Wednesday, April 28, 2010

First Eggs of the Season!

A nice surprise was waiting for me this morning! My female California king snake laid four eggs during the night. For the past several days she's been moving around her cage quite a bit and exploring the moss-filled laying box (an old whipped topping container). When she started to spend most of her time in the box I knew she was ready. 
Here are pictures of the mom and her eggs. You'll notice that in the incubation box three are grouped together and one is by itself. The reason is that the eggs quickly stick together and the lone egg was the only one I could separate without endangering the other eggs. Why separate? Because if one egg goes bad it can make the surrounding eggs also go bad.
The mother is what is called a blue-eyed blonde California king snake. This means that she displays a "morph"--a mutant trait--that alters her color from the normal brown and yellow coloring to the light beige and cream color that you see in the picture. It also changes her eye color from the normal silver-gray to a deep denim blue. Interestingly, none of the babies will look like their mother. They will all be either brown and yellow or black and white (like the father). Why? Because the blue-eyed blonde morph is a recessive genetic trait, which means both parents must carry the gene for the offspring to have a chance of displaying the trait. However, even though they appear normal, all the babies will be special because they will all carry the recessive gene.
Now the waiting begins!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Crested Gecko

We brought Greedo, our new crested gecko, to the presentations last week and he was a big hit! Everyone loved him and his acrobatic antics served to make the show more interesting. Thanks again to the family who donated him to our collection.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Shedding Skin

Why do snakes and lizards shed their skins?
This is one of the questions we discussed on Friday at the Caraway Elementary presentations. Snakes and lizards shed the outer layer of their skins to allow for growth and to help rid themselves of skin-borne parasites. They also sometimes shed to heal damaged skin. This shedding of skin is called ecdysis, and also takes place in insects and arthropods (such as spiders and crustaceans).
As a reptile grows, it becomes too large for the outer layer of it's skin. As the new layers of skin grow beneath, a thin layer of moisture develops between them and the old outer layer. The skin takes on a dull, often bluish appearance. In snakes, the eyes become cloudy and the snake becomes almost blind. This is because even a snake's eyes are covered with scales. After several days, the old skin starts to slough off, usually starting at the nose. Snakes crawl right out of their old skins, turning them inside-out like a sock. Lizards' skins come off in patches and some lizards even eat their old skins!


So I've decided I don't like crickets. It's not the crickets themselves. It's not that they're creepy-crawly. It's not even the chirping at night. What I don't like is the maintenance! The crickets are more work than the geckos I feed them to. If you only have one gecko, then you can buy crickets at your local pet store for just a few dollars a week. But with five hungry geckos, I go through a lot of crickets. I buy them in bulk from Ghann's Cricket Farm (usually 1,000 at a time). To take care of crickets you have to make sure they have food and a source of water. I use a commercial cricket diet to keep them well-fed and full of nutrients. For water I throw in fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen (crickets will drown in standing water). That's the easy part. The fun comes when it's time to clean the crickets' cage. Between the droppings, molted (shed) skins and dead crickets it's a smelly, dirty affair. Plus the live crickets are jumping all over the place. I'm going to invent a better way, I just haven't come up with it yet.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Animal Adventure Day

Friday morning I did my reptile presentations for the second grade classes at Caraway Elementary in Austin for their Animal Adventure Day. Mrs. Foux, pictured above with Smeagol, and Ms. Conine were there to lend a hand.
The students saw several snakes, two species of geckos and a sulcata tortoise, all while learning about the unique characteristics of reptiles and how they fit into their environments. Titus the tortoise was a big hit, as always, and spent some time munching on broccoli and tomatoes while we discussed the day to day life of a tortoise in the African desert. We also compared a hatchling Honduran milk snake to a fully grown individual. One of the highlights came during the fourth presentation when Smaug, the seven-and-a-half-foot carpet python, started to shed his skin right before our eyes. The show was a success with lots of participation and interest from the students.
This is my third year to bring my animals to Caraway and, as always, I want to thank all the students and staff for their warm welcome and the chance to talk about the animals I love.