Eggs, Embryos

Some time ago I made a mistake. Two of my sub-adult geckos seemed to be interested in each other, with the gal, Chally, making the first move on the fella, Io. This was surprising to me as it seems that nature is not particularly kind to these critters with regards to mating — it is primarily male-driven, forceful, and in some ways violent. Chally had made her interest known, and in one amusing interaction, turned to yell at Io when he did not seem particularly aware of her interest. I would let them interact and get to know each other somewhat, and it did not take all that long before their interest was mutual. I called these interactions “date nights,” and kept things civil — no biting, no mating. The mistake was allowing a “date night” to result in copulation. Although interrupted, the transfer of DNA was, as I found earlier, successful.

Another of my geckos, Eddie, has put on considerable weight this winter. When she came to me she was about 48grams, bouncing up to a max of 56grams when she had a clutch of eggs to lay. She is now about 62grams without eggs in her, and I felt this additional chunk to be concerning, thinking perhaps she was housing eggs and could be egg-bound. She has had flowerpot fungus in her enclosure for a bit that I have been fighting without taking the proper effort of removing everything for a deep clean and new dirt, and with the cold, it has not been all that ideal for her to burrow to lay eggs. Truthfully, I have not seen her drop a clutch since the infertile clutch in April. I do not know if she’s simply not producing eggs or if she is reabsorbing those she is in the process of creating. It seems like she’d get puffy with a regularity that suggested that she was creating them, and she would even burrow at times, but there is no indication of any actual egg-laying.

My friend has noticed her female geckos chunking up this winter as well, so it may just be a seasonal thing.

On the other hand, I noticed a while ago that Chally was losing weight. Yesterday I took her out to inspect her a bit more closely and during my prodding of her abdomen I felt two very hard eggs. Although I am uncertain where I read the information and was unable to find it again, I thought I’d read that it was an indication of a gecko being egg-bound. Given her weight loss and lack of interest in food, I was terribly worried. After much prodding, it felt as though the hard eggs in her became moveable, and one lined up with her body in such a way that she would pass it. I did not sleep particularly well, thinking I was going to lose this gecko — even a visit to a veterinarian would not guarantee her survival. The most I could do going into a Sunday was to gently massage her, keep her warm, and hope for the best.

Today I saw a thinner gecko, and she was far more responsive to my touching her abdomen, expressing her disinterest in what was quite clearly the advances of a male trying to bugger her and not at all a concerned human gently prodding non-genitalia areas to determine the presence of eggs. I thought I could feel one, but its vague shape suggested it was possibly an organ instead. Setting her on my shoulder, I took everything out of her enclosure and dug around. One egg, a very nice shape at a glance. For a moment I was certain she had passed one but was still working on the second…until I found the second in the dirt. This one was shaped more like a peanut and had significant bruising to the shell — no doubt from my prodding yesterday. I prodded at Chally again, and again she informed me that, no, she was not interested in clear attempts to woo her, and agreed with her that I was likely pushing against some organ and would leave her be.

Through worrying yesterday, I was determined that I was going to freeze these eggs if she managed to get them out regardless of whether or not I could see the red donut within the eggs that suggested they were fertile. Chally is a bit too young still, and given that these eggs had hardened inside her, even if they were fertile they would have ‘died.’

I candled them — shining a light through them — and saw unclear shadows, more so in the deformed egg. Assuming this was merely the egg’s shape, I decided I would pry it open to see what an infertile egg looked like.

The contents that came out were hazy, swirls of pink in with this thick off-white material reminiscent of infected mucus. Then a black sphere. My heart sank, and my stomach crawled up past it. The smell wasn’t quite putrid, but the mix of organic life and blood was sharp and repulsive. A more solid white blob fell out, and then I found the second black sphere. I was looking at an embryo, so early in development that it was barely congealed. The black spheres were the start of eyes.

As I took in the shape of the embryo, I saw the hints of some structures. Indentations where the spheres had detached, and what was undeniably a tail on the other end. Not long later I believe I was looking at the basic formation of legs on the back. It was not a gecko, but if one squinted at it, it was easy to make out the beginnings of those shapes.

In the abstract, we think that we will feel one way about something. When faced with it, we may realize we feel another. And although I knew these eggs were destined for the freezer in the case that they were not already gone, looking at an embryo from this egg I decided I would open up out of curiosity made me nauseous. I felt tremendously awful, not just for opening the egg and finding that it had been fertilized, but for every absolutely stupid fucking decision that led up to that point. Chally and Io’s date night should not have escalated to them locking together — date night itself was irresponsible. Chally’s condition should have been noted and looked at more carefully sooner. The eggs should have gone into the freezer immediately regardless of what they looked like with a light shining through them — and perhaps that part itself was unnecessary.

Yet there I was, staring into a black orb with some indication of future development into an eyeball, staring at the stark diamond shape sticking out from this almost ambiguous mass of gel, only defined by what was a tail on one side of the diamond.

Having faced issues before where baby geckos were dying, and thinking about freezing the fertile eggs that were laid after those babies started exhibiting symptoms of their invisible, but deadly developmental issues, I suddenly found myself there again. Uncertain. Frozen. Terrified. Sick.

Chally’s first clutch sat inside her body long enough for the eggs to begin to calcify. It is highly likely that those embryos had halted their development before ever leaving her body, although the fact that they developed at all is extremely perturbing. Even if not that, Chally is still too young to be providing the best nutrients to developing eggs and potential babies. I can say with certainty that the plan is to freeze rather than incubate any eggs she lays from this horrible mistake I allowed. I can say with certainty that I don’t know that I’ll feel that way when she drops the next clutch.

Honestly, I would like to pair Chally and Io when the time is right. They are both extremely well-mannered animals with decent ‘structure’ and soft skin. They are interested in each other, and Io is unexpectedly a gentleman when Chally is unwelcoming to his advances. The time is just not right now. Not for Chally, not for me.

I cannot shake how disgusted I am with myself, although I suppose I can be thankful that this isn’t the worst thing a curious pet owner has done. Chally is okay, and that is what matters. I will process and deal with my feelings and will feel less disgusted in time.

Prodding Eddie again, I am no longer concerned that she may be egg-bound. She’s not, she’s just fat, and that’s fine for now. The worst possible result of this for her is that I get her out to exercise more often. Chally will be getting fed all of her favorite foods with a greater frequency to get her weight back up. I will just have to survive until the next crisis. I would just rather the crisis be my own stupidity, inflicted upon myself, than something outside of my doing that harms loved ones, or my doing that has an effect on anyone else.

I need to wash my hands again.

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Ovata, Acronicta

Ovata, Acronicta

Someone told me I was a good writer, so now I’m proving…something. Tend to one’s own flame, and do not extinguish the flames of others.