Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Tale of Three Iguanas (LONG!)

When my husband and I first dating we started talking about animals. We visited many many iguanas. They seemed nice, they're hervivores, cute faces. So we adopted Petrie. When we got her she weighed 10 grams (about the weight of a Sharpie). She was teeny tiny and would sit on my finger. A lot of people get iguanas not realizing that this teeny tiny lizard can grow up to be 5 ft long (or longer). We handled her a lot, so she'd get used to people (not biting, and trips to the vet were easier as a result). When we had her for almost a year we saw a sign at the vet. Someone getting rid of an iguana almost a year older than Petrie. Kyle. He was rescued by someone who had two very big Igs. She saved him from a Fraterity house that thought he would make a fun mascot.  She did an amazing job taming him, he was such a sweetheart. The big iguanas were bullying him though so she wasn't able to keep him. So Kyle came home with us. We had many different cages for them throughout the years, but they were mostly apart. Male iguanas can get aggressive around the females.

We did try to mate them, and were almost successful. Petrie laid 67 eggs. It took all day for her to lay those eggs. We had put a giant tupperware in the cage that she would spend hours digging in until she laid the eggs. She looked completely emaciated when she was done laying the eggs (they stop eating because the eggs take up ALL the space). We had incubators ready for the eggs, although only a few looked like nice strong eggs.  One of the eggs plumped up and got bigger. Iguana eggs are soft not hard shelled like chicken eggs. One of the baby igs hatched but it wasn't doing well. It never made it out of the egg on its own. We called it Sprout. Iguana eggs (and really all reptile eggs) need a consistent temperature the entire time. If it varies even by a degree the eggs will fail. It's very difficult to breed iguanas in captivity for this reason.

Petrie and Kyle got bigger and bigger. Kyle looked much more like a male with his bigger head and dewlap (skin flap under the chin). Kyle was more turquoise, especially on his head while Petrie was a bright green. We got them through the ice storm of 1998. We were one of the lucky ones that only lost power for 5 days. Many others in the suburbs lost power for weeks in January. We kept hot water bottles on their bellies and put them under blankets. When we got our power back we took care of other people's reptiles. Two turtles, an iguana and some anoles.

When Petrie was about 4 years old we took care of an iguana that wasn't doing too well. She belonged my husband's coworker. We were only supposed to have her for a couple of weeks until she got better. Her name was Cookie. Her owners never did take her back. She was a very nervous nelly, not tame at all. We changed her name to Trixie (more fitting for a slightly crazy lizard). She never really liked being handled no matter how much we tried. I once went into the cage with a bowl of food and my purse in my hand as I was heading out the door and Trixie went berserk. Full on running around the cage in circles, I had never seen a lizard move that fast before. It was the purse. I could never show her that purse because she would react the same way every time. It must have been the paisley.

Petrie and Trixie would tolerate each other. Kyle would always try to get to the girls. He was sweet as long as he couldn't see them. If one happened to walk by his cage (if they got out or were let out) he'd PUFF UP and go up on his tippy toes, kind of like when guys are flexing. And then the bobbing would start. Iguanas bob to communicate, not having any vocal chords. He had a "hey how are you doing" single bob. He had a "hey this is MY space bob" which was a single bob followed by a couple of short bobs. Then he had the "I'm gonna cut you if you come any closer" bob. We called that one the shudder bob. Petrie's bob was more polite, tamer. Hers looked like she was listening to music, more of a side to side. Trixie, well poor Trixie never seem to get the hang of bobbing. Timing was always off and it looked kind of spastic.

When Petrie was about 8 years old, she fell off her branch one day and hurt her tail. It became infected and then got worse. I had to bathe her daily and dress the wound. Nothing really changed. She had trouble moving around and would fall even more because of it. At first we built her a hammock to lie in but she'd get out of that too. She also stopped eating so I'd have to force feed her baby food. We took her back to the vet and they took x-rays. Even worse. She was egg bound. Iguanas can produce eggs but then reabsorb them if they are fertilized. Sometimes the eggs just get stuck inside and it requires surgery. We would have had to amputate her tail and have the eggs removed. Iguanas do lose part of their tails from accidents and do regenerate tails (both Kyle and Trixie had at least a foot of tail that they regrew) But that's a lot of surgery for a small animal. So we had to put Petrie down. I was devastated. I hate to say this but Petrie was our favourite. She was our baby.

So Trixie got her side of the cage to herself, and Kyle his side. Their cage was about 6 feet cubed. It took up most of the room. When we had Alex we all stayed in one room together for a year. We tried to find someone to take the lizards, to give them a good home. We found this crazy old rich guy who owns a house JUST FOR HIS BOOKS, and he wanted the iguanas to live there. He unfortunately backed out. Soon after that Kyle started to slow down. He was getting old, and it was harder for him to get around but he was still eating. Then he stopped. We took him to the vet and they put him on antibiotics but said it could be kidney disease. Then he passed a stone the size of a ping pong ball. We thought, oh good, he passed the stone he'll be getting better. He got worse. Faster. Apparently the stone was so hard and so large that it basically destroyed all of the organ in its path as it exited. So when Kyle was 15 years old we had to put him down.

We cut down the cage and now have our bedroom that we share with Trixie. She's definitely mellowed in her old age. Not so Cray-cray anymore. Now as I write this Trixie has stopped eating too. My options were:
1. Pay $150 for a blood test to confirm kidney or liver failure. Which can't be treated.
2. Pay $30 for antibiotics in the hopes that it's just a simple infected (from a busted tail)
3. Put her down, not knowing what is wrong with her.
I opted for the antibiotics. If she doesn't get better with them, it will confirm there's something more serious wrong with her. When the vet first saw me, she asked Trixie's age. We think she's around 16 years old. She congratulated me on taking such good care of her. I know she's really old (iguanas in captivity can live up to 20 years old but the average is 4 years) but I still can't help thinking I could have done more. Paid more attention, cleaned her cage more, given her more baths, different food. So now, it looks like we're going to have to put Trixie down on Saturday.

We've been iguana owners for so long. Educating people on how hard it is to properly care for them, on what they eat, what they're like as creatures. Who knew a scaly little cold blooded lizard could have a personality? Petrie's favourite food was anything orange. We did a taste test one time and kept all of the fruits and veggies seperate instead of chopping them all together. She ate only the orange food (butternut squash and papaya). Kyle's favourite was tofu. He'd RUN to get it. Trixie loved any food, devouring a giant collard green leaf (bigger than her) in one sitting. As much as I'd grumble about having to make their food, I'm going to miss that.

May you find a nice sunny spot and some sweet fruit Petrie, Kyle and Trixie.