Losing Your Tail, Your Dinner, and Mind

This post was initially planned to be a gentle farewell to a couple geckos, but the day’s hurtful nature has turned the entire concept into something else.

A few months ago, my Halloween Friend finalized a rescue situation that initially involved her and another individual taking on as many of their mutual late friend’s animals as possible. The original sorting happened in October of 2020, following which HF and I delved deep into learning about care for geckos — namely the crested sort, although she and the other individual had a variety from the late friend of theirs. As 2021 progressed, HF gathered more animals (primarily reptiles), and my horde of geckos also grew. Some of this was unintended, with the initial gecko she adopted to me from her late friend having been paired perpetually with a male for two years prior (this is bad) laying eight viable eggs, and five of the eight babies surviving. Additionally, HF found a gorgeous gecko on Craigslist and sent me the money to go pick him up — he was $20 for the rehome, a small Kritter Keeper, some supplies and food — and has otherwise adopted a couple to me. With a few purchases of my own, this turned into 13 geckos in total.

The rescue finalization involved the Other Individual coming under fire from her county for having an incredibly unhealthy animal-hoarded house. When it came down to it, the county was taking all of her animals, so HF got into her car, drove a few hours up there, and brought home 20 or 21 animals. There is a question as to whether or not a corn snake actually made it into the mix, got out, and died in her car, garage, outside, who knows? or perhaps he had just never made it into her car in the first place since the other individual packed the animals up. The entire situation set the friendship on fire, with HF having realized how truly terrible the living conditions were and refusing to allow the Other Individual to reacquire any of her animals. I met most of these animals, many of whom were planned for a rehome, and ended up fostering three crested gecko boys. Seeing their condition initially and later finding even more at home under bright lights, I was infuriated. The most recent one the Other Individual had obtained was of a healthier weight, but the other two were severely underweight. Stuck shed had caused the healthiest one such trouble that he’d had his arm removed (I know we call them all legs, I’m calling the front ones arms), but it became painfully obvious that his living situation was inadequate both in humidity and decor to allow him to properly remove his shed, and he had layers built up on his other toes. There is nothing to halt the trust-gaining process in a small prey gecko quite like picking shed off their toes.

The one missing his arm, Kamata (named after Shin Godzilla’s second form), was the only one I intended on keeping of the three. While I was on the fence about the skinniest one, the charm from him trying to destroy my fingers won me over in the end, and Mars is now mine. I referred to him as Tokay-Lite (tokays have a derogatory name for a reason beyond just their call) due to how aggressive he was — this is a defense mechanism because he is scared — but we have worked to develop some trust and he has soothed, although can still be bitey at times.

HF found a home for the third, who I called Saturn due to his yellow color and naming dichotomy with, Mars, one of my first geckos named Io, and the baby Izar. The plan was to send him off with one of the Other Individual’s leopard geckos, Charisma, however Charisma escaped one night and has not been found since. We do not know if she is alive or not, although after a chahoua gecko from the initial batch escaped for a month only to be found again at a much larger size, I side with HF on there being a likelihood that Charisma is still alive. Due to this original plan, Saturn was renamed to Chaos officially, however I will continue to refer to him as Saturn. Instead of Charisma, another chunky leo, V, will be headed over to the new home.

Saturn is an extremely sweet boy. He can be a bit jumpy at times, but is generally very well-mannered, confident, and comfortable both with handling and exploration when he feels safe. An extremely easy gecko to get along with, I honestly fell in love with him.

Saturn wears his underbite in the most adorable fashion.

Saturn was underweight when I got him. Certain markers really stood out: the extent to which you could see his skull, his spine, how bony his upper arms were, how little muscle he had on his forearms, this extreme tuck of his skin at the bottom of his ribcage that created a sharp inward angle, very little muscle on his thighs, bony crus, and a tail so skinny you could see divots between caudal vertebrae. He never did gain much weight under my watch, however all of these aspects of him improved: fat built around his skull to round it out, his spine is no longer visible, he has fat on his upper arm and calves, muscle on his forearms and thighs, a smooth transition of his skin from his ribcage to his hips, and a healthy, round tail. He should continue to gain weight over time.

HF asked for me to bring Saturn and Izar over on Black Friday as she would be on her way to Saturn’s New Owner’s place on Saturday. I have talked to the New Owner a couple times and we also agreed on a mid-November transfer date as she would be well-prepared for him then. She’s providing a truly outstanding, enormous setup for him and doing her best to learn as much as possible to make sure he thrives, and he deserves that and the entire world in his little hands. They are a perfect combination. It does hurt a little, I do love him, but it is more a bittersweet thing.

I wanted to go on about my feelings about this, and how relinquishing Izar doesn’t hit quite as hard since I will be able to go over on a regular basis and see her growing, but after I arrived to HF’s house, things…changed direction.

The drive itself was a little rough, the roads being quite bumpy. While Saturn and Izar were buckled into the passenger seat and covered with a blanket to help maintain a comfortable temperature and alleviate any bumps, it was still scary to them. Once they were inside the house they had some time to cool down a bit, but Saturn was riled up. I had him out a little bit and he was scared, so I put him back into his bin. HF decided to set up a temporary enclosure for him, and I suggested we just leave him in the bin. It was arguably one of the most contentious points between us as she continued to throw things together into this 12x12x18" thing for him and my suggestion fell aside. I felt somewhat frustrated and after seeing what she’d put together I shooed her out of the way, took everything out, and started to plan to move Saturn’s existing decor over for his own comfort.

This is Buddy, she is not a feature in this post but will illustrate the next paragraph. Despite the deformation to her spine from metabolic bone disorder, she is very cute. You need cute for the rest of this, I promise.

Crested geckos’ tails do not regrow when they drop them. Dropping can be caused from stress, feeling threatened, any kind of sudden fear. Although there are claims that they will drop their tails for no reason, I feel this is an oversimplification of what we consider a reason vs what they consider a reason. The severed tail will continue to writhe for a while, at first wiggling rapidly and then responding to touch, hopefully drawing the attention of a predator looking for something that is moving and responding to touch. Some folks find this continued motion deeply unsettling, whereas some find the muscular connection to be unnerving, and I personally think the ‘holes’ left where the tail connected are uncomfortable to see. Regardless, when a tail is gone, the gecko is often referred to as a ‘frogbutt.’ See above, as googling that without including “gecko” is a minefield of butt pictures, and I don’t really feel like losing you right now. These frogbutts will be a little unsteady at first as they acclimate, but will eventually find their footing. Of course, the incident causing the tail loss and losing the tail itself are very traumatizing, so geckos tend to want to hide for a while. I am speaking of it very flatly, but it is something I would like to avoid and was glad for not having it happen to any of my geckos, as I would feel absolutely wretched for the stress caused and loss of a prehensile or semi-prehensile appendage for my loved critters.

As I took Saturn’s decor out and got to the main piece of mopani and looked for a place to put it down, he decided he couldn’t take any more of this terrifying experience in this unfamiliar (or perhaps, too familiar) place. I barely had the wood out of my hands and calming set into motion when he threw his tail and hid under some decor plant that I had intended to move with him tucked nicely in it.

I think the words “Fuck me,” came out, followed by a moment of silently staring at his tail as it thrashed. Then quietly, I apologized. To him. To HF. For failing.

HF went to tell the New Owner about it, and I asked if it would make her want him any less. No, she still would. This is just another positive mark for New Owner, as anyone who devalues a crested gecko for the loss of their tail is being absurd. HF agreed with my initial statement, put his stuff back in his bin and leave him be. I did so, gently moving him from the center so I could place his mopani back and get another of the plants in that he likes hide in/under. I plucked his tail out afterward, fascinated by how it responded to me. It had every bit of prehensile ability that it did when attached to him, wrapping tightly around my finger. After I gave the tail to HF — a taxidermist who will either mount the tail or put it in a jar as a wet specimen for me (or tell me how to) — to put into the freezer, I had to wash Saturn’s blood off my hands. It was such a small amount as the connecting section for his tail was not overly vascular, but the sensation of that blood bothered me immensely. I cannot get rid of that feeling even now, and this happened around twelve hours ago. I’m so sorry, Saturn. It hurt so immensely to not be able to say goodbye right, I wanted to handle him one more time, but it was best to let him rest, so I moved aside the leaves he likes, kissed my finger, and lightly touched his crest before I left. I hope I can see him again as Chaos in New Owner’s house with his massive, wonderful set up. I want him to thrive, to live his best life. He is such a good boy and there is not a doubt in my mind that he will find himself again in time.

I took a break here. I needed to. We’ll break this up with some other garbage from the day thrown in with my feelings on Izar, then it gets painful.

Very beautiful baby, full of rage, hatred, and wanton desire for humanity.

The other downsides that didn’t hit quite as hard included knowing that there was little I could do to help look for Charisma, as well as a couple of HF’s leopard geckos puking up their hornworms from some stress. They are in need of help, and she is trying, and she tends to do very well with them, but I know that was a blow to her emotionally. I think they will do better another day, when the feeling of the world is not so weird.

Handing Izar over was a little rough too, but I knew from early on that she was HF’s. Izar was also the only baby of the eight that came out of the egg full of piss and vinegar. She takes after her mother, tolerating handling once grabbed, but wanting to avoid it — and being very smart about choosing places to hide from hands. I expect that Izar will grow as rapidly as Ripley once Izar is settled in, and we agreed that once HF gets the basics of her larger enclosure set up, she would just plop the bin that has been Izar’s home into the enclosure and let her explore on her own. Keeps her smell with her, reduces stress, allows her to find her way and new comfort places. She will acclimate quickly, especially once she realizes how many delicious bugs she will get there that she did not get here (no hornworms, their burping is extremely offensive to the crested geckos). I will get to go see her too, just like with HF’s young gecko I raised for a while when we went in together on shipping from Altitude Exotics from a Black Friday order in 2020, and I wholly expect Izar to surprise me with size the same way this other gecko has.

Perhaps I am anthropomorphizing her, but this other gecko, Pele, seems to recognize me. She doesn’t much care for being picked up out of her enclosure, but realizes it is me and wants to crawl around my arms and hang out on my shoulder for a bit. Good shoulder rides.

Some good things during the day happened as well, some very positive interactions with other geckos and lizards, and following some time spent with the babies’ dad, I finally pulled my phone out of my pocket, swiped down on the top bar, and skimmed over my notifications.

The Message

HF was talking to me about something as I rolled my finger down the notifications — mostly stupid phone game nonsense, some weather things — but I don’t recall what we were talking about. My eyes rested on the message itself, in through Discord, from a dear loved one.

“My Dad passed away.”

My breath caught somewhere in my throat. The message had been sent three hours prior and LO had not heard from me in that time. I was absent when he needed me.

HF stopped mid-sentence and asked, “What happened? You look disturbed.”

“LO’s dad passed.”

This Dear Loved One is barely into his 60s. His parents have been trending downward in health for a while, but from the brief message earlier when he said his dad had fallen, and was in the hospital, I had no impression that…this. This would happen.

Very little is worse in this world than losing those closest to us. Sometimes this is our parents. Grandparents. Spouse. The cruelty of the world taking one’s child.

The way this relationship is set up, there was absolutely nothing for me to do but to say “I’m so sorry.” I couldn’t leave HF’s house and show up at LO’s. I couldn’t call. All I could do was message. It feels inadequate, and so late. I am worried. We have had some distance that has increased over the past few years, for him to lose his dad and for me to be so fucking incapable of providing anything. Anything at all. I worry. I bear scars from self-harm, but his, far older than mine, still visible, are from a suicide attempt.

I sent another message, asking if there is anything I can do. I did not hear back.

I genuinely don’t know what to do. What to say, here or to him.

All I can do is apologize.

Part of me wants to wake up and have this day be a dream. Do things over, a different way. Have everything turn out better. Everyone keeps their tail, their dinner, their loved one.

Personally, I have lost loved ones almost every year since late 2014, with the exception year being traumatic for other reasons. I wanted to write about it, about loss generally, and was hoping that it was something I could do sooner as I’d had enough time to process it to some degree. There are no breaks. No time to find healing. We lose another, and my heart breaks again, and I cannot do a damn thing.

This closes this morning not on any uplifting thought. There is only sorrow and guilt for lack of being better, of lack of capability to be better, to have had any highlight on a day so dark and cold when it seems so unfitting.

Fuck me.

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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.