My pets really are my family in a huge number of ways, and a huge part of my day-to-day life revolves around caring for them and spoiling them. Unsurprisingly, reptiles make up the vast majority of my pets, but we’ve got a couple of fuzzies, just for variety’s sake.
I love my snakes. They really are the center of my life, even when they’re trying to bite my head off or strangle me to death. I seem to have fallen for constrictors … especially pythons of all shapes and sizes.
First, we’ll start with my boy Bel. (I’m going alphabetically…) Bel, or, if you prefer, Belerophon is one of my favorites. He is a savu python (Liasis mackloti savuensis) — a remarkable dwarf form of the freckled python from a tiny Indonesian island. He’s very territorial about his cage (and beware if you need to stick your hand in there!) but once you get him away from his home roost, he’s a sweet, charming boy who wants to do nothing more than explore everything. Especially if you don’t want him going there. I mean, seriously, where would the fun be in actually following the rules? He was named after a hero of Greek mythology who slew gorgons, freed princesses, and first tamed Pegasus.
My lovely lady Branwen is certainly one of the prettiest red blood pythons (Python brongersmai) you’ll ever meet, with an amazing pattern, and stunning color that changes from grey to orange. Unfortunately, like most of her species, this little blood python has a big attitude problem. She’ll bite anything that comes too close, and can even jump a fair distance in order to tag you. We’re hoping that once she gets a little bigger, she will realize that the whole world isn’t out to eat her, and calm down a little into a handleable beauty. If she doesn’t, we may have a problem: blood pythons may only get to five or six feet, but they can top out at over thirty pounds. Branwen was named after a character in Welsh mythology.
Gawain is one of the prettiest snakes we own: he is an island morph of the common boa constrictor (Boa constrictor imperator), from Hog Island in Honduras. Unlike normal boa constrictors, he’s small, pale and speckled, with lots of orange coloration. He also changes color depending on the time of day and the temperature: sometimes he’ll be a pale slate color, other times he will be a pinkish-white. He is also one of my friendliest snakes, except at feeding time — then everything is fair game. Gawain was named after the best knight in the world (at least according to some Aurthurian sources), a warrior of courage and valor who always followed the knightly code (even when that wasn’t really the best thing to do).
Jack was my first snake, my first rescue and my first reptile. With so many firsts, it’s really not surprising that this ball python (Python regius) holds a place so close to my heart. he may not be the prettiest of our snakes (although his golden-brown and black pattern is stunning) or the smartest (he used to be afraid of his food) but he is a great snake for cuddling up against your wrist, and a friendly, shy animal, who once he gets to know you will certainly steal your heart. He was originally named “Calico Jack,” after the employer of two famous female pirates (Anne Bonney and Mary Reed), but as time has gone by, we’ve all but forgotten his long name.
Loki is a Honduran milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum hondurensis) was named after the Norse god of chaos, and boy, does he ever deserve it. He’s escaped twice, regularly ransacks his furniture and flips over his water dish, and squirms like a little demon whenever he is being held. That being said: he’s not unfriendly. Just a bit hyperactive, which is probably normal for someone his age. With his brilliant coral-snake stripes and mock-strikes, you might be tempted to think that he’s not a very nice snake, but you couldn’t be further from the truth: when all is said and done, he is happiest when he’s curled up against someone, pressed up against their body heat, and taking a well-earned snooze.
Pepper is my newest snake, and was quite an unexpected arrival into my life: I met her when my supervisor during my zoo internship brought her in and told me that she needed a home. Well, I have to admit, I was a bit hestitant about bringing home a five-foot long, fifteen pound moster, but when I met this beautiful Dumeril’s boa (Acrantophis dumerili), I fell in love. She’s far from the monster I expected: more like a gentle giant. She still has a little to learn about manners, and can be a little head shy (and when she strikes at her dinner, it is, admittedly, a bit like watching a very scary, toothy freight train), but she is, at heart, a silly, beautiful girl who loves to explore … especially if it’s an inconvenient place that’s just too small for her size.
And then there’s Poppy. This fierce little Green Tree Python (Morelia viridis) is just under a year old, as far as we know, and was rescued, along with Sprout. Originally, but she and Sprout were supposed to be short-term fosters, but I’m starting to think that they’re keepers. Poppy is definitely a hands-off kind-of snake, since anything, no matter how much bigger than her, that moves in her environment is considered an automatic possible food source. She eats like a pig, poops like a pig, and will try to get away with biting just about anything … but she’s just a baby, so I’m pretty tolerant of that behavior. She was originally a rich, dark red color (hence the name Poppy), but has just started to change to her adult green color — hence the mustard yellow coloration.
Like Poppy, Sprout was a rescue, but he was in far worse shape than her when he came in: covered in mites, underweight and slightly anemic. How anyone could treat this boy like that is beyond me, since he is a beautiful animal with a beautiful personality: inquisitive, charming and shy. When he’s being held, he likes to climb up as high as he can, and perch, enjoying the surroundings. In his cage, he spends all of his time coiled up in a perfectly organized drape, and it can be a real pain getting him onto a hook to clean up his cage. He is an adult, but since his eyes haven’t gone through their full color change, we estimate that he’s probably around four years old.
I saved the best for last (I know you aren’t supposed to pick favorites, but I definitely have). This is our Tiresias. He is the only snake we have that was wild-caught: he was found right next to the highway as a baby, and has been with us ever since (his collection was legal, in accordance with county and state laws). He is a bull snake, Pituophis catenifer sayi, and the most amazing snake we’ve ever had. He is friendly, intelligent, inquisitive, and very good at communicating his moods. He even has the cutest smile I’ve ever seen on a reptile. The only problem with him is that he’s growing fast — just a year and a half ago, he was about ten inches long: now he’s pushing about three and a half feet. Depending on his gender, he could top out at seven, or even eight feet. But so long as he stays our charming Ti, we’re willing to put up with his eating habits.
Yes, I have a pair of lizards, too. Well, actually I have four lizards, and Jason has one, but two of my lizards are currently living with Jason in a home-away-from home. But, in the meanwhile, here are the two who are living with me.
Steve is undoubtedly the most spoiled-rotten bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) in the universe, but he deserves it, because he more than makes up for all of the effort I put into keeping him happy. He is an enormous clown, and watching him is more fun than you can imagine. He displays a lot of different social behaviors depending on his mood, and will change color to let me know if he’s too hot, too cold, or just right (thanks, Goldilocks). He knows when he’s about to be fed and recognizes me (which is pretty good for a lizard). He’s hands-down my favorite lizard. He was named for the late Steve Irwin, in honor of his Australian heritage.
Herodotus, or Dot, for short, is my most recent rescue: a baby leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius). She came in to me pretty skinny, and I wasn’t sure she was going to make it, but in an incredibly short span, she’s already started to put on weight, and has begun to assert her bossy personality. Don’t touch her, don’t pick her up, and you’d better feed her quick, or she’ll get annoyed with you. I’m hoping she’ll gain a little bit of the copacetic nature leopard geckos are known for as she ages, but right now, I am just happy to have her in my life and happy to see her doing so well after a rough and uncertain start.
My furry kids are my whole world, and I spoil them rotten in thanks. Jason’s kitten, Lapsang, isn’t featured here, since he’s away in Illinois, but the rest of the kids are here.
Java is my old man. The first thing that people generally nice about him is that he’s huge — he weighs fifteen pounds at a healthy weight, and lugging him around to the vet’s office is no joke. The second thing that they notice is that he’s loud. He always wants to be in the middle of things, getting attention (and food!) and when he feels like he’s being ignored, he will let you know. He is twelve years old, and is starting to suffer from problems with arthritis; I adopted him just two years ago, and while it’s been a bit shocking to watch him age so quickly, I will always be glad for the quiet purrs (and sleepless nights) that he brings into my life.
Chianti is the alpha female of our ferret pack, and bosses her brother, the cat, and anyone who gets in her way, around like there is no tomorrow. She alternates between delicate, dainty, and a perfect cuddle muffin to a fiendishly evil little girl who is always getting her brother into trouble. She’s a great wardancer, a thinker, and too clever for her own good. She’s also a cuddler, a nose licker, and the softest ferret I have ever met. Just don’t leave your bare toes out as a temptation, and she’ll get along just fine with you (unless you want to cut her nails, in which case, beware).
Marduk is the polar opposite of his sister, and is happy to be bossed around … when he isn’t sleeping. He’s probably the laziest ferret I’ve ever known, and, to that end, I have nicknamed him my ‘flopweasel’, because of his tendency to relax every single muscle in his body whenever he’s picked up. He loves his food, loves to play, and follows Chianti’s lead on everything, since he can’t think his way out of a cardboard box (I know, we’ve tried). He’s laid back and copacetic — unless something catches his eye (socks are a favorite) — in which case, beware: I’m harboring a little kleptomaniac here.
Because they don’t quite fit in with anything else.
Q is a Carpathian Newt (Triturus karelenii) who lives in a swampy aquarium, along with a zebra danio (Danio rerio), who was supposed to be a feeder, but has lived with the salamander for over a year now, and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Because of his delicate skin, Q can’t be touched, but it’s still fun to watch her (yes, she’s definitely a she) lurk at the bottom of her pond, occasionally coming up for air or to gulp food. She’s one of the least hands-on pets I have, but she’s a fascinating creature to watch nonetheless.
I also have a satwater tank, which mainly contains refugees from live demonstrations in my Invertebrate Diversity class, including a starfish, a colony of tube worms and an anenome. Right now, I have no real plans to upgrade the aquarium, although I am hoping to put together the resources for a mantis shrimp in the tank.
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