It all started innocently enough. It started as a request from very old and dear friends Martin and Jen, asking for advice on a frog enclosure. Jen is a bit of a frog enthusiast, so in the midst of a major updating and repainting of her house, she thought “You know, that wall support in the living room would be just the perfect size for a vivarium.” I couldn’t agree more, so I promised her that I’d take her to the next reptile show on the schedule so she could search for just the right amphibians. Oh, and to get that vivarium as well.
Now, luckily for her, the next big reptile show in the Dallas area was the North American Reptile Breeder’s Conference show in Arlington, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth. This wasn’t just a regular reptile and amphibian show: this the event for which I waited the entire year. Lizards, snakes, arrow-poison frogs, T-shirts, vivarium plants, enclosures of every shape and size…for us herp junkies, this isn’t heaven, but it’s close enough for government work.
Anyway, Jen was enthused and thrilled by the prospects, but I worried about Martin. I’ve known Martin for nearly 13 years, and to say that he’s one of the most understated men I’ve ever met is itself an understatement. He’s a man of particular tastes, and he wanted to come along partly to see why Jen and I were glibbering and meeping about the possibilities. The other reason was so he could make absolutely sure that we didn’t come back with something that would have no choice but to snuggle at the foot of the bed in the middle of the night until the spare bedroom was converted into habitat. I tried to tell him “You know, crocodile monitors prefer to sleep on your head, not your feet,” and he was strangely unreassured by this news.
Making matters more problematic was that the Czarina was out of town for that weekend. At the moment all three of us started on our little jaunt, she was on the other side of the continent, and she was terrified that I was going to come home with a critter we could call our own. What really scared her is that I’m very literal in my promises to her. It wasn’t just enough for her to beg “Promise that you won’t get a crocodile monitor,” “Promise that you won’t buy ANY reptile,” or “Bring home a lizard, and I SWEAR that my elbows will be buried up to my shoulders in the top of your skull until you twitch like a galvanized frog carcass.” That’s just a challenge. For instance, as I told her later, she said absolutely nothing about critters that followed me home, and if that Salvator’s water monitor or matamata just jumped into the car of its own volition, I couldn’t be held responsible. She didn’t have to say anything, but the sound of her elbows sliding out of their sheathes and drooling venom onto the floor was enough. I couldn’t actually hear them from San Francisco, but the sound of the venom burning holes in the hotel carpet travels almost that far.
Besides, my real personal interest was in the plants. After a particularly anaemic garden show at Market Hall in Dallas, I nuhdzed the folks at the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Bromeliad Society about talking to the folks at the NARBC about a booth. The attendees were thrilled, because they usually have problems getting good bromeliads for frog and gecko enclosures. The Bromeliad Society folks were thrilled, because they were running out of plants by the time I left on Saturday afternoon. Everyone wins, as I like to put it.
Now here I went (relatively) mad, picking up a large collection of Tillandsia for future arrangements. No Catopsis berteroniana at this show…yet, but I already have one at home, so that just meant more for everyone else.
Now, if I hadn’t been a man of my word and told the Czarina “I really don’t want to twitch like a galvanized frog carcass,” I could have come across some real surprises. One of these was Ruby, a red tegu (Tupinambis rufescens) with the sweetest disposition I’ve ever seen in a tegu. Technically, it wasn’t a monitor (just being the South American equivalent), but I knew that this would be a minor caveat when the Czarina went digging for my occipital lobes with a melon baller. Sadly, I had to leave Ruby for someone else, because the plants are enough work on their own.
Zac Freer wasn’t one of the subjects of the show, but that’s not for lack of trying. You know how people assume I’m insane because I get all squidgy and sappy about giant lizards? Zac gets that way about crocodilians. He and his wife were out at the show to look around, and he’d already adopted a Dumeril’s boa for the trip home. I’d already turned him into a carnivorous plant junkie at a show last year, so now I got to see him in his native habitat.
Oh, and remember how the Czarina kept insisting “No crocodile monitors”? I checked several times, and she said absolutely nothing about Australian blue-tongued skinks.
And she absolutely said not a peep about not getting a black tree monitor. Problem is, there’s that issue with subtext, such as when she insists that “have fun on your weekend off” does not give me permission to install concrete dinosaurs in the front yard or heckle the Pope while dressed like Colin Baker. I swear, if she wasn’t such a good cook, I’d have problems with her being so arbitrary and unreasonable.
And for Martin and Jen? Well, while Martin isn’t exactly a herper, he wasn’t waving a marlin spike around while yelling about reptiles. (He was yelling about getting a pair of golf shoes because that was the only way to get around with all the blood on the floor, but he does that every time we hang out.) Jen, though, was in heaven, and we had to talk her, very gently, out of getting a stunning pair of red rat snakes to go with the four Dendrobates auratus arrow-poison frogs she purchased for her new vivarium. When I’m recommending to friends that they might want to start out a bit small, it’s only because I know that Jen will be breeding her own by next year and running a small zoo full of exotic frogs by the beginning of 2015.
Very seriously, it’s not just a matter of doing this next year. The plan, the grand glorious plan, is to become a vendor for next year’s show. True, most of the most interesting carnivores available will still be in winter dormancy, but there’s a lot to be said about tropical sundews and bladderworts, early-rising butterworts, and lots and lots of Nepenthes. Now I only have another 11 months to get everything together, and then we’re golden.