Frankie Tortoise Tales Frankie Tortoise Tails sulcata care tortoise sulcata husbandry Frankie Tortoise Tails Frankie Tortoise Tails: A very valuable keeper skill



January 22, 2009

A very valuable keeper skill

People who keep reptiles embody special skills that go completely unappreciated by the public. For instance, as a keeper of well over 200 rare geckos I am capable of really astonishing things. I can manipulate the sexual outcome of a gecko egg by a turn of a temperature gage and a tweak of a humidifier. I can tell you the food preference of well over a thousand reptile species. I can identify a poop on my gecko room wall and tell you which gecko species has breached its enclosure, what its last meal was and in what direction it is traveling. I can identify where that gecko is most likely hiding and catch it without the gecko loosing its tail or some of its skin.

Remarkable stuff. But even more spectacular I can wrangle two thousand crickets. Let me explain.

My dear 56 pound sulcata tortoise Frankie has learned that as a bigger tortoise he can communicate with a greater degree of accuracy than ever before in his life. When he was only six ounces big, he could look me straight in the eye hoping desperately that I get the message he is very hungry. As a human I interpret incorrectly.

"Gosh darn. You are just the cutest tortoise in the world and by the way you are looking at me I know you just love your mommy!".

"Yea right," Frankie is thinking, "Feed me you big stupid human. I'm starving down here."

It's just not easy for tortoises to communicate to humans. We reptile keeping humans are looking for biological cues: smacking the jaws, looking at the feeding dish, eating newspaper. Anything beyond that and we are thinking the cute little thing loves us.

Frankie is getting bigger and more clever.

He learned that at 6 ounces, sitting by the door meant nothing to me. At 56 pounds, ramming his shell against the door means "Let me outside NOW!" I have learned that lesson.

But what is a sulcata to do when Mommy is in the next room?

Answer: Get her attention.

So yesterday, Frankie did.

"Hmm," says Frankie, "Two full containers of crickets sitting on a not-so sturdy wooden box. I think I will just turn these over and see if Mom in the next room gets the message." CRASH!

I dash into the room to investigate an unmistakable loud noise only to be greeted by 2,000 crickets scurrying across the floor. OMG it's a cricket catastrophe!

There is no getting around the fact that this will take every bit of reptile skills I have to contain this....and get Frankie outside -- oh, yes, I get THAT message.

Now here is where unusual reptile keeping skills come wrangling. Step into the room without crunching to death ten crickets with every step. Pick up 2,000 crickets without smashing them. Prevent any from escaping into the stairwell. Employ several techniques to corral them into containers. Pick up crickets by the handful. Identify cricket favorite hiding areas and employ live-traps. Use all my only-a-reptile-keeper-would-know skills.

It takes me two hours.

This morning there are about 50 left on the floor. More near the normal number loose crickets for a typical gecko room.

The really, really down point about this whole event is not the unavoidable loss of maybe 100 crickets (feet, etc.) but that Frankie has learned a really valuable lesson on how to get my attention -- it involves a big crash. This is not good at all.

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