Pearl - A Beautiful Girl

When I first met Pearl I wasn't sure I really wanted another iguana. I, after all, had 2 males at home in separate rooms. As soon as I saw her I fell in love. Her spine was slightly curved from the beginning stages of MBD and probably some degree of malnutrition. My friend Steve had rescued her from a woman that was keeping her in a 30 gallon breeder tank. Her 4-foot body was always touching 2 sides of the tank. Steve brought her along to our NIAD (National Iguana Awareness Day) event in September of 1999 as she was not getting along very well with his adult female. I had told him that I would take her on a trial basis and let her freeroam with my adult male, Pugsley.

I brought Pugsley along to the event (neutral area) along with his "Iguana Tree" and he got to hang out with 3 other female iguanas. He had never been with females or other iguanas before so I was unsure how he would act. Well, he was a perfect gentleman. He let these females walk all over him. Pearl was absolutely beautiful and I fell in love immediately. She had such personality and never sat still. She was all over the room. Steve was in charge of rounding her up all day as she climbed down the "tree" and wandered off constantly. She looked at everything with interest, cocking her head this way and that.

After the event I took her and Pugsley home and put them in his room and sat back to watch. She did laps around that room for nearly 3 days with Pugsley mere inches from her at all times. It was very amusing. They got along famously from the start, basking together, sleeping in the same spot. Sometimes I would come home and Pearl would be laying right on top of him. He seemed to enjoy her company and he ate better than ever before.

One thing Pearl could do was eat. Eat, eat, eat. She ate all the best food out of the bowl; collard, turnip, mustard, dandelion greens. She ate some of the vegetable mix too but she preferred her greens. She started packing on the pounds from day one. I could go on for days about her awesome personality and what a good girl she was. Briefly, she NEVER tried to bite anyone. She loved to have her head and neck stroked. She would get so relaxed that you could flop her head back and forth almost like a doll. If she got tired of the attention she would flick her front legs back at you as if to say "get away from me". She was very inquisitive and loved to escape the room her and Pugs shared. We came home more than once to find her basking in the front window in the living room. I got many a call from my husband saying "Pearl is in the living room, what should I do?" Generally he would leave her where ever she was until I got home. She was a riot.

Things went along great that fall and into winter when I observed Pugsley breeding with her on two occasions. In April of 2000 Pearl laid 82 eggs successfully after wandering around looking like a bag of golfballs for weeks. It went without a hitch for the most part. It did take her a week to lay them all which was a little nervewracking but nevertheless all went well and she was back to being an eating machine in no time. She was part of the family by now so I was in constant contact with the vet. 82 eggs seemed like a lot considering most of the literature states that they will lay anywhere between 20-60 eggs with 41 being the average. She came through like a trooper though.

One of my favorite Pearl stories occurred when she was at the beginning of the digging stages in 2000 prior to egglaying. She was digging on everything. On cages, on the door, everywhere. One day her digging let loose my Western Hognose Snake. I came home to find his door wide open and no snake. Pearl was the logical candidate for springing her. We searched in vain for days/weeks for the snake with no luck. Pearl laid her eggs while the snake was loose even. At some point we had the bright idea of leaving a mouse near the closet we were sure the snake was hiding in. If the mouse got eaten we probably could locate the snake. So I left the dead, frozen, thawed full size mouse on the floor near the closet. I went in to check maybe half an hour later and the mouse was gone. No sign of the snake. I just stood there. I looked around disbelieving that my plan had worked so well. Then I noticed that Pearly was right above where the mouse had been left. Half an hour earlier she had been all the way across the room. It dawned on me slowly that the snake had not eaten the mouse. Pearl had eaten the mouse. It was the only logical choice. I looked at her and felt her belly. It was hard to tell. She was thin after the egg laying but she didn't seem so thin now. hmmmm. I talked to people online and was informed that an iguana that had laid that many eggs might have some weird cravings and might just eat anything. I felt bad as I had not intended to give her animal protein, especially that much! But it nagged at me; did she actually eat it? We still hadn't uncovered the snake. Maybe the snake DID eat it. So I performed an experiment. I thawed out a very small mouse and offered it to Pearl. She snapped it up like it was a special treat. I had my answer. Now, normally I do not advocate the feeding of rodents to Green Iguanas but I had to know if she was the culprit. That was the last mouse I ever left laying around. Oh, by the way, we found the snake a few weeks later, dehydrated but alive and still going strong to this day.

Pearl continued to pack on the pounds through the year 2000 into 2001. When she had arrived in September of 1999 she weighed a little less than 5 pounds. In December of 2000 she weighed in at 8 pounds. I began to wonder how many eggs she would lay in the spring if she was that much bigger herself. I didn't actually see them breed this time but in late April 2001 she started to get that "bag of golfballs" look again. She didn't look much different that she had the last year. She was very active just like the year before. She stopped eating at the very end of April and was searching for a suitable place to lay the eggs. I got her lay box (50 gal. rubbermaid tub with a hole cut in the top filled with moist topsoil/sand/vermiculite). She dug many test holes in there an made an extraordinary mess in the room. I didn't mind as all I wanted her to do was get those eggs out.

On or around May 1st she laid a very strange egg that was yolk encrusted and in hindsight I should have taken her to the vet at that point. This whole ugly thing might have been avoided had I done that. But she seemed fine. I watched her very carefully and she kept digging the test holes and walking around the room and all over the house in fact. I had read that exercise was good for them in this condition so when we were home she got to roam all over the house. I think she was looking for a better place than the laybox to lay the eggs. In the end she picked the laybox to have them in and started to lay them May 9th in the late afternoon. When I got home from work there were already about 30 or so in the box. She worked hard all night. I finally turned the light out at about 11 pm. She had laid 59 by then and still looked like she had a vast quantity left in there. I checked on her around 3:30 am and there were a lot more behind her. Not sure how many but I had removed the first 59 and there were a bunch more in there. At 6:30 when I went to check on her I saw a "red egg" in the dim light. When I turned on the light I discovered much to my dismay that part of her insides had come out with an egg trapped inside. Later I would learn that she had prolapsed one of her oviducts. I was in a near-panic state. I didn't know what to do. She had this egg thing hanging out of her with pink tissue attached and it was getting topsoil all over it. I put her in the bathtub in warmish water and called the vet at 7:30 as soon as they opened. They told me the vet would call me at 8 am when he got there. I didn't like this answer but figured she would be ok in the tub. Aside from the 3 inch mass of tissue that was outside of her she seemed fine. She was alert, trying to get out of the tub from time to time etc. In the tub she laid 4 more eggs for me which made me happy. She had laid 84 altogether now and I could feel more inside of her. I knew that the spay operation was imminent.

At some point I decided I needed to take a shower before we went to the vet and Pearl was occupying our one bathtub. I put her in a rubbermaid tub with moist towels and a heating pad with the cover on (with holes) and took a shower. When I got out of the shower and checked on her I discovered that she had punctured some part of the tissue that was outside of her and was bleeding. I almost panicked but called the vet instead and told them I was coming right now before 8 am when the vet gets there. My vet was over an hour away. I was so afriad she would bleed to death before my eyes. As time went by I could see that she was not bleeding much at all but it was still blood after all. I drove like lightning to the vet and made it in record time for a little after 9 am. I was reassured that everything would be ok. He said that the prolapsed oviduct was not an issue as it was all coming out anyway. I agreed that this made sense to me. He wasn't worried so I wasn't worried. I drove back home and went to work. I weighed the 84 eggs she had laid already and they weighed 3 punds 4 ounces. I put them in the freezer at work to kill the embryos. Everything was going to be OK.

Everything was not OK. The vet called around 4 pm to tell me that Pearl had died after the surgery. I didn't know what to say. I was shocked. She was supposed to be OK. I didn't say goodbye. She was supposed to come home. The vet felt terrible. He had never lost a spay before and he had done lots of them. He explained that when he opened her up he discovered she had internal bleeding because her other oviduct had ruptured at some point. She had 20 more eggs inside her. That made 105 eggs altogether. Some of them were in her body cavity up by her lungs and heart. The fact that they were out in her body cavity wasn't the issue, he further explained. He got them all out and the operation was a success. The problem was what with the internal bleeding her blood pressure was probably too low to handle the anesthesia. She never woke up. Her heart rate was fine up until about 20 minutes before she died. But she just never woke up.

The feelings of shock, devastation and guilt were overwhelming. If I had only taken her to the vet sooner to have an x-ray done. If I had taken her to the vet after she laid the weird egg early on. If I had only had her spayed as a precaution this year after the 82 eggs of last year. What was I thinking? If a 5 pound iguana lays 82 eggs one year and puts on 3 pounds how many eggs did I think she would lay the next time? I feel like I played God and lost. I should have had her spayed before all of this. The vet would have found 105 eggs in there but she most likely would have made it through the operation had there been no internal bleeding to lower her blood pressure.

What if, what if, what if? I drove myself crazy for days. I felt terrible, like I had killed her by not getting her spayed before. I am not an idiot. I profess to know what I am talking about with iguanas. I still feel like I should have done things different. So many people wrote me emails of condolences. There was so much support from my family and friends. So many people told me I didn't do anything wrong. I choose to believe them for the most part although it still nags at me from time to time. WHAT IF?

I had her cremated and we planted a tree in her memory in my tortoise enclosure outside. I am going to bury her ashes there. My husband made up a brass plaque that says "In Memory of PEARL - 5/10/01". Planting the tree was probably the single most helpful thing that I did. I'm not sure why but it did. It sort of solidifies her place in our hearts.

If anyone can learn anything from this there is some good in it. Take your iguanas to the vet. Understand that they CAN die in the spay operation if you wait too long. I thought the vet could fix anything. That is not true and it is not the vet's fault. It is our responsibility to get them there before it is too late.

Rest in Peace Pearly

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