Having an iguana rescue, I met a lot of iguanas. Some came from people who couldn’t or didn’t want to care for them. (Iguanas come with a lot of responsibilities.) I also received calls about iguanas who had been found in leaf piles, in the middle of the road or worse, from NJ and PA.
One day, I received a call from a crew demolishing a building. They had found an iguana who had been left behind in a tank. Think about that. This iguana had been abandoned long enough for the building to be condemned , for the permits for its demolition to be obtained, and for a crew to be sent over to knock it down.
When the man arrived at my door with the iguana in a box, I didn’t have much hope. The large lizard was listless and very thin—starved—and covered in mud. I didn’t expect it to survive overnight. Sometimes all you can do for an animal is give it a safe place to die in peace, not worrying about predators.
I washed the iguana, gave him a warm, comfortable place, with food, if he wanted. The next day, he was alert and ready to eat and drink! I named him Demo, short for demolition. Demo recovered amazingly quickly and became quite socialized. The young man who had brought him to me came by to check on him and asked to adopt him. I happily agreed. His twin brother adopted his own iguana from me a little while later.
My book business started with the publication of Curtis Curly-tail and the Ship of Sneakers. In this story, a Curly-tail lizard named Curtis travels from his home island of Warderick Wells to the big city of Nassau to see where the tourists come from. When he gets homesick, Curtis must figure out how to get home. Not to worry—Curtis is a smart Curly-tail lizard and he would be bored if life didn’t get exciting from time to time.
Then—and how fun for me!—several people in the Cayman Islands requested their own Curly-tail adventures, and the Lime Lizard Lads, Gene and Bony, were born. The first book in their series, The Dragon of Nani Cave, explores the animals, plants and sites on Cayman Brac, as the two adventure off to find the island’s dragon for themselves.
But, “One is not enough,” the people said. I was asked if could I adapt one of the Bahamas books for the Cayman Islands. Yes, I thought. I can adapt Ship of Sneakers fairly easily. Ha! It turned out I had to rewrite the entire story, but it was worth it. In The Lime Lizard Lads and the Ship of Sneakers, Gene and Bony leave their home on Cayman Brac, one of the Sister Islands, and travel to the tourist sites on Grand Cayman. And since the only way in or out is by airplane, they have quite the adventure!
My mood was dark. My birthday had just passed. It had been another birthday alone and it would be another set of holidays alone. Not alone in the sense of not being with anyone. Thanksgiving had been a lovely celebration at the home of my daughter’s future in-laws and I had felt totally at peace. But still a certain loneliness.
The day before my birthday, my daughter, her fiancé and I had attended a Knights of Columbus Memorial where, for the fourth year in a row, my late husband’s name would be called. Could it really have been my fourth birthday since he died? I thought about what he might have given me. Roses, of course — and dinner at our favorite little Italian place. There would probably have been something tangible as well; an article of clothing or earrings perhaps. He would have ordered me wine, smiled, and taken my hand across the table.
Trying to brush my sadness away, I open the cage sitting on the chest of drawers in my living room. I place my hand inside and little Moira climbs down from her branch and settles on my hand. I study her intently – all 16 grams of her. Perched on my fingertips, I marvel at how tiny she is. And I wonder: How is it that my heart is so stirred by such a tiny creature whom I barely know? How is it that holding this tiny creature has just turned my day around and cast a ray of sunlight into my dark mood? I have only had her a month, this tiny Ctenosaura similis that I brought home from IguanaFest, despite reminding myself again and again that I did not need another lizard. She cocks her head, looking up at me and there is so much depth to her gaze – as if she is looking into my very soul. Only one other lizard has ever looked at me quite this way. Kismet. Kismet, who will always be loved and never be forgotten…
It had been another horrible day. It wasn’t long after my father’s unexpected death and our daughter was away, probably spending the night at a friend’s house and I did not have my motherly duties to distract me from my sorrow. All I can remember is feeling as though the earth had been pulled from beneath my feet so that my stomach lurched and my head ached. I was lying across the old worn couch that had been my husband’s grandmother’s. It had looked like new when he brought to our Texas home from Norco, Louisiana. One year in our house, with animals jumping on it and a plethora of roving teens plopping on it, and it looked every bit of its ninety years. It smelled old and the dampness from my tears accentuated the musty odor. I had been crying for what felt like a century. I could hear the clicking of the keyboard as my husband, Michael, worked in the other room. He had been unable to console me and had abandoned the task and returned to working on his project. I knew he ached at not being able to help me and I felt guilty for pushing him away — which only made me cry all the harder.
When I opened my eyes, I could see Kismet under her basking light. She was perched on the shelf we built for her. Her head was cocked. She was studying me. I closed my eyes again and returned to my tears. The kerflump of her body hitting the floor as she jumped down from her roost and the click of her toenails on the floor until she reached the carpet opened my eyes again. I watched as she moved toward the couch. She cocked her head again, and then jumped up into the space between my body and the edge of the couch. Snuggling close to me, she reached over and with her right paw, gently stroked my cheek with her claws. The touch was more soothing, more calming, than I would have thought possible. A wave of affection for this nine-pound lizard washed over me and I stroked her back. As I marveled at the intuitiveness of my little dinosaur, a slow smile found its way to the corners of my mouth – and even to my eyes.
Michael, who also heard the kerflump and the clicking toenails stood in the doorway between the office and the living room and just watched as I scratched the scales along both sides of Kismet’s spines. He smiled slightly, shaking his head.
“How did she know to do that?” he asked.
I shook my head. “I have no idea.”
He crossed over and sat down next to us. He stroked Kismet under the chin and looked at me. “No one is ever going to believe this, you know.”
I smiled at him. “I know.” I paused and looked into his warm and gentle brown eyes. “I’m sorry, I pushed you away, Mike. I was just too far away to let you in.”
“It’s okay,” he said, reaching over and stroking my cheek in the exact same spot as Kismet had. “I’m just glad she brought you back.”
I look back down into Moira’s soulful eyes. The expression is the same. Moira’s tiny tongue licks my fingertip, perhaps hoping that I have a tasty morsel. I don’t, but she licks my fingertip again and cocks her head to look at me. Her tiny claws wrap around my fingertip. I look back down into her soulful eyes that are so different — and yet somehow so very familiar.
No, I did not need another lizard. But I needed this one.
Having an iguana rescue meant access to a lot of iguanas, just for the taking. But there was one type of iguana I really wanted that I could only find through buying: a hybrid Cayman Blue iguana. Only a hybrid, because it is illegal to own pure-bred blue iguanas. I wouldn’t want to take one out of its natural environment, anyway.
The story was that the two parental species, one Rock iguana and one Cayman Blue, had accidentally created the hybrids. Very fortuitous for the pet trade. Another version is the hybrids were made specifically for the pet trade.
Either way, I wanted one. I contacted a breeder and put my name on his list. Rock iguanas only lay a few eggs, so supply does not meet the demand. But I was lucky and was soon told I would be receiving one of the four hatchlings. I lived in NJ and the breeder lived in California, and he would send the baby iguana in an overnight express package. I prepared the hatchling’s enclosure. I was eager to meet my new family member.
The next day, no delivery. Okay, maybe he sent it second day delivery. But, the second day, still no delivery. I contacted the breeder and yes, the iguana had been sent overnight to the correct address. I contacted the postal service and yes, they had received the box, but had no idea where it was. I called a series of offices trying to track the whereabouts of the iguana. The box had been insured so we could file a claim, but I wanted my baby. I didn’t want the iguana to perish trapped inside a shipping box.
Every day I called. Every day they had no idea where the iguana was. I spoke to my friends who were employees in my town’s post office. They were equally upset by the missing package and would do everything they could to help. With each passing day, I grew more distressed and vowed I would never ship another animal.
Meanwhile the country was in the grip of snowstorms. Snow, ice and cold temperatures were making it one of the most dangerous Thanksgiving weekends in recent memory. My baby iguana was out there in it. On the eighth day I got a call from my post office friends. The box had arrived! It had been put in parcel post instead of express, although it was properly labeled. But what of the precious cargo? The box was quickly cut open and the body of a small rock iguana was revealed. The iguana didn’t move.
“Oh no, it’s dead,” said one of the postal workers.
“No, look at its eyes,” said the other.
Sure enough, Blue opened his eyes! I am happy to say that Blue, short for Lucky Blue Lazarus, completely recovered from his ordeal and today is a very large, easygoing rock iguana hybrid. I take him to schools and outreach programs to teach children and adults alike about reptiles.
A last note: Recently I had an iguana sent to me via USPS. The iguana traveled from New York to Arizona in less than 24 hours. I was very impressed by the care given to that iguana.
I mentioned in a previous post that my pet green iguana, Stella, has high blood pressure, which is the cause of a swollen nictitating membrane on her right eye. What is a nictitating membrane? Do people have one?
Nictitating comes from the Latin word nictare, which means “to blink.” Blinking provides moisture to the eye and protects it from irritants.
That’s what the nictitating membrane, an inner eyelid, provides to the eyes of several kinds of animals, such as fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and even some mammals. Most mammals only have a vestigial remnant, but aquatic mammals such as polar bears, manatees, and beavers use their full membranes like goggles.
Nictitating membranes can be transparent or translucent, depending on the animal’s need. It moves easily across the eye from underneath the eye lids.
Stella receives her medication every morning inside a small slice of an orange, set atop the lovely salad she receives for breakfast. Collard greens are a mainstay (though I mix that up with turnip greens, mustard greens or spinach), to which I add zucchini or yellow squash, deep red bell peppers, carrots, and bananas or grapes.
Stella, a green iguana, was found on a street in Bethlehem, PA. Her tail has been badly chewed. The veterinarian thought it was done by dogs, possibly pit bulls owned by drug dealers. Her rescuers had to amputate most of her gorgeous four-foot tail.
Stella was full-sized, uncommon for captive green iguanas. Apparently, she had been cared for up until then. Once she had sufficiently healed from her surgery, they sent her to my rescue center in Highbridge, New Jersey. Her health returned, and she soon moved to her forever home with me.
Despite her injuries, she produced eggs after her arrival. She also tried to regenerate her tail, but the stump had been sewn shut.
She likes to hang out with her buddy, Ezra, another green iguana who lives in a nearby separate enclosure. Ezra likes to stand on his rear legs and show off for Stella every now and then. They’re very attentive to each other.
Stella has developed high blood pressure, as evidenced by a swollen nictitating membrane. It is kept under control with medication.
She is a sweet-natured iguana, and it is my pleasure to have her as a pet in my home.
I spend enough time writing my books–why do I blog as well?
Many reasons come to mind.
It’s nice to be able to finish a writing task in a short amount of time. It takes a long time to finish an entire book. I get a feeling of accomplishment when a blog post is completed.
But the more important reason is the opportunity to share with the readers.
I can tell you about
my writing journey, the animals in my life,
the places I’ve visited,
a little about myself, and
last, but certainly not least,
I can share science information
beyond the scope of my books.
Blogging, you see, can be very beneficial.
One can also be creative writing for blogs. Here at Tails, Tales and Adventures, Oh, My!, I write as myself. But at my author website, www.elaineapowers.com, my blog is “written by” Curtis Curly-tail, the Bahamian lizard I met several years ago who inspired me to write the Curtis Curly-tail series of books. The world can be a very interesting place from a lizard’s point of view.
I hope you’re enjoying the posts here. If you have a topic you’d like written about, please let me know by commenting below, or contact me at email@example.com. I’d love to write about what you’d like to know.
I’ve written and recorded a song about iguanas. Read on to learn why my songwriting career has taken this reptilian turn.
My friend Elaine Powers is an author and biologist who lives and works with reptiles. Her pets include iguanas, tortoises, tegu lizards, and a turtle. She currently is actively involved in saving endangered iguanas in the Caribbean.
As Elaine explained to me recently, rock iguanas and spiny-tail iguanas living in Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and other islands have become endangered due to habitat loss and introduced (non-native) predators. Spiny-tails are sometimes consumed by humans. The Statia iguanas on St. Eustatius Island are threatened by hybridization with the non-native green iguana. Some iguanas, while warming themselves on asphalt highways, get run over by cars, either accidentally or for sport. And then there’s poaching for the pet trade. Elaine’s group is trying to educate the public about the importance of native iguanas to the local ecosystem.
After hearing about the plight of the iguanas, I decided to write a song about them. Elaine had the song animated by Anderson Atlas, and she posted it on her YouTube channel.
To see and hear the video, click the following link:
There’s even an iguana joke at the end of the song.
I’m hoping the song catches on in the Caribbean. Do they have some version of a Grammy there? Maybe a Caribby? I’d settle for a paid vacation. But the real prize would be helping the iguanas to survive and thrive on their native island homes.
I’d love to hear your comments, and sharing is always appreciated!
People are often pleasantly surprised to meet the author of books they or their children love, and it’s fun for the author, too. One of the questions I’m often asked is if I also do the illustrations.
Heavens, no! I’m not nearly talented enough to create the wonderful pictures in my books. So, how do I find great artists?
If you are planning to publish with a traditional publisher, they select the illustrator—unless you are a combination author/illustrator, as some very talented folks are. Since I am an independent publisher, I choose my illustrators.
I first used a friend who was a graphic artist to bring Curtis Curly-tail to life in Curtis Curly-tail and the Ship of Sneakers. Unfortunately, Art Winstanley was unable to continue as my illustrator, so I looked for someone I hoped could copy Art’s style.
I was fortunate to find Tucson artist, Anderson Atlas. Anderson and I continue to collaborate on many projects. He is a talented artist and video-maker and is responsible for bringing Curtis to life at my You-Tube channel.
Then, one of my co-workers asked me if I had any work that I could throw his son’s way. His son, Nick Thorpe, had just graduated with a BFA and was looking for work. I needed book covers for my “Don’t” series about animals of the Sonoran Desert, and he delivered bold, vibrant illustrations that really help sell the stories.
For my books based outsidethe U.S., I use illustrators located where the books are set. This is beneficial in several ways. Local artists bring accuracy and their cultural feel to the artwork. And, people are more likely to purchase a book that has been illustrated by a famous local artist. The Internet is wonderful for finding these talented individuals.
How do I pay the illustrators? I prefer to pay them for my sole ownership of their work. That way, they get their money and don’t have to wait for the book to make a profit. Some artists request a percentage of the profits once the amount they were paid upfront is reached, but the record keeping for a publisher of my size would be prohibitive. I love to support the creative people in my life and do agree that the artists can show their work owned by me to further their professional development.
Many modern illustrations are digital media. This allows for the easy transfer of images around the world. Changes can be readily made, as well. Need a tree replaced? A minute later, the new one is there on the page. It’s truly wonderful. Art images tend to be large files and can be delivered through services such as Dropbox.
Thanks for reading today at Tails, Tales, Adventures, Oh, My! Questions about illustrations? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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