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Terrarium lessons

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POSTED September 17, 2012 12:35 a.m.

This is the beginning of the tarantula mating season.

If you take a drive some fall evening into the hills separating California’s Great Central Valley from the coastal regions, you can spot the male tarantulas crawling across the roads in search of females. As far as I know, tarantulas are not protected under California law. If you have a terrarium at home, tarantulas make great pets. You can stop by the local bait shop and buy live crickets to feed your pet tarantula. Of course, you’ll want to have a nice, well made screen cover over the top of your terrarium, so that your pet tarantula doesn’t end up visiting you in bed some night.

Actually, tarantulas are only one of the many critters that you can keep in a home terrarium. I had a terrarium in my bedroom from the time I was about 12 years old until I moved off to college. It was a great way to learn about many of the amazing critters the good Lord put on this earth. I had an assortment of reptiles from horned toads, to snakes, lizards, and even an occasional scorpion. When I became a father and my kids were old enough, we got another terrarium so that they could learn to observe and appreciate some of nature’s creations first hand, just as I had.  The terrarium was a great educational experience for the whole family.

Once while I was changing a flat tire on a rutted dirt road in the sagebrush of Northern Nevada, the kids started hollering for me to “Come quick, Dad! We’ve got a giant lizard cornered!’ With visions of a cornered Gila Monster about to bite my children, I took a break from my tire changing to find that they kids had indeed cornered a lizard about 15 inches long. I never was able to identify the critter, but like every other critter that resided in the terrarium over the years, it taught us a better appreciation for the wonders of nature, even birth. One day, my son Bo, came racing down the stairs announcing at the top of his lungs, “Hey everybody! The lizard’s a girl!” He deduced that from the dozen or so inch and a half long eggs deposited in a shallow depression in the sand on the bottom of the Terrarium.

The horned toads (technically horned lizards) who called our terrarium home were great pets and subsisted on a diet of ants. The kids (and our cats) learned that one of the defense mechanisms of horned toads was that they really could squirt blood out of their eye! This almost always caused the kid (or cat) to drop the horned toad who’d scurry away to safety. We also learned about camouflage from our resident horned toads. Almost every time you looked into the terrarium, it appeared as though the Wiley critter had vanished, after sifting your fingers through the sand however, eventually you’d find the horned toad that blended in so well he became invisible. Those were great lessons that I don’t think the kids will ever forget.

Almost all of our terrarium guests were, just that, short term visitors who would reside with us for a few weeks or months so that we could learn more about them and their habits. Eventually the horned toads, lizards, snakes & turtles got returned to the wild places from which they came. Although I regularly catch and remove problem rattlesnakes for area ranchers, I never brought home a live rattler to reside in our terrarium. Even I’m not that crazy! We did learn a healthy respect for wild creatures. While king snakes are not venomous and cannot kill you, they still have sharp teeth and can let you know in no uncertain terms that they don’t want to be handled. I remember when Bo reached down to pick up a three-foot king snake, and the snake gave him a hard bite on the finger that drew blood. After cleaning the bite and soothing the wounded youngster, we proceeded to return the snake from the exact spot we’d caught him. We had a good discussion about wild things needing to be wild and and free.

If you ever want to introduce yourself or your kids to the wonders of nature, in a manner that is truly up close and personal. You might want to invest in your very own home terrarium. You might be surprised at what you’ll learn. I know I’m never too old to stop learning.



Until Next Week,

Tight Lines

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