As stated before, this month’s NARBC show was not only its biggest, but apparently it had the largest turnout in the Arlington show’s history. Being on ground level, not only is this not surprising, but it makes me wonder “So what are they going to do if this gets any larger? Move next door to Cowboys Stadium and take over the whole field?” (Even then, that only buys the show a couple of years before we’re having to consider armed platforms in near-Earth orbit. This show is getting BIG.)
Anyway, before continuing, I wanted to share a few observations on the Zoo Med Laboratories display tent. The herpetoculture trade has come a very long way from the “boom” of the 1990s, and the displays confirm it. This beast is inflatable, with the ability to anchor it if used outside, with panels on the sides to give shade if outdoors and to advertise further if not. Either way, the dream is to have one of these for a future 35 Denton show.
Surprisingly, many vendors offering large planted display cages weren’t at this show, but I’m hoping that they’re simply rescheduling for the August NARBC show. The noted exceptions were Zoo Med and the crew at Exo Terra, who definitely give ideas on how it can be done.
Wandering around and viewing reptiles was all fine and good, but the real purpose of this quest was to look for reptile-friendly flora, and that started with haranguing the good folks at the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Bromeliad Society. What started as a minor inconvenience, trying to get all of their plants and driftwood into a single 10-by-10 booth, actually worked to their advantage when they started thinking laterally.
Bromeliads, orchids, and driftwood: how can it get any better without adding carnivorous plants to the mix?
And then there was the big reason I came out there: a serious need for cork. Most incorrigible antisociables only keep one particular plant in their grow houses. Me, I needed cork bark for all of the bromeliads I just purchased from the Bromeliad Society.
And with this, it’s confirmed: the Triffid Ranch will be a vendor at this next August’s show, if it kills us all. Five months to get ready…I just might be able to pull that off.
I’ve been a sucker for Kenyan sand boas since they first started showing up for sale in the US, and a very nice gentleman wandering down the aisles was kind enough to hold it long enough for a photo. As can be told, they’re extremely well-mannered, but the coloration? Whoa.
Likewise, I have no interest in keeping my own carpet python (top) or woma (bottom), but I’ve made plans to visit Australia before I die just to see representatives of each in the wild. Of course, to see all of the reptiles I want to see in the wild in Australia alone, from shingleback lizards to brown snakes, I may as well just move there.
Hailing from a little closer to home, here’s a seeming oxymoron: a little alligator snapping turtle. Not only are they so ugly they’re cute, but I speak from experience when stating that they’re actually extremely shy if given a chance to avoid human contact. As can be told, this one was used to humans, so this was a great opportunity for people to see an extremely misunderstood animal.
Speaking of misunderstood animals, one of the booths featured a collection of venomous and/or extremely threatened Texas reptiles, of which the alligator snapping turtle was practically a sidenote. Among others, we have…
…a timber rattlesnake…
…a Western diamondback rattlesnake…
…and the nonvenomous but extremely large and impressively active Texas indigo snake.
One of the things that keeps my marriage to the Czarina so fresh and exciting is that she doesn’t know what will happen next. I’m literal in this: she doesn’t know, and she’s usually scared to death to find out. Take a look at this situation: she leaves me to my own devices on a Saturday morning, and I make a beeline for the big NARBC Arlington reptile show. As soon as I get there, I run into old friends who came out to observe the wildlife (reptilian and human), and one let me know “By the way, did you know about what’s around the corner?” He points around the corner, and there it is:
Yes, at the show was one of my favorite reptiles: Varanus salvadorii, the crocodile monitor. Even better, for a species notorious for its aggression and savage intelligence, here was one that was pretty much dog-tame. Of course, he’s still small: believe it or not, he’s only about half the size of a fully-grown adult.
In previous years, I would have been able to sneak something like this home and surprise the Czarina, probably with it curled up like a big scaly cat at the foot of the bed. However, modern technology has its advantages, so I let her know my plans. Via Facebook, of course, so all of our friends could get a comfy seat and pop an extra-large batch of popcorn. If I played my cards right, people would ask about the blood tornado spotted just east of downtown Dallas.
The reason why this beauty was available was that its owner was incredibly fond of him, but an exciting business opportunity required selling him for capital. I understand, and did some calculations. The best thing about having a rainy day fund? It’s raining somewhere.
To make matters better, this gentleman was selling two crocodile monitors, both of which with the same mellow disposition. I immediately had to let the Czarina know: “They’re a breeding pair. We could have HATCHLINGS.” Her immediate response: “NO, WE COULDN’T.” That didn’t stop me: I’d already picked names. “G’Kar” and “Na’Toth” worked, but then a friend suggested that “Paul and Caroline” would work, too. After all, these lizards were just like us: they alternated between cuddling and her demonstrating her superiority by gnawing on his head. (Apparently, crocodile monitors don’t have much in the way of Elbows, so teeth had to do.)
Now, this big one was friendly, but see the one in the back? I was warned by her owners that this beast had the personality for which crocodile monitors are known throughout the world. That look says “Oh, I’m going to kill you, Sheriff, but I’m gonna kill you slow.”
The worst part is that I can’t understand why the Czarina has such an issue with keeping one in the house. All she did was yell and froth about “the damn lizard will eat the cats”. I really don’t understand. How could she possibly say “no” to such a cute widdle face?
By now, a fair number of carnivorous plant enthusiasts know about the new paper on fluorescence of Nepenthes, Sarracenia, and Dionea traps under ultraviolet light. First and foremost, for all of you undergrad and postgrad students out there, take this as a warning not to procrastinate in finishing and submitting a scientific paper. I was about maybe a month away from submitting my own paper to the Carnivorous Plant Newsletter on the subject, and not only did the authors of this paper beat me to the punch, but they produced an exceptional paper that presented distinctive blue fluorescence spots that nobody else had caught before now. They did exceptional work, they deserve every last bit of publicity they’re receiving, and I just regret not having the proper gear for proper research.
That said, there’s a lot more to be done with fluorescence in carnivorous plants. I can state with authority that many other genera of carnivore fluoresce under UV, including at least two species of Heliamphora,Darlingtonia, and the two carnivorous bromeliads Catopsis and Brocchinia. In fact, Catopsis fluoresces brightly enough to hurt. There are other advantages to running around your carnivorous plant nursery with UV lights, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The whole strange experiment with carnivores and UV started about five years back. Peter D’Amato of California Carnivores noted about three years ago how brightly some species of Sarracenia, particularly S. leucophylla, seemed to stand out under moonlight, and I noticed that myself when looking over Sarracenia propagation pools during a full moon. Likewise, after damage from sudden hailstorms, I took a good look at the trap contents of those particularly bright Sarracenia and noticed that a majority of the prey items consisted of moths. The moths didn’t have any particular interest in visible light color variations, and many would have no interest whatsoever in the nectar secreted along the rims and lids of the traps. So what attracted them?
Since I was the sort of kid who cracked most Encyclopedia Brown mysteries by the third-to-last page and who went digging to verify the plausibility or lack thereof of Danny Dunn novels, it wasn’t hard to recognize that the moths were seeing something that I couldn’t without assistance. The initial research was easy, but I’m again getting ahead of myself. The problem involved getting photos that verified observations. Almost anyone who studied any level of high-school botany or natural history remembers photos of flowers taken “with a UV filter” that allows UV-blind humans to see the patterns on seemingly boring flowers that draw in bees and sawflies. Just try to get a breakdown on how to do this, though, especially in the digital camera age. Half of the advice I received was completely worthless (hacking your camera to detect infrared does nothing, and just wasted my time), or it was tantalizingly vague as to how those photographers managed to pull it off. I even hired my adopted daughter Jenny to take photos of Nepenthes and Sarracenia while using a UV filter, but the results were inconclusive at best. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so impressed with the photos taken by the Plant Biology authors: they bypassed all of that by using low-light photography and controlling the exact wavelength of UV used.
In further developments, I’m still publishing, but only after quite a bit of revision. Among other things, it’s time to note the number of other carnivores that show similar fluorescence, and the variations therein. For instance, Darlingtonia, the cobra plant, fluoresces along its trap aperture, but it also has veins of fluorescence along the ala, or wing, that runs up the shaft of the trap, presumably to encourage insects up the ala to the aperture. Venus flytraps fluoresce, with varying patterns with different cultivars. Oh, and the greatest fluorescence among sundews is at the tips of its trapping hairs, with the dew at the tips absolutely shining under UV.
Now, there’s no reason why you can’t experiment with this as well. In fact, after running a few tests, I hope to present a regular shortwave and longwave UV display at plant shows comparable to fluorescent mineral displays in rock shows. This sort of equipment isn’t absolutely necessary, though, and most experiments in carnivore fluorescence can be done with a simple UV light.
To begin, don’t bother with standard “black light” fixtures, either fluorescent or incandescent. Not only do these put out relatively little UV, but they emit so much visible light that the plant fluorescence is nearly unnoticeable. These will still work with one exception, to be related later, but for most investigation, save the money for a better option. About the only fluorescence you’ll get off a carnivore with one of these comes from dying leaves, and if you can’t spot that under visible light, this won’t help.
That better option is a good UV LED light, preferably a battery-powered one that can be used in the field. These days, with the drop in prices in UV-emitting LEDs, it’s possible to find plenty of good LED flashlights at affordable costs, with and without standard white LEDs for double duty. I picked up mine from American Science & Surplus for two reasons: it has six UV LEDs surrounded by white LEDs so I can use it as a standard flashlight, and the switch glows in the dark. You may laugh, but drop one of these in the dark, and that improves the odds of finding it.
And then there’s the one I use for plant shows with lots of kids, because they completely lose it when I pull it out and turn it on. This, of course, is my scorpion detector, as it’s just as good at causing scorpions to fluoresce as carnivores. It has one good, powerful UV LED in the tip, which already makes it very handy for shows, and it has a pen attachment at the other end for leaving notes on business cards and stickers. The best thing about it, though?
It extends. Particularly when showing the bright patches at the back of the throat of a Nepenthes pitcher, that’s a lot less intrusive than manhandling a pitcher into place for a larger light source. It won’t work well in bright light, but it gets the job done.
Now, instructions for using LED lights. If at all possible, try to use your new lights in as dark a set of conditions as you can get. When working outside, try for a new moon and a minimum of street and porch lights for the best effect. Indoors, go for the darkest room you can get and let your eyes adjust to the darkness before lighting everything. Contrary to news reports on how these “glow in the dark”, the effect is going to be a bit subtle, much like using UV lights on a piece of opal. With proper precautions, though, the effect is not only obvious, but one of the LED flashlights mentioned above can detect carnivores from as much as three meters away. Go for a longwave UV lamp, such as those used for diamond prospecting, and have some real fun.
And for a last word, there’s one additional benefit in wandering through your carnivorous plant collection with a UV flashlight. My dear friend Ryan Kitko recently wrote about the bladderwort, Utricularia bisquamata, that was infesting his shield sundew. U. biquamata has quite the reputation as an aggressive pest in carnivore collections, but I have a soft spot for it. Firstly, it’s very easy to care for, and it makes an excellent starter plant for those who want to work with bladderworts but who don’t have the facilities to raise any of the true aquatic species. Give U. bisquamata soggy soil and lots of light in a standard terrarium, and it takes over, producing lots of white-pink slipper-like blooms with a pastel yellow spot on the top.
The other reason why I’m so fond of U. bisquamata? Get outside with a UV flashlight and find out for yourself. That yellow spot may be pastel under visible light, but under UV, it fluoresces like a black light poster. Considering how many birds are able to see into varying frequencies of UV, I now understand why both the migratory ruby-throat hummingbirds and their competing rufous hummingbirds won’t stay out of my greenhouse. I’ve had hummingbirds literally tapping on my office window to get at U. bisquamata and U. sandersonii blooms, and now I know exactly why.
Another show, another year until the next one. Besides running into several old and dear friends, one of the many joys of being a vendor at this year’s ConDFW was knowing that old and dear friends were running the whole shindig. That’s not counting the fellow vendors.
And then there was my neighbor, the lovely proprietor of Tawanda Jewelry. It’s quite nice to flirt with a neighbor at a show without my wife having issues…
Because of the time of year, most of the temperate carnivores in the Triffid Ranch collection are still in winter dormancy, but that gave plenty of opportunities for tropical carnivores. And these made customers at ConDFW very happy.
Now, for next year, everything is in flux, especially since a local expo con-ven-iently scheduled its big events to run the week before or the week after several local conventions (and, in the case of FenCon, the exact same weekend). Because of that, next year’s ConDFW schedule isn’t nailed down yet, but as soon as it is, you can bet that we’re going to be out there. And so it goes.
I can’t speak for everywhere else, but it’s been obvious for a while that Punxatawney Phil is a Texan. The daffodils are already out in force, and the peach trees have their first glimmerings of blooms…let’s just hope we don’t have a last-minute snowstorm the way we did in 2010, eh?
In the six months since we adopted her, we’ve come to realize that if Cadigan doesn’t have at least some Persian ancestry, she at least has ancestors close to the Persian family tree. She has a lot in common with shaded silver and chinchilla Persians: the shortened face, the smaller ears, the deep body, the problems with gas that could burn the nose hairs out of a dead nun…and then there’s the personality. I have never met a cat so blasted cheery first thing in the morning that wasn’t Persian. I’m waiting for the little monster to stand up and ask for esteefee next.
Almost everything that needs to be done has been done, save for setting up tables tonight and loading them tomorrow. It’s now radio silence until ConDFW starts at 2:00 p.m Friday afternoon. See you then.
Posted onFebruary 14, 2013|Comments Off on “You want out of here? You talk to me, eh?”
Show season advances, which requires trips for essential supplies. During one of those trips, I discovered that one of my local Target stores was expecting a much colder winter than what we’ve received in Dallas so far. Either the manager expected a repeat of the record snowstorm of 2010 or the week-long ice storm of 2011, or s/he came to Dallas from a much higher latitude. Either way, the collection of deeply-discounted winter survival gear brought back lots of memories of my childhood in Michigan.
For the record, when you need them, removable ice cleats are a godsend in Dallas. Unfortunately, you might only need them for a grand total of three days every ten years or so.
And then there were the all-in-one ice scrapers, complete with handles to assist with getting enough torque to take off inches or even feet of rime. I was half-tempted to buy one of these and strap it to the side of my bicycle pack, but the Czarina, as usual, expressed the voice of reason. Voice of reason, voice of doom, it’s all the same with her.
Oh, that was just the beginning. Heavy steel multi-use scrapers for breaking ice off sidewalks and driveways. Standard scrapers with fur-lined gloves sewn around them. Heat packs. Wind visors. It suddenly occurred to me that nobody’s made the definitive Canadian post-apocalyptic road movie, something along the lines of “Depressed Doug”. Or had someone made it after all?
Comments Off on “You want out of here? You talk to me, eh?”
A little treat from the archives. One of the reasons why I keep returning to Texas every time I leave? It’s not just because of the intense rainbows when we get our classic gullywasher storms. It’s not that we regularly get double and sometimes triple rainbows during those storms. It’s that these photos were taken on Thanksgiving Day 2012. Rainbows instead of snowstorms? Yes, thank you.
As events and venues continue to expand, so will the Triffid Ranch, and things have outgrown (pun intended) the little hobby greenhouse from where all of this started back in 2008. Five years since the first Triffid Ranch show at the sadly defunct CAPE Day? Sheesh.
Anyway, that expansion means that it’s time to set up a new greenhouse specifically for Nepenthes pitcher plants and other heat-loving, humidity-loving plants. The details are too long to go into, but a dear friend of the Czarina’s and mine had a spare shade frame that needed to be moved, and her sense of Scottish frugality is even stronger than mine. Hence, the new Nepenthes frame goes up right after this weekend’s show.
It may not look like much here, and it looks even less impressive stripped to raw parts and put into temporary storage. In its full complete state, covered with fresh greenhouse film, and full of pitcher plants and bladderworts, though, it’ll look glorious.
The new year just got real. The only thing exceeding the thrill of the Czarina stopping by the Day Job with a mystery package is showing coworkers what Sarracenia pitcher plants look like. When these little monsters start blooming in March, then the year begins in earnest.
They may not look like much at the moment, but check back around Texas Frightmare Weekend this May. Between the first batch of pitchers in May and the second batch in October, they’ll surprise you.
The mantra “If I could be in sixteen places at once” becomes particularly forceful these days. Well, I wouldn’t say “forceful” so much as “whiny”. At this point, the Czarina no longer tries to wake me up when I start crying bitterly in my sleep. Instead, she just acts the way she does when she dreams that I’ve done something wrong: one punch to the throat, and the sounds of my choking on my own blood eases her back to slumber. These days, she gets so much practice that she could take down Mike Tyson with one shot.
The reason why I’m whimpering and sobbing when I should be dreaming of repotting Sarracenia? Let me count the ways. Among other things, discovering that the Australasian Carnivorous Plant Society is hosting a carnivorous plant show at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden in Mount Tomah, New South Wales next month…yeah, I heard that catch in your throat.
Oh, but it gets even worse. I’ve wanted to hit the Philadelphia Flower Show for a while, and discovering that it’s running on the same two weekends as the ACPS show is rough enough. Discovering that it’s paying tribute to the centenary of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show by going with a British theme is worse. Of course, being the wiseacre that I am, I’m wondering how far they’re going to go with the theme, or if some enterprising individual starts offering distinctive potting sheds for sale.
And speaking of upcoming shows, for years, I held off on having any Triffid Ranch shows before the end of March for weather reasons. Anybody who ever spent the second half of winter in North Texas understands the situation. Last year, for instance, the beginning of February was warm, sunny, and cheery, as someone who never lived here would expect would be the default weather condition. Exactly one year before that, the whole area was locked in a week-long ice storm that shut down everything. That ice storm was so big that it nearly canceled the Super Bowl at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. The year before that? The heaviest snowfall in Dallas history, where a full foot of snow took out power over half of the city and gave the Czarina the chance to make her first snow sculptures.
With the possibility of the North Texas equivalent of being buried alive in a snowdrift, a February or March show became a risk. Most if not all of the larger temperate carnivorous plants are still locked in winter dormancy, and won’t come out until at least St. Patrick’s Day. Tropical carnivores tend to fuss and drop dead when exposed to a few hours of sub-freezing temperatures, such as encountered when Dallas’s Central Expressway becomes a luge track. Hence, waiting until the likelihood of a last-minute snowstorm recedes in the calendar makes a lot of sense.
When asking “So what changed your mind?”, it’s easy to say that last year’s experiences with ConDFW encouraged another run. I might also mention that ConDFW XII runs this year in a much superior hotel, where the dealer’s space is MUCH more accessible. That’s not the real reason. The real reason has everything to do with ConDFW’s convention chair, Amie Spengler.
See, back in early 1999, at the height of my writing days, I received an invitation to be a guest at AggieCon, the long-running science fiction convention run by and at Texas A&M University. The details of that three-day weekend are long and sordid (let’s just say that being trapped on a panel with Bruce Sterling mooing “It’s on the Viridian List! Have I mentioned the Viridian List?” over and over some 50 times in 60 minutes is something that even Dick Cheney would find offensive), but what stood out was the professionalism of the student volunteer staff. Those kids were fast, they were efficient, and most of all, they were on the ball. Having survived many a convention in those days where programming and even hotel spaces were things to be fussed about another day (my favorite was the convention in Oregon with some four different event schedules for guests and attendees, and none of them synched), you have no idea how much fun it was to watch this in action.
Back then, Amie was just a volunteer. Now, she’s the convention chair. Go buy her a drink at the show, because she and the rest of the ConDFW staff earned one. See you there?
We all deal with it at one time or another: commit to some interesting activity because the calendar is full of fluff and barf, and you find something new and much better about thirty seconds after you pay for the plane tickets. Or you discover the event of a lifetime, scheduled for the same weekend as something else that simply cannot be moved. My life story involves repeated instances where, as much as I’d love to break commitments and peruse something new, I acknowledge that I’m already on the line for something as important and do the grown-up thing. (Remind me to tell you the free lobster story one of these days.)
And then there’s the real bonecruncher: staying home and getting ready for a major show the weekend before, so I’m not frantically potting plants right after coming home from the Day Job, and then finding something that, if it were any week, running that credit card plumb dry in order to get plane tickets. Or selling body parts. Heck, selling my body parts.
And so, for those wanting to explore the frontiers of aquaria, terraria, and vivaria, get thee hence to MICROCOSM in San Diego the weekend of March 1. Of course, I only learned about this today, and of COURSE it’s the weekend before All-Con, the first really big Triffid Ranch show of the year. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’m just going to ask for a volunteer who’s already heading to MICROCOSM to grab as much promotional material as possible at the show and mailing it this way. I’ll definitely make it worth your while, so give a yell if you’re interested. And then there’s next year’s show.
I’m starting to worry about the Czarina. Something’s wrong with her. For the last few days, she’s been oddly…agreeable. Since I, like Bill Cosby’s kids, cannot sleep through the night unless I’ve had a good beating, a few suggestions on garden ornamentation are usually enough to guarantee that I’m completely unconscious for twelve hours or more at a time. That could be the concussion talking, too, but I like to think it’s because I made particularly good suggestions.
However, I guess the dent in the top of my head left by her sharp elbows has made her remarkably sympathetic. Either that, or she’s worried that the top of my skull can double as a guacamole bowl, and she hates guacamole. (Hey, she puts up with my multiple foibles, including that horrible deformed tumor atop my neck, so I give her no grief about her one flaw.) The first sign was that she revoked a longrunning ban on new citrus. For years, she insisted that I was only allowed two citrus trees for my own personal use. If I felt so inclined to sell them, she stated, she was fine, but if they were staying, TWO. Only TWO. I kept that promise, sticking to a Rio Star ruby red grapefruit I grew from seed and a Buddha’s Hand citron. Now, though, she comes to me unbidden and asks “How hard would it be to raise a Mexican lime tree so we can make Key lime pie?”
You know, some guys would take horrible advantage of their wives being in such a flexible state, and she regularly thanks Crom, Issek, and Nyarlathotep that I have no interest in football or other pro sports. Instead, I brought her out to the local garden center and picked out a beautiful little Mexican lime tree of her very own, and a new “Pink Lemonade” blueberry bush to replace the one the drought took out last summer for myself. I wasn’t worried about her, but I was concerned.