Alabama, United States
Posted Mar 05, 2014
Even as I begin to type this, I shake my head in wonder. Some of you might not even believe what I am going to tell you, but others may even know of similar situations even today (I hope not).
At twelve years old, I visited the Alabama State Fair for the first time. Having grown up in North Carolina, where the state fair was a huge event, I was surprised to find that most of the interest at the fair was Midway games and rides rather than agricultural curiosities. I'll be honest, I missed the down home quality of the NC State Fair. Anyway, one other thing I noticed was that kids could win pets by tossing coins, rings, etc.
At one booth, ringing a bottle's neck three times would result in your taking home a French poodle, no joke. At another you might win gold fish, the next ducks, and at the last, mud puppies. I didn't need much guidance to help me know better than to try to squeeze a French poodle into the van without being noticed by my mother, and a duck was out of the question with our big dogs, but a mud puppy? Hmm, this piqued my curiosity. Three dollars later, my little brother and I ran gleefully up to my parents to exclaim, "Look what we won!"
I had brought H in on the deal in what was a clever scheme to ensure I could keep the mud puppy. The budding biologist of the brood, he was key to the plan, and sure enough my parents sighed through, "Yes."
My siblings and I had a lot of experience with salamanders. We would catch and observe them along the brook running through my grandfather's property, but always before we had let them go. H and I were excited to keep Sipsey, the name he gave her after the Sipsey Wilderness, one of our favorite places to hike.
Keeping Sipsey until she met a terrible end six years later when one of us, we never determined whom, failed to relatch the top of her aquarium, H and I learned to feed her earthworms. She loved these. She would eat just about anything, though. And as she was a carnivore while I was a vegetarian, I left life feedings up to H.
Sipsey's perfect abode was a 20-gallon aquarium with rocks and gravel, clean water, and a filter. A secure lid was crucial as she was strong enough to get out, we had been told and discovered later ourselves. Temperature was best when cooler than our normal room temperature. We kept her in the cooler part of the house.
Apparently harmless, Sipsey did have teeth and could chomp down. Mainly we kept our hands to ourselves, but I will say that she would come to let me lightly touch her. It isn't a good idea to handle salamanders, though. They need the goo that secrete along there bodies, and meanwhile mud puppies secrete a toxin along with their protective coating.
Mud puppies are fun and easy to keep, cost little to maintain, and can be very entertaining creatures to observe. BUT they live upwards of ten years, some decades, when all environmental issues are optimum. I recommend them for owners 10+. The handle and bite factor nullifies the notion of giving these to younger kids in my opinion. Before bringing one into your home, make sure you understand their needs and have a proper set up for their new living arrangements.