shell, and these marks are the easiest way to accurately identify animals in a collection.

I took them out into the sun for some much-appreciated vitamin D, which is essential to good bone development. They have ultraviolet lamps, of course, but nothing beats natural sunlight. Sadly, I have no pictures of this event because I was so busy making sure visitors didn’t pocket one! Maybe next time.

Stay tuned for more updates. I have more photos to share, and it’ still early in hatching season.