College has become a way to cultivate and
preserve ignorance and misconceptions,
sort of a bell jar over the mind that
lets no contrary facts in.
Adventures in Herpetology:
A Breakthrough & Other Projects
by Jeff Fullerton
Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
For some time I’ve been promising to begin this series which was intended to be a successor to the one began in the early spring of 2014 as “Nihon Ishigame: an Outlaw Turtle Enthusiast Goes Japanese.”
That article documented the arrival of an adult breeding trio of Japanese Pond Turtles—Mauremys japonica that was the start of shift from native species to exotics in a bid to get around the increasingly burdensome regulatons of state wildlife authorities who more or less foreclosed on any hope for legalizing the captive breed of Pennsylvania’s native herpetofauna. Namely the Big Three that I had worked with and successfully bred for years: the North American Wood Turtle, Spotted Turtle and Eastern Box. Which were all essentially reduced to contraband by the dictate of a committee with token input from the hobbyist community. And those of us who Had them were made into lawbreakers at the stroke of a pen.
Such is often the life of reptile hobbyists and breeders who dedicate their lives to the husbandry of these animals which often puts us in conflict with environmentalists and animal rights activists who consider our enterprise unethical—a sin against the earth and the animals of the earth—or an affront to the notion of the natural world belonging in common to all and that no one person ought to be allowed to own a piece of it. What an ugly system of belief that in my mind is akin to some forms of religious tyranny and it obviously stinks of communism.
In the case of conservation officials it’s often a matter of a bureaucracy not wanting to be bothered with making careful decisions—like the statement made by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission that the conservation officers might have trouble in determining which animals are legitimately being produced and which ones are being sourced from the wild and so the easy answer was prohibition. For me when the time came; the easy answer was to give up on that battle and shift to a new frontier in the husbandry and breeding of foreign species. The Japanese Pond Turtle ended up replacing the native wood turtle as my flagship species and was soon followed by the Chinese Box and European Pond turtles. And last spring I got back onto the Neotropical Wood Turtles of the genus Rhinoclemmys concurrent with the resurrection of the Florida Room where I kept those before.
It’s been a very busy last six years.
That’s the time elapsed since my shift of focus to—at least for a while—buy myself some breathing room and continued freedom to operate openly and pursue happiness and excellence in this field of endeavor. In a shrinking world of Liberty increasingly being encroached upon by the Plea of Necessity and one size fits all solutions crafted by the authorities to soothe the pet issues and anxieties of special interests and sheepish conformists. And in the recent course of events there is crisis and reasonable fear that such people will gain the upper hand and if they don’t crush me and my fellows outright—they will do it indirectly by instituting a command economy that will undermine the ability to simply maintain a decent working class lifestyle let alone a reptile collection.
Yet even in 2020; among the darkest of years in which a prosperous economy was disrupted by the double blow of a pandemic disease and civil unrest hope still springs eternal.
A few evenings ago I found the dark female Japanese Pond Turtle nesting when I ventured up at dusk to return the flock to the security of the lidded pen. I recovered 5 eggs later by flashlight and put the trio away for the night and now the eggs are in the Zoo Med incubator which is set to 30.5 C to put it slightly over the threshold for producing female offspring. Would like to raise a few girls to turn my reverse trio in the DD pen onto two more breeding sets.
This is a welcome breakthroughs after several years of failed nesting attempts with eggs being dropped on the ground or in the water and eaten or trampled by the occupants. Apparently the 4 by 8 foot lidded pens are to cramped for the liking of the females when it comes to selection of nesting sites and I experimented with a variety of other options including a totally terrestrial breeding pen that is part of the newer DD duplex built in 2016. But what worked in the end was the open paddock enclosure with a pond and spacious land area with a sand bed that was always appealing to the native wood and eastern box turtles.
It was was my original plan to run this group like I did the native species after raccoons started to become a serious problem. The lidded pen was built on the upper boundary of original open pen in 2006 to keep the original occupants safe from predation at night and a daily ritual developed ; putting the turtles out in the morning and gathering them up to put away for the night. In 2014 I converted the lidded pen to a semi aquatic setup with the addition of a 50 gallon Rubbermaid tub for a pool and a smaller tub for a pool that also serves as an up flow bio filter that discharges to the lower pool via a 3/4 bulkhead fitting. This became the model for other projects in the coming years and I did some upgrades on the open pen last fall that allow the breeding group finally to spend time in it on a regular basis with minimal supervision. And that was what was needed to finally get a successful nesting and 5 eggs that are now in the Zoo Med incubator. I set it at 30.5 degrees Celsius to put it slightly over the threshold for producing female offspring. Would like to raise a couple girls to put with the young male in the lower section of the DD system and one to go with the pair raised up from hatchlings in the upper section.
So at least not everything in the year 2020 sucks. Reptile shows may be unthinkable right now but by the time things come back I should have perfected my art and have plenty of surplus offspring to sell!
That’s always been a dirty word in the lexicon of the enemies of the hobby—and they can complain that I’m being overtly polemic—but when someone consistently calls you greedy and selfish—which more or less amounts to deplorable in recent times—then what else do you call them? I am of the philosophy that one person’s vision of Heaven is someone else’s hell. I will elaborate more on this as it applies to life in the reptile hobby in the sequel to be written at the outcome of the 5 eggs that if everything goes well should hatch in the next 6 weeks. That should be the end of August going on September.
Would be a good time for a reptile show but the idea of a huge hall packed with people—standing room only like the Hamburg Show I went to in 2016 or some of the Pittsburgh Shows would be unthinkable right now in the midst of a pandemic. Of course I’m more worried about what comes after that more so than the virus itself. Given all the potential for economic dislocations that could ruin reptile breeders for whom the production and selling of offspring from their animals is often a secondary source of income alongside their main livelihoods. In addition people will be less willing to part with money in a bad economy and I’m already wondering if I’m ever going to sell my young Gulf Coast Box Turtles that have been accumulating since 2016?
And what about the Green New Deal that the Democrats will surely try to ram through on top of restrictions on exotic animals that might play well to the general public because of the Coronavirus. If we decide to engage in civil disobedience—will a democratic administration be as restrained in enforcement as they argue the Trump administration ought to be when it comes to restoring law and order in cities being looted and burned by radical leftists?
I struggle not to dwell too much on these things which have been a serious drain on my psyche for much of this year. In spite of it all I’m still managing to get things done.
Before the nesting of Mauremys japonica there was the successful restoration of the old 40 B duo that are now back in service with fish in them!
There was also the new vivarium build that I finished after a hiatus of several months when I put in the basic spray foam background and other infrastructure last fall.
What the addition of a nice LED light and some moss and plants won’t do to liven up even a small tank. I’m looking forward to really livening it up with some Hourglass Tree Frogs later this summer when the plantings are a little better established and the remainder of my other projects are finished and the Florida Room is put back in order.
Currently that is my main focus. This week I accomplished two more milestones in the way of a newt tank upgrade and another background build for a rock face with plants that will go around the spillway waterfall of the tub that is part of the Turtle Table setup.
The three clumps of Licorice Sweetflag—an Acorus gramineus variety were overgrowing the Exo Terra setup for the Yunnan Newts so I replaced them with three divisions of a clump of Pygmy sweetflag—var pusillus that I attached to rocks with zip ties in similar fashion to the original planting several years ago.
This variety that tops out at maybe 5 inches was a bonus plant I got from Don Hackenberry under the misnomer of some kind of Japanese Tolfeldia plant. It lives clinging to rocks in the watercourse and is a much better choice than the Licorice variety that is even overwhelming the lower pool in the DD system for the younger Mauremys japonica group.
This one is due for a major thinning and replanting.
My other project is the ongoing Florida Room Renovation itself. Since the Turtle table was removed for modifications I’ve been busy fixing up that corner to secure and seal the gaps between the wall and upper floor and to do other things. Like the installation of a spray foam background to match the pieces that were created to cover the fronts of the tray gardens and further expand vertical grow space. It’s too much to detail now with my Saturday slipping away and necessity to head off to work soon—so I’ll do a more detailed report later.
This is where I’ve gotten as of late last night. So this morning going on afternoon I’ve been taking a break and writing about it. The surface is fully carved and ready for the application of colored cement to make it look like sandstone and match the ones I did for the Table. In time I’m going to cover the walls the whole way round and make that corner look like a canyon in Mexico or Central America where the turtle occupants hail. They are currently spending the summer in the greenhouse and loving it. I’m hoping the changes I’m making will suit them well too.
Will it all be worth it in the end if our whole way of life comes crashing down and the spirit of conformity in time of crisis prevails to become the new norm? God I hope not. Maybe some will call me selfish or crazy and out of touch with societal priorities. But it is said that Man does not live by bread alone. Which is they way the enemies of freedom aspire to force us to live. They have been for a very long time and finally they’ve gotten lucky with the advents of the Coronavirus and the killing of a man by a rogue cop. And they think that gives them a Devine right to stomp on anyone who does not fall in lock step with the mob.
I just can’t go along with that. I’m a doer and a builder—not a looter or a destroyer and their vision of heaven is my vision of hell. I’m going to do everything I can to stay where I am and continue living the life I love. That’s all I have left now.
To be continued …
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