Ferrets and lizards and snakes, oh, my!

Yesterday we drove down to Sudbury to pick up an order of reptiles and four baby ferrets. The ferrets are all neutered and come with a certificate of health.

David and I used to breed ferrets, although we haven’t had any of our own now for close to fifteen years. Sky had never been as close to one as she was to the four in the cat carrier on the way home. Perhaps that’s one reason why she was so eager to be in the lap of the person in the passenger seat!

Spook, my orange cat, was also not impressed. “There are weasels in my house!” he said. He wasn’t really happy until they left with David this morning. Even now he’s still being a clingy cat.

The reptiles are gorgeous – a sunbeam snake, a red-tailed green rat snake,  a pipe snake, a Fischer’s chameleon, a sailfin dragon and a water monitor. We also got a few more whiptail scorpions, which are not scorpions, but get the name because of the way they look. These are really cool, interesting non-venomous arthropods.

This is the pipe snake. It’s about 12-14″ long right now. Our supplier had some together in one container and said one of them tried to eat another. We’re offering earthworms, as long, thin things seem to trigger the impulse to eat. There’s an orange spot on the nose, and another on the tail, which is blunt and rounded, rather than tapering. The pipe snake doesn’t want you to know which end is which!

The red-tailed green rat snake is about three feet long. We always figured this animal was named by someone who’d been in the rainforest so long that anything that wasn’t actually green looked like red to them. The tail-tip is really a warm grey colour, and the forked tongue is blue. These snakes put out their tongues and do a slow flicker, rather than a fast one, which is quite unusual.

The Fischer’s chameleon is in very good shape, plump and active.

The sailfin dragon is rather like a Chinese water dragon in terms of care and feeding – this one is skittish and will nerd gentling.

The water monitor is quite calm. He’s fairly small right now, perhaps 12″ nose-to-vent, but he’s going to be seven to nine feet long when full-grown and he’ll need a lot of heat. 

And here’s a picture of the whiptail scorpion.

The ones we now have are rather small, but they’ll grow.

The reptile section is looking a lot better than it has at any time since we moved. Things are coming along. And, oh, yes, we do have crickets again. Right now we’re limiting the numbers people can buy just so we can make them last. With any luck at all, the cricket situation will be back to normal in a few months.

And, just because I now have it, here’s a picture of the pygmy chameleon!

Go to your room!

We can say that to the fish now! The fish room has been insulated and wired, lights are up and the freshwater fish have been moved into ten-gallon tanks under lights.

We’ve also been bringing in salt water fish again. There are some lovely tangs, one Naso and one 4″ long regal tang (also called a blue tang). We have ocellaris clowns again, and blue damsels, and coral-banded shrimp.

This moving business just takes more time than we expected. Somehow, for every hour in the day there are two hours’ – or more – worth of tasks to be done. But things are really coming together now, with a reptile section set up and the fish room now open. Jack and Lily have an open window (with a cage over it) for some fresh air, the tortoises are set up in their own little habitat and there’s iced tea in the fridge. Yes!

And on this farm he had a cricket, E-I-E-I-O

Breeding crickets is a full-time job. In the pet store, where we have, at most, 20,000 crickets in ten tanks, cleaning and feeding is perhaps a half-hour’s job. (Victoria can do it in fifteen minutes.) But we’re not in the business of breeding crickets. All we have to do is keep them alive until they’re sold. Breeders keep over 100,000 crickets, and they can’t crowd their crickets like that if they want them to breed. They need a lot more space, and have to do a lot more work.

I’ve heard cricket breeders referred to as “cricketeers”. That’s an incredibly light and cheery word for someone who spends his or her time feeding, cleaning, sorting, counting and shipping crickets. I’d say “cricket farmer” myself. After all, the word for a building where crickets are bred is “barn”.

There are some differences between farming crickets and farming, say, sheep. For one thing, you can’t train dogs to herd crickets – the dogs keep stepping on them. Also, as crickets have no external ears, ear-tagging is a bitch. On the upside, you don’t have to erect and maintain electric fence, and I daresay if I’d been farming crickets instead of sheep in the nineties I wouldn’t have been chasing my flock all around the Wharncliffe cemetery from time to time when the fence failed.

Flippancy aside, cricket farming has its trials. The barn must be heated, because crickets are cold-blooded, and will go dormant, or even die, if the temperature drops too low. A cricket farmer needs ear protection; the thousands of crickets mature enough to breed are also chirping nonstop.

One thing all farmers have in common, though, is this: If you have livestock, you have dead stock.

A couple of months ago a disease wiped out almost all the breeding crickets in the cricket barns of North America. I can’t say I’d ever thought the phrase “because of the cricket shortage” would ever cross my lips, but it did, and still does. Some breeders took the hint and switched to another field. For weeks, now, our cricket orders have been short-shipped, and the crickets have been smaller than usual. We’re not the only ones to whom this is happening. Our supplier, who buys from a breeder in P.E.I., told us a few weeks ago that a flood in the breeder’s barn had wiped out all his recovering stock, just when he was ready to ship larger crickets again.

Some pet stores have been able to get larger crickets from a different supplier, but our supplier says that’s not going to last long. One of the cricket barns in the States that was still able to ship large crickets has closed.

So far the reptile keepers who are our cricket customers have been understanding. We offer other food animals, such as mealworms. Now that summer is here, it’s possible for reptile keepers to catch insects outside, provided they can be sure the insects haven’t been exposed to pesticides. All in all, it could have turned out a lot worse than it did.

Our cricket shipment is due today, along with the mealworms, silkworms and hornworms we ordered. Whether we’ll get our whole order, and how large the crickets will be, remains to be seen. But we keep our fingers crossed and hope for good weather for the cricket farmers.

The tortoises are hare – um, here

Today we received five tortoises: a pair of redfoots, a pair of three-toeds, and one yellowfoot.

The redfoots and yellowfoot will get to be between eighteen and twenty inches long; the three-toeds will be six to eight inches long at full size. They are vegetarian in the main, although they’ve eaten mealworms from time to time. They seem to be fond of melon, mushrooms, the mache salad greens (picky little beggars!), blueberries, strawberries, grapes and bananas.

It’s only recently that tortoise keepers have known the proper conditions for these animals, so we really don’t know their maximum lifespan in captivity. Thirty to forty years is a good guess on the time commitment you make when you take home a tortoise.

The three-toeds are proven breeders, and the redfoots have been courting, so we think there may be eggs in their future. In the meantime, they’re set up at the front of the store in their own large pen.