The lizard just turned white ... me, too

Scooter the Lizard

Photo by Julie McNamara

I've really only wanted two things from our summer of lizard-sitting Scooter.

The first is that come September we're able to return this 5-year-old leopard gecko alive and healthy to Mrs. Farrell's incoming class of first graders at Center School.

The second is that he stands up on his hind legs and offers me a great deal on car insurance.

For a harrowing day or so recently it seemed as though the latter was more likely than the former. Here's the story:

"Scooter has turned WHITE!" our 6-year-old daughter, Emma, shouts to no one in particular.

"What?" I shout back from the kitchen.

"Scooter has turned WHITE!"

Two thoughts occur as I scramble to the office where Scooter lives in his lizard tank (or vivarium, if you want to get all technical): Perhaps Emma is joking -- she can be that way; and, don't be ridiculous, Emma isn't joking, which means that something terrible is happening to our guest gecko.

I understand that pet lizards are all the rage, but that's all I know about them. Still, it doesn't take an expert to see that Scooter -- yesterday a picture of brown, beige, black and greenish hues, with a white underbelly and tail -- is now ALL white, all right; pasty, sickly white is the best way to describe it. And I can only imagine that my face looked pretty much the same.

"Grant, Grant: Have you ever seen Scooter turn white before," I ask one of our two 6-year-old sons (Max rounds out the set). Grant was in Mrs. Farrell's first-grade class, and, when the teacher sent her students home with a note seeking a family to host Scooter for the summer, my wife, Julie, had volunteered ours.

"I think so," Grant says.

Think so isn't the best of answers when you're looking at Casper the Sickly Gecko.

"Grant, really, have you EVER seen Scooter look like this?"

"Yes ... I think so," he says, sounding even less confident this time.

By now I'm struggling to contain my panic, if for no other reason than to avoid spreading it to the children. Julie arrives downstairs and suggests that I call Mrs. Farrell; she had given us a page of instructions and her cell-phone number when she handed off Scooter for the vacation break. The note made no mention of skin turning white.

At that moment, I was having a hard time imagining the conversation: "Hi, Elizabeth? Paul McNamara here, Grant's dad. It's about Scooter; uh, he's turned white and ..."

We're overseeing the final hours of her beloved class pet, apparently, and there's just no way to sugar-coat the news.

Then I remember the book. Julie had days earlier brought home "Leopard Gecko: Your Happy Healthy Pet". I had been reading some of it to the kids. Hadn't gotten to anything about geckos turning white, but figured it couldn't hurt to check out the index.

Let's see, "skin," yes ... "skin, change," no ... "skin, white," nope ... Here's something: "skin, shedding," Pages: 85-86. Light comes on: Maybe Scooter's shedding instead of dying?

There in a picture on Page 86, perched on a rock, was a leopard gecko looking much like our Scooter and also bearing significant swaths of white skin. While Scooter was white from stem to stern and this gecko was not, it still was a most encouraging development.

"Grant, have you ever seen Scooter shed his skin?"

"Yes ... I think so."

I think so plus the book information was going to have to do for the moment, as I had to get to the office.

Upon arriving home, Scooter was still all-white, but there where small rips in what was now taking on the appearance of shedding skin.

Next morning, we had our multi-colored gecko back good as new. No need to call Mrs. Farrell.

And here's the best if somewhat disturbing part: There was no icky dead skin to clean out of the tank, either.

From the book: "As the skin begins to separate from the lizard's body, the gecko will try to help it along by pulling at it and swallowing it whole."

Now that's being comfortable in your own skin.

I'm going to suggest to Mrs. Farrell's that next summer she put all of this in the note.

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