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Becoming “Auntie” to 19 Reptiles by Pam Bickell

It wasn’t easy becoming “Auntie” to Ms. Powers’ reptiles. After all, I was a mammal-gal and the closest I’d been to a reptile was loving the little green lizards our Mom bought my brothers and me at the fair in the 60s.

But Elaine needed someone to care for her 19 reptiles when she travels and mentioned it to me. I needed to work, and I’ve always been curious about and loved animals, so we set an appointment to meet them. I was nervous.

16 salad plates to feed to reptiles on a kitchen counter
Expert salad maker, am I!

We came around a corner into the room where two iguanas live: Chile and Calliope. Calliope is a four-year-old green iguana and at the sight of me, she hit every side of the cage, rocking it, apparently attempting a quantum leap to anywhere but the same room as me.

“Well, okay then,” I said. “Thanks for trying.”

“No, no. Hold on,” Elaine said. “She does that sometimes when she is startled. Give her a minute.”

We waited and she did calm down—but to this day, when I open her cage door to place her breakfast salad, she gives me the Calliope-glare and raises her tail just a bit to let me know that she is watching every move. She has never hit me with her tail, but my first couple of times caretaking, she did whip it in my direction. Still, I am the human who feeds her delicious salads when Elaine is away and she knows this. (Delicious salads are my love-bribe.)

I had so many questions when I became caregiver to Elaine’s beloved tortoises and iguanas:

Do they bite?

The iguanas might and it’s very painful, SO DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN.

You take the iguanas out of their cages to climb and wander. Will they try to escape when I’m here?

They’ll be a bit shy at first, but yup. 

Oh, dear.

Just be observant. Watch the legs for ‘springing’ action. Don’t open the doors then.

What if I think one of them is ill?

Call me right away. I’ll leave the vet contact info on the table. If, Fates forbid, one of them should die, you will have to remove the body from the cage, put it in a plastic bag and into the freezer in the garage.

But, that won’t happen, right? And how in the world would I get them to the vet?

Probably not. And in a carrier.

Oh, dear.

They’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. Don’t worry.

And we have been fine. Blue has escaped from his cage twice, and let me just say that when I stepped into the reptile room the first time and saw Blue on TOP of Rascal’s cage, I panicked. And I couldn’t get a hold of Elaine. Then I remembered I was the caregiver and I had to figure this out.

an adult male blue iguana hybrid standing on top of a cage
This is magnificent Blue. Looking pretty pleased with himself, isn’t he?

So I sat on Rascal’s cage near Blue and put my hand on his back. I petted him. I had touched him inside his cage before, but never like this. He climbed on my lap and licked me! (He has the sweetest little pink tongue.) And I must’ve jumped six inches off the cage! I apologized to Blue and then noticed his cage. He’d apparently chewed a hole in the side and it was not a big hole. I checked his skin and nothing was torn. I was wondering what to do, when I saw these little bungee cords.

I rolled Blue’s cage next to Krinkle’s cage and bungeed them together against the hole-side. Elaine called and actually laughed at me for being scared, and then proceeded to tell me where a sheet of plexiglass was to put against that same side of the cage. Then there was the matter of getting Blue back into his cage. Long claws grabbing cage bars beat my muscles, all day every day, so it took a while, but I finally got him back inside.

a close-up of an iguana's foot
See what I mean?

Everyone knows me now. I’ve given Myrtle, a Red-foot tortoise a bath, and helped Ezra, the older green iguana, go to the bathroom. I give Stella her medicine in an orange slice every day. I have to hunt for the tortoises every morning to give them their salads and though you wouldn’t think they can disappear, they can! (And, Trevor, the turtle, who can climb up the screen door.) And they hide their food plates sometimes. The tortoises stand on my feet when they want to say hello.

I am an occasional visitor, but I am loved, well at least accepted, by a whole bunch of reptiles, whom I absolutely adore in return.

We never know where life is going to take us, do we?

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C’mon, Chile, Chow Down! by Elaine A. Powers, Author

A orange colored green iguana, in a cage, hiding behind a log, with a food dish of green leaves
Someday, I’ll catch Chile eating!

As a human companion to my reptiles, I want to know that they are eating well and, hopefully, enthusiastically. Quite often, a new or young reptile, such as my green iguana, Chile, is not comfortable being observed while eating. The only way I can tell that Chile has successfully consumed her meal is by looking at the empty bowl, without vegetables scattered about the enclosure.

I can understand a prey animal’s reticence about being observed eating. The iguana might be susceptible to a predator if not careful. So, it’s best to eat when no one is watching, and return quickly to a place of safety. Of course, inside the enclosure is a pretty safe place, but the iguana doesn’t always know this, especially when another larger iguana (like my Calliope) climbs up and sits on top of it. 

Yet, with patience and perseverance, the stalking photographer can eventually catch the elusive eating iguana in the act!

An all-around lover of lizards, big and small, Elaine A. Powers is the author of the Curtis, the (perfect) Curly-tail Lizard book series.

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Lights, Camera, Action! By Elaine A Powers, Author

Continued from My Iguanas Got the Commercial, Not Me

a yellow iguana on top of a blue iguana, on a table with rocks and plants
Algae and Jubby starring in How to Make a Green Iguana Commercial

Once the situation had calmed down from the Jimmy debacle, the director asked me what iguanas should be used. I started with my first and well-socialized iguana, Noel.  I took her out of her carrier and placed her on the table. She immediately tried to leap off and back to the carrier. Despite her willingness to be the star of talks and parades, Noel didn’t want anything to do with filming.

That left us with Algae and Jubby, both very calm iguanas. Jubby was bigger so I placed her on the table,  where she sat quietly. So far, so good. I placed Algae on top of her, as if they were mating. (If they had been mating, Algae would have been farther up Jubby’s neck, but this was acting, so Algae’s position was acceptable.) We all held our breath and Jubby and Algae held their positions.

This was going to work—in 15-second segments, because then each iguana went her own way, flipping up a bit of moss each time. I moved to replace the dislodged articles, but the scenic designer had that under control.  Over and over again, I placed Algae on top of Jubby and each time they stayed while the director  moved the camera on rails behind them. Everyone was fascinated by these wonderful, incredible creatures. This went on for three hours and the director was very pleased.

The Corazon Tequila commercials were made to introduce different drink recipes. Jubby and Algae were the stars of, “How to Make a Green Iguana.” Not only were the iguanas consummate performers, they were also the right colors for the ad. One iguana was supposed to be blue and the other yellow. Jubby was a dark bluish-green color and Algae had always been yellow-green. This made it easy for the digital technician to further color them the appropriate shades.

The commercial starring my girls was aired nationally and was very popular with the viewers. I was paid a set amount for their participation. Next time I think I’m going to ask for residuals. 😊

A 30-page Supplemental Workbook on Iguanas for grades 2-4 is available from Lyric Power Publishing.

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My Iguanas Got the Commercial–Not Me by Elaine A. Powers, Author

Along with science, I enjoy performing, singing and acting. I always toyed with the idea of getting an agent, but it simply never happened. And despite all my performances, it was my iguanas who ended up with the acting agent. 

I lived in New Jersey at the time with several pet green iguanas. Corazon Tequila was filming four commercials, two of which would feature live animals. An educational program in the town up the road got a call to use one of their iguanas, Jimmy.  The owner suggested that my iguanas would be more suited to the work, since they were well socialized. The director, however, really wanted to give Jimmy, a magnificent full-sized male, a chance. I was asked to bring Jimmy and my own iguanas, as well.

I selected Noel, Algae and Jubby, my most friendly and cooperative girls. I got permission from my supervisor to take the day off. The owner of a macaw picked us up early in the morning for the trip into Manhattan to a real film studio. I had each iguana in a separate pet carrier for easier transporting, which turned out to be a good thing as we wound our way through the building to where the commercials were produced. We were settled into the green room to wait our turn before the cameras. It was 8:00 a.m.

a grreen iguana posing on concrete
Jimmy was a magnificent Green Iguana like this guy.

I decided to explore the facility. I had been in television and radio studios before, but never an actual movie studio.  An incredible buffet was set out for the crew. Off in one area, a man was creating a delicious looking margarita with non-edible ingredients. People were either very busy or waiting around. I returned to the green room to wait my turn. 

The green room had doors so after a while, I let the iguanas out of their carriers. They each found a place on the back of the sofa and hung out. The macaw sat in her cage beside the owner. Time ticked by and I had to use the rest room.  I asked the macaw man to watch my igs while I was gone and he agreed. I made a quick trip, but when I got back, he told me never to leave my igs alone. They had panicked when I left the room! The next time I needed to use the restroom, I took them all with me.

a colorful macaw parrot squawking in a cage with gray-patterned wallpaper in the background
The Macaw from the Corazon Tequila Commercial

The macaw’s appointment was first and off she went. Each commercial had a desired script. Unfortunately, the macaw hadn’t read the script. She just wouldn’t do what they wanted. Over and over the director tried—but nope. So, they changed the script and recorded what the bird was doing. It worked out well, but it did take ALL morning.

While we continued to wait, a hand model came into the room. He was doing a final manicure of his nails. We talked about the iguanas—they are always a conversation starter—but I wouldn’t let him near my igs. These are animals known for their scratching and biting prowess and I didn’t want to destroy his career! A little while later he went off to have his hand filmed picking up that fake, but tasty looking, margarita.

In the afternoon, it was finally our turn. The four iguanas and I proceeded to the set. A table was set with rocks and moss in front of a blue screen. I was introduced to the animal welfare officer, who was on the set to ensure no harm came to the animals. The irony of this will become clear in the next paragraph.

I suggested using two of my females, but the director really wanted to give Jimmy a try. I really tried to talk him out of it but as they say, actions speak louder than words. Jimmy was a six-foot iguana who was not socialized. He know how to use his four-foot tail effectively. I cautiously picked Jimmy up to place him on the table. As soon as his feet hit the table, he exploded. Thrashing iguana body, flying rocks and moss bits, with the startled crew scattering.

As Jimmy launched himself, I caught him mid-air and deftly placed him back into his carrier. Of course, I had received a severe shredding, but that can happen when you handle lots of large, tree-dwelling lizards. The animal welfare person was concerned about my bleeding arms and insisted the production stop while I received first aid. Despite assuring him I was fine, that is what we did and this gave the crew a chance to rebuild the scenery on the table.

To be continued on Friday. 😊

A 30-page supplemental Study Guide about Iguanas for grades 2-4 is available from Lyric Power Publishing.

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Kismet and the Pink Dog Shirt by Susan Glynn Mulé, Author

a lizard, a Ctenosaura similis, on a pink bed, surrounded by green plants and a pink leaf
Little Moira on her first pink bed.

Moira, my tiny Ctenosaura similis, has her first pink princess bed. Well, it is pink and it is a bed, but it doesn’t say “Princess” or have a little crown on it like Kismet’s old one did. Of course, it is a bed designed for tiny dwarf hamsters and cost all of $2.49, so I guess I can’t expect much, right?   

I know this will sound crazy, but Kismet, my cherished rock iguana, loved the color pink, especially bright, bold hot pink. From a scientific perspective, it likely reminded her of the delicious hibiscus flowers she so enjoyed. But she chose pink dog beds and pink blankets and stole the dogs’ pink toys.  Let’s face it—there was nothing scientific at all about Kismet. 

But back to pink. It’s important that you know I did not dress up my lizard every day and I never, ever forced her to wear the little costumes and outfits.  I was accused of this by a few individuals who really did not understand Kismet. As if anyone could force a half-grown Cyclura to do anything, anyway! Would I really be stupid enough to try to compel an animal with over 120 razor sharp teeth and a tail that can whip with the power to possibly break a limb to put on a pink dog shirt? Nope.

For reptile shows and school presentations, she was often decked out in a pink princess dog shirt. She even had a ruffled skirt for the first episode of my daughter’s short-lived YouTube series, where the scenes opened with my daughter and Kismet having a princess tea. Kismet’s unexpected death and my husband’s abrupt terminal cancer diagnosis that same summer deflated all our enthusiasm for putting that show together. The  final nail in the coffin for the series was when our filmographer moved away. Four or five episodes aired, but the rest never made it to final editing, which is really a shame because the show was adorable. When Kismet first died, my daughter considered continuing with Kismet’s mate, Sebastian. Then we found out about Mike’s cancer and . . . well, it just wasn’t in the cards.

Kismet loved people and she loved riding in the car, and she had already stolen several pink dog toys from our greyhounds, when a friend and I took Kismet for a ride. We stopped at this cute little pet shop on the way home. I walked around the store carrying Kismet and suddenly heard screaming. A woman was yelling something about an alligator in the store. It took me a minute to realize she meant Kismet. I tried to explain that she was a harmless rock iguana from the Caymans, but the woman remained unconvinced. The clerk told me not to worry about it, but I did worry, because this was very bad PR for the reptile community. Her reaction is an example of why so many people post on social media that we have a responsibility not to bring our reptiles out in public. But, is that really fair? Some people are afraid of dogs, but no one tells dog owners to keep their pets home. I did not want anyone to be upset by Kismet’s presence, but I also did not want to leave the store before I had finished shopping. I was in a store that welcomed animals, including my scaly princess.  


a rock iguana in a hot pink dog t-shirt on a white blanket, eating a green leaf
Kismet wearing her hot pink dog t-shirt.

I looked up and saw a rack of dog t-shirts. There was a hot pink sleeveless t-shirt that would fit Kismet. I walked over, bought it and put it on her right there in the store. Not only did she not object—she seemed downright pleased.  She crawled up to where her front paws were on my shoulder and she could see behind me. With her body stretched up, her hot pink t-shirt was clearly visible.

“Excuse me.” 

I turned around and saw the lady who had screamed a few minutes before. I bristled, but she seemed calm enough now.

“Yes?” I asked politely. “Were you talking to me?” 

She nodded and took a tentative step forward. “That’s such a cute little animal. I was wondering what she is.”

Sarcasm played at the edges of my lips. “The same animal you thought was an alligator and freaked out about, right over there.”  I didn’t say it, even though I wanted to. Instead, I smiled. “She’s a rock iguana from the Cayman Islands.” 

“She’s very sweet.”  The lady looked her up and down, her gaze going back and forth from Kismet’s face to the hot pink t-shirt. “Can I touch her?”

 I nodded and repositioned Kismet with my hand under her chest. “Yes, “ I said. “Of course.”

The woman petted the t-shirt first and when Kismet only cocked her head, she moved her hand down to Kismet’s side below the bottom of the t-shirt. “Ohhhhhh,” she said, “she feels like upholstery fabric.”

I laughed. I had heard that a number of times. “I guess she kind of does.” 

She asked more questions and I answered them. By the time she left, she knew about the endangered Cyclura lewisi and how, at that time, there were very few left in the wild. By the time she left, she knew about the International Reptile Conservation Foundation and the Blue Iguana Recovery Program. She had listened with fascination, petting Kismet the entire time.

All because of a hot pink dog shirt.

A rock iguana on a pink Princess bed near a window, covered in a pink blanket.
Kismet on her Princess bed, enjoying the view out the window.

After that, Kismet wore that shirt, and others that followed, every time we left the house. Every place we went, people asked questions and asked to pet her. Never again did we have anyone act afraid or scream “alligator.” Instead, we were often able to educate people on the iguanas of the Cyclura genus and various conservation efforts to save them. Kismet, for her part, got to be petted and fawned over.  People can think what they want, but anyone who ever watched Kismet being petted and fawned over could tell she enjoyed it. And when the cameras came out . . . well, that is a whole other blog post.

Moira is much too small for even the tiniest dog t-shirt. Even if they made t-shirts for mice, I think they would be a bit too large. And, of course, I do not know if she would take to them with the same enthusiasm that Kismet did, or the dignified resolve of Sebastian (who has his own set of costumes). 

For now, though, Moira is sitting in her tiny pink bed, looking rather pleased with herself.  

Susan Glynn Mulé is the author of Princess Tien.

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I, Curtis curly-tail, am Honored to Write for LPP

Hello, I’m Curtis Curly-tail of Warderick Wells Cay, in the Exumas of the Bahamas.

A yellow green curly-tail lizard stands behind a table on an island, with the words "Curtis Speaks" above him

I’m simply delighted that Lyric Power Publishing asked me to write some guest posts for their website. You see, I kind of owe them for making me somewhat famous. I really get to show off my perfect curly tail over at my You Tube Channel!

Let me start by introducing myself and my species.  I am a member of the Leiocephalus carinatus species. We are found in the Bahamas, Cuba and on the Cayman Islands. I am planning a trip to visit the Lime Lizard Lads on the Cayman Islands, who are the exact same species as me. Isn’t that incredible? What is curious is that the Bahamas has four other species of Curly-tail lizards, but my species is the only one to travel to the Cayman Islands.

We all like to live along the coast in dry areas. We’re called xerophilic or arid-loving. We live on the ground among rocks, shrubs and even pines, but my favorite spot is along the beach. I’ve noticed humans like the beach, too. Maybe I’ll see you there! And, If you’d like to join me on my wild adventures, the Curtis curly-tail series is available here.

Take care and talk soon!

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Books, by Popular Demand! by Elaine A. Powers, Author

I inherited my mother’s house, which is in an RV Resort in Ft. Myers, FL. Every year, I travel there at Christmastime to perform in each year’s original Cantata, composed by a very talented woman, Ruth Rodgers, and her husband, Dr. Ted Rodgers. I directed the orchestra, sang, played the trumpet and thoroughly enjoyed the celebration. Sadly, 2017 was the final cantata.

That meant, however, that this past Christmas, I could fully participate in the park’s holiday potluck dinner.  A gift exchange takes place every year—you know, the kind where everyone gets a number and as each number is called, that person selects a gift. The fun part is, they may keep the gift they chose or trade for one another person has already selected. Some gifts are traded (grabbed!) repeatedly until the numbers finally run out.

I decided to take the collection of my “Don’t” series books (Don’t Call Me Turtle, Don’t Make Me Fly, and Don’t Make Me Rattle) as my gift. I also took along some Southwestern-themed wrapping paper and tape since I didn’t know what supplies were in the house. I brought some yummy Tortuga rum cakes from my travels to the Cayman Islands. I was ready.

Green book cover with a tortoise standing on hind legs, pointing at the viewer
Let ME tell you about the differences
between tortoises and turtles.

Cold feet struck that afternoon. Was bringing my own books the right thing to do?  Geez, maybe I should have brought something more appropriate. I searched the house for something I could substitute, but there was nothing. Fate determined the “Don’t” series books would be my gift.

One of my neighbors greeted me at the door that evening . “Is this one of the books you’ve written?”  

I confessed it was.

His reply? “I know what gift I’m choosing.” 

Sure enough, his number was called and he selected my gift.  I was honored and delighted that he wanted my books.

His number was called early, but his possession of the books was short lived. A few numbers later, a woman took the books from him.  Then a few more numbers, and another woman selected the books—and so on! 

My books were one of the most desired gifts of the evening. It was both engaging and rewarding to know that my efforts to make science education fun are working. I hope to inspire many future scientists by creating books written in rhyme, filled with scientific facts, that children and their parents truly enjoy reading.

Happy new year to all!

A brown book cover with a Diamondback rattlesnake inside a circle, showing the sky
I am shy and I love it
when you simply pass by.
An orange book cover with a southwestern roadrunner painted within a circle, blue sky in background
Roadrunners don’t fly–
do you know why?
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My Life with Earthquakes by Elaine A. Powers, Author

I’ve experienced many earthquakes, small and large. I confess, I rather enjoy them.

My first experience was when visiting Alaska as a child with my parents. Little did I know that was just the beginning. Unfortunately, apparently because they don’t distress me, I tend to sleep through the ones that happen at night. I’d much prefer to be awake!

Despite the movement of the tall Japanese hotel we were staying in, I slept through a sizeable earthquake there. My parents told me about the swaying in the morning and explained that the hotel was designed to go with the earth’s movement,  instead of fighting it.

The most surprising earthquake occurred when I lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I had a nice apartment with my beloved 55-gallon salt-water aquarium. The aquarium sat in my dining room area, near where I worked at the table. I was writing when I felt the earth move. Surprised, I realized there had just been an earthquake. How cool, I thought. I was delighted until I looked over at the aquarium.

Small silver fish swimming in a fish tank filled with rocks and plants and bubbles.
My fish tank was similar to this one. Imagine a wave almost as large as the tank sloshing back and forth.

Fifty gallons of salt water were sloshing in a large wave, back and forth, just like the building in Japan! The wave was strong enough that I was afraid the glass would shatter. On impulse, I ran over and embraced the tank as if I could calm the waves and hold the glass together. The fish and I were greatly relieved when the energy of the wave subsided and their home remained intact.

To learn more about geology and rocks, please see Lyric Power Publishing’s supplemental workbook, My Book on Rocks.

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Trevor the Turtle has a Crush on Myrtle the Tortoise by Elaine A. Powers, Author

Trevor is a male Eastern box turtle and Myrtle is a female red-foot tortoise. Myrtle is at least four times bigger than Trevor. Being a tortoise, she has a dense shell, while Trevor’s—though domed—is very lightweight. Trevor has a crush on Myrtle: She’s older, gorgeous, interested in what’s going on around her and interesting.

A box turtle approaches a red-foot tortoise, on a tile floor
Trevor, a box turtle, approaches his crush, Myrtle, a tortoise.

Trevor may be small, but he is determined. He seeks Myrtle as his mate. Myrtle, of course, cannot be bothered. He’s a small box turtle, for Pete’s sake! Trevor apparently believes that persistence will pay off and likes to follow her closely. When he gets too close, Myrtle usually wanders off, but if Trevor really annoys her, she turns around and flips him onto his back. And there he rocks with his flailing legs.

A red-foot tortoise faces an Eastern box turtle, on a tile floor.
“Back off, Trevor!” Myrtle says.

Now, Myrtle could just walk away, allowing Trevor to right himself, but she doesn’t. She enjoys spinning Trevor around and around, like he is a top!

A red-foot tortoise has flipped an Eastern box turtle onto his back. Then she spins him.
“I warned you, Trevor!”

This slows Trevor down for a while—but, as we all know, the heart wants what the heart wants. 😊

For supplemental information about turtles and tortoises, please see our 23-47 page Workbooks for children, grades Pre-K through 4th.

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Hangin’ Around with My Green Iguanas by Elaine A. Powers, Author

Green iguanas are tree dwelling lizards. They are very good climbers and will climb on anything to get to a high location, like book shelves, windows and heads—and by heads, I mean mine. People often ask me why I don’t have pierced ears. It’s because when climbing to the top of my head, the iguanas use my ear lobes as convenient toe holds.  My lobes have been ripped open three times by long claws attached to strong leg muscles. I don’t want them to have an existing ear-hole for better ripping.

I often find my iguanas hanging out on top of window blinds, display cases or on my piano. When I want to find them, I know to look up, since the iguanas are usually nestled among the display items.  Interestingly, the green iguanas can climb over breakable objects without disturbing them, but if they know you are coming to pick them up, they’ll send everything flying with a swoosh of their tails!

a green iguana looking out from a tree trunk
Green iguanas like my Algae are top climbers.

The most impressive climbing was done by my iguana, Algae. Being a young iguana, she had sharp, pointed claws. One day, I looked all over the house but couldn’t find Algae.  Had she gotten out or slipped down a vent somehow?  After searching everywhere I thought she could possibly hide, I looked up.

She was hanging upside down from the ceiling! After the surprise passed, I have to say that I was very proud of my young friend, Algae.

For more fun information about iguanas, see Lyric Power Publishing’s 30-page Iguana Workbook.