Sunday, December 23, 2007

Drama in the mealworm dish

Chilibelina the leopard gecko, visiting during college winter break, lay sleeping with her head propped on her water dish. She sleeps with her front legs extended, their undersides turned up like a person lying on her stomach on the beach. I can’t figure out how she can be comfortable without upper-body support, letting the rim of the water dish press into her throat. Any of us humans would be choking.

I was also watching the mealworms because one woke up and raised its upper half as if trying to see over the edge of the food dish. Mealworms appear to have legs only on the front half, starting behind the head and extending under the next three segments. My son tells me that when not covered with white vitamin powder and looked at through a magnifying glass, they appear to have goofy smiley-faces. I find them creepy because they’re more like caterpillars than real worms. Real worms are very good things and do not turn into moths.

Anyway, this one mealworm decided to move and went plowing, albeit very slowly, into the side of another worm that lay crosswise in front of it. Worm #2 woke up—if they even do things like wake and sleep—raised its head, and lay back down again. Now # 1 and 2 are lying with heads side by side, asleep or in conference, while a third worm who is underneath worm 1 lifted its upper end and, legs flailing, tried to crawl out from under 1 by heaving itself over worm 2. He got half-way over and stopped to rest. Then he got started again, disturbing worm 1 who shifted slightly. It’s like watching the mealworm version of Desperate Housewives.

Friday, December 14, 2007

matilda update

Matilda has been getting ready to shed, turning dull and gray, spending her days curled in her Kleenex box (the variety printed with roses and a green background). Yesterday she poked her head out but couldn’t have seen much because even the keratin over a snake’s eyes becomes thick and dull, obscuring their vision. It must be like trying to see through fogged glasses. I check her frequently, hoping to catch her in the act of peeling out of the old skin. I’ve only managed it once.

The snakes I’ve seen at the zoo, pet stores, or biology labs are generally busy doing nothing. By contrast, Matilda is quite active. When not waiting to shed, she comes out of her box every evening to explore her tank. When I take her out and let her slide around my arms and shoulders, she seems very intent on going somewhere, though I doubt she knows where any more than I do.

I like tree boas and vipers for their bright green color and I think boas are not particularly attractive, to put it tactfully. They have clunky heads and grim expressions. Corn snakes like Matilda have sleek heads and round pupils that make them appear more like us. Try looking at the narrow, vertical pupil of a viper’s eye and then look at a corn snake’s eye. With the latter, you’ll feel a sense of recognition. This has nothing to do with the snake and everything to do with us, which is why I can also say that corn snakes have a cute, amiable expression, when they technically have no expression at all. They are among the prettiest of snakes. I hope Matilda sheds soon. She looks very uncomfortable right now. I can only compare it to that pre-menstrual feeling of bloat and irritation that female readers, at least, will understand.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

the teeth of an Airedale

People who walk Airedales get used to cars stopping in the middle of the road and people shouting, “Airedale!” after which a conversation ensues. Generally the other person has an Airedale or used to and both of you agree this is the best of all possible dogs. Today when I was walking my dogs, a car pulled up to a stop sign and from it came a different shout: “The biggest teeth of all dogs!” Being several yards away by that time, I just turned around and waved.

It happens to be true that Airedale terriers have very large teeth, along with very strong jaws. Being deep-chested dogs, they also have loud, deep voices. When they play, their growls sound to the uninitiated as if they are killing each other. The time you want to worry about an Airedale is when it’s being quiet.

Which brings me to my confession. A few weeks ago the silver-laced Polish hen got out of the coop, Keeper the Airedale bitch immediately grabbed the chicken, and I grabbed Keeper. Darwin hopped around barking, as he does when anything exciting is happening. I tried the trick where you fold the dog’s lips over its teeth and press down so that the discomfort will make the dog loosen its grip. Nope. Also no hope of prying the dog’s jaws apart. So I gave her a good smack on the butt and wrested the chicken away when she opened her mouth. You are not supposed to hit dogs or children.

Other than losing a few feathers, the chicken was fine but I think she could have used a few drops of whiskey to perk her up. After I put her back in the coop, she stood there in shock, beak agape, panting. It took her a while to unfreeze and go back to pecking at her crumbles.

I felt guilty because this was my fault. Yet it was also just part of the perilous life of a chicken. Chickens can live fifteen years, yet few do. It’s a dangerous world.