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Tales from the shop floor – No 1

The Evolution Reptiles shop, Kiddlington

People often say to us “You’ve got the best job ever!”.

And in many ways, they’re right.

We get to interact with animals that most people would love to be around, we get to spend all day immersed in a world that is always changing, is always fascinating, and always learning something new. There is real joy in observing a behaviour that you may have only read about, or making a breakthrough with a nervous animal, or persuading someone that yes, geckos do benefit from UV.

There is a flip side, of course.

I’m not talking about the fact that eight tenths of keeping anything is mucking out. (Yes, we deal with an awful lot of poo!) Or the fact that we are fighting a constant battle against the internet experts who champion lower basic standards.

Sometimes we deal with truly sad situations. We have seen geckos and beardies riddled with disease, and sometimes have the horrible duty of informing people that their new pet needs some serious investment in time and money to survive, or that they need to run, not walk, to the nearest vet.

This rarely ends well.

That said, we have built some wonderful relationships with some amazing people who have gone above and beyond to help their pets; the best thing about working in this business is to see the passion and dedication that many people pour into their hobby.

So what is it that we actually do all day?

We thought we’d open this series of articles with a glimpse into a day in the life of an active reptile shop! Timings are extremely approximate, as once the doors are open we are helping customers as well as looking after the animals. Obviously every day is different, but this is pretty much how it goes:

9am: Every day except Saturday the store opens at 10am, so one of us will usually arrive early to check email, look over the animals, see if the answerphone has anything new on it and generally get any little jobs done that are left over from the previous day.

This is also when breakfast gets eaten, and the first cup of tea of the day gets brewed!

10am: We hit the ground running, open the doors to let you lovely people in, and start the round of water bowls.

We like to give every animal a fresh water bowl every day, so the first job of the day is to gather the bowls up, wash and disinfect them, then return them filled with fresh water. This also gives us an ideal opportunity to check each animal, spot any issues that might have arisen overnight, and wonder what on earth we’ve given to the beardies that could have produced such enormous piles of poo.

(Poo is going to be a bit of a theme, I’m afraid.)

The animals that eat greenery are given fresh at the same time as they get a clean water bowl. This is dusted with calcium powder, or multivitamin/multimineral powder.

12pm: We’ve usually finished water bowls by this point, so move on to spraying and spot picking. Forest species that like a humidity peak and chameleons are sprayed; we also spray the tortoises to damp down part of their substrate and give them a humidity gradient, and we often spray the desert species a little to mimic morning dew. We also tend to use warm water – your ancestors might have come from the rain forest, but that doesn’t mean you like a cold shower!

This is also when we poo pick. This is a more important job than you might imagine; not only does it keep the enclosures clean and keeps the bacterial load down, but it tells you an awful lot about the animal itself. We very quickly become familiar with what the poo of a healthy animal looks, smells, and even feels like – so any change from this rings immediate alarm bells.

We start having lunch. Yes, we wash our hands first!

2pm: Lunch all dealt with (usually), we move on to our other regular jobs – most of which involve cleaning. Glass must be polished, boarding vivariums cleaned out and prepared for their next occupant, the floor is swept and shelves are dusted. Obviously, these maintenance jobs take place between serving customers, answering queries on the phone and putting away any orders that have arrived. If any shop vivarium is empty – its inhabitant off to start life as somebody’s pet – we deep clean the viv, a good scrub and a disinfect before we set it up for the next animal to live there. This is really important, and we don’t cut corners.

We make sure that the livefoods that we use for the animals in store are gut loaded to be ready for the afternoon feed, and top up any salad bowls that have been emptied. If it’s Thursday, we start feeding the snakes – we’ve got their food out the afternoon before, and it stays in the animal fridge out the back until we’re ready to use it.

This middle part of the day can be our busiest!

4pm: Bug feed time! Each animal is assessed to make sure that we are feeding the right size prey – bearded dragons are happy with big food items, whereas some of the frogs like small prey, even if they have larger mouths. We use a wide range of food items; locusts, crickets, mealworms, morio worms, calci worms – and their adult form, black soldier flies – with the occasional waxworm as a treat.

Many of our residents learn that this is food time, and it’s not uncommon to see them lined up at the front of their homes waiting for their dinner. (We had a group of ocellated skinks once that you could set your watch by – they knew when it was 4pm, and would sit and glare at you until you gave them their food!)

We dust the food with calcium or multivitamin powder, and if you’ve been in the shop at this end of the day you’ve probably seen us with our white plastic buckets – an essential piece of equipment when you have to deal with as many feeder insects as we do!

5pm: Gecko food is distributed. For our crested geckos (and any other species that enjoy fruit and nectar as part of their diet), we give them a fresh bowl of meal replacement paste. Nutritionally excellent, we use this as well as bugs to give them as varied a diet as possible.

Because crested geckos are nocturnal, we give them their food at the end of the day so that it is as fresh as possible when they are ready to eat it.

We’re on the countdown to the end of the day, so now we’re tidying up and finishing off any little jobs we’ve started, the floor is swept (again, you wouldn’t believe how dusty it can get!) and mopped, if possible. One last sweep of the animals to make sure that everyone is well and happy, notes made on the whiteboards for jobs to be done in the morning, and at 5:30 we lock the door.

Cash up, tidy up, set the alarm, head for home and the end of another day. Eat and sleep to be ready to come back to work, and begin the whole cycle all over again!

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