Category: Pets

This is Geckzilla

This is Geckzilla

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Or Geck or The Gecko. She came to live with us around about my son’s 9th birthday. The first, but by no means the last, reptile to join the menageries, she was just about full-grown she came home, which probably made her somewhere between six and nine months old. In my view, she did, and does have a distinctly saurian look about her. Leopard Geckos are slow moving and easy to take care of but, like many small pets, you need to be gentle with them.

Over the 11 years and change since my son brought her home, he, and by extension we, although not as much, has learned a great deal about taking care of Leopard Geckos in particular and reptiles general.

Not least of which is that most of what he was told by the pet store experts of the time about caring for her was misguided at best and wrong at worst. Part of that is advancements in the hobby and availability information and part of that his experiences with her leading into deeper research that wasn’t necessarily available to the generalist pet store staff of the time.

The one thing that really hasn’t changed that much is her basic diet. Bugs, mostly crickets with some mealworms here and there for variety, but she doesn’t bother with much else even when offered. The basic temperature range is probably still good, although now we talk more about the hot and cold sides of the enclosure and gradients, and humidity is much more factor that he was told time. Places to hide, structures inside the tank, substrate, lighting, all different.

When we first brought her home, our readings showed a projected average lifespan of 7 to 10 years for animals in captivity, but as much as 15. She’s 11, closing in on 12, and now the projections tend to read 10 to 15, with 20 being possible and not that unlikely.

This was the first, the slow-moving, easy-going pet, that essentially launched my son into reptiles as a major hobby. He now also has the other creature he was considering time that we semi-vetoed because of size and care considerations at that moment: a Blue-tongued Skink. More recent additions: two Peters Banded Skinks, and a mated pair of Whiptail Lizards. Four species in his menagerie, all of reptilian nature. There are a couple of other things he would like to add longer-term, including a couple of snakes, but at least one of his current roommates is afraid of snakes, so that will have to come later. And he is a student so there certainly space and financial considerations.

So, while Geckzilla doesn’t technically live with us right now, I still consider her part of my family’s menagerie.

Be well, everyone.

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Introducing Reese Slitherspoon

Introducing Reese Slitherspoon

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The secret to coming up with a good snake name, at least if you like snakes, is to sit down and make two lists of words.

The first should be a list of things that snakes are and do: long, slinky, slither, hiss, etc. The second is a list that sounds like each of those words, rhyming words, homonyms, and so on, and see were those take you.

Other things you can add to that second list are characters associated with snakes in your media of choice. Insert your favorite Harry Potter reference, and you have one, here. Don’t forget mythology. If there had been a classical Greek Naga name that I’d liked, that would been a heavy contender too. But my instructions were to come up with something pretty and fun, and horrible snake puns were specifically allowed.

In this case, it was sort of a combination: slither to wither to withers to Witherspoon was the mental chain. My oldest daughter happens to like Reese Witherspoon as an actress, and we did just recently watch A Wrinkle In Time which has her is one of the significant characters.

So, Reese Slitherspoon. I don’t claim to be the first one who thought of the name, and by the same logic, I don’t think I’m the first one who’s used it, but it really doesn’t matter. We like it, and young Reese doesn’t really care.

She came to live with us at the same time that her older and much larger housemate Princess Buttercup did. (Don’t ask me why that it was so much easier, we settled on the first minutes after getting home.) Reese is much smaller, quieter, and younger, only about a year and a half old, a little more now. She is, we understand, a Bubblegum Snow corn snake. She was brought home not exactly as a gift my oldest daughter, who’s had a corn snake since she was nine, the previously mentioned Sonic (link post) but partly with the idea that once we got Reese up to a reasonable size in a year or two, there might be an attempt made to see if they were willing to produce a clutch of eggs. Compared to Sonic, she’s not quite as active in the tank, but is a little more aggressive when handled. We’re certainly not pulling her out of the enclosure every day, but slow, careful handling will at least teacher that we are a neutral stimulus that is sometimes associated with food. Reptiles work differently than mammals. Compared to the giant corn snake we’ve gotten used to, she’s rather tiny.

But certainly a welcome addition to the Wall of Snake™.

Welcome, Reese Slitherspoon.

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The Emotional Life of Cherry Shrimp

The Emotional Life of Cherry Shrimp

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So, the shrimp for my work aquarium finally arrived. When this posts, they’ll have been in the tank for a little over a week. Picked up on the way in for a late shift, the car was already nice and warm and they didn’t suffer any ill effects even though I had to stop for gas. A little extra water testing to make sure things are all good, a little bit of water spillage, and the Jacques Pack was released, not into the wild exactly, but into their new home. Hopefully they’ll be happy, although I really don’t know what shrimp psychology is actually like.

Are they capable of being happy? I’ve recently gotten a little involved in the idea of animal psychology from a completely different direction, but are shrimp more or less evolved than, say, reptiles? They response to stimulus, but what responses can I expect from them, and what is the, for lack of a better phrase, emotional content of the shrimp? Can they be happy? Can they be miserable? How do you tell the difference?

Apparently, you can do 5 to 10 shrimp per gallon. I’m not 100% sure how many I got, but I think there are 15 altogether for my 9-gallon tank. The store only charged me for 12, apparently because I’ve been so patient during the extra month it took for them to come in. I don’t know that I got a completely accurate count because there was some floating weed in the bag to help them final someplace to hide and have something to hold onto while I drove them to work.

So, I have a very good idea of what they need to survive, what they need eat, the water conditions they prefer, temperature and so on, and I’ve taken steps to ensure that the population density is relatively low, although the long-term population density is up to them, really. While they are tiny and delicate creatures, I do not expect the mortality rate be very high. I do expect to lose them, because they aren’t particularly long lived creatures and there’s no way to know how old any particular shrimp is when you get it. And they do tend to breed when kept together. So, I know enough, I think, to give them an adequate environment.

Does that mean I will be meeting all of their needs?

Most mammals are relatively easy to read in terms of general emotional content, and that’s because they, generally speaking, have emotions like we do. Not as complex, necessarily, but recognizable emotions. Cats and dogs, in particular, given a history of domestication on the order of 10 to 15,000 years, are fairly easy for most of us to figure out. But, really, most mammals we can figure out at least a little something about their emotional states, even if it does get harder farther down the ladder we go. Romans, for example, we can tell general states by watching them, but not nearly to the same detail, unless we make a serious study of it. And it’s also worth noting two things: first, that every species is different, and second, that the individuals of making up those species are individuals. While you can make certain sweeping generalizations about guinea pigs, for example, that doesn’t necessarily mean the guinea pig in front of you is going to fit all of those expectations.

Reptiles and amphibians are something else again. I have a little more experience with reptiles than amphibians, but, typically, I don’t see the same set of emotional states. Not that they don’t have emotions, but those emotions tend to be much simpler, much more primitive, and in a narrower range than the mammals of my acquaintance. The range of responses can be much more limited as well. And they don’t have the same set of neurological equipment that mammals or even birds do.

But shrimps are crustaceans, and, however you want to simplify things, crustaceans are essentially water bugs. Bugs are, as far as other life forms go, essentially alien to us. They have evolved completely differently, and there really is no easy comparison when it comes to neurological structures. There may be structural similarities, but those similarities may or may not mean anything.

Which brings me right back to asking what kind of emotional and psychological life shrimp have?

Might be something I’m trying to figure out the next a while. I’m going to avoid adding fish to the tank for a few weeks, at least, to have a look at some of their undisturbed behaviour. Be well, everyone.

Several members of the Jacques Pack through the too-reflective wall of the aquarium.
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This is Sonic

This is Sonic

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This is Sonic.

You might have noticed that he’s a snake. He was the second reptile to come live with us, but he has not been the last. More on all those another time.

Sonic came to live with us just after my oldest daughter’s ninth birthday – somehow, the ninth birthday has become when you get your first non-fish personal pet in our family. A teeny tiny noodle at the time, eight or nine months old, he was only managing a very small prey. He’s a little longer these days, but still not terribly big around.

The tank is 4 feet long. He’s closing in on 5 1/2.

He’s a Sunglow (or Sunkissed) corn snake, a colour morph, and he’s been very, very easy to take care of, probably spoiling us for future reptiles, in fact. If you’re not familiar with snakes, he, like most corn snakes in my experience, is fairly tolerant of handling. Interactive and well, not affectionate as reptiles aren’t really programmed that way, but he holds on and doesn’t try too hard to escape.

At this point, he’s almost 9 1/2 years old, and normal for a corn snake in captivity and good health is adding up to about 20 or so. I understand the verified record is 32. He’s also what 5 1/2 feet long, which is a little bit longer than his average. We met the world record holding corn snake a few years ago at a science fiction convention, much thicker around than sonic, and also about a foot longer than he is now.

Were not really worried about world records, though. He’s cute, fun, and interactive, and we’ve enjoyed having him around.

Say hi to Sonic.

Be well, everyone.

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Introducing Princess Buttercup

Introducing Princess Buttercup

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Introducing, Princess Buttercup!

Almost accidentally, we brought home a ball python on Boxing Day.

I won’t go into the major details, but a young man going through some massive life changes at the moment has found himself in a position where he has to re-home many of the reptiles he’s been keeping the last few years. My son had been looking pretty hard at a pair of Green Ameiva in the same ad, and we had the trip planned.

On arriving, we saw that there were a number of other animals potentially available, and we wound up taking home two of the snakes, one, a young, and still quite small, corn snake of the Bubblegum Snow variety. This one was technically for my oldest daughter, who’s had a Sunglow (or possibly Sunkissed is the current common name) Corn Snake since she was nine years old and has several times expressed interest in getting a female to go with him to see if they might consider breeding so we can raise a clutch of eggs. This one happens to be a female, although she’s not nearly big enough to go in with Sonic yet, we don’t think, but we’ll see how soon we can bring her size up. She is quite cute, but has no name yet. More on her another time, once we’ve settled on a name.

For me, I’ve always enjoyed the look of ball pythons. The head shape is quintessentially snake, I think. And, in some ways, you can describe them as the perfect reptilian pet. They don’t eat that often, so you don’t scoop that often, it’s fairly easy to get their living conditions correct, they are not fantastically active, generally slow moving, and seem to love being handled, and they almost never show any real sign of aggression.

And in this case, I love the soft colors, which come out even more in real lighting. Here she is having her first bath at our house. There are still some bits of her last shed clinging and she’s too pretty to let that go.

By the time this posts, she’ll have had more than a full day to get comfortable in the 20 gallon long tank we had in the basement than she likely was in the 10 gallon she came in. I hope to upgrade to an even larger size in the near future, give her plenty of space to move around in if she wants to. She’s been in that small tank for a little while, and while that’s supposedly okay for snakes, general guidelines are a half square foot for every foot of snake to give them a little room. I feel like we the tank should be at least as long as the snake to give them space to stretch out completely, but I may be in the minority there based on what I’ve read so far. Either way, I’d like to get her into at least a 40 gallon tank in the near future, maybe even larger, with a bit of height to make her world more interesting.

I don’t know if all the extra space will make a difference to her, so long as we get all of the things she needs in the tank for her general psychological well being, but it will make a difference to me.

In the meantime, to borrow a line, she was once a commoner like yourselves, but perhaps you will not find her common now. I give you Princess Buttercup.

(Sadly, my wife does not agree that we at least need a Dread Pirate Roberts, if not Inigo, Fezzik, Vizzini… someday, perhaps. It’s worth noting that one of my daughters has suggested Pinky and the Brain for the two new additions, but that seems weird to me. They’d eat laboratory mice, so it seems a little creepy to me to name them after a food source.)

Be well, everyone.

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This is Oliver

This is Oliver

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This is Oliver.

Ollie. Ollie-Pop. Giant Dog™. Giant Doofus. Barky McBarkface. The biggest suck in the world.

He’ll be 8 years old in the new year, which bothers me a little, because the typical age range for his breed (a Saint Bernard) is 8 to 10. But, he’s quite healthy, built lean for a Saint at only 140 or 145 pounds, and while he is slowing down, he’s still pretty active for his size and age.

We brought him home when he was about 5 ½, flagged to his imminent rehoming or surrender by a former coworker of mine who works with dog rescues here and there. Significant changes in life had forced a young couple and their young child to move in with someone’s mom, where there were already two big dogs, and not as much harmony in the household as one might like.

He’s also plagued with anxiety. He loves us, his people, and he’s generally very good with women who come in the house. Not so much men. Men make him uncomfortable. Outside the house, he’s afraid of all other dogs and all other human beings. That fear manifests as aggression of the “stay away from me and my people or I will rip your head off” kind of aggression. That level of posturing in a waist-high dog with jaws he can open wide enough to wrap around your entire head is, understandably for most people, frightening.

But inside the house, he is the sweetest, most lovable, most relaxed dog you will ever find.

We all fell in love with them on the first visit, even my wife who, at the time, didn’t want to dog. I’d wanted one for years, and the girls were certainly on board. My son, to be honest, was indifferent either way, since he was fairly certain he was moving out of the house the following spring.

But everyone loved him, and we arranged to bring home a week later.

There were some difficulties in early days. We learned not to let him meet other dogs on the street the hard way. We learned not to let him meet people on the street the hard way. We’ll never, ever be able to take him into a dog park, and even in our now fenced in backyard, if he hears another dog 10 blocks away he is forced to bark repeatedly until he can’t hear it anymore.

But he’s loving, and affectionate, and a lapdog when you let him be.

Image may contain: 1 person

And he’s a pretty awesome guard dog/alarm system.

He also lets himself be bullied by the cats. Well, one cat in particular. Cyrus, at less than a 10th of Ollie’s weight, will just stick his head in the food bowl that Giant Dog™ is eating out of, and Giant Dog™ has no idea what to do, so he lets it happen. Or maybe he just knows that Cyrus won’t eat that much, but the look he turns on us is usually one of helplessness.

We try not to let it go on very long. Oliver appreciates that, I think.

Be well, everyone.

I’m all done swimming for this lifetime, thanks.

(Well, I covered the feline overlords in blog posts, so it seems only fair.)

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Caturday: This Is Morris

Caturday: This Is Morris

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This is Morris:

And this is the third in a widely-scattered series of posts about my current feline overlords. Morris is a rescue cat who spent a few months in the shelter system winding up with the unlikely name of Pumpkin but, obviously, had to become Morris. Something about old television commercials and orange tabbies.
We’re fairly certain he was a barn cat or semi-feral, used to people being around, but not super affectionate. He didn’t mind a little attention, but couldn’t really stand being held for more than a few seconds and had no real interest in sitting next to you in the chair or on the sofa.
When we brought him home, he looked like this:

But he has no impulse control, and ballooned quickly:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1-700x525.png

Well, not too quickly, but too far. He’s on a calorie-restricted diet right now. Hopefully, it doesn’t take too much more time to slim him down than it did to fatten him up. Except it will because it is. Because he has no impulse control, steals dog food, pushes other cats (well, Cyrus) out of their bowls when he can get away with it, and isn’t above thieving some things.

He’s come a long way in the almost three years we’ve had him. He can handle being held for several minutes at a time, will get into bed with you for reasons other than biting your toes, and is fairly demanding of attention if you walk by, pushing up off the floor to headbutt a hand descending to scratch him.

He came home to live with us on 07 November 2015, not even six months after Morgana joined us. The introduction was less gradual this time, making an immediate friend of Cyrus and receiving a few hisses and swats from Morgana to teach him his place in the local feline hierarchy.
These days, he has a preference for dog beds, backpacks left on the floor, and the spare bed in the basement. Oh, and windows. Windows are fun. When we adopted him, the given age was two, making him five now and the youngest feline of the local overlords.
And again, a shelter cat. Happy ending for a shelter cat.

Be well, everyone.

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The Office Fish Tank

The Office Fish Tank

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The promo picture. We’ll see.

I’ve been talking about doing it for months, but, in the last few days, I’ve spent about $200 in getting all the stuff together for a fish tank for my office.

And this is in the nature of experiment. I want it to be a truly awesome fish tank.

I’ve done a lot more reading and information gathering than ever before in terms of aquariums, and I’m going to document the process a little bit. Some pictures and video, not that I promise to post anything, but I want to keep records to see if I’ve actually learned anything. There are no fish yet. It’s actually not even set up yet.

I picked up the tank on Friday last week, a very cool one, the Fluval Flex 9 gallon which has some funky lighting, a lot of integrated filtration, and curved front face. I unpacked it to the top of my filing cabinet yesterday. Today, I’m taking rocks, and driftwood, and sand to work. In between running two training seminars and regular stuff, I am going to do the Aqua-scaping of the tank, deciding how I want things arranged. After that, and probably tomorrow, the plants. The process involves:

  1. Disinfecting the rocks I’ve chosen with boiling water and rinse any debris off. Taken care of already.
  2. Soaking the driftwood to reach out some of the tannins, which will be in progress within a few minutes of my arrival of work. I’ll change the water several times while I’m there, and maybe let them soak overnight.
  3. At that point, I get to arrange the rock and maybe the wood in the tank. Having something vague in mind already, I don’t expect to do an awful lot of rearranging once I’m there. I picked things to fit my approximate mental vision of how things look.
  4. Four, a quick rinse of one bag of two bags of substrate that I bought, a black sandy aquatic soil designed to help plants do well, then will add that to the tank.
  5. Add the introductory fertilizer to said soil
  6. Six, unpack and plant the plants. It’s a relatively small tank, the interior dimensions, length by width by height, running in the sort of 30 to 35 cm range. It’s not far from a small cube, and it is only 9 gallons, so when I made the decision to do a heavily plant tank, there was a lot of reading about foreground, midground, and background plants. For the size the tank I’m doing, I don’t think there’s an awful lot of midground so I’ve selected some easy to care for specimens, I’ll put details in later, for foreground background, with the idea that both will spread over time. I have a combination of three different plants to grow to some significant height along the back. At least one of the background plants, a beautiful little red one, will shoot out roots from the sides to glom onto whatever surfice it can, so the Dragon rock and driftwood will be helpful here, as well as to help anchor some of the creeping stuff in the front of the tank.
  7. Gently fill up the tank from the rear to avoid disturbing the substrate too much.
  8. Let that sit for several days for the plants to adjust.
  9. Turn on the filter and let the plants grow for a week or two or three.
  10. Only then do we think about adding fish or invertebrates to the tank.

And I say fish or invertebrates, because I actually plan to have both. The I’m thinking half a dozen brightly colored shrimp, or maybe transparent Ghost Shrimp, because they’re kind of cool and very easy to take care of. These, paired with an single large snail, and considering the plants, will keep things very clean and minimize the amount of actual vacuuming I’ll have to do. The idea is that this is a relatively low maintenance tank. There might be a small school of Corys in the mix as well.

The main fish will probably be a single species school of something that actually likes confined areas, because it is only a 9 gallon tank, but I haven’t decided on them yet, either.

In approximate order, and probably spread a week or so apart each: the shrimp, the Corys, the snail, the school.

At this point, I hope the vision in my head is what reality comes to look like. While I’ve learned a lot more in the reading and research I’ve done in the last few weeks than I ever knew about keeping fish before, there’s still a lot I don’t know. Honestly, considering the low level of crappy equipment we used to use on a regular basis, I’m not certain how any of our fish lived longer than a week, and we had some live for several years, most notably my giant pleco, who was one of the first additions to our first tank before my wife and I were married. We brought Frank with us when we moved from Toronto and my son still remembers him. My oldest daughter might, too. He was 10 or 11 years old when we lost him.

I’ll put some pictures of the process up in the next few days, but I’m going at this slowly, so it’s probably going to be after Christmas by the time everything is in place and swimming.

And I haven’t even mentioned things like water testing yet.

There’s a lot more to keeping fish then just throwing some water in a bowl, you know.

Be well, everyone.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Caturday: This is Morgana

Caturday: This is Morgana

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusrssyoutubeby featherThis is Morgana.

She’s a rescue cat who spent a few months in the shelter system before we happened across her when my daughter was looking for a cat to bring home, having decided that’s what she wanted for her upcoming birthday. Before the shelter, Morgana spent a winter outside, fed by a neighbour after being abandoned. When we brought her home, she looked like this:

After a few months she looked like this:

You may not see the difference.

Eventually, we put her on super low calorie dry food and diet wet food. These days, she looks like this:

You still may not see the difference, but she’s down a couple of pounds.

Still not exactly thin, but we’ll get there.

Note also the ear tips. Or lack of them, really. During that winter she spent outside, there was a case of frostbite. Winter in Ontario, even in southern Ontario, isn’t kind to shorthaired cats who should live inside.

She hates being picked up but loves being held and has a fondness for high places.


We’d had only one cat, King Cyrus the First,


for coming up on two years when the agreement was finally struck for a second feline companion and while Cyrus was perfectly happy to make immediate friends, she took a while to warm up to him. They’re quite close now.

She came home to live with us on 25 May 2015, and we did a gradual introduction to the house, with her initial primary residence being Oldest Daughter’s room. These days, she can usually be found on beds and in piles of laundry, though she’ll stake out open shopping bags as her territory, too, and has a strange fondness for plastic ones.

When she arrived home, the best guess at her age was five years, which makes her seven now, and either the same age as, or a little older than, Cyrus. Has a few years on Morris, though. More about him another post.

And again, a shelter cat. Shelter first.

{insert sleeping picture}

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Caturday: Meet Cyrus

Caturday: Meet Cyrus

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusrssyoutubeby featherThis is Cyrus.


He’s a rescue cat, retrieved from behind a pizza place a municipality or so to the east of us. When we brought him home, he looked like this:

After a few months of free feeding, he looked like this:

Bring me Solo and a cookie.

But at least he’d stopped dumpster diving in the kitchen. When I was watching. We took steps and started to moderate his caloric intake. Not starving him, but no longer making sure the bowl was always full. These days, he’s much more cat shaped.

He’s the most aggressively affectionate cat I’ve ever know, forcing himself into your lap and up into your face if you’re not paying enough attention. Sometimes, he gets carried away and may nibble the hand or chin he’s rubbing against. He also may be part dog.

He came to live with us on 30 July 2013 after we’d been cat-less for a year.

Our previous feline overlords came to us at a year old and had been with us for 16 years, coming to us at about a year old and afraid of absolutely everything. They spent a long time with us, small, furry members of the family. They left a pair of very large wounds. I still miss them both, and that’s five years in the spring for Xena (the grey tabby) and in the summer for Leo (the orange tabby).


Cyrus didn’t take their place. He made his own. A scraggly little rat my youngest fell in love with, got her sister to as well, and then convinced their mother it was time.

I was an easy sell.

Cyrus will be six sometime soon, though we don’t know exactly when. Or maybe seven. Ages are usually just a best guess with rescue cats. He’s weird, tries to be best friends with our Saint Bernard, was hit by a car sometime during his couple of years outside (long-healed fractures in one hip and a back foot that isn’t quite right), and knows where all of the softest spots in the house are.

He also came to us from the local SPCA. Always go to the shelter first. And last.

Be well, everyone.

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