Thursday, 5 February 2015

Rose, our biggest stick insect!

This is our first ever Anchiale stolli stick insect. A gift from a friend in the Exotics business and genuinely one of the most fascinating phasmids I've ever kept. At an impressive 20cms in length, she was already fully grown. As you can probably tell by the wonderful light levels in this photo, these were taken back in October 2014! A far cry from our current wintery climate.

Although hard to see clearly in these pictures, she has a band of distinctive texture on her thorax resembling Elder wood. We also had the chance to see her incredible black and red wings.

Sadly this special little lady passed away earlier in the week, though leaving us with a legacy of many eggs. These could take several months to hatch. We remain hopeful!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Living with Dinosaurs.

Time for an update on our newest arrival, 'Mannie the Monitor.' Although we waded through endless quirky and inventive name suggestions, somehow 'Mannie' really seems to fit! In the past few weeks Mannie has weighed us all up and decided that there's no more need for the shy and retiring act. Our once quiet and secretive Monitor has staked a firm claim on his territory. Such a personality! 

The first few days were quite a learning curve for all of us. Had we got the humidity right? How about temperature? How would our newcomer respond to the new environment and to us? Despite a lot of research, trying to get the humidity to range from nearly zero at his basking point to nearly 100% in his burrow, was not as straightforward as we had thought. A few more niggling logistics, simple things like would our glass vivarium doors really withstand the furtive investigation of a determined, feisty escapologist on the quest for adventure? All of this simply for his temporary enclosure!
Fortunately we resolved all these questions successfully. Mannie arrived and settled in well.
We were completely awestruck by the beauty and intelligence of this amazing little creature, who watched us with a sober and calculating eye, even coming up to the glass to peer out at our activities in the room...(just in case there might be a tasty locust involved!)
As you can see from these photographs, taken this morning, he has settled into his feeding routine.
A far cry from the first morning I had to feed solo. Chris was out all day on a school booking, so my instructions had been clearly delineated. Mannie had been with us for three days and we had a routine going. 11am was locust time. Chris usually did the feeding part whilst I did the preparation. 'Don't worry, he certainly won't try to come out,' I was told. With the cheerful confidence of the assured, I made the classic mistake of opening the tub of locusts in front of the vivarium. He can't possibly see them here, I thought. This is all going to plan. Suddenly a knowing eye swivelled in my direction, plus the hint of a wry primeval grin - closely followed by a good several inches of hungry lizard.
What I remember most about the ensuing moments, (besides knocking over my camera, which later replayed a short video encapsulating both Jurassic Park and Vaudeville) was how unfeasibly fast, agile and efficient a predator a Monitor lizard can really be. Luckily I'd once broached the thorny subject of, 'so what would happen if, just say, he did try to come out?' 
The answer was simple. Carefully block his exits and lure him back inside with the food..
Next week we have a busy schedule, with four full days of bookings, so I have plenty of opportunity to hone my feeding technique!
At present we are keeping Mannie on a predominantly insect diet with a very occasional (once a week) treat of a small sliver of raw beef. In the next few weeks we will begin the process of  varying his diet to simulate his natural intake and encourage his hunting instinct.

Now on to building his final enclosure. . . . The plan is for a 6' x 8' enclosure with 2' of substrate and a simple climbing/exploration area. Monitor adventure playgrounds are no small undertaking! As soon as we have a blueprint we'll post it here and on Facebook.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Woodland Forage.

Monday morning, brilliant sunshine and virtually a heatwave here in Blighty, an incredible 10 degrees Celsius with zero precipitation! This is a rare event, so Carpe Diem (seize the Day) or in my case, the Boots, the Bag and the Car keys...
Time to go foraging for vivarium decor.We're blessed to be living on the doorstep of some beautiful woodland, so of course the camera's coming too.
 Our recent storms and high winds are much in evidence. Quite a canopy of precariously dangling branches prevented me going to all the familiar places I had planned, though an hour of walking did yield an interesting selection of fallen wood. I have to reiterate 'fallen.' At no point were any saws/cutters or other unnatural felling methods used! Once you get your focus, there's a wealth of freely available natural material, every piece unique, which if properly collected and prepared will provide endless scope to enhance and enrich a vivarium.
 In our native woodland, suitable candidates are Elm, Beech and Oak. These are tough, non-toxic woods which tend to last well in a vivarium. Oak has high levels of tannin, making it resistant to decay.
Woods to avoid are Sycamore, Pine, Yew and especially Cedar, as these woods are toxic.

 There were some great finds including smooth, contoured and weathered pieces. Anything demonstrating signs of rot, no matter how pleasing to the eye, sadly had to be ignored!
Once the wood reached home, all the branches had to be soaked overnight in warm water with a small quantity of disinfectant. It's important to thoroughly immerse the wood. (No floaters allowed here.)
The next day all the wood was thoroughly rinsed, soaked in clean water, then left to dry naturally. We're lucky to have well ventilated sheds, though this is still the lengthy part of the process.

Once fully dried, we cook. No, really. Closely supervised, in the oven at just over 100 degrees for one hour.
Although this may conjure up some intriguing mental scenarios, I ought to add that none of my finds exceeded around 40cms!
Now just time for one more sunlit Blighty woodland pic.
Plus one gratuitous Gastropod pic. Our lovely, amiable old man George, relaxing after a long week of birthday parties and school visits.
George will be seven years old soon and has seen a good deal of the British Isles with us, very slowly.
One of his favourite forms of relaxation is to have his shell gently massaged with a damp toothbrush (whilst watching the Lava Lamp if possible!)
Another of our star invertebrates, Mibble the Millipede. A voracious detritivore but one of the strangest sensory experiences to hold. Rather like a walking hairbrush.
The final picture on tonight's blog and the reason for our woodland foray, Freda the Leopard Gecko.
As soon as her vivarium has been renovated later this week, we will post some more!
This weekend has been incredibly busy organising temporary accommodation for our new rescue Bosc Monitor lizard. We really just need to let her settle in to her new enclosure right now.
Freda is suitably intrigued....

Monday, 24 February 2014

A Sticky situation.

On a pouring wet afternoon last November, I drove home with a tiny parcel of baby Giant Spiny stick insects on my passenger seat. They were quite an unexpected addition and we fell in love with them instantly. Even as hatchlings they had a fantastic array of colours amongst them, especially the tiny lady pictured here.

Luckily we had some small glass tanks readily available to house the new babies, plus a soaking wet British afternoon makes the perfect time to go bramble hunting!

Of course, they've changed a little since then. Here's the same lady three months later and still growing.Suddenly our small glass tanks appeared to be shrinking. At present we have four large females and five medium sized males plus our resident matriarch, known endearingly as Granny Stick, who comes out to all our Animal Encounter events and is an incredible two years old!  A new tank was in order.

All the stick insects seem happy in their new extended home. Even Granny has given it her seal of approval by ovipositing continually these past few days.


This week's project is going to be slightly more involved - creating a suitable new home for our rescued baby Bosc monitor.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Frogs get Mods!

Let the creativity commence! This has to be the most exciting part of any venture. A blank slate with no holds barred! For several days we've been itching to build a new home for one of our lovely White's Tree Frogs, Clarabel.  Despite the name, this somewhat elusive creature is probably a male and has been bullied incessantly by the resident females (so only fair to make his case a priority).

We added Sphagnum moss for humidity and cork bark for climbing, though of course the Bromeliad also provides plenty of nooks and crannies for young Mr. Clarabel to investigate..see photo below! At a later date, more branches will be added to enrich the Viv. Nature provides a wealth of suitable material (provided they are properly sterilised and prepared for vivarium use).

The most important aspect must always be to create a functional environment where the frog will thrive and display natural behaviour.
We chose a fabulous vivid scarlet Bromeliad to provide hiding places and also to enhance the humidity. With such an array of amazing plants available to choose from, (and also being a closet botanist) restraint had to be exercised regarding the hardiness, usefulness and potential toxicity of any choices.

Having said all of that, I now sit typing this nocturnal journal to the backdrop of a small troupe of locusts, (Mr. Clarabel's evening meal), furtively devouring the verdant foliage...
How lucky we were today to get sunshine for these pics!

So now we have our basic environment, complete with correct ranges of temperature (with two thermostatically controlled heat pads; one behind and one beneath) and humidity (between 40-60%), sufficient hiding places, exploratory areas, vantage points for hunting, clean water for drinking and bathing and, of course, one happy frog.

The trouble is, one creative venture is never enough. It's contagious...there's always something left over, a  handful of moss, a vase somewhere, maybe a desperate houseplant? A little outbreak of 'terrarium fever'.

Tomorrow is the Spiny Stick Insect enclosure!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Small World Creations

Some of the Minibeasts are now getting too big for their enclosures!

We are in the process of getting three tanks made for us and so construction of the new habitats should begin on Thursday.

We'll be following the progress of the Stick Insect tanks, Tree frog vivarium and Royal Python vivarium on here.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Once again the summer is upon us . . .

Once again the heat has been nearly unbearable for both us and the animals. Trying to keep the snake room under 35 degrees C has been tricky for the last few weeks.

Luckily we have been very busy so most of the animals have spent most of the time during the extreme weather out and about and have been able to cool off in the evening in their baths.

Our new babies Mibble:

and Bobbi:

have settled in well and are now part of the Chris's Animal Encounter team.

Annie and Clarabel the White's Tree Frogs (named by a Thomas the Tank Engine enthusiast) are also ready to go when we start at Thurleigh Farm Centre on the 1st of August.


It's been an incredibly busy year so far but we still have availability for the winter term so if interested please visit our website at and see how we can bring your topic alive for the winter.