2020: Everyone Wishing for a Do-Over

March 28, 2021
by Dave of Dave's Skinks

    I’ve had some ups and downs in my life. This one is for the books.

    2020 started out with optimism and momentum. I got a new day job and life was improving. Then I was one of the first people to get COVID-19, early. I didn’t need to be hospitalized but I didn’t get off easy either. I’m actually still dealing with occasional tinnitus today. But after 10 days of being really ill, I was feeling well enough to return to reality. I was keeping busy and life was easy. Then baby season started. 

    Best year to date! More babies, biggest litters, highest damn taxes. Thanks Rahm Emanuel and Lori Lightfoot. But it was all worth it. Every mother had an easy time birthing so the scariest part went off without a hitch. One baby was sadly born catatonic and the lower half of its body disabeled. That was the only one to not have survived, but attempts were made to keep it with us while the momma skink looked on with hope in her eyes the entire time. It’s never easy to lose even one of them. Besides that, more beautiful babies were born and placed in loving forever homes this year than any other.

    Tequila, my pure T+Caramel Northern, was the last holdout but gave birth in the second half of June, finally ending the debate if she was: 1) indeed a female and: 2) earned her official forever name – Tequila. I was most anxious over her litter. It’s been a multi-year wait, and now I ended up holding back her baby that most aligned with my Northern breeding project. I’d like to see a fleet of blue tongues devoid of the traditional black sidebands while increasing vibrant colors of Orange, Yellow, and Red. It’s gonna take a little bit but I’m headed in the right direction.

    I did a sweet trade with another breeder at my level. She got one of my nicest babies of the year and I received an adult classic female in return. We’ll see how she does this following year, but a winning personality all the way. We did have one unfortunate bonding incident at the beginning. She (I named her Hermoine Granger) may have had an equally good but slightly different diet in her original home, however she loved my food. Unfortunately it did not immediately correlate well with her digestive system. I walked by her enclosure and the smell of shit just smacked me in the face. Woof! Ok, so I get on gloves, open the sucker up. I look and look but I can’t see any shit. Close her up and wonder if it’s really another tank nearby? Hermoine turns around and walks the other way, wide-eyed, making a b-line for her food bowl. OHHHHHH! There’s the shit! She walked through it and it’s draped half her body. Not thinking critically enough I just decided to pick her up to get her in a bath. But by the time I get to her she’s eating again. The momentum of the scoop & carry caused her to throw up all over me as soon as I got her away from the enclosure. So we both went in the shower. I fear many parents can relate to similar stories from a time when I was two feet tall and resembled the Michelin Man. The very last baby of the season however comes with a story.

    The Chicago Herpetological Society is a tremendous non-profit promoting everything herp related in a community-based system for members of the greater Chicagoland area. Someone was on the hunt for a locally sourced Blue Tongue and my name got referred to the largest Reticulated Python guy in the area who was looking to add a Northern as a pet. Great! We connected, and wouldn’t you know it, but he literally lives just a couple blocks from me. We soon develop this little reptile bro-mance, trading notes, stories, tips, and photos… All About The Reptiles, REPEAT, REPEAT, just reptiles. Just reptile stuff… He put down a deposit in advance and picked out the one he wanted when it was time to select. Babies grow at different paces and these were taking their sweet time to leave the nest. So there was ample time to complete payment before the baby was ready to go. After a few weeks he kept delaying payment. Said it was with his job and covid, and yada yada, and I believed him. But a few more weeks and his baby is growing and growing; outgrowing its baby tank and needing a more sophisticated and spacious home, even temporarily. I ask again what is going on with payment and he says he’s waiting on his check to clear from the government, yada yada, and I believe him. I tell him the situation with the baby growing and if he still really wants it, he can have it early and it was agreed I’d be paid within the next two weeks no matter what.

    Two weeks, three weeks, four weeks – nothing. The conversations we have are strained and my calls or texts rarely responded to. Finally I’m blocked on Facebook. 9 full weeks of pestering when I can’t believe I’m saying this, but thankfully, he had a significant injury; needed surgery, and ultimately wouldn’t be able to take care of the baby blue tongue he was scamming me out of. So he agreed to give it back. I half expected to get jumped during the exchange. Just ridiculous. The experience has soured my entire belief in trusting people to live up to their word and acts as an unfortunate nexus eliminating chance for anyone in the future to receive a lizard before payment. C’est la vie.

    Now aside from the ridiculousness from this one unconscionable keeper in my neighborhood, Dave’s Skinks had a very successful year up until that point. I wanted to reinvest much of this year’s money into expanding the business, particularly with new enclosures but also possibly expand the business with more and different skinks. However, I had to combat other personal turmoils. My roommate at the time was one of my closest friends, a near brother of 15 years. Towards the end of his time with me he became increasingly unreliable. Over the span of 72 hours, he became late on rent, crashed my car, refused to pay the current/upcoming rent/utilities, and left the state, footing me with the entire bill and no good way to garner reparations. I got a new roommate but he was only temporary and the interchange left a further imbalance of rent and utilities for much of the year. To make matters worse on my financials, I succumbed to a really bad sprained ankle and missed work for several weeks. Just feeling so down on myself I realized Dave’s Skinks and the lizards were the best part of my year and the most consistent positive part of my life for the past several years. Perhaps I was not in the best mental state to make such substantial lively decisions, but I decided to go all in on expansion dreams by doubling the value of the business by next year. Win or bust, I was all in.

    Before I would build new enclosures, I wanted to finalize what was going in them. For the past couple years, I had been researching and tinkering around in my head about the prospects of adding the Kenyan Zebra Skink (Trachylepis dichroma) to my family. They are good parents, live in a clan, also give live birth, but they primarily eat live insects. That means not only would I be undertaking a new species, but start up and expend the space for a Dubia Roach colony. A colony takes about 6 months to thrive before you can start taking out bugs willy nilly. So I was on the fence. Another Bluey I was considering was the Shingleback Blue Tongue (Tiliqua Rugosa). This bodes different challenges. For one, the rarity. Sometimes they are on the market 4 opportunities a year. Other times, not one opportunity in two years. The species does best in a group so it’s ideal to get multiples, young, or an already established clan. For these reasons, the price for a single Shingleback ranges from $5000-$10,000 each. I also have the eclectic taste for not just any Shingleback, but the Goldfields Shingleback. There are four distinct subspecies of Shinglebacks: Tiliqua Rugosa Rugosa, T. R. Asper, T. R. Konowi, and T. R. Palarra. The Goldsfields are a unique morph only found in the Western Shinglebacks, T. R. Rugosa.  So the odds that I can get multiple at once are not impossible, just rare and expensive. And if I wait a second to think about the decision, I’ll surely have missed my opportunity. The third option I had tinkering in my head was another rare blue tongue, the Centralian, Tiliqua Multifasciata. This species is perhaps even more rare and not successfully bred in the states. They’re frankly not that popular even in Australia. This intrigued me. As luck would have it, my eye caught a social media post in Canada, only 15 minutes live. It was for two unrelated pairs of Centralian blue tongues. I pulled the trigger. Reached out to the seller and he responded.

    To read about the details surrounding the addition of the new Blue Tongue Species, Centralian, Tiliqua Multifasciata, click here.

    SPOILER… Nearly a complete disaster!

    To read about what happened with the new enclosures, click here.

    SPOILER… A very rocky road leads to mediocre results

    Once the dust settled, all the remaining lizards were stressed but brumation could finally commence. It was late. 20 days later than last year and an additional 20 days later than when I wanted to start their winter cycle this year. With no time for them to adjust to the new enclosures, we powered down for their long sleep. I probably won’t start waking them up until mid January 2021, but that means it will be a fresh year, a new start, and an opportunity to leave the past in the past.