#56 - Darian Fambro: Cold-Blooded but Warm-Hearted

[00:00:00] Darian: Jumping spiders, I mean, a lot of people who know them just know that they’re definitely probably the smartest kind of spider there is. Especially how they like see the world in like 3D and all that other cool stuff that they do. I’ve actually had her for almost two years. She has a little round seed pod that’s basically like her little, like, hut, and she just has sticks. And like, sometimes I’ll take her out and she’ll just hop around the room and maybe look at a fly, and clean herself, and then I just put her back. But she’s really happy with her little hole, you know, make her, made her little nests and everything in there. With all the webs, so she has like a little like cache in there too.

I don’t really like move too much around because she has like her whole, whole own thing. Like I did once last year, and she was kind of upset like she wasn’t going into her hole anymore. So, I just have to move everything back because she’s like, this is my home, and I hate this, and I’m not anything until you move it back. Which is the thing. Some things prefer like their territory to stay the same and it’s like, all right, I see you are upset with this, so we’re just going to fix it and forget I ever did anything.

[00:01:05] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:01:23] Emily:  …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:01:24] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Darian Fambro. Darian has had a passion for animals since he was two years old and has been working with them professionally for the past eight years, specializing in reptiles, invertebrates, and large mammals because he loves duality. And y’all, after meeting him, this bio that he sent us made so much sense.

He’s just so down to earth, and I absolutely loved hearing his stories working with so many different species that I don’t have experience with. In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Darian talk about insect personalities, why you have to train your dragon, grumpy tortoise faces, and selfies with hyenas.

All right, here it is, today’s episode, Darian Fambro, Cold Blooded but Warm Hearted.

[00:02:33] Emily:  Okay, tell us your name, pronouns, and pets.

[00:02:38] Darian: My name is Darian Fambro. Pronouns are he, him. Pets, oh, geez. I have two marbled newts, one Mexican black kingsnake, one Arizona mountain kingsnake, one rosy boa, one California kingsnake, a bearded dragon, a Chilean rose haired tarantula, a Mexican red rumped tarantula, a Mexican red knee tarantula, a Vinegarroon, and a jumping spider.

[00:03:04] Emily:  I love your whole family. That sounds excellent. And I especially got excited by the Chilean rose tarantula because I had the opportunity to pet sit one several years ago, and she was the cutest thing because she would sit on the palm of my hand and look, stick her little legs off the side and just swing her little legs. It was the cutest thing.

[00:03:25] Darian: Yeah. I was like, oh, I have a German Shepherd too, but she’s like, she’s not like a pet and that’s like a kid that’s different.

[00:03:31] Emily:  She’s like a kid.

[00:03:31] Darian: Yeah.

[00:03:32] Emily:  Yeah. Yeah. So, you separate out the dog from the rest of the family.

[00:03:37] Darian: Yeah. It’s like anything that doesn’t stay in my room is, is the families.

[00:03:42] Emily:  Right. But the dog is. We forget sometimes that the dogs aren’t actually just furry humans.

[00:03:48] Darian: Yeah. That’s the kid. Yeah. She, her name is Angel.

[00:03:52] Emily:  Angel. That’s sweet. All right, so tell us your story and how you got to where you are.

[00:03:58] Darian: It started a long time ago. I want to say I got my first pet when I was two years old. So, it started off with like goldfish, like simple things, and then moved on to lizards, when I was probably 10, not even 10. I was definitely eight, and I started with skinks and other things I had no business taking care of because I was a child and my parents didn’t know how to handle reptiles, neither did I. And then in 6th grade I got a leopard gecko, and then from there it progressed on, I actually had her for probably 20 years, so she was a, she was an old lady.

I went to school, I was really good at science, not good at math, which is kind of crazy because a lot of times I go hand in hand. But good at science, really good at memorizing things, really good at biology. Because I knew I wanted to do some kind of zookeeping. I didn’t know it was like a science. I didn’t know it was something like you could just like go to school for. And then I heard of zoology. And I ended up going to Humboldt State, which is a really good school for that. Basically, right in the middle of like a temperate rainforest, right next to the ocean. So, you have a lot of nature all the time.

Graduated with a zoology degree from Humboldt, in 2016 and then I started interning. I did volunteer trips to Africa to work with lions, and leopards, and hyenas over there, and interned with elephants at Oakland Zoo and then interned with the hyenas, and monkeys, and warthogs, and meerkats, and giraffes, eland, Egyptian geese, all at Oakland.

And then I started working for this educational animal program called Little Explorers. So, it had a lot of like domestic hoof stock goats, alpacas, sheep, pigs. Um, there’s like a random emu, he’s just there. Like chickens and ducks, things like that. So, farm animals, and then in the back, there’s like a whole reptile room. So, the other day I counted, and I think there’s 60 animals in there that I take care of. So, it’s a lot, not including like our feeder colonies, and we have like various roach colonies. So yeah, I started doing that, take a lot of animals to school programs and libraries, and sometimes people’s houses, like birthday parties and stuff like that.

And then I got employed by Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, which is where I met Nathan. And I’m still there, so I take care of hoof stock and then small, cute things so like red pandas, and like capybara, and red ruff lemurs, and giant anteaters. So that brings us to where we are now at this podcast.

[00:06:31] Emily:  Yeah, I’m envious of all of the amazing species you have been able to work with. Probably most envious of the elephants, but all of that sounds absolutely incredible. And then the reason that we wanted to have you on the podcast is because Nathan is a friend of ours, and he actually recommended you because of your approach to enrichment and welfare for all species, but especially we’re going to talk a lot about insects and herps in this, in this episode.

But can you talk about how you create and implement enrichment plans? I would say at your job, and then also I want to hear about how you do it at home with all the species that you live with. And not only do I want to hear that, but I also want to hear what you have noticed are some common threads across the species that you work with, like things that seem to be true in terms of welfare for all of them, and what are some key differences.

[00:07:33] Darian: So, at work and at home, my boss is really good with making like naturalistic enclosures, she started like a whole side business doing like, bioactive terrariums and stuff like that. So, I think like when she started doing that, that did a lot for the stimulation of the animal, because of course they, they want a natural setting.

Like we have a leopard gecko that I take care of there and we gave it a whole little desert biome set up situation. So, now there’s like leaves to push over and like, there’s various rocks to hide under. Like she doesn’t have to, she doesn’t have to choose the same hide all the time. There’s different succulents for her to lick if she feels like licking them and tasting them.

So, like, when you bring in other things, especially, well, safe stuff from different sources, it gives them something else to smell and look at, and if you rearrange it on occasion, then… they like it even more because in the wild they would have their burrow, but sometimes their burrow gets collapsed or something happens to it, so they find something else.

At home, I pretty much do the same thing, like rearranging furniture kind of is like a big thing when it comes to habitat type enrichment. They don’t, well, I won’t say all of them, some animals respond a lot less to other things, it’s a little hard to do enrichment for a tarantula.

You can add leaves and stuff, but as far as adding something like a toy, they’ll just see it as an obstacle, probably web it up, and then it would just be hard to get out because it would just be covered in spider webs. Or they would decide to bury it just because they like to make holes whenever they can.

[00:09:09] Emily:  All right, I have a question about that, what is the function of webbing something up like that? Like what, when they do that in the wild, in nature, what are they doing? Why are they webbing things, objects up like that?

[00:09:23] Darian: Oh, a lot of the times they do it just to basically make like a trap system. So, like, whenever I picture how a lot of tarantulas hunt, especially ones with a certain perimeter area, it’s kind of like a grid system, kind of like on battleship.

So, like if there’s a cricket and like all the ground is webbed up, they more or less know exactly where that cricket is when it hits it, so they can go and waste as little energy and time as possible trying to get their prey. So, I feel like, normally, whenever they do hunt something, you’ll see them turn around and re web the area where they just picked up the cricket from, because they have to basically remake their little trap grid system.

[00:10:03] Emily:  Okay, that’s fascinating. Alright, so for the follow up question, if they are… So, I guess I, the, I started with an assumption, so let me back up and question my own assumption, would they web that area whether or not the object is there or is the object kind of stimulating them to create that battleship grid in that area?

[00:10:25] Darian: I think they would do it whether or not it was there. Most of them, it would probably be like a little hard depending like what the object is, like if it’s like a weird shaped like actual, like action figure toy. They’ll probably web it up still, but some of them will just move it, honestly. Like, a lot of people don’t see tarantulas dig unless you’re like looking at your tarantula all the time, but they’ll take up dirt and little objects in their fangs and like move them other places if they don’t really want them. They’ll do like a little housekeeping thing. So honestly, if it really didn’t want it in the way, it would just move it and there’s some tarantulas that web super heavy and some that don’t web as much. So, I think it all just depends on the species to.

[00:11:05] Emily:  That is still to me enrichment that you’re giving them objects and then they have control over whether they keep it as a part of their landscape or they like put it in a closet.

[00:11:16] Darian: You know, they just move it. Yeah, it’s kind of cute to witness. The vinegarroon and will do it too, as you’ll see them with their little pedipalps. So, I don’t know how many people know what vinegarroon look like, oh, this is hard without like a visual. All right. So, I just picture a scorpion still has a long tail, doesn’t have poison, they can shoot vinegar, that’s why they’re called Vinegarroons they are arachnids. Their mouth parts actually evolved to look kind of like pinchers. So, they’re like really long. And the first set of their legs evolved to be antenna, basically, so it looks kind of like they have antenna, but they’re actually legs. What looks like pincers is actually their mouth part, and then they have like normal legs.

[00:11:58] Emily:  I think you did a great job of describing without visual aids that said, we will put a visual aid in our podcast notes so people can see what you’re describing. Thank you for describing that. Yeah.

[00:12:09] Darian: Yeah. Once you look it up, you can see if I made a kind of good description. But their pedipalps, these claw things are actually just like extended mouthparts. It’s wild. It’s kind of like the movie Alien. So, they’ll take dirt, and rocks, and leaves and stuff and they’ll pick them up in their little pedipalps, and they’ll basically go over to another area, and like drop it. And you’ll see them like set it in one area, like they’ll kind of pat the ground down. So, they definitely have their own little housekeeping things. It doesn’t look like it all the time because they don’t move too much and you have to like really observe them to see this behavior, but they do do it and I think it’s a thing with a lot of tarantula keepers that they just always find dirt in their tarantula water bowl. That’s because they’ll just move stuff how they feel like moving it.

Like one of mine, she never put stuff in her water bowl, but the other one, her water bowl hasn’t been clean in years it’s like a daily struggle. That she’ll put dirt in it and then she’ll web it up. And now it’s like, I gotta like, break your thing. So, you’re gonna learn eventually, or maybe not. We’re just gonna keep doing this, until you learn, I guess,

[00:13:16] Emily:  So, I have two eclectus parrots, and that is also their dynamic, the hen is super clean with her water bowl, she, if she were alone in the room, the water bowl would always be clean. And the male, I don’t know why, but he just, I watch him just like bring food over to the water bowl and just dump it in and it’s, he doesn’t like, sometimes he’ll dunk it to eat, and other times he’s just dumping food in the water bowl. And I’m like why are you?

[00:13:46] Darian: I don’t know. It’s like animals and animals and water bowls. It’s like so much happens.

[00:13:51] Emily:  Yes. So much happens. Yeah.

[00:13:53] Darian: Some use that as a toilet too. Lizard, lizard wise, we have a Savannah monitor, and his water bowl is definitely like, sometimes I have to put two in because one he’ll just automatically go use the bathroom in.

The other one. he’ll actually use, but he’s going to mess one of them up at some point in time. That’s his toilet. He’s a classy, classy individual.

[00:14:13] Emily:  I love that. So, what I’m hearing is that you have a really good handle on the individual kind of behavioral patterns, habits, tendencies, even perhaps personality of all of these different species that you live and work with. And, and it is funny how they have their preferences for how they navigate their living space and what they do with it. What are some of the kind of biggest differences that you encounter in terms of how to care for them, and I would say like across species, what are some of the challenges of taking care of these species that are perhaps different between them all, or among them all, I should say.

[00:14:58] Darian: Oh, well, I think the thing about taking care of like a bunch of different species is that they kind of all have different temperature requirements and different humidity requirements. And we have, especially at at Little Explorers, we have them all in the same room.

So, what normally I’ll have to do is, it’s like time of the year dependent. Like when it’s summer, it gets really hot. So, sometimes I’ll have to move, move something somewhere else. Like we have like a, a really warm room where it’s usually like 80, 90 degrees, like constantly in there at the top of the room.

And then we have kind of like our office room, which is like a little bit cooler. So, some of our super humid loving animals, we have them in glass exoterras, normally tall ones like we have day geckos and tokay geckos and stuff like that because it keeps the humidity and really well.

And then we have some custom built, wooden cabinet enclosures, so it’s kind of like a, an old cabinet repurposed to an enclosure like spray foam on the back. Usually, we’ll add different plants. So, we have 2 panther chameleons in one. Chameleons are weird because like, you can’t really have them in glass, but they need humidity. So, a lot of people will have them in screens, but this wood situation works really well, because it holds the humidity, there’s like 1 screen, there’s no reflection because chameleons also get stressed out. So, you have to keep in mind all these, like, individual factors when you’re putting an animal in an enclosure.

Um, you have to make sure it’s not gonna accidentally off itself in, like, any kind of, like, vine situation. Like, it can’t, like, accidentally, like, hang itself, basically. Some of it’s learning from experience, like, we had a chameleon who just liked to eat rocks. Like, I looked at him, and he looked at some rocks, and I was like, “Don’t do it.”

And then he ate the rock. And then I had to… Ask our office assistant to hold him while I got forceps and took the rock out of his throat. So, you have to just deal with things like that. That’s a definitely a struggle. Some things are a lot easier like desert animals, you don’t have to worry about humidity things as much, they can go higher up in the room, it can take more. We have a Uromastyx, he lives the highest up because in the wild they live with like 110-degree heat for half the time.

So that’s definitely something that’s been like a learning curve. We have some tree frogs. They were higher up in the room, it started to get warm, it’s like, “Oh, they don’t look like they’re doing so hot.” So we got to move them to a different room or move them like lower on one of our racks, so they can continue to thrive.

I think that’s definitely one of the challenges is giving everything its own, like temperature biome area.

Sometimes feeding too. More or less, most things, there’s like three categories. You have like, your meat eaters proper, and that’s like meat, like mice, and chicken, and stuff like that. And then your bugs. And then you have like your omnivores, and then you have your things like your Leachianus geckos and cresties that eat basically baby food. So, I think the food and habitat things are two, two of the factors that really play into making sure everything stays alive and healthy and good.

[00:17:59] Emily:  Yeah. I’m curious about the baby food. Like what is that replacing in their natural diet if they were in the wild? Like what would they normally be eating that baby food is the replacement for that or the analog?

[00:18:11] Darian: Oh, well, I say baby food. It’s like they have like Crested Gecko, it’s like powdered, basically powdered banana and mango and crickets, and some other kind of protein like egg white powder, and it comes in like this little powder form and you basically put water in it and spray it up, so it’s kind of like a ketchup consistency, and then they eat it.

But also, I do feed them like actual baby food, I make sure it doesn’t have a whole lot of vitamin C or whatever in it, normally like whatever is, it’s basically just pureed mango for some things like skinks. Basically, like fruit eaters. So, Tegus too, things that can eat both fruits and meat, so baby food is sometimes like a quick, easy replacement, if I don’t have like fresh fruit, I’ll just give them some baby food on top of their normal food.

So, they’re still getting their fruit. I don’t have to cut anything up and they can get their meat too, and normally, they’re really happy about it. Like, we have a blue tongued skink and he’ll just clean his bowl.

[00:19:07] Emily:  I love that. That’s so clever.

[00:19:09] Darian: Yeah. I’ve been in like, in grocery stores and like, some lady was like, “Oh, like, how old is your baby?” Cause like, I’m just in there with, with baby food. And I’m like, “I don’t know, like 11?” And they’re like, “What?” I was like, “Yeah, uh, it’s not for a human baby. It’s for a lizard.” It’s like a little embarrassing, but it’s funny.

[00:19:29] Emily:  Oh, I mean, you know, your, your emotional responses are valid, but also, I don’t feel like you should be embarrassed. I feel like you should be like, yes, I’m representing really good herp care right now.

You’re welcome for the education, ma’am.

[00:19:44] Darian: Yeah. There’s some they definitely like they love, things like mangoes blended with bananas and apples. It’s like all their favorite foods all mushed up into one.

[00:19:54] Emily:  I’m going to be real. I’m in my mid-forties and I’m shocked by how tasty the banana baby food is.

[00:20:00] Darian: I haven’t eaten baby foods in so long. It smells weird to me, but uh…

[00:20:03] Emily:  I, the only reason I’ve ever eaten it is because of feeding like friend’s children, or nieces and nephews, and I’ll taste it to see if it’s like, warm enough or still feel good. And the banana is like, why is this so good?

[00:20:16] Darian: Yeah, that makes sense. I haven’t had to feed any like human babies in a long time. So maybe I’d probably end up tasting it more.

[00:20:22] Emily:  Well, you know, I haven’t gotten to feed all of the different reptiles that you’ve gotten to feed. So, you know, it’s a tradeoff. All right, tell me, I need to hear more about the jumping spider because I’m obsessed with them, and I definitely follow all these like Instagram accounts of people who like have jumping spiders. So, so talk to me about your jumping spider, and what her habitat looks like, and how you take care of her.

[00:20:49] Darian: Oh, my jumping spider. She is. I actually don’t even know what kind she is. Her mom was just like in a, a random container from work that I had, and I was like, what is this doing here? And then her mom laid a bunch of eggs, the whole egg sack, and then died.

This all happened within like a day. So, she was just like there. Mom died. She was a big jumping spider too. And then I had like all these babies, and I let most of them just go outside. And then I thought the thing was empty, but there was one left. And then I just started feeding it fruit flies. I kept her in like a little, kind of like little vial thing with just some branches and dirt because it was, she was basically the size of like a pinhead. Just really tiny.

So, I was like, I gotta make sure she can find her food. That’s like another thing with like baby animals, like you gotta keep them really in one spot because they are not smart. I have like a rule when I have like baby things because I’ve had baby snakes, and bearded dragons, I can’t name it until it made it past three weeks because babies like to be idiots, and drown themselves, or not eat, or do whatever. So, she was smart. Jumping spiders, I mean, a lot of people who know them just know that they’re definitely probably the smartest kind of spider there is.

Especially how they like see the world in like 3D and all that other cool stuff that they do. So, she’s grown up, I’ve actually had her for almost two years. So, I know she’s like near the end because they don’t live that long unfortunately. But I’ve had her for a long time, and now she’s in kind of a, it’s like a plexiglass square situation. People have a little premade, like, fairy garden ones.

I made her a thing before people really got, like, took off with that. So, hers is more or less just naturalistic. It has like, she has a little round seed pod that’s basically like her little, like, hut, and she just has sticks, I don’t have like an actual ladder in there, but I do think those are cute cause it looks like jumping spiders really enjoy those.

And like, sometimes I’ll take her out and she’ll just hop around the room and maybe look at a fly, and clean herself, and then I just put her back. But she’s really happy with her little hole, you know, make her, made her little nests and everything in there. With all the webs, so she has like a little like cache in there too.

It’s like, sometimes if she has a bug and she doesn’t want to eat the whole thing, she’ll kind of just wrap it up and like store it in there for later. I don’t really like move too much around because she has like her whole, whole own thing. Like I did once last year, and she was kind of upset like she wasn’t going into her hole anymore.

So, I just have to move everything back because she’s like, this is my home, and I hate this, and I’m not anything until you move it back. Which is the thing. Some things prefer like their territory to stay the same and it’s like, all right, I see you are upset with this, so we’re just going to fix it and forget I ever did anything.

[00:23:39] Emily:  Yeah. Yeah. But I mean, I think that’s such an important part of welfare is letting them tell us their preferences and listening to them and, and setting things up in a way that makes them happy, and relaxed, and feel safe. So, that’s awesome that happens. And also, I want to comment on something that you said at the beginning of telling about your jumping spider, which is keeping her in a vial when she’s a baby, and I think that’s one thing that a lot of people who are new to certain species, or new to making, adapting environments to animals with special needs. I think one of the things that people can have a tendency to feel really shocked by is how little space that some of those animals are given and it, it, at first blush, it may look cruel and restrictive, but when, you know, the species or, you know, the individual and their limitations, and you know, what they need in order to thrive, sometimes that doesn’t look like more, sometimes that looks like less. And like you said, yeah, and yes. And the wild baby spiders don’t live in a vial. And also, like you said in the wild, most baby spiders die. That’s why they make so many of them, right? And so, if we want our animals to be taken care of, sometimes that means temporarily giving them what looks to an untrained eye, like a restrictive environment, but we know is an environment that allows them to thrive, that’s meeting their needs, right?

[00:25:14] Darian: Yeah. Yeah. And like, especially the thing with like tarantulas, like they’re really low key don’t need a lot, well spiders in general. But some people like, oh, like the tarantulas, it’s not in that big of an exposure. It’s like, well, it’s harder to find foods, so, like, and I, I just need to make sure this thing is eating. I think that’s like, always an important factor. And like, even just the animal world in general, like, you got to make sure, your animal’s eating because when something stops eating then there’s a problem.

But also, with tarantulas it’s weird because sometimes they don’t eat for months when whenever they’re like in their mood, but jumping spiders are always hungry so if it stops eating then that’s a real problem.

[00:25:52] Emily:  Yeah. And knowing that, knowing the eating habits of these different species is really important for what is typical for this species. I am I going to get freaked out if a tarantula goes a month without eating? Not necessarily, but if a jumping spider does, that’s an emergent situation, right?

[00:26:10] Darian: It all depends. It’s really like touch and go. Especially like when I have so many things like kind of keep tabs on be like, “Okay, like you ate, you didn’t eat, but that’s okay. You didn’t eat, but that’s not okay, so we got to work on that.” It’s like, “Why aren’t you hungry? You definitely have something wrong with you.” So, it’s, yeah, it’s like a case by case basis.

[00:26:28] Emily:  Awesome. Yeah. So, I think a lot of people think of reptiles and insects as being almost robotic, like they, don’t have personality, or the ability to form connections, or associations, but the more that we’re collectively living, and working with, and researching all of these species, the more we’re really discovering about their capabilities, right? So, like I just died when I saw that video of like, they, these researchers gave bees like little bee sized balls, and the bees just playing them for the sake of play, which I think is the cutest thing. And then I actually shared a story in our blog about a wasp that was in my backyard that I ended up training because we had to share access to water during the hottest part of the summer, and I didn’t want to get stung. And then later I found out that wasps can actually distinguish between faces. And so, it was really, it was a good feeling knowing that the wasp actually recognized me, and it wasn’t just like pattern recognition. You know what I mean?

And then I grew up, my relationship to insects started also when I was a kid, because every year of my childhood, we would catch a praying mantis when they were like in the spring, so they were still like juveniles. Not like little, but you know, like an inch or two, you know, like juvies and, and every time we caught a male, his name was Mortimer. And every time we got a female, her name was Gertrude. So, by the time I graduated college, we had like Gertrude the Eighth and Mortimer the Seventh.

But what I, my experience with them was that, you know, when we’d first catch them, they would try to escape and they, if we let them out, you know, they would, just wander off like not even trying, I mean, saying they would try to escape maybe sounds more dire than I mean it, but they would just wander off or fly off.

But after a few days of bringing them prey and, and feeding them it would get to the point where they would, if I put my hand in the enclosure, they’d all climb up onto my hand. I could put them on my shoulder, they would stay on my shoulder. If they did fly off, they would fly back to me. And so, as a child, when I knew a lot less about it, I didn’t really question that because I was like, “Oh, well, they’re getting to know me and we’re friends now.”

And then I grew up and I learned more about animals. And then I was like, “Oh I’m, I’m, that’s a construct that I’m creating. We don’t know that they are thinking of me as a friend. I need to take, you know, view from their world.” And now I’ve almost kind of come full circle where I’m like, I don’t know that they, I don’t know that they’re capable of like the concept of friendship, but there is something there about like recognition, and viewing us as safe, right? And we see that like insects and reptiles will choose to spend time and share space with their human caregivers. So, that was just a very long story to say, I’m curious to hear what your take on that is, and what your experiences with these animals in your life.

Like, do you feel like you build relationships with the insects, and reptiles, and arachnids that you work with? I’m saying insects, I’m using that term very loosely,

[00:29:42] Darian: Oh yeah, just invertebrates.

[00:29:44] Emily:  Thank you for overlooking my, my, misuse of terms, but I’m curious to hear what your experiences with that, because I definitely think there’s more going on with these kiddos than just like robotic instinct, pattern recognition, all of that stuff.

[00:30:01] Darian: Oh, yeah. I think I learned that when I had my Leopard Gecko, because whenever I would leave and come back, like, lizards can hear some people are like, do lizards have ears? Yeah, whenever I would, like, leave and come back from, like, anywhere, even when I was in college, I left her at home. My mom would take care of her, but when I would come back, and she would hear my voice, she would always come out and, you know, say what’s up.

And I think, like, when animals view you, they’re like, okay, we know where the food comes from, and we know that we’re not gonna get crushed, or grabbed, or anything, then it’s like, kind of like friend, but your time, they’re just, they just recognize you, which is really cool. And even in the insect world, different insects have different personalities.

Like, we had some Australian Walking Sticks, and they were all sisters basically, but like some of them were like really fine with being handled, they loved being handled. Some, as soon as you touched them, they started freaking out and doing their little like walking stick dance where they just like vibrate back and forth.

And yeah, so it even differs even though technically they’re clones of each other because they’re like parthenogenic. Even, like, just the individuals themselves have their own preferences and things that they liked and didn’t like, and it’s like, “Okay, I can take this one out. This one’s nice. This one will just freak out, and fall to the ground, and act like a dead leaf, and do the thing, and all the kids are going to be scared. So, we’re definitely going to take this one on the program today.”

Kind of the same thing with even Madagascar hissing cockroaches, they’re just a cockroach, people don’t think they’re going to act any different, it’s like one cockroach acts the same as another one. But some of them were used to being handled, so they didn’t hiss anymore. They just knew that when they got picked up, it was just time to sit on the hand. Some of them, as soon as you pick them up, it’s just… everything is hissing, and they’re gonna run, and try to escape. So, it really depends on, like, what the animal wants to do, how long the animals been handled, and even with, like, the educational animal program, some snakes really like going out. They really like to be handled. Some snakes only like to be handled sometimes; they have their preferences. Some might be in a mood one day. And when we take them out, we have to recognize, you know, like, okay, you don’t feel like going out today. So, you’re just going to stay at home. And then other days they’re like at the glass, like, “Let me out. I want to go get pet by kids.”

We have an iguana named Princess, and when I open our office door, she doesn’t have an actual cage or anything, like our office is her free roam cage. Because when we did have her in a cage, she just rubbed her nose like on the, on the wall all the time because she just wanted out, so now she has a whole entire room at her disposal. But she really likes attention. Like if she’s getting pet by kids, she’ll just stay in one spot, and she’ll just get scratches from everybody. That’s the thing, people think that they have tiny brains, and they can’t recognize people, but they definitely can.

And then they recognize food items pretty well. We have a savannah monitor, and he’s actually trained to like a little blue star on a wooden dowel. So, he’s target trained, which is like a thing that people do with a whole lot of animals, like across the spectrum. People do it with elephants, and giraffes, and dogs, and you can do it with lizards too, especially monitors, because they’re more or less the smartest ones. But even like newts, whenever my newts, or salamanders see the little like food stick, they come out because they know like it’s food, but with the monitor, I had to target train him because when he was younger, he was kind of crazy.

So, that was a way to redirect the energy of his food aggression to one thing instead of like fingers or whatever. So, now I can hold him and manipulate his body and see what he needs without worry about getting my fingers eaten because he knows only the blue star means food, so please don’t eat me.

[00:33:45] Emily:  That’s such a clever and compassionate way to address a behavior that makes a lot of sense, right? But also, would inhibit his ability to flourish in the environment that he lives in. I love that. So, good work. I mean, it’s almost like this is the kind of stuff that Nathan recommended you to us for.

[00:34:09] Darian: Oh, yeah.

[00:34:11] Emily:  Stuff like that. Yeah.

[00:34:12] Darian: Yeah. Target training is great. Yeah, especially for lizards because a lot of people get these big lizards, and they don’t have any idea really about how they operate, and like they’re really smart, but you got to redirect their energy sometimes because if you have, especially with monitors, people are like, “Oh, it’s like a super cool animal. It’s like a dragon.”

It’s like, “Yes, it is like a dragon. So, you got to train your dragon. Otherwise, it’s going to be a wild one.” So, that’s definitely like a bonding process, and like, as soon as you get it there, I have one of my, one of my homegirls has a reptile shop in Redding and she has, I think he’s like eight feet long, he’s like an Ornate Monitor. It’s basically, it’s bigger than some alligators I’ve seen, but he’s puppy dog tame just because he was raised that way. He recognizes like the places, he recognized people as not food, but a source of scratches, and reptiles really like scratches sometimes.

[00:35:09] Emily:  It’s true. They do. All right. Now, I’m giving you permission to be completely honest with me because my reptile training experience is limited. But in my experience, I think different species, or I mean, families, let me, I just keep scaling higher and higher up. Different animals across the animal kingdom have different latencies in terms of training, right? So, I think a lot of people who are training are used to like horses and dogs, which have a similar latency. And then they get to parrots and it’s like, “Oh, they respond a lot faster.” Like you gotta be on your toes when you’re training most parrot species, eclectus sometime like to think about it. My experience has been reptiles tend to be on the other end of the spectrum where you have to kind of expect an increased latency.

And my experience of training reptiles has been limited to a few species of snakes, leopard geckos, a beardy, I’ve trained a beardy and tortoises. Okay. So, not a lot of species and also not a lot of individuals within species, but that has been my experiences. You’ll offer a cue and they’re like, “Yeah, I see it. I’m on my way. I’ll get there when I get there.” So, what’s interesting to me is that like, if you watch them when they’re actually hunting or they, several of those species have the capacity to be lightning fast, so what I want to know from you is, is the slow latency I’ve observed a function of me not being a great reptile trainer, or have you also observed that they do tend to take their time in responding to cues.

[00:36:49] Darian: I feel like it depends on the individual. Most of the time it is like kind of slow if food isn’t like offered instantly, unless you’re talking about like your big lizards. I feel like mostly all the big lizards are going to be the ones that respond like pretty much lightning fast, like almost like hunting in the wild. So, like the tegus, and monitors, and iguanas. I think it might be partly natural because they have to respond really quick to food, like, in the wild. Like, if something’s, like, running, they gotta, like, see it and chase it. Iguanas don’t really have to run after plants, but I feel like they have a lot of competition sometimes.

So, like, if they see a banana drop, the iguana’s gonna, like, run and get it before another iguana that sees it is gonna snatch it from them. So, I think it depends on, like, species to species basis. Maybe like brain size probably has something to do with it too, but I know that there’s definitely like a, a hierarchy.

Tortoises I know will, are definitely trainable, but they kind of have their own thing. I feel like tortoises have really strong personalities and if they don’t want to do something that they’re not going to do it at all, or they’ll just go do a completely different thing, or just go to sleep, cause there’s definitely one at Happy Hollow and she’s kind of on her own, own timetable and like if he doesn’t want to leave the night house, then you just have to skip the night house for that day, or something like that. So, I think it’s definitely like a specie and an individual basis, basically. It’s not you being a bad reptile trainer, it’s just the individual doesn’t feel like doing it, or you just, you’re working with the species that’s not like known for reacting quickly.

[00:38:29] Emily:  Yeah. I laugh because I definitely know what you mean about tortoises and it’s pretty cute because when they’re like down for whatever you’re asking them to do, if they have all of this, the slow motion, like their eyes get big and they get taller and they’re like, “I’m coming, I’m on my way!”

[00:38:44] Darian: Yeah. It’s like a determination.

[00:38:46] Emily:  Yeah. Yeah. Look on their face. And then when they’re not into it, the look on their face is I, you know, people think reptiles can’t be expressive, and they just need to spend more time with reptiles because when they nope out of something, they just get that little like shriveled look on their face and they’re like, “Yeah, I’m out of here.”

[00:39:04] Darian: And then they just like look away and just go in a different direction.

[00:39:06] Emily:  They look away. Yeah, it’s pretty cute. Cool. That, that, it makes sense. And also, I was just curious about that because latency has been an issue when I’ve been working with reptiles. All right. So, this has been a really fun conversation, what are some observable goals and actionable items that people can take away from this discussion?

[00:39:28] Darian: Observable goals. Like if you have reptiles, it could be something simple like a leopard gecko or something more complicated, I would say just try to give them like as many natural components to their encloses as possible.

Reptiles aren’t, there’s like a bunch of different enrichment types as like optical enrichment, auditory, which is, apparently reptiles like hip hop music? I’ve been hearing that. I mean snakes can’t really hear, but they might like it too, like the vibrations?

[00:39:57] Emily:  Yeah, the vibrations, I imagine.

[00:39:59] Darian: Yeah, so like optical they don’t really respond to that much, but they do like environmental change enrichment, so that would definitely be good for like stimulating your reptile. Some people don’t switch up their diets, but, like, if it’s within what your reptile can eat, I always recommend, like, gustatory enrichment like, sometimes give your monitor an egg once in a while, or switch up the kind of meat, like, egg, tubias, mealworms, ground turkey.

So, just kind of, they’re really simple, like, you can take care of a reptile with, like, the bare minimum, but different food options are going to make it a lot happier. You’ll see him really excited when it comes to one food option. So, like, every now and again, you can give him that option as a treat, might be a little fattier, but you’re not feeding it to him, like, on a day-to-day basis.

So, I think that’s the takeaway from this, kind of, like, give him something different in their environment, give him something different to eat, maybe play him some music, and then I think they’ll be a little happier.

You can make them a bioactive enclosure if you’re really feeling frisky. That’s like a whole, a whole thing. But it looks cool, and it just kind of smells like earth. So, you don’t have a reptile smell, because people who own reptiles know that they have like a certain smell. Like snakes have their smell, and then like lizards kind of have their smell, Tortoises, I wouldn’t really keep in the house anyway, but they definitely have a smell. So, I think having a bioactive enclosure also really helps mitigate that, and then you have like your little bugs in there that clean it up for you a little bit.

[00:41:27] Emily:  Yeah. So, what I’m hearing your tagline is to promote behavioral diversity, provide environmental diversity.

[00:41:35] Darian: Yeah, that’s a good one.

[00:41:37] Emily:  All right. I love it. I love it. Okay. So, we give our PETPro members, the opportunity to submit questions for our guests, and the question that I picked for the podcast episode was actually from Ellen.

Ellen said, that Nathan said that we need to hear about the hyena story, so I need to know what that’s about because that’s all the information I got. So, tell us the hyena story.

[00:42:06] Darian: The hyena story, I’m pretty sure you’re referring to. This was, I was still a baby zoologist at this point, I don’t think I graduated college.

I went over to Africa to work on a game reserve, and we were doing like a bunch of like, some of it was grant work, some of it was like feeding like some of the lions that they had like in the area. Some of it was building trails for like game drives. So, we would like put rocks down, and like clearing grass and stuff.

And then we actually had like a break kind of situation, so we were just like all chilling in the grass, and sometimes like, I would forget that this isn’t like, cause I’m from California and like our wilderness kind of looks the same as South Africa. So, I was just, we were all just chilling.

And we were like around some enclosures and then there was like a striped hyena that was just in the area with his brother that people knew and I was just like sitting and then I see everybody like, look behind me, and they’re like, “Don’t get up. There’s a striped hyena behind you.”

And I was like, “Oh. That’s interesting. That’s also super tight. I’m gonna take a selfie with it.”

So, I was like, “My mom’s gonna love this, cause she didn’t want me to come on this trip anyway, but whatever.” I think this was my first trip, like, out of the country by myself, too. Like, not with a group or family or anything. So, I held up my phone, and I took a picture with it, and like, I took a little selfie.

And then they were like, “You’re kinda crazy.”

And I was like, “Uh, if it really wanted to get me, it would’ve.” But like, it kinda just like, came up behind me, and then like, went around all of us. And kinda like, did like a little like, threat display situation, like, because striped, striped hyenas, they have kind of like a crest.

So, like, it raises crests, it was making like eye contact, and they were like, just stop making eye contact, like, look at the ground. Hyenas are really big on respect. So, like, a lot of people, when I was working with them, like, they would kind of like bow to the hyenas, because hyenas would like bow back.

So, I kind of just, like, kept my head low, didn’t make eye contact, like, no sudden movements. I was, like, bowing. I was like, “Yo, this is your area. This is your space. I gotta make it home. My mom’s gonna be mad at me. I’m gonna send her this as soon as I get service.”

And then after that, it kind of just was like, “Okay, yeah.” And then it went off back into the grass to wherever else it came from. So yeah, that’s the hyena story.

[00:44:25] Emily:  Amazing. Amazing. I love that hyenas will bow back like that’s just such a wonderful example of animals and how dynamic their behavior is, and engaging, and they can apply their behavioral repertoires to humans too.

Like, it’s just, it’s so exciting to hear that. Amazing. What an amazing experience that was. All right. At the end of every episode, I like to ask our guests the same set of questions. So, we’re going to move into those questions now, and the first one is, what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment in general, your choice?

[00:45:04] Darian: Probably like my profession. A lot of people have like weird feelings about, like, zoos and stuff, which is, like, understandable if you don’t know how zoos are maintained or anything like that. They’re really just kind of havens. It’s kind of like a living index library, basically, because humans have, like, done so much harm to the environment and done so much to animals and things like that.

And to preserve future generations, it’s like, you have to keep some things somewhere, and a lot of them aren’t being taken out of the wild or anything crazy like that. Zoos have their breeding programs, their recommended species survival plans to kind of create as much genetic diversity in captivity as possible. And most of these animals are these keeper’s babies pretty much like they prefer these to like their own kids, or even like having kids.

It’s real sweet, and they eat better than most people I know. Like the fruits and vegetables they get are the same fruits and vegetables that restaurants get. Like, same food truck, different places. So yeah, it’s basically just a living, living library. Like, I think the, what, it’s some antelope in Africa, there were only like 11, and then there was like a rancher, and he rounded up all 11 that were left. And they started breeding and basically saving from extinction just by that little small act of you got to keep them in one area for a little bit just to make them prosper.

So, I think that’s like, that’s a super common misconception, as granted, some zoos are terrible, like there’s like unaccredited zoos, which is like people just have animals somewhere in a cage, but like accredited ones that have like full plans, and all that good stuff, those are pretty solid institutions.

[00:46:50] Emily:  Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s one thing, you know, there’s that, there’s that belief that animals are being stolen from the wild, and that certainly used to happen. And I think some, you know, kind of slimy unaccredited zoos probably still do that. But ever since CITES came out in 1992, accredited zoos are really committed to not doing that. And yeah. There’s a type of logical fallacy called the Nirvana fallacy, which is the kind of colloquial way to think of the Nirvana fallacy is don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And like, yes, ideally, wouldn’t we love it if all animals could be free, and live in their natural environments, and thrive, and have all the space that they would typically have.

And also, when that isn’t possible or realistic there are ways to accommodate for, or make up for the lack of space by meeting needs in other ways. And one thing, one conversation that I’ve had with some of my students is that, that’s true for humans too. Like as a species, we evolved to travel long, long distances every day.

And. And that’s not our reality. Like we don’t all live on the Savannah running like, or on the Taiga, like running 20, 20, 30 miles a day to hunt mammoths, that’s not our reality anymore. But we have found ways to accommodate and meet our needs while living in a smaller space and a totally unnatural quote unquote environment.

So, I love that you brought that up because. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good as long as we’re meeting needs and making sure that they have say over their lives, and they have some power in their lives, that is a good, a good thing.

[00:48:34] Darian: I think that’s where enrichment comes in too, because like you have choice like, I feel like every living thing like needs choice to develop their brain, even if their brains are the size of a grain of sand, like a bug, or the grain of rice, like a beardy. They have really tiny brains. It’s kind of cute. But yeah, I think choice is like, necessary for like, development of like, any living thing.

[00:48:56] Emily:  One thing that I love Dr. Eddie Fernandez, I don’t know if you know him, but one thing he said is their brains are as big as they need to be for them to thrive in their environment, and they are as intelligent as they need to be to thrive in their world. And I was like, I love that framework because even if their brains are teeny tiny, that doesn’t mean that they’re not functional.

All right. Next question. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[00:49:20] Darian: I would say like, probably like more diversity. I feel like it’s not like a very diverse field at all. And it’s because, like, a lot of people aren’t raised around different animals, or some people aren’t raised around animals, like, at all, or some people are just, like, raised with, like, dogs and cats, which are cool, too. Like, I love dogs, cats are cool, too but I feel like diversity is probably, like, a pretty big issue. Sometimes I’ll take animals, like, underprivileged like neighborhoods and like even you have like high schoolers who never touched the goat before or anything like that.

So, I feel like exposure outreach programs are, are really important and I, I like always push for those because like, I do those and I know a lot of people have like random memories of like somebody with a snake or something coming to their classroom. Like they don’t ever forget it and like now I’m that person and I’m happy to be that person.

And like some people are like really inspired by that, and by the end you have kids who go home and they’re like, “Oh, like I kinda want to get an animal.” And then their parents looking crazy, and I was like, hey, it’s just, you know, teaching responsibility. They learn to like respect nature, and make better, more sustainable choices down the road. They might go into the field and take care of these animals. Somebody has to do it. It’s like, “Hey, I can’t do animal care.” So, you know, you still got to have a person doing their job.

[00:50:43] Emily:  Yeah. I would say, representation matters, but also like you said, access matters. So, both of those things, I love that you’re providing both of those things for kids because yes, I agree. We do need more diversity in the field. What do you love about what you do?

[00:50:59] Darian: Well, I, I just like teaching, like I love giving fun facts, even like on Instagram, sometimes I have like a whole little like series where it wasn’t just animals, I would like take pictures on off of like the internet.

It was like, whatever I was working with that day. And then I would like to have like little videos of it. And then I would just like, you know, spit some fun facts. It’s like this African bullfrog makes a mucus bubble around itself basically to stay hydrated when it gets really dry. And then I have followers who are even like full adults who are like, “Whoa, I never knew this at all. I never would have known this if I didn’t look at this story.”

So, I really liked, I like teaching. I like giving people experiences that they’ve never had before. I like new experiences. I like doing stuff I’ve never done before. And then, even if there’s like a little bit of a fear, it’s like, you have the experience.

It’s really cool. I don’t make anyone do anything like I wouldn’t do, or I would feel uncomfortable with. So, most of the time, whenever I am teaching or whatever, everyone has like, a good time because this is like an animal that I trust. And I know it’ll be a positive experience. I really like giving people positive, knowledgeable experiences.

[00:52:12] Emily:  I love that, and I share that passion. Yes. What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you, where can they find you?

[00:52:22] Darian: I’m on Instagram. My animal one is ZOOBOYD, so like just all lowercase Z O O B O Y D. And then, so I’ll post like little animal videos and like fun facts and like stuff there.

Currently I’m just, and I’m not working on like any project in particular. But I do work with my boss who has like a company called Bioactive Supply, that’s on IG too. And we’ve just been making bioactive enclosures for a lot of like rainforest, like dart frogs and tree frogs and stuff like that.

So, if anybody wants to learn how to make their own or, like they have questions about how to make one for a specific type of reptile, then uh, we can be found on Instagram for the most part.

[00:53:05] Emily:  Perfect. I love that. Yeah. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us. This has been a delightful conversation. I appreciate all that you do, and I appreciate you spending some time with us.

[00:53:16] Darian: Oh, of course. This was fun.

[00:53:17] Allie: One of my favorite things that Darian talked about was how invertebrates and reptiles have personalities, preferences, and you can form relationships with them. So often they’re seen differently than our fluffier pets, but they can be just as interesting and fun to work with, and I think he really proved that in today’s episode. Next week we’ll be talking about providing environmental complexity.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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