Monthly Archives: February 2013

Hints on new T-shirts

It’s been nearly five years since the first run of Triffid Ranch T-shirts premiered, and it’s time to try something a bit different. VERY different.

Texas Triffid Ranch T-shirt promo

Just to pass on word, artist Larry Carey is available for commissions on other T-shirt designs. Meanwhile, I need to get this to the printshop.

It Came From The NARBC – Plants

Zoo Med tent

As stated before, this month’s NARBC show was not only its biggest, but apparently it had the largest turnout in the Arlington show’s history. Being on ground level, not only is this not surprising, but it makes me wonder “So what are they going to do if this gets any larger? Move next door to Cowboys Stadium and take over the whole field?” (Even then, that only buys the show a couple of years before we’re having to consider armed platforms in near-Earth orbit. This show is getting BIG.)

Anyway, before continuing, I wanted to share a few observations on the Zoo Med Laboratories display tent. The herpetoculture trade has come a very long way from the “boom” of the 1990s, and the displays confirm it. This beast is inflatable, with the ability to anchor it if used outside, with panels on the sides to give shade if outdoors and to advertise further if not. Either way, the dream is to have one of these for a future 35 Denton show.

Zoo Med tent - detail

Surprisingly, many vendors offering large planted display cages weren’t at this show, but I’m hoping that they’re simply rescheduling for the August NARBC show. The noted exceptions were Zoo Med and the crew at Exo Terra, who definitely give ideas on how it can be done.

Exo Terra demo tanks

Exo Terra demo tanks

Wandering around and viewing reptiles was all fine and good, but the real purpose of this quest was to look for reptile-friendly flora, and that started with haranguing the good folks at the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Bromeliad Society. What started as a minor inconvenience, trying to get all of their plants and driftwood into a single 10-by-10 booth, actually worked to their advantage when they started thinking laterally.

Bromeliad Society

Bromeliads, orchids, and driftwood: how can it get any better without adding carnivorous plants to the mix?

Shawn Crofford of the Bromeliad Society

And then there was the big reason I came out there: a serious need for cork. Most incorrigible antisociables only keep one particular plant in their grow houses. Me, I needed cork bark for all of the bromeliads I just purchased from the Bromeliad Society.

Lots of cork and driftwood

And with this, it’s confirmed: the Triffid Ranch will be a vendor at this next August’s show, if it kills us all. Five months to get ready…I just might be able to pull that off.

It Came From The NARBC – Critters

NARBC
Continuing previous coverage of last weekend’s North American Reptile Breeders Conference and Trade Show, the problem wasn’t having enough to do. The problem was trying to see everything before your eyes exploded in sheer joy. Among the highlights:

Kenyan sand boa

I’ve been a sucker for Kenyan sand boas since they first started showing up for sale in the US, and a very nice gentleman wandering down the aisles was kind enough to hold it long enough for a photo. As can be told, they’re extremely well-mannered, but the coloration? Whoa.

Carpet python and woma

Likewise, I have no interest in keeping my own carpet python (top) or woma (bottom), but I’ve made plans to visit Australia before I die just to see representatives of each in the wild. Of course, to see all of the reptiles I want to see in the wild in Australia alone, from shingleback lizards to brown snakes, I may as well just move there.

Alligator snapping turtle
Hailing from a little closer to home, here’s a seeming oxymoron: a little alligator snapping turtle. Not only are they so ugly they’re cute, but I speak from experience when stating that they’re actually extremely shy if given a chance to avoid human contact. As can be told, this one was used to humans, so this was a great opportunity for people to see an extremely misunderstood animal.

Speaking of misunderstood animals, one of the booths featured a collection of venomous and/or extremely threatened Texas reptiles, of which the alligator snapping turtle was practically a sidenote. Among others, we have…

Timber rattlesnake

…a timber rattlesnake…

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

…a Western diamondback rattlesnake…

Copperhead
…a copperhead…

Texas indigo snake

…and the nonvenomous but extremely large and impressively active Texas indigo snake.

Next: let’s get back to the plants, shall we?

It Came From The NARBC: Varanus salvadorii

One of the things that keeps my marriage to the Czarina so fresh and exciting is that she doesn’t know what will happen next. I’m literal in this: she doesn’t know, and she’s usually scared to death to find out. Take a look at this situation: she leaves me to my own devices on a Saturday morning, and I make a beeline for the big NARBC Arlington reptile show. As soon as I get there, I run into old friends who came out to observe the wildlife (reptilian and human), and one let me know “By the way, did you know about what’s around the corner?” He points around the corner, and there it is:
Crocodile monitor

Yes, at the show was one of my favorite reptiles: Varanus salvadorii, the crocodile monitor. Even better, for a species notorious for its aggression and savage intelligence, here was one that was pretty much dog-tame. Of course, he’s still small: believe it or not, he’s only about half the size of a fully-grown adult.

Crocodile monitor profile

In previous years, I would have been able to sneak something like this home and surprise the Czarina, probably with it curled up like a big scaly cat at the foot of the bed. However, modern technology has its advantages, so I let her know my plans. Via Facebook, of course, so all of our friends could get a comfy seat and pop an extra-large batch of popcorn. If I played my cards right, people would ask about the blood tornado spotted just east of downtown Dallas.

Crocodile monitor 2

The reason why this beauty was available was that its owner was incredibly fond of him, but an exciting business opportunity required selling him for capital. I understand, and did some calculations. The best thing about having a rainy day fund? It’s raining somewhere.

Big scaly kitten

To make matters better, this gentleman was selling two crocodile monitors, both of which with the same mellow disposition. I immediately had to let the Czarina know: “They’re a breeding pair. We could have HATCHLINGS.” Her immediate response: “NO, WE COULDN’T.” That didn’t stop me: I’d already picked names. “G’Kar” and “Na’Toth” worked, but then a friend suggested that “Paul and Caroline” would work, too. After all, these lizards were just like us: they alternated between cuddling and her demonstrating her superiority by gnawing on his head. (Apparently, crocodile monitors don’t have much in the way of Elbows, so teeth had to do.)

Crocodile monitor pair

Now, this big one was friendly, but see the one in the back? I was warned by her owners that this beast had the personality for which crocodile monitors are known throughout the world. That look says “Oh, I’m going to kill you, Sheriff, but I’m gonna kill you slow.”

Crocodile monitor portrait
The worst part is that I can’t understand why the Czarina has such an issue with keeping one in the house. All she did was yell and froth about “the damn lizard will eat the cats”. I really don’t understand. How could she possibly say “no” to such a cute widdle face?

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Cat Monday

Leiber

Have a Great Weekend

Upcoming shows and ongoing events

Well, we survived ConDFW and thrived, and now it’s time to let everyone know about the next big Triffid Ranch show, All-Con 2013, two weeks from today. In addition, because of specific interest in a demonstration, I’ll also add to the planned “How To Murder Your Venus Flytrap” lecture on Saturday evening with a display of carnivorous plant fluorescence under UV light. Where else are you going to see a presentation like this?

Meanwhile, two weeks before All-Con means that the next two weekends are the usual pre-show bad craziness, but that doesn’t preclude the annual February trip to the North American Reptile Breeders Conference in Arlington this weekend. If you’re going to be in the vicinity, just look for the albino in the motorcycle jacket and the International Carnivorous Plant Society T-shirt. If you’re not able to get out this time, make plans for the August NARBC show, because that, if everything goes well, may be the big Triffid Ranch event of the year.

In defense of ultraviolet

By now, a fair number of carnivorous plant enthusiasts know about the new paper on fluorescence of Nepenthes, Sarracenia, and Dionea traps under ultraviolet light. First and foremost, for all of you undergrad and postgrad students out there, take this as a warning not to procrastinate in finishing and submitting a scientific paper. I was about maybe a month away from submitting my own paper to the Carnivorous Plant Newsletter on the subject, and not only did the authors of this paper beat me to the punch, but they produced an exceptional paper that presented distinctive blue fluorescence spots that nobody else had caught before now. They did exceptional work, they deserve every last bit of publicity they’re receiving, and I just regret not having the proper gear for proper research.

That said, there’s a lot more to be done with fluorescence in carnivorous plants. I can state with authority that many other genera of carnivore fluoresce under UV, including at least two species of Heliamphora,Darlingtonia, and the two carnivorous bromeliads Catopsis and Brocchinia. In fact, Catopsis fluoresces brightly enough to hurt. There are other advantages to running around your carnivorous plant nursery with UV lights, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The whole strange experiment with carnivores and UV started about five years back. Peter D’Amato of California Carnivores noted about three years ago how brightly some species of Sarracenia, particularly S. leucophylla, seemed to stand out under moonlight, and I noticed that myself when looking over Sarracenia propagation pools during a full moon. Likewise, after damage from sudden hailstorms, I took a good look at the trap contents of those particularly bright Sarracenia and noticed that a majority of the prey items consisted of moths. The moths didn’t have any particular interest in visible light color variations, and many would have no interest whatsoever in the nectar secreted along the rims and lids of the traps. So what attracted them?

Since I was the sort of kid who cracked most Encyclopedia Brown mysteries by the third-to-last page and who went digging to verify the plausibility or lack thereof of Danny Dunn novels, it wasn’t hard to recognize that the moths were seeing something that I couldn’t without assistance. The initial research was easy, but I’m again getting ahead of myself. The problem involved getting photos that verified observations. Almost anyone who studied any level of high-school botany or natural history remembers photos of flowers taken “with a UV filter” that allows UV-blind humans to see the patterns on seemingly boring flowers that draw in bees and sawflies. Just try to get a breakdown on how to do this, though, especially in the digital camera age. Half of the advice I received was completely worthless (hacking your camera to detect infrared does nothing, and just wasted my time), or it was tantalizingly vague as to how those photographers managed to pull it off. I even hired my adopted daughter Jenny to take photos of Nepenthes and Sarracenia while using a UV filter, but the results were inconclusive at best. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so impressed with the photos taken by the Plant Biology authors: they bypassed all of that by using low-light photography and controlling the exact wavelength of UV used.

In further developments, I’m still publishing, but only after quite a bit of revision. Among other things, it’s time to note the number of other carnivores that show similar fluorescence, and the variations therein. For instance, Darlingtonia, the cobra plant, fluoresces along its trap aperture, but it also has veins of fluorescence along the ala, or wing, that runs up the shaft of the trap, presumably to encourage insects up the ala to the aperture. Venus flytraps fluoresce, with varying patterns with different cultivars. Oh, and the greatest fluorescence among sundews is at the tips of its trapping hairs, with the dew at the tips absolutely shining under UV.

Now, there’s no reason why you can’t experiment with this as well. In fact, after running a few tests, I hope to present a regular shortwave and longwave UV display at plant shows comparable to fluorescent mineral displays in rock shows. This sort of equipment isn’t absolutely necessary, though, and most experiments in carnivore fluorescence can be done with a simple UV light.

Black light fluorescent fixture

To begin, don’t bother with standard “black light” fixtures, either fluorescent or incandescent. Not only do these put out relatively little UV, but they emit so much visible light that the plant fluorescence is nearly unnoticeable. These will still work with one exception, to be related later, but for most investigation, save the money for a better option. About the only fluorescence you’ll get off a carnivore with one of these comes from dying leaves, and if you can’t spot that under visible light, this won’t help.

UV LED flashlight

That better option is a good UV LED light, preferably a battery-powered one that can be used in the field. These days, with the drop in prices in UV-emitting LEDs, it’s possible to find plenty of good LED flashlights at affordable costs, with and without standard white LEDs for double duty. I picked up mine from American Science & Surplus for two reasons: it has six UV LEDs surrounded by white LEDs so I can use it as a standard flashlight, and the switch glows in the dark. You may laugh, but drop one of these in the dark, and that improves the odds of finding it.

Sonic screwdriver - closed

And then there’s the one I use for plant shows with lots of kids, because they completely lose it when I pull it out and turn it on. This, of course, is my scorpion detector, as it’s just as good at causing scorpions to fluoresce as carnivores. It has one good, powerful UV LED in the tip, which already makes it very handy for shows, and it has a pen attachment at the other end for leaving notes on business cards and stickers. The best thing about it, though?

Sonic screwdriver - open

It extends. Particularly when showing the bright patches at the back of the throat of a Nepenthes pitcher, that’s a lot less intrusive than manhandling a pitcher into place for a larger light source. It won’t work well in bright light, but it gets the job done.

Now, instructions for using LED lights. If at all possible, try to use your new lights in as dark a set of conditions as you can get. When working outside, try for a new moon and a minimum of street and porch lights for the best effect. Indoors, go for the darkest room you can get and let your eyes adjust to the darkness before lighting everything. Contrary to news reports on how these “glow in the dark”, the effect is going to be a bit subtle, much like using UV lights on a piece of opal. With proper precautions, though, the effect is not only obvious, but one of the LED flashlights mentioned above can detect carnivores from as much as three meters away. Go for a longwave UV lamp, such as those used for diamond prospecting, and have some real fun.

And for a last word, there’s one additional benefit in wandering through your carnivorous plant collection with a UV flashlight. My dear friend Ryan Kitko recently wrote about the bladderwort, Utricularia bisquamata, that was infesting his shield sundew. U. biquamata has quite the reputation as an aggressive pest in carnivore collections, but I have a soft spot for it. Firstly, it’s very easy to care for, and it makes an excellent starter plant for those who want to work with bladderworts but who don’t have the facilities to raise any of the true aquatic species. Give U. bisquamata soggy soil and lots of light in a standard terrarium, and it takes over, producing lots of white-pink slipper-like blooms with a pastel yellow spot on the top.

The other reason why I’m so fond of U. bisquamata? Get outside with a UV flashlight and find out for yourself. That yellow spot may be pastel under visible light, but under UV, it fluoresces like a black light poster. Considering how many birds are able to see into varying frequencies of UV, I now understand why both the migratory ruby-throat hummingbirds and their competing rufous hummingbirds won’t stay out of my greenhouse. I’ve had hummingbirds literally tapping on my office window to get at U. bisquamata and U. sandersonii blooms, and now I know exactly why.

ConDFW 2013: The Aftermath

ConDFW Overview

Another show, another year until the next one. Besides running into several old and dear friends, one of the many joys of being a vendor at this year’s ConDFW was knowing that old and dear friends were running the whole shindig. That’s not counting the fellow vendors.

Half Price Books crew

For instance, you have the manager of the flagship Half Price Books store…

Roll2Play crew

…and the crew from Roll2Play

Czarina

And then there was my neighbor, the lovely proprietor of Tawanda Jewelry. It’s quite nice to flirt with a neighbor at a show without my wife having issues…

Nepenthes globe

Fern bladderwort arrangement

Tank displays

Because of the time of year, most of the temperate carnivores in the Triffid Ranch collection are still in winter dormancy, but that gave plenty of opportunities for tropical carnivores. And these made customers at ConDFW very happy.

ConDFW

ConDFW

ConDFW

Now, for next year, everything is in flux, especially since a local expo con-ven-iently scheduled its big events to run the week before or the week after several local conventions (and, in the case of FenCon, the exact same weekend). Because of that, next year’s ConDFW schedule isn’t nailed down yet, but as soon as it is, you can bet that we’re going to be out there. And so it goes.

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

Daffodils

I can’t speak for everywhere else, but it’s been obvious for a while that Punxatawney Phil is a Texan. The daffodils are already out in force, and the peach trees have their first glimmerings of blooms…let’s just hope we don’t have a last-minute snowstorm the way we did in 2010, eh?

Cat Monday

Cadigan

In the six months since we adopted her, we’ve come to realize that if Cadigan doesn’t have at least some Persian ancestry, she at least has ancestors close to the Persian family tree. She has a lot in common with shaded silver and chinchilla Persians: the shortened face, the smaller ears, the deep body, the problems with gas that could burn the nose hairs out of a dead nun…and then there’s the personality. I have never met a cat so blasted cheery first thing in the morning that wasn’t Persian. I’m waiting for the little monster to stand up and ask for esteefee next.

Have a Great Weekend

No Sleep ’til ConDFW

ConDFW containers

Almost everything that needs to be done has been done, save for setting up tables tonight and loading them tomorrow. It’s now radio silence until ConDFW starts at 2:00 p.m Friday afternoon. See you then.

“You want out of here? You talk to me, eh?”

Show season advances, which requires trips for essential supplies. During one of those trips, I discovered that one of my local Target stores was expecting a much colder winter than what we’ve received in Dallas so far. Either the manager expected a repeat of the record snowstorm of 2010 or the week-long ice storm of 2011, or s/he came to Dallas from a much higher latitude. Either way, the collection of deeply-discounted winter survival gear brought back lots of memories of my childhood in Michigan.

Ice cleats

For the record, when you need them, removable ice cleats are a godsend in Dallas. Unfortunately, you might only need them for a grand total of three days every ten years or so.

Ice maces

And then there were the all-in-one ice scrapers, complete with handles to assist with getting enough torque to take off inches or even feet of rime. I was half-tempted to buy one of these and strap it to the side of my bicycle pack, but the Czarina, as usual, expressed the voice of reason. Voice of reason, voice of doom, it’s all the same with her.

Head of an ice mace

Oh, that was just the beginning. Heavy steel multi-use scrapers for breaking ice off sidewalks and driveways. Standard scrapers with fur-lined gloves sewn around them. Heat packs. Wind visors. It suddenly occurred to me that nobody’s made the definitive Canadian post-apocalyptic road movie, something along the lines of “Depressed Doug”. Or had someone made it after all?

A glimpse from the vaults

Thanksgiving rainbow

Thanksgiving rainbow

A little treat from the archives. One of the reasons why I keep returning to Texas every time I leave? It’s not just because of the intense rainbows when we get our classic gullywasher storms. It’s not that we regularly get double and sometimes triple rainbows during those storms. It’s that these photos were taken on Thanksgiving Day 2012. Rainbows instead of snowstorms? Yes, thank you.

The next big project

As events and venues continue to expand, so will the Triffid Ranch, and things have outgrown (pun intended) the little hobby greenhouse from where all of this started back in 2008. Five years since the first Triffid Ranch show at the sadly defunct CAPE Day? Sheesh.

Side of the new greenhouse frame

Anyway, that expansion means that it’s time to set up a new greenhouse specifically for Nepenthes pitcher plants and other heat-loving, humidity-loving plants. The details are too long to go into, but a dear friend of the Czarina’s and mine had a spare shade frame that needed to be moved, and her sense of Scottish frugality is even stronger than mine. Hence, the new Nepenthes frame goes up right after this weekend’s show.

Front of the new greenhouse

It may not look like much here, and it looks even less impressive stripped to raw parts and put into temporary storage. In its full complete state, covered with fresh greenhouse film, and full of pitcher plants and bladderworts, though, it’ll look glorious.

By the dawn’s early light

Plants for ConDFW

For the most part, now it’s a matter of waiting until the opening of ConDFW this weekend. The plants are ready. The displays are ready. The Czarina is ready. The question is, are you?

Prologue for 2013

The new year just got real. The only thing exceeding the thrill of the Czarina stopping by the Day Job with a mystery package is showing coworkers what Sarracenia pitcher plants look like. When these little monsters start blooming in March, then the year begins in earnest.
Sarracenia rhizomes
They may not look like much at the moment, but check back around Texas Frightmare Weekend this May. Between the first batch of pitchers in May and the second batch in October, they’ll surprise you.
Sarracenia rhizomes

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Cat Monday

Leiber

Have a Great Weekend