Barbara Sherf babysits for her favorite baby, Fifi. Interestingly, Great Bearded Dragons  don't come in green. They come in different shades of brown, gray, yellow, orange and red. (Selfie by Sherf)

Barbara Sherf babysits for her favorite baby, Fifi. Interestingly, Great Bearded Dragons
don’t come in green. They come in different shades of brown, gray, yellow, orange and red. (Selfie by Sherf)

by Barbara Sherf

What did I do on my summer vacation? Well, this past week I spent more time that I care to admit on an array of Great Bearded Dragon websites preparing for and getting through my first (and perhaps last) lizard-sitting ordeal that started out just fine.

But by Sunday evening I was chatting on a forum seeking answers to the question: “How long can these lizards go without eating?”

I learned from the “Fun Bearded Dragon Facts” website and Information page that these critters can live up to 10 years and beyond, and can grow up to two feet long in the proper setting. Pretty straightforward.

But the answers to the question I posed about their eating habits are all over the board. Some say they can go from two to four days without eating. Others say longer if they are shedding, but they don’t appear to be shedding to me. It’s the post from Linda B. who wrote “If they aren’t eating every other day, you should take them to a vet who specializes in this breed” that troubles me.

I dug out the copious notes I had taken while getting instructions from Flourtown skin expert Rachael Pontillo before she handed over the house key and left me with these prehistoric looking creatures that have become all the craze because there are no fur/allergy issues. Trust me, there are other issues.

Even though the family had left on Thursday morning, I decide to check on the lizards, Sprite and Fifi, Thursday evening. They seemed content, so I gave Sprite some extra treats in the form of live crickets and Fifi a few more super worms. What the heck; it’s their vacation, too. I figured this was the lizard version of fine dining.

However, a cricket suddenly escaped and leaped all over the family room. I spent the next 15 minutes on all fours trying to catch the critter. Once in my hands, I wondered if this cricket was destined for greater things, so I opened the front door flung him outside for a second chance at life. I even toyed with the idea of rescuing all of the live insects and switching Fifi and Sprite to an organic vegetarian diet for the remaining four days, but then realized that for better or worse, I was entrusted with their care.

Returning on Friday afternoon, it seemed that Sprite and Fifi were eating less, and they seemed a bit off. Come Saturday, I checked in on Sprite and found about a half-dozen uneaten, shriveled cricket carcasses that have succumbed to the heat lamps atop Sprite’s container. And two of the super worms drowned themselves in Fifi’s water container. Oh my! Can’t they swim?

On my way to the kitchen trash to dispose of the carnage, I veered outside instead, giving them a little funeral while letting their bodies return to the place they belonged all along. R.I.P.

Back inside with Fifi sitting on my lap for a little quality time, I texted Rachael with my concerns. “They aren’t eating,” I typed. It seemed like forever before she replied. Damn that Disney!

“It’s OK; they get a little depressed when we are away,” she replied. “Talk to them, play with them, make them feel special.”

So I did what I do when I’m a little down and play Pharrell Williams’ famous “Happy Song” and took each out of their containers and did a little dance with them, remembering that Sprite and Fifi don’t get along at all. Sprite hissed, and his black beard puffed out at the site of her.

The little song and dance routine seemed to perk them (and me) up a bit. I then proceeded to talk to them and dress them up in doll clothes as the girls in their household do. I even resorted to the baby talk that Rachael used when she was giving me lizard-sitting instructions.

“How’s my little Fifiweefee today? How is Spriteywhitey feeling?”

I couldn’t believe I was doing this and posting some of my antics on Facebook, including a shot and some video of Fifi and me wearing our fancy hats. Big mistake. Within minutes, folks from far and wide who have FB fan pages for their lizards were asking to Friend me. I ignored the requests, spending my time on the forums instead in the hope of gleaning more details about their eating habits.

By Sunday, I was more concerned about the fact that they hadn’t pooped. Rachael even left instructions and paper towels for me to clean up after them. Did they have a bowel obstruction? Were they constipated? I give them more greens and re-read the notes, finding the name of their trusted vet.

It was a Sunday. Did they have an emergency answering service? I opted to give the lizards more greens than protein and hoped for the best. I was one day away from Rachael’s return and my freedom.

Sunday night I had my first scary dead lizard dreams, and Monday morning I stopped in early. They were eating a bit more, but still no poop. Another restless night with scary lizard dreams.

The next day Rachael e-mailed to tell me the dragons had pooped and are back on their food.

Yipeeeeeeeeeeee. I jumped for joy like a cricket being freed.

Upon returning the key, Rachael was most apologetic about not sharing the critical information that their eating and pooping habits change when their routines change.

“It would have helped,” I managed to mumble.

The ultimate offense occurred after researching and writing this piece for more time than I care to admit. My right foot had fallen asleep, and as I got up from my desk to stretch, I fell hard on the ceramic tile. Sprained ankle. Ouch!

Now maybe the lizards will take care of me.

Barbara Sherf is a storyteller from Flourtown.