I thought it a million times before, and said it out loud to Torben tonight: "I am DONE with aquatic reptiles!" I stink, am sweaty, and crabby.....for the second time today!
Why so crabby? It all revolves around what a pain in the butt it is to house aquatic reptiles in Iowa. Not only do they need a heavily insulated building, they need pools, sunny spots to bask, and heat. Sounds pretty straight forward, but it gets more complicated when you imagine what would happen if the pools they were in did not have their waters changed often. The water gets rancid and smelly and unhealthy.
Since these pools vary from large metal cattle tanks, to huge 8 diameter, almost 4 feet high, draining and filling weekly is not an option, especially when the drain to your building has frozen closed. To remedy this we get large pumps, and filters and do our best to maintain them so they work forever. Well, years ago we used pond pumps, pond filters, etc......but discovered these animals are not living in ponds containing a few fish. The waste from a 10 foot alligator will not allow for effective work by a pump and filter used to tiny fish poops and a few uneaten pellets. Alligator poop is big.
It isn't just the big alligator who makes a mess. The aquatic turtles, a soft-shelled, a cooter, some sliders and painted turtles can not eat unless they are in water. The pretty much stay in the water all the time except to bask under their lights. Turtle poop, and chewed up foods they tore through but didn't finish provide a tough job as well.
After many years, and thousands of dollars, we have some awesome and reliable filters that cost a fortune but work well with simple pumps you can get at the hardware store (the bigger kind).
Problem solved, right? Heyyy-elll no. Even though the equipment works, some of the animals don't allow it to do its job. OK, let me say it is really only a single naughty animal, Lois the little gator. Lois is several years old, yet her growth has been amazingly slow despite a liberal diet and plenty of space (at least during the season she is outside). Lois is about 4 feet long, and a wanderer who is prone to boredom, for lack of a better word.
We knew as soon as we got Lois (she had been for sale in an Iowa pet store!) that she was a little turd. The large chain link enclosure had openings too large, and allowed Lois to get her head through. This led to my placing screen-like fencing on the inside walls of the fence. Done!? Nope. One day we came home from somewhere and were entering into the front yard of our old farmhouse. There in the box turtle enclosure within the fenced in yard was Lois. "OMG!" We thought Lois somehow got out of the her pen through a space between the gate of her pen, and the wall. I immediately fixed that. Great!? Nope. The next day we found her in our yard again. WTF? I was in the back yard where her pen was, puzzling over the problem when the neighbor came over, none too happy. "I have to tell you Jenni, that your alligator was in our yard the other day." I couldn't believe it. I asked what happened, and she told me another neighbor caught her and put her into our front yard, for lack of a better place. She was angry, rightly so, since her little grandkids played in her yard.
It was interesting how over the next several days I kept hearing about how the guy "tackled" a "four foot alligator" and wow was it amazing. I laughed because at the time Lois was a docile little 2-footer at most.
It was then I realized Lois was climbing the 4 foot fence. Gators climb! Who knew? Well, people who work with alligators, and educate themselves, and work in zoos, and.... I then made a top for the cage, and was laughing later that day when I saw out our living room window Lois hanging on the fence a few feet off the ground, nosing around the top barrier trying to get out.
But I digress. Back to the issue with ponds, etc.
So, the pumps sit at the bottom of the ponds, have a 1 1/2 diameter plastic hose that runs into a filter that sits outside the pond. From there it is returned to the pond via another hose. Initially we tried using a thick rubber hose but found it too difficult to cut and bend to where we wanted it. Now we use plastic, which makes them easy to use due to their bendiness and light weight, and the ease in cutting them.
Since getting the proper filters, and pumps, and knowing what I am doing I have felt really great about how we have these former pets (yes pets!) housed for many months of the year. However, Lois hates when I am happy. Afterall it was I who put a fence up along the side of the pond so she can't leap out at people when she thinks she is being fed. To make me miserable she once in a while decides she needs to bite the hose and then twist it over and over, like she was doing the "death roll". If this is not noticed, and the pumps come on (they are on timers to run at night), the water shoots every which way, and drains the pond.
I mentioned the frozen drain in our shed. Well the water ends up filling the entire floor of the shed, which is really bad for the OTHER reptiles, specifically the desert tortoises. There is not much worse than entering the shed and seeing tortoises in sloppy, stinky, wet hay. It is the absolute opposite of what they need. When this happens I have to stop absolutely everything I was hoping to do and shovel up and pitch probably 2 to 3 bales worth of hay. Imagine how heavy that is, and how high the pile. I put it up against the back door, and THEN, open the door and toss it out, to avoid having the door open too long. Unfortunately, the tortoises see the outdoors and start climbing the big stinking heap. This then leads me to go get the fresh hay, spread it out, then put the tortoise food down in a spot as far away from the pile as possible, allowing me to finish the cleaning.
After Lois did this twice this year, I built a cage around the hoses, which she could theoretically destroy, but hasn't. Yay!? Nope. Now that Lois has time on her hands without killing hoses she has discovered she can climb the cages and slip through a small space between her wall and Lex's (the huge alligator) wall. Last week I found her hanging with the tortoises, just looking at each other. I'd say they were chillin', but they were doing the opposite since the thermostat hat made the heater go to 85 degrees. There is no Well the same thing happened this morning. I walked in to see the tortoises and Lois just hanging out. So, I fixed the space, and decided to do feed everyone breakfast, and now wondered what Lois will do next.
After feeding, I spent much of the morning tidying the reptile house, hand feeding my favorite tortoises, and running some fresh water into the pools to top them off since evaporation has a way of doing that. I felt pretty satisfied with myself and went into the house, changed clothes since I stunk, then started cleaning up after considerate little rodents and kitties, creatures who care if I am happy or not.
My comfort did not last long. Torben arrived home from work, very late, and looked really crabby. Was it work? Yes, probably, but that wasn't the real problem. Torben had stopped at the reptile house to turn off the ceiling light and had a rude entrance. Unknown to me that morning, when Lois escaped her pool she had somehow loosened the attachment of the hose that fed the filter from the pump. I should have known since the filter, a couple feet tall, sits just outside her pond, and is what she likely stepped on after climbing out. The pumps had turned on, and drained the pool, all while I was basking in my happiness of having chores done. The building was once again soaked!!!!
"EAT DINNER! I'm going over!" I told Torben as I loudly and angrily put on boots and a coat. Torben had a late and very cold day, so I really wanted him to eat. More so, however, I wanted to absolutely fume, and cuss, and hate my life while walking to the reptile shed. It was as bad as usually. The floor was a soupy mess of water and hay. So, I started the cleaning. Torben got fresh hay. We spread it out. The huge pile at the door will have to wait to be put outside until the morning. When I left, Sully, the biggest tortoise was trying to climb it, expecting me to open the door.
So, the struggle continues. I am eager to bury the drain pipe deeper in the spring, and am hoping to move the tortoises into their own place, one that is dry and spacious, and doesn't have an alligator that crashes their party whenever she gets out. But I finally have it in my head that Lois will somehow figure how what she can do next to shake my confidence all will be well.