When I was growing up, children were encouraged to search the wooded areas of my town and collect and keep as pets any amphibians or reptiles we could find. It was a great activity to do in the summer on the North Shore of Long Island.
I collected and kept turtles, frogs, toads, snakes and salamanders. And I learned quite a bit about natural history by doing so. I released all my pets back into their natural habitat when I had learned as much as I wanted, but many kids I knew just caught the animals and then allowed them to languish and die.
Natural areas where these animals breed and live now are too fragile to allow any disturbance, mainly because of all the habitat destruction that has been done. And many municipalities prohibit keeping found creatures as pets.
Plus there is no need these days - you can easily buy captive bred reptiles and amphibians of all types that were born in vivariums and will thrive if given the correct care. So if your children show an interest in the natural world, just allow them to watch native wild creatures - and to leave them where they are.
Question: My family was shocked the other night when our rather large cat chased a full-grown fox out of our yard. Is this normal behavior? We thought the fox would have had the upper hand.
Answer: Interactions between domesticated animals and wild animals seldom end happily. You are correct in thinking the fox is the stronger of the two, and had the fox been starving or protecting its young, the outcome of this situation may have been different.
In this case, the fox likely was just looking for food in your yard and the cat decided to chase it out of its territory. Even though the fox does have "the upper hand," it saw no reason at that moment to argue with the cat. Not all such encounters end as the one you experienced. This is a perfect example of why house cats live longer and are safer when kept indoors. At the very least, you should be sure that your cat is current on its rabies vaccinations in case of future such encounters.
Question: My 9-year-old Maltese has chewed up six dog beds to get at and destroy the foam lining, which I then find all over the place. I have tried many styles of beds, but they all seem to have foam inside them. She does not chew on anything else. Why does she do this and can you suggest a way to get her to stop?
Answer: Your dog's behavior here is what is called a self-rewarding one. She likes the way the foam feels in her mouth and thus the good feeling is the reward. She has no sense of the future and does not realize that this behavior means she is going to have to sleep on the hard floor the next night.
There is a world of dog beds out there, and not all have foam. You are just going to have to find one that suits you and her. I had a similar situation with one of my dogs, and I ended up using one of those large sheepskin mats. It worked just fine.
Question: Three months ago we bought our daughter a female chinchilla, and all was fine - until this morning when we found two little chinchillas in with her. They look like little toys. They have all their fur and can run around just fine. How could this happen? Do we need to do anything special?
Answer: The gestation period for chinchillas is a bit over 100 days, so your daughter's chinchilla must have gotten pregnant right before you bought her. This may seem a long time for a rodent, but you have to understand that chinchillas and many other animals have what are called precocial babies - young that are born fully developed, just smaller in size from the adults. Since their young have a high rate of survival, the litters are small, and the bulk of the development occurs in utero.
Animals with altricial babies - those born blind and hairless - have a short gestation period and large litters because the survival rate is not as high.
You do not need to do much with your new babies other then enjoy them. Most chinchillas are very good moms and will take care of everything. One thing to keep in mind is your average chinchilla cage has bar spacing that will allow a baby chin to pass through it, and thus wander about the house unsupervised. So you may want to cover the outside of the cage with wire mesh until the babies are larger.