Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Big Boss died. I have no idea how.

Explain this one to me, dear readers.

Tonight, I checked on Big Boss, my wonder gecko, and was concerned because he hadn't been eating...in almost two weeks. I tried picking him up, and he squirmed a little but was otherwise compliant. This is highly unusual. He would normally be halfway to Timbukbu by the time by finger brushed up against his side. Anyway, I pick him up and start picking shed skin off his toes and legs that he hadn't gotten to yet. He was not putting up a fighting, just chillin'. So I get to his legs and notice that his vent (butt) has a kind of scabby thing stuck in it. That means he's impacted. So I sterilize my tweezers and try to pick it out. Again, he's not totally into it, but he's not going crazy, either. However, it's still hard work because Big Boss isn't having a great time. So I do what I used to do with Liquid--stick him in the fridge for a few minutes to cool him down.

So I do that. Big Boss comes out still sort of moving, but half asleep. I flip him on his back and get to work on the impaction. I actually manage to get a bit out, but it'll take more work. When he starts to wake back up, I give him a break and stick him back in his tank. Naturally, I start reading online about how to dissolve an impaction. Hey look--let him stand in a warm pool of water for about ten minutes. So I fill a shallow dish with warm water, get Big Boss out again, and put him in the water. Again, he's not struggling.

Then the trouble starts. While he was initially standing in the water, he quickly goes limp. The second his nose hits the water, I pull him out. This lizard is completely limp. No idea what just happened. The end of his tail is twitching, though. I put him back in his tank under the heat lamp and let him lay there. A few minutes later, I check back. He's changed positions from laying on his belly to a rather unnatural sideways tilt. I continue to watch, and then the freakiness happens: his body convulses uncontrollably--I can't tell if he's half-paralyzed or having a seizure. These convulsions are very short but occur once every few minutes. It becomes pretty obvious that his brain is not turned on right now. Eventually the convulsions stop and his body goes stiff. He's dead. I actually suspect he died in the bath, and the ensuing convulsions resulted from background electrical activity. Think about a lizard tail that's dropped--it flips around for up to an hour after it's separated from the body.

So here's my question: What the heck happened? And don't say metabolic bone disease (MBD) because he's a fat, active, healthy gecko aside from this impaction, which I suspect wasn't more than a week old. Any ideas? I'm sad, but I'm also just plain curious. I'm suspecting a heart attack or a stroke, but can lizards get heart attacks and strokes?


Glendon Mellow said...

So sorry for your loss, Zach.

Trish said...


lantaro said...

Dammit. Sorry sir, wish I could offer some sort of helpful words, but I don't know much about lizard biology. He was a good sort of fellow, quiet, in a friendly "I want to eat you" kind of way.

Stevo Darkly said...

Not only a sad loss but a maddening mystery. My condolences.

Rappy said...

While I have no answers for your mystery, my bearded dragon died under nearly these same circumstances nearly two years ago.

You have my sincerest condolences for your loss.

Mo Hassan said...

aw, poor thing, such a cool looking critter. One of my catfish, an Ancistrus sp., died last week too, no idea why. Doesn't make it any easier.

I'm not exactly sure, but I would think reptiles could suffer from strokes and/or heart attacks, but they would be extremely rare unless they were improperly cared for, which of course wouldn't be true. The twitches definitely sound as if they are post mortem, having seen some stomach-churning footage of various farm animals being slaughtered only last week, there is a LOT of twitching going on after death has supposedly occurred.

Brett said...

Sorry to hear about your loss. It could still be MBD, I had an Argus monitor that got rubbery bones, not brittle, the light was set to high ( they are only effective for 18 inches, something they DON'T tell you on the box!) and he refused to climb, he has fat and the only thing we noticed was that his lip looked strange. But it might also be the impaction, you don't know how far up it went, his entire colon might have been affected.

But it might be any number of things, I used to have several reptiles and we had a black rough neck monitor that just turned up dead one morning. He was eating fine, growing great, feisty (he had ripped open the top of his tank and got out only to be surrounded by the dogs a few months before he died, he fended them off with his tail and lots of hissing. He sustained no injuries and was acting fine.) Sometimes they just don't survive. As my old vet said, just a poor doer:(


David Tana said...


sorry to hear about your loss. Like some others have mentioned, I too lost a green iguana (she was about 10 years old at the time) and a lot of your account describes what I witnessed/went through as well. She was also well cared for, but I figured it had to be MBD, because externally, she seemed fine and had a normal healthy appetite and demeanor right up to the end. I also understand the sadness/intrigue that you feel. I had every intention of getting a dermestid colony started to deflesh her skeleton and see for myself, but she ended up getting a proper burial in the garden instead.



Rusty said...

It's possible that the transition from the cold refrigerator to the warm water was too much for his system, which was already probably in the middle of an immune response due to the impaction.