|Mr/Miss Ellison, The Northern Blue Tongue Skink|
A lot of people don't really understand my interest in reptiles. In fact, I've received some not-so-nice flack about my obsession with them. To the point where for a while I stopped telling people about reptiles and my pets in general. If it's not furry, or says meow and woof, people generally seem unable to understand why they mean as much to you as furred babies.
In order to connect more fully with people who either are freaked out or repulsed by the idea of reptiles as pets, I usually liken them to caring for non-fur bearing cats. Really, connecting with your scaly or shelled critter I see as a bit of a cat-like relationship. They greet you with great enthusiasm during the dinner hour, and they will bug you through the windows of their enclosure to let you know that yes, it is now time. Otherwise, they often give you the stink eye while sunning themselves, like an irritated cat sunning itself in the window sill. I'm convinced that like predatory cats, my omnivorous darlings would devour me in an instant provided I was bug-sized. They also frequently snub their noses at me and go to hide if I hang out trying in vain to give them attention and love. Like cats, everything is done on their time, with their schedule, and their earned blessing.
Well, except for Poe, my diamondback terrapin. That one is a wiggly puppy of exuberance. He loves everyone and everything.
Most reptiles are "look but don't touch" types of pets, which again seems to baffle some people. Why have a pet that you can't squeeze and hug? Because watching them is like watching an episode of Wild America (with Marty Stouffer, geez I used to watch that show after school all the time), and their antics are usually very amusing. Even watching them in sleepy repose is thrilling.
Exotic care is so different from dogs and cats that the extra time and research it takes is part of its appeal for me. I have been thrilled with reading field studies, scientific papers on wild behavior and diet, scholarly papers on climate of origin, as well as articles from breeders and zoos, and my fellow nerdy keepers. I've read entire veterinary texts on biology and diseases. Why? Because keeping exotics is not like keeping domesticated animals. They don't bark or meow when they're feeling ill, or their environment is not quite right. You have to be vigilant in any minor change in behavior that signals either illness, or a needed change in their keeping. And that means research and diligence.
Even still, I am enthralled with them because it takes time, patience, and a great deal of energy to earn their trust. It is a slow process, considering that I am a very large predator in their eyes. I usually tell people that I am not Mama to them, but the Great Food Bringer.
Anyway, introducing my newest and first non-turtle reptile: Ellison, the Northern Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia). And yes, I named him/her after Harlan Ellison, continuing my "author" naming scheme. And because the little one was really feisty and bitey before he calmed down a bit.
This species, like most weirdo Australian animals seem to be oddly unique, is interesting in that they give live birth. They are ground dwelling burrowers with stumpy little awkward looking legs, and bright blue tongues. They are one of the species that if their tail is pulled on or broken by a predator, their tail will detach and partially re-grow. I emphasize partially.
So far, Ellison is definitely an interesting character. And while he has a bit of a huffy temper when he (or she) is shedding, our better bonding moments have been while I'm soaking him to get the shed off. He has also curled up in my lap to take a warm blanket nap after a hefty meal, though I now make sure that I haven't cooked meat for my own dinner before feeding him, because then my fingers smell like he should eat them. And he tries to. He also comes out to "glass dance" when he's hungry, by pawing at the glass of his enclosure whenever I pass by.
Some responses I've received about him have been, "What? Why are you keeping a skank? What's a skank anyway?" and "Please stop getting reptiles or you'll become that person" and even "It's really kind of ugly."
I understand reptiles are not for everyone, and yet I always find myself spreading knowledge about the species I keep, because that too is part of its appeal. Teaching people about animals is a joy I didn't know I could take part in. And yet, now I do.