2022 Year In Review: A Breeder’s Diary

January 1, 2023
by Dave of Dave's Skinks

    2022 certainly had its ups and downs, but overall, I’m happy, and the skinks are happy too.

    A wise man once said to me, “don’t do something until you’ve got at least two really good reasons to do so.” I’ve applied that lesson towards my decision-making ever since. We made strategic plans to wake the skinks early from brumation towards the end of 2021. The goals were to get a jump start on baby making, which would lead to an early baby arrival, and to test recent studies from other captive breeders playing around with a shortened brumation cycle, a warmer brumation cycle, and even no brumation cycle. We would only test one variable this coming year – length of brumation time. We woke the skinks three weeks early and bred three weeks early. Cinnamon wasn’t ready but Hermione Granger was eager. Blizzard bred to Tequila and New Girl. And He was supposed to pair with Katherine Night as well. But before I went for Blizzard, Katherine was out and about. A few minutes passed. I’m still getting prepared when all of a sudden I hear this rustle; this tussle. I check the commotion. My high yellow, unsexed 8-month juvenile from Goldilocks and Charlie Manson had locked onto Katherine and seemed poised to lose his virginity. I was not expecting this. 8 months old. Are you kidding me? He was half the size of her. But she enjoyed his company, and they paired a few more times during the breeding season. Breeding finished in mid-January.

    Concluding the breeding season I was ready to make some enclosure upgrades and modifications. We were going bioactive. I purchased organic sphagnum moss and organic topsoil. Spent weeks baking trey by trey to sanitize, and increased the total substrate in several enclosures by 50% with the new organic materials. A local friend hooked it up with a few species, but ultimately, only the Powder Orange isopods thrived alongside the springtails. If you choose to turn your Northern or Irian Jaya enclosure into a bioactive one, the Powder Oranges are the way to go. They withstand lower temperatures and lower humidity levels than most. I wanted to go bioactive to save on long-term costs and the time to upkeep a now total of 20 adult display enclosures and 33 baby tubs. To learn more about my journey into the bioactive world, please read my blog post just on it here.

    Based on the timeline, I should have had babies in April, or perhaps early May. They ordinarily start having babies mid-late may, and all the way through early-mid July. But the first mother gave birth on May 30th. Later than usual! I don’t think I’ve ever wronged a client, but this year, COVID had to be getting to people. There was just nastys this year. People upset the babies didn’t arrive sooner. Chose other breeders; abandoned deposits and adoption commitments. The business took a hurting. Not only that but six consecutive years with babies… To start year seven, the first two litters slugged out. Slugging out is when the female gives birth exclusively to unfertilized eggs. The leading theory is everything went right for the female, but the male’s swimmers never finished the race. She carried on in the competition – so to speak, and we get this end result: A pregnancy that went full term but produced zero babies. Not only did it happen with the first two, but Tequila slugged out later on. We had 33 total babies – the least we’ve ever done since being established at this size of an operation. The playing around with brumation patterns was a nice theory but ultimately did not pan out for me. Coincidently, many other breeders theorized moving up their dates as well. Feedback is they too had low birth rates and birthdays later than their typical window. Goes to show how messing with their biology can be less fruitful than desired. My recommendation is stick to one plan that works and don’t try to change things up too much. It’s interesting that first-year transplant Blizzard had both of his partners slug out. I may have dodged a bullet as well.

    Blizzard was sold to me as a pure Northern as part of a multi-generational breeding project of eliminating the traditional dark side bands and boosting overall – the exact same project I’m after. This breeder was six years into her project. This was an ethical breeder I trusted and had been trading notes with for years. Well I was very proud of his exceptional hypo coloration and started to show him off on Reddit. Oh boy did they chew him up and spit him out. Lots of people in disbelieve this was a 100% pure Northern. We did firther digging and, 4, 5 generations back, there is something merky going on. The leading theory is another Tiliqua scincoides subspecies to the intermedia, the Tiliqua scincoides chimaera. From old photos of Blizzard’s grandfather to a lack of record keeping from his parents and generations earlier, it is fair to hypothesize that Blizzard is somewhere between 6-12% Indonesian blood. Not proven. He may very well be 100% Northern. But it’s no longer a proven fact. Producing hybrids in America is dicey. There are hardliner anti-hybrid keepers who will blackball you as a seller. But most of all, these animals live long lives, and without accurate record keeping, assumptions get made, and the gene line of an animal we can’t get more of is impure forever. He’s still beautiful and an amazing pet. But I think he will be retired as a breeder. In the trade for Blizzard, I also acquired his daughter. If the Indonesian bloodline theory is correct, that would make her 3-6% impure, and her offspring 1.5-3% impure Northern genes. She has such a winning personality. I am contemplating how I can incorporate her into the breeding business on the off chance that personality can be a genetic factor passed down.

    In June… oh June was a sad month. Big Mamma died. Devastating. I’m still impacted six months later. She was larger than life and nothing short of a gentle teddy bear. 27.5″ long, 1175 grams at the end. She was only 9 years old. That is so young for a Blue Tongue. I feared I was the cause of her downfall. She was alive at night. I discovered she had expired the following afternoon. Just 12 hours separated her fate. I miss her. I had to know what was the cause. I had to learn from this mistake. I paid my vet to do the necropsy (autopsy for reptiles, amphibians, and avian animals). I asked him to check for cancer, check for calcification of the liver or kidneys, clogged arteries of the heart, spots on the lungs – anything. He told me everything appeared in perfect working order. What happened is her intestines flipped. He said this just sometimes happens with reptiles and we don’t know why. He theorized like exceptionally giant people who have health problems related to their size, the same may be justifying her untimely pass. The only way I could have intervened was had I caught her looking woosie in the golden hour when the intestines rolled over and knotted on each other. Had I rushed her to the vet, insisted on x-rays, and emergency surgery was performed, unless all the stars aligned, she was destined for the afterlife. I’m heartbroken, but there is relief knowing I did all I could do to make her comfortable the years she was with me, and I could not have done more.

    In July, more changes lie ahead. My roommate moved out. After all the ups and downs (mostly downs) of having a roommate, my career at my day job had been going well, I made the executive decision to have no more roommates. Turn the bedroom into a skink sanctuary and call it a day. I spent weeks cleaning, repairing, painting, etc. We have hardwood floors. To protect them I taped down a layer of heavy-duty builder’s paper, followed by a layer of blue tarp. It makes cleaning a breeze, don’t have to worry about spilled water, and most of all, protects the floor. I love it! One of my New Years’ resolutions for 2023 is to formalize a Reptile Tour video for the Dave’s Skinks YouTube channel.

    To wrap up the year, we got the non-bioactive tanks cleaned like we normally do. We sent all the skinks into brumation beginning early-November and were in full brumation by mid-November. The skinks woke on Christmas. We had our first successful breeding with Irian Jaya couple, George and Dinobot, on December 31, 2022. We have also made significant updates to our care guide. 2022 was certainly the rollercoaster for this particular Blue Tongue Skink breeding operation, but we ended on a high note, and we look forward to another amazing year in 2023!