I’ve done a very bad job of making time to write for this blog, but I’ve also done a bad job of making time for nature so I guess the two go hand in hand. Anyway, here's an update.
Last year I sold some of my rat snakes in an effort to winnow the herd down to just a few predictable breeding pairs and some unrelated/distant relatives that might produce something new or interesting. I carefully scheduled my breeding around a trip I had to take so that I wouldn't have to worry about anyone laying while I was gone and everything has gone off spectacularly so far. I came back from my trip, the females all went through predictable sheds (with only 1 exception) and now they are starting to lay.
Despite having done this for almost 15 years now I am still excited every time my snakes lay and REALLY excited at the prospect of baby snakes hatching in a couple months. I was considering this feeling and realized that there's something odd about it. It's not the same as when your dog has puppies or your horse has a foal. Those animals are social and do work that can make your life better. It's also not like a cow having a calf or a sheep having a lamb. Those serve a great final purpose on my dinner plate!
It's more like sprouting plants or flowering trees. It would happen without me, but my efforts define the action. The baby snakes represent an ancient, pre-human nature where the dominant life forms hatch without any need of their mother or me. (That's called being precocial.) In nature the mother snake would make all the necessary decisions so that her eggs had a chance to hatch and once they peeped, it's up to the baby snakes, natural selection, and no small amount of luck to get them to adulthood and the next generation of reproduction. Imagine if oak trees could move around the forest and pick where to drop their acorns. It seems scary to someone born in a hospital, raised in a house, and fed from a refrigerator to think about a world where you pick the best part of the environment presented to you and drop off your kids with the hope they live long enough to reproduce.
OK, that last statement is unrealistic. The very nature of instinct is that the trees and snakes don't really care about their offspring. We HAVE to care because if we don't our weak, pink, babies would all die (that's called being altricial). So I have the instincts of a mammal who must care for it's young, modified by modern human desires that create large successful societies and I am attempting to participate in the creation of a new generation of animals that neither want nor need me (except by my own interference)
Nature assures reproductive success through simple odds. You need to make enough babies in such a way that enough of them survive to produce that many babies again in the same way. if your reproductive plan doesn't work, you go extinct. Now, I step in to replace as many environmental factors as I can. I keep, clean, and feed the adults. I select the potential parents. I set up the incubators and put the eggs in containers. I monitor and adjust the temperature, and the humidity while I wait for the signs of life and death from inside the eggs.
But I do something mother nature and mother snakes can't do. I learn. I read the works of other breeders. I document what I am doing, how long it takes and how successful it is. I can't hatch eggs from instinct but I can do it from knowledge and I think that's what makes me excited when the eggs hatch. In a universe that seems boundlessly, chaotic and uncontrollably unforgiving, I've figured out just enough to do my part in a system that required millions of years of evolutionary programing to become viable. Every baby snake that hatches makes me feel like I understand a little bit more about something most people take for granted, life.