My son and I were at the pet store buying some fish food, which of course also means a complete lap of the animals for sale. I used to work in a pet shop, I get it, we even jokingly called ourselves the zoo for home school kids.
As we meandered through the reptiles, my son started to beg for a Leopard Gecko. I’m a total sucker for a cute lizard, and just looking at them took me back through the mists to my childhood.
“Oh crap, dad’s pining,” the kid groaned. Too late, let the flashback begin…
I was probably ten years old and I had a small menagerie living in my bedroom, much to the chagrin of my step mom. She hates snakes, at an Indiana Jones level. Lizards she could tolerate as long as they stayed in the glass boxes.
I had this one lizard, a Green Ameiva that I called Jewel because it was a very pretty lizard. It loved me too, always playing fun games like “run fast as hell around the room and hide,” and “bite the boy,” when it was found. Oh the times we had.
Jewel ate crickets and meal worms; both have their own problems as pet food. Crickets, if they don’t all get eaten right away, get “chirpy” at night. This does not do a lot to make the average young reptile lover very popular with his family. And there’s always a chance a couple could get loose in the house and take up residence under the refrigerator…or inside the stereo.
Because of the odd free-range cricket, my parents were more inclined to buy Jewel meal worms to eat. Meal worms are at least silent. Every other day or so I would pull a bunch of the little things out of a sawdust filled tub and toss them to the lizard who would snatch them up until he looked like a scaly balloon. Then I would put them in the refrigerator, like the guy at the store said to.
Then my step mom found the tub one day while looking for sour cream.
“Aaaaaagghh hell no!” She said and thrust the tub in my hands. “I can put up with that stupid lizard, but worms in the fridge is where I draw the line. Keep all things related to your little pets in your room.”
The stereo cricket chirped in agreement.
“And find and kill that goddamn cricket!” She went outside to smoke.
I tossed the tub of worms into my top drawer where I kept my undies. Now I should mention that in a moment of pure genius I had placed my dresser over a heater vent so that my clothes were toasty warm on cold mornings. (you’re welcome for that tip)
A couple of days went by and I remembered that I should feed Jewel. I walked to my drawer, picked up the tub and I noticed that the lid is a little askew. Then I rummaged around for lizard food and find none.
“Huh, that’s weird” I said to myself. I didn’t remember being out of worms but maybe I was. Stranger things have happened, actually strange thing happen frequently around me.
Unbeknownst to my stepmom and I, there was a very good reason to keep the worms cold. Apparently cold slows down the worm’s metabolism and prevents them from becoming Darkling Beetles. Heat, such as a toasty warm underwear drawer, has the opposite effect that cold does on meal worms.
The next day I was getting dressed and I felt something moving in my underwear. I checked and sure enough there was a beetle in my drawers. I did the “bug in my pants dance” and managed to get it out. Then I felt something moving on my back. I stripped while hopping in a circle and slapping myself. Not as easy to do as you’d think, but bugs can be a big motivator.
I decided not to tell anyone about the latest infestation, hoping it was confined to my room.
A day later I heard screams that told me the beetles were out and about.
Once again, I was blamed despite no real hard evidence that anyone else knew the source of the beetles. Young boys get persecuted for all kinds of stuff they may or may not have done.
The beetles were with us all summer. In beds, in clothes, I think they may have visited the stray crickets even for cocktails and snacks. I get itchy just thinking about it.
I looked down at my son who’s eyes were locked on the gecko.
“You know what my boy, let’s wait a while for a pet lizard, I think the cats will try to eat it” I said to my kid.
“Awww,” He protested.
In case anyone is interested in mealworms see below.
“Live mealworms can be stored in a refrigerator for months. All you have to do is take them out of the refrigerator about once a week and give them some food for a few hours. They are also easy to raise and reproduce in large numbers. A female darkling beetle can lay hundreds of eggs.” http://mealwormcare.org/