Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Darlene and I wish each of you a Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Getting Acquainted

It's that time of year again! Each day, I check the breeding cages for newborn eyelash vipers. The first litter of the season was born this morning with mom here giving birth to even more after Darlene shot this video. As you can see, this vividly banded baby took the opportunity to hitch a ride on it's mother's head.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Sad Goodbye

As Darlene mentioned in her blog, this past week we became emotionally attached to a crustacean, a beautiful Giant white land crab we dubbed "Ms Thing". We came upon her crossing Highway 4, near Boca Chica Beach, last Tuesday night during a light rain. Trying to catch her was no easy feat and I'm sure if Darlene had gotten it on video, we would have been hard pressed not to win the grand prize on America's Funniest Home Videos. Of course, I probably should have used something larger than a 16oz deli cup to subdue something that big. I was finally able to get her into the back of the Jeep but she decided to cram her body between the seat backs. I decided enough was enough and coaxed her into a 33 gallon garbage bag for the quick drive back home. I guess it's a good thing the agents at the Border Patrol checkpoint DIDN'T search the car. Imagine their surprise if they had grabbed the suspicious looking black plastic bag in the back of the car!

Wednesday morning was spent at the zoo where Darlene and Patty took LOADS of photos of this amazing animal, in the rain, no less. Brian and I became crab wranglers as they took photos of Ms Thing in the herpetarium's photo set.

Later that afternoon, after an emotional tug of war aimed at Ms Thing's safety, we drove back out to the salt flats to release her, where we found her the night before. Even as she walked towards the shallows, I felt a sense of sadness and worried that she was too visible from the road. We watched until she disappeared from view.

A Closing Shot as Ms Thing Returns to the Shallows

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Family That Photographs Together, Stays Together

Darlene has a saying, "the family that (whatever we're doing at the moment) together, stays together". That saying came to mind this past Friday when we struck out with cameras in hand with no real itinerary except to drive to Port Mansfield. We hadn't heard much about the town in the 3 weeks since Hurricane Dolly. Most of the damage occurred on South Padre Island from the wind and in other points in the Valley from the rain. We were eager to see if our favorite fishing village survived the storm. It was on this excursion that we began to hash out ideas for another web presence, one that would show others our hidden paradise here in deep south Texas. After spending the day taking photos together, we launched "Photo of the Day" that evening. We plan to alternate days, one day my photo, the next day Darlene's. We hope you'll enjoy our photos and the stories behind them.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Never Doubt the Purple Sage

Summer is flying by and I'm playing catch-up. It seems like summer just started and we're already going into August. June flew by because we kept Anevay. She attended Summer Safari Classes at the zoo where she learned about different classes of animals and their habitats. July has flown by because of the weather. It started off with a bang when 6.17 inches of rain officially fell in Brownsville during the first 8 days of the month. Some parts of the city received over 10 inches. We quickly returned to the hot, dry weather pattern we're accustomed to in Brownsville but the unusual rain event made everyone happy and made for great conversation.

Fast forward to the evening of July 16th. Darlene and I attend the Summer Social at the zoo. We enjoy a wonderful Cajun supper and casually chat with friends. As the event begins to wind down and folks begin to leave, we spot Carol, one of our favorite people in the world. Carol is a local artist, a noted naturalist and absolutely one of the nicest ladies I've ever met. We all chat about this and that before the conversation turns to the heavy rain event earlier in the month. At some point during the conversation, Carol nonchalantly says, "we'll have another heavy rain soon, the purple sage is blooming". I absorb the information but never follow through with any questions about how this weather proverb originated. However, during the next few days, everywhere I look, purple sage is blooming, including the one I have in a pot in our back yard.

Fast forward to July 20th. Darlene and I are in Hope to celebrate her mom's birthday. I'm gathering oak limbs to use in my eyelash viper cages when Darlene walks out and hands me my cell phone. The voice on the other end is Rob, our intern from work. He tells me about "Dolly" a storm that has quickly formed in the northwest Caribbean and is forecast to make landfall near the mouth of the Rio Grande River around Wednesday. We gather our belongings and around noon, begin the drive back to Brownsville.

Fast forward to Wednesday, July 23rd. Dolly, now a Category 2 hurricane, makes landfall just north of Brownsville. Her slow forward motion of 7 mph is our worst nightmare. Over 7 inches of rain falls in Brownsville (officially 7.02) while other parts of the county receive up to 18 inches. Most of the mid and lower Valley easily receive over 8 inches of rainfall. Even today, some areas are still under water.

Weather lore has been around forever. As a child, I clearly remember my father saying, "if the sun sets behind a bank of clouds on Sunday, it'll rain before Wednesday". More times than not, he was right. When I was in the Navy, it was common to hear, "Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky at morn, sailor take warn". I never quite figured that one out. If weather lore is to be believed, July is a good example of how Mother Nature can predict the weather and how we should look for the clues. I know from now on, I'll pay close attention to the purple sage!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

My Lateralis Are Blue, But That's a GOOD THING!

Every once in a while, Lady Luck hits you right smack dab in the head with something that's just too good to be true. That was the case when, in June of 2006, I purchased a pair of newly imported, weeks-old Bothriechis lateralis, more commonly known as the Side-striped palm pitviper. From time to time, I had seen freshly imported adults for sale but, from bad past experiences with imported, wild-caught snakes, I never took the chance. Imported babies, on the other hand, were too tempting to pass up.

They arrived promptly in McAllen on Delta Airlines on June 26th at 12:52 pm. But, anyone who has ever shipped live snakes knows the nightmares that evolve during the process and this shipment was no different. Even before leaving Brownsville for the hour-long trek to McAllen, I had called Delta Cargo to make sure the snakes were en route. Yes, I was told, and the flight from Atlanta was on time. Upon arriving at the Delta Ticket Counter in McAllen, I was told no live animals were on the flight. Before I pitched too big of a fit, I asked them to check for a Delta Dash package. Yes, it was on board and the air bill number matched. I started to wonder exactly where they had put the box since "no live animals" were on the flight. Was it actually in the plane or stuffed in the non-pressurized luggage hold. Would the snakes even be alive?

Once the box was brought to the counter, I was asked to sign off on the air bill. By signing, you're giving your assurance that the contents are alive, undamaged or whatever the case may be. Since I didn't know where the box had been during the flight and the gentleman at the counter couldn't tell me, I refused. I then asked if I could open the box to check if the snakes were alive. "NOT IN THE TERMINAL", which was exactly the answer I expected. I quickly walked to the car and unscrewed each wood screw with my re-chargeable screwdriver. Upon removing the lid, two small brown heads looked curiously up at me from inside their individual deli cups.

In their native habitat of Costa Rica and Panama, lateralis (as they're known in the herp world) are typically emerald or bluish green. A very few prized specimens in private collections are brilliant turquoise blue. When I purchased mine, I had no way of knowing that with each shed of their skin, a special color would emerge. Lady Luck has indeed smacked me.

The typical color phase of the Bothriechis lateralis. This is one of our "normal" males.

After a few meals, the new babies pose for photos. This is the male.

This is the female.

Several months later, the female, in the middle of her color change.

The male showing off his adult colors this past Sunday evening.

The female with her black mask and smoking "gun-metal blue" color.

Recently, I've posted the female's photos on two different venomous snake forums so people around the world can see her special color. So far, no one has seen this color in an adult lateralis. Just how rare is she? That's the question I hope to soon answer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What's That Smell?

Several times a year, Mother Nature plays a prank on me. The smell of rotting flesh sends me into a panic, making me wonder if someone has placed a sizable dead animal in our yard to make some kind of point. The classic "horse torso" scene from The Godfather usually comes to mind. I quickly come to my senses after I realize our Stapelia gigantea is blooming.

The Stapelia gigantea is 1 of around 90 species of succulents called Carrion Plants. This particular species is native to southern Africa but was given to us many years ago as a house warming gift by a fellow herper. Several times a year, and typically after a heavy rain, it produces huge buds and flowers, which measure 8 to 12 inches across. Each flower is 5-pointed. A number of common names have been derived from the star-like appearance such as Hairy starfish flower, Star cactus and Starfish cactus. The last two names are a bit misleading since it's not a cactus at all.

So why the odor? These flowers have evolved to produce properties that attract flies. As I mentioned earlier, the odor is strong and putrid, similar to decaying meat. The flies are lured to the flower and, in turn, pollinate neighboring flowers as they move on in their search for a host to lay their eggs. Personally, I like the good ole bumble-bee and simple wind pollination systems better but, you have to admit, the flower is something to behold.

The Stapelia gigantea, also known as the Zulu Giant, Carrion flower, Hairy starfish flower, Star cactus and Starfish cactus.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Surely, You've Made a Mistake!

I've always admired writers. I don't mean "bloggers" like myself who attempt to write. I mean real writers. People who are good enough to put words into meaning and can even make a living doing what they love. I envy such gifted souls. So what a surprise it was when Darlene showed me a "Google Alert" she received this morning that La Vibora had been given the Blogging With a Purpose award from a REAL writer, L.A. Mitchell. What? La Vibora has a purpose? Surely, she made a mistake!

OK, it probably helped that we had supper with her and her husband last Tuesday night in Port Isabel. You see, we've actually known them for some time but, like most people in today's rat race, we really haven't kept in touch that much for over 8 years. It's sad now that I think about it. We had such good times together back in the mid and late 90s before they left Brownsville for greener pastures. After all this time, it was a pleasure to catch up on their lives and family.

I know I'll have an even bigger complex about my writing now, knowing that a real writer is reading it. I encourage you to take time to visit L.A.'s website and be sure to spend time reading her blog. You'll recognize she has a gift for writing from the first sentence.

Like so many of her peers have stated, "one day I'll be able to say I knew her when".

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Aaron Catastrophe

Catastrophe - a violent and sudden change in a feature of the earth.

There was a violent and sudden change in my world last Saturday night. For weeks, no make that months, I had worked on a plan to make my life simpler. That all changed in the blink of an eye. From now on, the event will be referred to simply as the "Aaron Catastrophe".

The evening had been planned for weeks, and was even given a name, "The Probing Party". The name was tossed around and refined and became "Dinner and a Probing". It should have been quite simple really. Friends from the zoo, specifically the herpetarium, would arrive around 6:30 in the evening. We would socialize, look at snakes, have an informal meal then probe snakes. What had been an annual event, with mainly just Brian and myself, was expanded to include everyone from the "herp", as it's affectionately called. After dinner, the real business of probing (sexing) 76 baby snakes would get down to business. It never happened that way.

Two invitees to the event were late and, as it was discovered later, even had supper at a local restaurant. They weren't just a little late, they were 2 hours late! While we patiently waited, alcohol was introduced. As soon as the rum and coke started flowing, I knew the probing would never take place. You don't mix alcohol and venomous snakes, it's just not a good idea. But what happened next would take me a full 9 days to correct. Yes, I'm talking about the "Aaron Catastrophe".

Anyone who has been around me for any length of time knows about my attention to detail. That attention really comes into play regarding the husbandry and care of my snakes. Over the years, a method has evolved that lets me give the greatest possible care in the limited amount of time I have during my work week. That same standard of care had come into play with last year's sizable amount of babies that needed to be fed on a regular schedule. So, to not totally overwhelm myself, I devised a plan where equal rows of babies would be fed on a certain day and, by keeping notes on an everyday wall calendar, I would have detailed records on when they fed, shed their skins, etc. Simple and efficient, correct? I thought so until the "Aaron Catastrophe". As soon as I heard "Aaron, Jim is going to be upset!", I knew there was a problem. I had NO idea how big the problem actually was...

The "Aaron Catastrophe". My neat, equal rows of babies (The Viper Bouquet) were now in shambles because Aaron was left unsupervised.

Nine days later, peace is restored to my universe. All babies have been fed and placed back in the proper order.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mr. Way Too Proud of Texas Guy

I'm not sure if all the country is privy to the Bud Light "Real Men of Genius" commercials. Each one-minute commercial pays mock tribute to some "unsung hero". A couple that stand out in my mind are "Mr Foot-long Hot Dog Inventor" and "Mr Really Bad Toupee Wearer". However, the most recent commercial that's making the airwaves here in deep south Texas is aimed right smack dab at us Native Texans. It's simply called "Mr. Way Too Proud of Texas Guy".

Announcer: Today we salute you Mr. Way Too Proud of Texas Guy.

Horrific singer: Mr. Way Too Proud of Texas Guy!

Announcer: Men from lesser states might know their state's capital, but you? You know your state's bird, tree and even reptile.

Horrific singer: Love that horny toad!

OK, this is where I sort of got lost because I began going down the state's check list in my mind. State bird. Mockingbird. Check. State tree. Pecan. Check. State reptile. Horned LIZARD! Check.

The Texas horned lizard is the earliest reptile I remember seeing or catching as a child growing up in Bedford. They were always a welcome site in dad's garden and were quite abundant in the school yard of the Old Bedford School.

Even while living in Midland in the early 80's, it was not uncommon to find them in the alleys behind our house and on most farm roads going south out of the Midland/Odessa region. My daughter, Angela, will attest to this because I frequently made her jump out of the car to see if she could catch them. She was barely 5 years old at the time!

Because of habitat loss, the novelty pet trade and the spread of the imported fire ant, the Texas horned lizard's numbers have steadily declined over the years. They are now considered a threatened species across their range in Texas.

Since living in deep south Texas, I generally see one or two a year, mainly on the roads in Brooks, Jim Hogg, Starr and Zapata counties. It's still a treat to see one stand up as the car approaches, then dart across the road to safety. I still send my sightings to the Horned Lizard Conservation Society.

The names "horned frog","horned toad" and "horny toad" (re: Love that horny toad!) come from the round body and blunt nose which actually give it a toad or frog-like appearance. But this is no toad and it's sure not a frog! The most recent one I found was near Escobas, the most God-forsaken patch of earth I think I've ever seen. Survivorman couldn't survive in Escobas, much less a frog! We're talking Hell on Earth folks! But the hot, sandy habitat along with an abundance of harvester ant mounds (their preferred food), makes it an ideal location for the "horned toad".

Texas horned lizard photographed last year near Escobas.

By the way, I looked up "Mr. Way Too Proud of Texas Guy" on the Internet. I'll pick it up from the Horrific Singer:

Love that horny toad!

Announcer: You display your pride with your Lone Star tattoo, "Native Texan" bumper sticker, and contempt for any state that doesn't start with "Tex" and end with "as".

Horrific Singer: That spells Texas!

Announcer: Sure, there are 49 other states in the Union, but they are smaller, wussier, and the people talk funny.

Horrific Singer: Yankee wussies!

Announcer: So crack open a nice cold Bud Light, oh lover of the Lone Star state. Because all that flag waving must have made you thirsty!

Horrific Singer: Mr. Way Too Proud of Texas Guy!

OK, guilty as charged.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Would Someone Tell These People it's Just a GAME!!!

An innocent lunch with a good friend has changed my simple life as I once knew it.

Darlene: Oh my GOD! Rambo just brought me a promise ring!

Her "Oh my GOD" rattles me from concentrating on the eyelash viper in front of me. I should be use to it by now. These outbursts have been going on pretty much daily and sometimes several times an evening since that fateful day when it was suggested that Darlene get "Nintendogs" to play on her Nintendo DS.

Don't let this cute face claim you as another victim!

It started with one dog, a boxer she named "Rambo". Of course, one dog wasn't enough and now there are three. Along with Rambo, she "owns" a Dalmation named "Cookie" and a Beagle named "Cartman".

Darlene: Cookie has already won 1st place in the beginner level obedience trails.

Me: Blank stare while hoping someone will pass me a can of gasoline and a match.

If that's not bad enough, now there's a "several times a day" e-mail thread that's passed between Darlene, our GOOD FRIEND who started all of this and now, another good friend who folded to the temptation of owning a "dog". Of course, I endure the misery because I'm ALWAYS cc'd on the e-mails. Example:

1st Friend: Daisy (Golden Retriever) will be participating in the Championship disc toss today. Wish her luck. Maximus will be in the championship agility trial. Wish him luck. Crazy (Siberian Husky) still insists on not lying down. Maybe she really is crazy. Jim, why are you resisting? :)

2nd Friend: Mitzy's update:2 championships for obedience and disc, beginner of course. she's learning tricks quickly too, but the training "mic" doesn't come up sometimes when I want to teach her what she just did, frustrated with that.- got my first stick (umm, yea?)

Darlene's response is TOO LONG to post here but she congratulates both friends on their "dogs' " accomplishments and gives any "doggie" updates that have happened in the FEW minutes since the last e-mail.

Me: Delete, delete, delete.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy Darlene is having fun and corresponding more with our friends but this is one of those interactive games where one actually talks to the "dog". OK, now she's got me doing it...talks to the GAME! Our African grey is already mimicking Rambo's bark. It's only a matter of time until he mimics Darlene, saying "sit", "roll-over", "spin", "paw" and my new favorite, "hiney".

Can someone pass me a match?!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Viper Bouquet

I'll be the first to admit I have a problem. When it comes to lines, they have to be straight. I still press my pants, including shorts, with military creases. My shirt sleeves, long or short, have to be creased right down the middle. Pictures are constantly straightened about the house and in the workplace. I feel sure it goes back to Boot Camp. I learned how to properly fold socks, shirts and pants quickly after finding the entire contents of my locker on the floor a couple of times. Bed sheets and blankets had to be "line tight" with "hospital corners". I just can't get beyond it, to this day. So when Darlene commented on my last post that I had created a "bouquet of vipers" in the kitchen, she wasn't kidding in the least. The remaining 76 eyelash vipers and bush vipers born late last year are all positioned in perfect order in one corner of the kitchen.

The "viper bouquet". Each baby is housed in 16oz. clear, pre-punched (air holes) deli cups purchased from

Each deli cup is labled, identifying the birth mother and date of birth.

A 2oz. "portion cup" is used for a water bowl and to help maintain humidity. Paper towel pieces are used for substrate. Here, a 5 month old baby eyelash viper perches on the edge of the portion cup.

Now each of you should be able to create your own lovely viper bouquet. Granted, you'll need a very tolerant and understanding mate like Darlene, who doesn't mind venomous snakes in the kitchen. Oh, just one more thing, inscribed wine glasses are optional.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How Do I Choose?

I'm faced with a dilemma around this time each year. To most of you reading, it would seem trivial for sure. But to an eyelash viper connoisseur, it can mean the difference between average and spectacular. The simple dilemma is that I'm faced with the task of deciding which babies to keep for future breeding stock. Sounds simple, you say? I can't tell you how many times in the past I've been burned by shipping out what looks like an average or even ugly snake, only to see a knockout (why didn't I keep that!) eyelash viper a few years later. So now that a few months have passed and more than a few meals have been fed, I've come to the time when I constantly pull animals aside and wonder if I should keep them or sell them. The photos below are only a few of my favorites so far.

Born from a Christmas tree to Christmas tree pairing, this "reduced" patterned baby was born here September 27th, 2007. I like the faint pattern as well as the obvious mid-dorsal stripe that will only become more dominate with age.

This odd looking fellow came from a "Pink" male crossed with a Christmas tree female. I like him for the bloodlines alone but the light pastel pinks and greens along with the dominate mid-dorsal stripe lead me to believe this guy will be a knockout as an adult. Born here October 21st.

Another oddity produced from a Christmas tree male bred to a Heterozygous tiger female. The pattern is nearly perfect and, although dark, from my experience will turn multi-colored with yellow and green bands by 3-years of age. Born here October 6th.

I keep coming back to this one as my probable favorite. This is another baby produced from a Christmas tree to Christmas tree pairing, born here October 9th. The almost perfect bands will turn gold to lemon yellow within a couple of years.

So do you see my dilemma? With just under 70 baby eyelash to pick from, how do I choose? Let me see, eeny, meenie, miny, moe...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sure Doesn't Feel Like January

While other parts of the country are buried under snow and ice, we are experiencing a down right mild winter here in deep south Texas. December and January, so far, have seen daily averages nearly 5 degrees above normal. The mild temperatures have even brought the tarantulas out early. I found this young female at work, in our upper air building, where we inflate weather balloons. I have to admit, I didn't see her clinging to the bottom of the overhead door until it was all the way open. Fully open, the base of the door is approximately 13 feet overhead. Had she fallen from even a fraction of that height, her delicate abdomen would have exploded like a dropped light bulb. So, I eased the door back down and was able to pluck her from her predicament before she fell to a certain death.

In my experience, female Texas Tan tarantulas have always been relatively calm and have never offered to bite while being handled. Males, on the other hand, nearly always display aggressive behavior and have even jumped on my shoes as I've tried to move them on their way. This little lady was a pleasure to work with as I positioned her for these photos.

I hope our mild winter continues and long range computer models show it will. Living in deep south Texas definitely has it's advantages and seeing wildlife throughout the year is only one of them.

Happy New Year everyone!