Thursday, August 24, 2006

Fig

He's been my daily companion for about ten weeks now, for better or worse. Neither of us had planned on this relationship, but it's really gone rather well. The Lower School science resource teacher likes to find students whose families are willing to be foster parents for a classroom animal over the summer break. If she doesn't get enough positive responses, she then asks employees.
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I'd asked her about a turtle. I thought it would be fun to have a turtle as a roommate for a couple of months, and my suite-mate concurred. Alas, the turtle was already spoken for. But she quickly lit up and said, "You could have Fig!" Fig, it turns out, is a fire belly newt. He may be a Chinese fire belly newt or he may be a Japanese fire belly newt; I can't tell one from another and it seems that some herpetologists have the same problem. He came to be with us the day that school let out, occupying an aquarium in my office. We took a bit of a ribbing when he first arrived, most of it around the intended pun of his name. One person thought "Gingrich" would be better. But we all settled in pretty quickly.
. . . .
In many ways, Fig's the ideal pet. He is quiet, doesn't mess on the carpet, and certainly doesn't chew on the furniture. All of this is a euphemistic way of saying, basically, that he's downright dull.
. . . .

Until the past week. He'd spent most of the summer hiding under one or another of his rocks, coming out to eat, apparently, only during the night when I wasn't there. It would be a real occasion to see him out and about. I thought of him as an exceptionally private individual, someone terribly shy, and tried to give him his space. The cleaning of his habitat was stressful for both of us, as he'd need to be exposed for a bit and then re-orient himself to the clean gravel and rearranged rocks. Then all at once, about five days ago, he started coming out in the morning and staying within view much of the day. Poking his head out of the water. Eating in public for the first time. And then one morning he put his little front hands/paws/whatever on the side of the tank and acted as though he were trying to climb!
. . . .
My office mate and I were astonished at this change in behavior. We wondered if after all of this time he had finally become accustomed to us. We considered whether it was the time of year for mating and perhaps that accounted for this reversal. Then we wondered: How would he know? He lives in an environment where the temperature is the same, year in/year out. We have fluorescent lights, not sunlight and moonlight. He doesn't have a calendar in there with him, for crying out loud.
. . . .
Off to the internet we went in search of answers. What a wealth of information! The first site proclaimed, "Fire-bellies are a good first newt, because they're active and playful (not all newts are), and are small, inexpensive, and commonly available." First newt? Oh, dear. I didn't think I was counting on a permanent affiliation with the amphibious world. And "active and playful"? Not until recently. I decided to look elsewhere. "Is the fire-belly newt the right animal companion for you?" queried the next site. Animal companion? My brain conjured up images of Fig wearing a little vest and learning to push the buttons on my phone when I became disabled. This site promised -- or threatened -- a life span of one to sixty years. I hurried to one more site which announced, "They are rarely seen in the open, except during the spring mating seasons." Spring, huh. It is presently late August when all of this new frolicking has occurred.
. . . .
Deciding that Fig is more complex and mysterious than I'd given him credit for, I called it a day for my research. But I began to look at him with new respect. We'd sort of hoped at the start of the summer that if we did a good job foster parenting a newt, perhaps next summer we'd qualify for the coveted turtle. But now I'm not so sure. Do I really want to rebond with an animal that might have an even longer life expectancy? Am I up to getting accustomed to a whole new set of behavioral quirks? Would I be ready to deal with a diet more complicated that packaged newt pellets? Or might it be better to stay with the now familiar, and offer Fig hospitality in our office for a second annual stay? Such a weighty matter to consider.

 

3 comments:

Susan said...

Love it, Nancy! Is that *your* hand where Fig is resting so nicely? You do get used to the unobtrusive-thereness of them, I think. I still have fond memories of Harry, the tarantula, who was much like Fig in the shyness arena, and also came out at school, cheered, perhaps, by the scent of books.

Karrin Hurd said...

Love it Nancy, Fig has certainly become more interesting, and I loved your detail to his habits.

Sharon said...

What a hoot - that Newt!