Egg laying in the
Australian Bearded Dragon

Below are excerpts on egg laying and incubation in bearded dragons (BDs or beardies) that I and others have written on the Pogona list, an internet discussion list dedicated to the topic of bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps). You will find some redundancy, and I have slightly edited some posts to make them fit this context. I chose entries to give a variety of views and information, rather than to recall everyone's opinion encyclopedically. I like having all these different voices and opinions. The variety of opinions helps emphasizes that there is often no singlecorrect way to proceed.


The photo below was kindly supplied by Tammy Belicic ("Tammy & the zoo").

Two eggs are resting on a bed of vermiculite. One baby has begun to hatch. The edge of the container can be seen at the bottom..


The photo below was kindly supplied by Tammy Belicic ("Tammy & the zoo"), who comments:

This is one of my females. At the time this was taken she was on a substrate of walnut shells, which I was told to use by a breeder. Happy to say that since then I have found the Pogona list & she is no longer on walnut shells. You can see the pile of vermiculite on her head & the bulge of the eggs in her belly. She had just come out of her nesting box & decided to drive me crazy by digging for another week! LOL! She even had her veggies filled with walnut shells from digging there too.


More web sites

Alta Brewer's excellent succinct and authoritative discussion of the major issues
http://www.netlizards.net/bdfaq.html

Melissa Kaplan very informative site on egg laying issues, focused in iguanas but relevant to dragons
http://www.sonic.net/melissk/ig_egg.html

Ronnie Buck's excellent set of pages, highly readable and very accessible
http://www.australianbeardies.com

Bill Mears' site, a major resource
http://www.geocities.com/borderviewdragons/dragon.html home site; care page includes special section on hatchlings and illustrates hatching; http://www.geocities.com/borderviewdragons/chart.html shows chart for line breeding

Spike and Daisy site: click on "Spike and Daisy had kids" to see eggs, hatchlings, and a Little Giant egg incubator http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/5726/dragonsfs.html

Carole CWS You can read my account of what happened when my female first laid eggs at http://www.reptilecare.com Click on Bearded Dragons and you will see it.

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Maturity, fertility, false gravidity


    Ronnie Buck on when mature enough to lay fertile eggs
    I think that, with the females, size has a lot to do with it as well. I had one girl this year become gravid at 8 months old, somewhere around 200 grams before the eggs. I kept her with 4 other females and once I noticed the eggs I went ahead and bread her to a male. She laid 21 fertile eggs in one clutch and that was it for the year. I also have some girls that are pushing 3 years old and they haven't produced any eggs yet. Peter Weis says at 175 grams females have the ability to produce fertile clutches. (I don't remember if he said some or all females, most likely some)

    Jen Periat on virgins laying eggs
    Y
    , gwen laid 53 eggs this year, not a man lizard in sight. She's almost 3, and hadn't ever laid them before. So they don't always lay them every year I think.

    Dustin, on first clutches
    Many female beardies will lay their first clutch as infertile... A couple days ago, I had a female lay the smallest clutch of eggs I've ever heard of, 5 eggs, all infertile, except one may be fertile, but I doubt it. This was her first clutch and I gave her a nesting box to lay in, nesting box is necessary. I use a big Rubbermaid container with a little over a foot of soil/sand mixture, moistened. I also will start the hole for the female and they always prefer it to starting their own hole for themselves. And, they may mate this year, as almost all beardies lay multiple clutches per year.

    Jeff Fisher: false gravidities...
    My female (her first year to lay) got big developing her 5th clutch, was late in laying, dug a hole and backed down in it and spent the night there! Next day was Sun(of course-no vet) so I soaked her in a warm bath, fed her and put her back in her hole. Monday I took her to the vet. We xrayed and there were NO eggs! Put her back in with the male, where she stays all the time and she looks gravid again, so dont know if she will lay again this year or not. First year mothers are errratic, to say the least.

    Kathryn on variations in survival
    Based on my experience, dragons can breed from at least 10 months old. However, the first matings often produce unfertile eggs, or embryos that don't survive until term. The second year is much more productive, but fertile eggs can be produced earlier. For instance, a new female in my group who is about 1 year old ("Thistle") laid 18 eggs in her first clutch and half survived to hatch. The genetics of the individual can affect embryo survival. For instance, in contrast to Thistle, "The Babe" has consistently had high viability, except for her first clutch at 11 months which I did not incubate, since it was totally unexpected. She has laid 18 clutches since then. I have also heard anecdotal evidence that the gold lines are less fertile than many others; they may be more inbred, or the gold may be a partial lethal. Dwarfism is certainly a partial lethal. Mortality can also certainly be non-genetic, since eggs can die during incubation, for a variety of reasons. For instance, in my hands, temperatures higher than 84 degrees F are often lethal, even if relatively brief. Humidity levels that are too low can also reduce viability.

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Prevention

On preventing hatching:
1) Cindy Lynn If you feel you have too many eggs-...put them in a zip lock bag in your freezer... .Leave them in there for a few days before disposing of them...Otherwise if you throw them out there is always the chance of them being warm enough and hatching in a land fill somewhere :*( Make sure when your female is done laying to keep her well fed, calcium supplemented and hydrated.. She should bounce back within a few weeks.. Just because you keep beardies doesn't mean you need to breed them!!! That's why I sold my pair and just have my one pogona pal now...Not intended as a flame...But separating the male and female will prevent further worries-Remember they can retain sperm for up to six months or more!!..

2) Kathryn In my lab we work on chicken eggs; the medically accepted way to assure that fertilized eggs don't hatch is to freeze them. People sometimes worry that such euthanasia can cause pain, but it doesn't, for two reasons. First, when they are laid, the embryos are at a stages when the nervous system has yet to develop, so they can feel nothing by definition--no nerves, no pain. Second, even if the eggs were really quite old and the nerves were formed, the cold itself isn't painful--remember how your fingers get numb when they get very cold. They only hurt when you try to warm them up again. The cold prevents nerve transmission, as well as causing death; the embryos are dead by freezing overnight and dead things feel no pain even when you warm them up...

Kathryn on inbreeding
If your male and female dragons are siblings, it may be best to simply not incubate the eggs, even if they are fertile. (You can freeze the eggs to assure development ceases.) Generally with this degree of inbreeding, some eggs will be infertile, some embryos will die during incubation or during hatching, and only about half are likely to hatch. A few of those may have birth defects, but others would be perfectly healthy. If you do let them hatch and sell them at a swap, you should ask the going price but you will need to warn people that they are siblings, and that if they want two BDs, they should get only one from you, since if THESE siblings were bred together, the incidence of severe birth defects is a near certainty.

Todd on selective breeding
Some private breeders may breed and only raise one clutch and freeze the rest. This gives them some to sell and help diversify the genes just a little more and still keeps you from spending stupid amounts of money to raise them and sell them.

Pam Hanratty on what to do with all those babies!
Better find a good, reliable supplier for tiny crickets! The going price for baby beardies? Well, that depends upon color phase and supply in your area. If you sell them yourself, and if they are normal phase, you might be able to sell them for $40-45, selling directly to your customers. That is a really optimistic figure, however. I have been able to sell to our local pet store for $20-25. At reptile shows during the peak of hatching season, people have practically been giving them away....I saw them selling for as little as $20, and some larger dealers were offering folks as little as $3-5 per baby for entire clutches. Before you start planning your vacation in the Bahamas, don't forget that these little guys will be eating immense quantities of crickets for at least 8 weeks, until they are ready to move on to a new home. I didn't sell mine until they were even older and better established. I didn't even cover cricket costs when I finally sold the babies.

Julie Rimblas on finding homes for hatchlings
Hello! I have finally sold all but one baby beardie (total of around 60 this year). Wow! The babies were amazing to watch hatch, grow, eat, etc, but it is way to stressful to try to find "GOOD" homes for them. I think a bit of beardie birth control is needed next year. :) Thanks to Louise for taking some and to Kathryn for helping me sell them. Though I miss all my beautiful babies, I am relieved that they are in good homes.

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Before conception: nutrition


    Jen Periat re calcium need
    Y
    eah, yesterday in nutrition, the prof mentioned that reptiles can be depleted of Ca very rapidly when making eggs, because they make them all at once, not one a day like chickens. Ca is necessary for muscle contractions (just was tested on that yesterday...), so it would be good to give Ca to replenish what was lost for normal body functions, but as for helping/hindering egg laying, I'm not sure. Seems like it would help the egg laying muscles.

    Kathryn on Calcium
    I am a developmental biologist, so I see this question as being right up my alley... (a chance to combine my vocation and my avocation, as it were). Poorly-formed shells need not indicate insufficient calcium. Actually, most of the calcium demand in building eggs is not putting calcium into the shell, but putting calcium into the YOLK. The yolk provides the nutrients for building that big embryo, including all the calcium for its bones. The shell has some calcium, but the shell does not become noticeably thinner with incubation age, as little material is withdrawn from it. However, egg building IS a huge drain on the female dragon's metabolism. All females laying eggs--whether the eggs are fertile or not-need more supplemental calcium, and more nutrients generally. I usually install a new UVB bulb in the Spring, and sometimes give females TWO bulbs, as well as Rep Cal supplements of calcium carbonate.

    Brian Avalos on appetite and breeding season
    In my experience it is very common for male dragons to get so caught up in their mating ritual they go for a long period of time without eating or eating very little. This can also cause they female to stop feeding because she fears being jumped every time she goes to the bowl. I usually will separate the male and female during feeding times or permanently if it is causing either one to much stress. My guys always seem to work things out though. Just watch them closely and give extra water or soaks to keep them hydrated. Less food means less water if you're not providing an extra water source.

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Conception

Joanne on, after copulation, how long until the female lays her eggs?
It's supposed to be 3-4 weeks; mine took 5 weeks.

on the period between clutches
Pam Hanratty
Last year, Lucy laid her 3 clutches exactly 2 months apart. She was so regular that you didn't need to check a calendar! Kathryn: "The Babe" varies between three and four weeks between clutches, usually three.

Kathryn on stored spermYes, BDs store sperm. I found that out a couple of years ago, when my female, "The Babe" laid her first clutches. I mated her with Fluffy, and she laid a clutch. I mated her with Fratchet and she laid a clutch. I mated her with no-one else, thinking that she was young and I didn't want to wear her out. She proceeded to lay four more clutches, at three-week intervals, all by herself (with stored memories....). A corollary of stored sperm is that, after the first mating, there is no guaranteed paternity....

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Is it Labor??

On symptoms indicating incipient laying
1) Anna Your female may be wanting to "oviposit". I just went through that with mine. The symptoms were:

  • Ever-increasing belly - could feel "marbles" in her lower abdomen in the last week no interest in food
  • DIGGING-DIGGING-DIGGING and more frantic DIGGING Pacing the cage, the living room, everywhere. I started by mixing coconut shell and moist sand in the main cage. She just dug it all up and disturbed Harry, the male. I finally put her in a 10 gallon half-full of moist peat moss. She musta liked that because she laid 26 eggs in a pit she made, and carefully buried them and camouflaged the surface. Now she is svelte, calm and eating like the little piggy she was before.

2) Pam As far as the question of whether your female is gravid, that's hard to say without seeing her. When Lucy is gravid, she looks like a sack of marbles by the time she is ready to lay. There is no question about it! Not all animals may be quite as obvious, however. When Lucy is ready to lay eggs, she begins to dig frantically and incessantly.

3) Ronnie Buck, on when females are ready to lay


A few signs of gravid females that don't always hold true, because not all females know they are supposed to warn us of these things before hand =0|
  • restlessness - a lot of pacing back and forth. wanting out of the cage, wanting into the cage, going over here, then running back over there.
  • digging - spends a lot of time on the substrate instead of on basking branches. dig, dig, dig, dig
  • body shape - the guts get pushed forward to make room for the eggs, which can give them the appearance of looking more tear drop as opposed to round.
  • lumps - usually be gently massaging the flanks, you can feel or see the lumps from the eggs. Within a few days of laying, usually you will see one lump centered on the belly, just in front of the vent. When mine get to this stage, the eggs are right around the corner.
  • weight gain - obviously they put on weight, and it should be noticeable.

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The laying box

Pam Hanratty, prepping a laying box
If your female is digging like crazy, she is ready to lay the eggs *NOW*, today...even as we speak! Have you separated her from her mate? What type of egg-laying box are you using? Here's what I do: Fill an 18 gallon rubbermaid storage container with about 8-10 inches of *new* vermiculite that has been moistened with water until it is just moist enough to hold its shape when you squeeze it between your hands into a ball. Should *not* be dripping water! Add water a little at a time. Put gravid female into the box. Place the lid over one end of the box for some privacy in case she doesn't like being observed. Leave her in the box until she has laid the eggs and has completely covered them...she will be pretty tired at that point. Offer her some water and food after she is finished. Don't remove the eggs while she is watching. (Note from Kathryn; I find that The Babe doesn't mind if I remove them while she is laying; but if I remove them while she is looking at them, she will hiss!!! So take Pam literally; don't remove the eggs, WHILE SHE IS LOOKING!)

Pam Hanratty, why you should supply a separate laying container
The amount of time between digging and laying can vary quite a bit, especially with the first clutch. It could be minutes...or it could be a couple of days. Just be patient and leave her there, undisturbed, until she does lay. If it goes on for more than a couple of days, or if she seems to be growing very weak, that would be the time to reevaluate. Lucy was fortunate to lay her eggs pretty quickly...but not all dragons do so. I have had much better experience having her lay eggs in a separate laying box. On the one occasion when she laid eggs while I was at work (3rd clutch)...this time in the normal enclosure. Some of the eggs were trampled by the male. All of the others became moldy very quickly with an especially nasty mold. I suspect this may have been because the substrate in the regular enclosure contains remnants of fecal material, etc. The vermiculite that you purchase at the store is not completely sterile, but is extremely clean in contrast. Beardies do lay their eggs in the soil outdoors, but a female would not lay her eggs in the same place that she normally defecates.

Natasha Hawk on the laying site:
I've only been through this once myself, but from what I've learned it's totally fine for them to dig and dig and dig. Days is fine. As long as the "look" good, and don't look like they are stuck in mid poop for a long time (laying eggs looked just like when they are about to poop to me).

I tried and tried and tried to get Orm Embar to like a digging spot. I tried everything. She only hated everything. She wound up birthing her eggs from the top of her basking log! LOL! It's great to have a place available to her, but *I* think if she doesn't want it she won't use it. Keep something appropriate available, but don't sweat it if she ignores it. It would be great if the spot you make can have warmth and some privacy too.

Boidster on the laying site:
Remi started digging in the back-left corner of her cage a couple of weeks before she laid and I put the Rubbermaid into that very corner. She hopped into it and began digging in the same place. It seemed that her attitude was "location, location, location" and the type of substrate wasn't a concern.

DAISY (bambii) on where to lay
Which brings me 2 a question, all my dragons have laid there eggs in the same place every year, I'm just wonderin if others have noticed this same habit? All 3 that have laid, always use the back left hand corner of the palace 2 lay there eggs, when I did add a box 2 that corner, they dug behind the box!

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Laying

Kathryn on egg laying
My oldest female, "The Babe", has laid many clutches over the last three years. Sometimes she will produce eggs quickly, but more often she will dig more extensively. Often she will dig for 3-4 days running, diligently digging a 30-foot long tunnel--in her mind at least, all within the 18 inches long container.... The Babe will bury her eggs quite assiduously, breaking for rests and staring off into space as she does so. I have successfully removed the eggs during the laying process and even during burying without her being disturbed by it. Indeed, a few times she has happily buried her egg-laying SITE, despite the fact that I had removed the eggs entirely.

I try to keep track of her while she is laying, since occasionally she has trouble with an egg. You know there is trouble if your female has assumed the egg-laying position-- posterior down into the hole --but has produced nothing for half an hour or so. (If she is just digging, she is still fine.) If The Babe is experiencing difficulties, I put her in warm water--just as though she were impacted. Indeed, we have had a few under-water "deliveries". I don't worry about the female being egg-bound, while she is still happily digging. If she backs up and tries to lay, but doesn't, then something needs to be done, starting with warm soaks, and in extreme cases ending in a vet visit.

Avid digging behavior is typical of a gravid female. When one of my females has been digging, I will remove her to a laying site: a Rubbermaid container about 18" on a side and 10-12 inches deep, 2/3 full of damp vermiculite. (I don't use dirt--it contains fungus which will grow on the eggs, killing the embryo. Also, I don't use Perilite, the white stuff--the dragon will eat some, and it is bad for them). The vermiculite should not be soggy. If it has just the right amount of water, then some squeezed in your hand should retain its shape, like a snowball. Partially cover (or totally cover) the container loosely with a lid or piece of cardboard. When you put your female in, first there will be silence. Then there will be digging. Often, a nose will appear, as she rests; and sometimes after a short period of digging, she will decide to look for someplace better to dig--she will escape the laying box and run around frenetically. Put her back in. If she continually escapes, she isn't ready to lay, and can be returned to her cage.

The females often dig for several hours, often on succeeding days. I monitor the digging; the container is right by the chair where I sit to work at night. If the digging stops, take a look. If she has dug out a hole and is backed into it, she is likely laying. She should not be disturbed greatly during laying, although I have taken the eggs out successfully as The Babe lays them. She is most sensitive to disturbance when she is done, and has turned to bury the eggs. Your female could hiss at you if you disturb her then. She will bury the eggs assiduously, even if you have removed them. Indeed, the behavior seems very innate--if you put her back in her cage, she will be very frustrated and will continue to try to bury something. Best to let her continue her burying behavior in the container.

It is important to give your female a good spot to lay her eggs, to prevent her from becoming egg-bound, which could be detrimental, even fatal. My females will hold their eggs until they are given a laying box. Since the process of laying can take a while, I would give her the box first on Friday after work (assuming you have the weekend free), so you can monitor her. Alternatively, if you have to leave her, you could put her in the laying box and shut her in the bathroom or an empty closet (come to think of it, I have never had a closet that is EMPTY...), so that she can't run into trouble if she decides to roam about looking for a better laying box. Your female will look incredibly skinny once she lays. Feed her lots. Give her fluids. Give her calcium powder. Let her rinse off in a nice warm bath. Pamper her.

If you are going to incubate the eggs, before removing them from the laying bin, get a penlight type of flashlight, some plastic gloves, a container with warm (not hot) water, and the incubating container (e.g., a Tupperware sandwich container, 1/2 filled with moist vermiculite. With your gloved finger, make a series of shallow depressions in the vermiculite to hold the eggs. Lift an egg, rinse the vermiculite off, shine the light on the egg so you can see the little pinkish oval where the embryo lies. (The embryo is actually only a tiny streak at this stage, without a brain or nerves yet; the pink if present is blood vessels growing out to cover the egg yolk. These blood vessels develop first, to keep the embryo alive.) Place the egg in the depression in the vermiculite, with the oval up. Incubate in a Hovobator incubator (available from Big Apple or other web sources).

Tammy Thundril describing egg laying
Hello all, Well my baby girl, Bailey who has been gravid forever, seems that way anyway, finally laid her eggs. She has been digging for about a week now & I swear she could have dug half way to China by now. I got her laying box ready last week & got the incubator ready & then just waited for the big event. The last 2 times she laid she waited until I was with her to do it but this time she waited until after I went to bed. I got up this morning & my husband said she was skinny again. So I spent half an hour getting the eggs out & putting them into the containers & incubator. Today is my birthday & my Bailey gave me 32 birthday presents all by her little self! Some of the eggs are dimpled so I don't know how many will make it. I got Bailey out this morning & gave her a big hug & kiss & then gave her some superworms, she ate 6 of them. Poor girl was starved after all that hard work. Just thought I'd share, couldn't keep the excitement to myself & I knew you would all understand. :)

Bill Mears describing egg laying
Hole finished around 3.15pm EST. About 6-7" long and 3" wide. Took her about 30 mins to make. Started laying 3.30pm, finished around 4.30pm. Don't know how many yet as she's busy hiding them from me! It's fascinating watching her dig the vermiculaite back into the hole and then pack it in with her nose. Because I dug the starter hole, there wasn't enough on the 'mound' she'd dug to refill it completely, so when she ran out, I pushed some more over- she stopped and watched and then used it once I'd finished- I could swear I heard her say thank-you! Dulcie has always been the easiest and most social of my BD's and I don't think this part of the process could have been any simpler. I hope that if they hatch, her offspring have her temperament.

Michelle Owen on maternal protectiveness
I don't post very often, but I just wanted to share this cute story with you. You guys will appreciate it. One of my female beardeds, Matilda, laid eggs yesterday. I was so excited to see that she had laid, and she was on the other side of the tank, so I decided to dig the eggs up right away. She had laid them under the basking spot, and I didn't want them to dry out. I started digging the eggs up, and laying them right next to where she had laid them. She came running across the tank, looked at the eggs, looked at my hand digging up the rest of the eggs, and proceeded to head butt me. No joke. She started running her head into my hand. I stopped for a second, and then she started burying the eggs again. I moved her to the other side of the tank and started to finish digging up the eggs, she ran over again, continued to head butt, and then when I didn't stop, she nipped me. Nothing to break the skin, just a warning. She was so cute being so territorial over her eggs. I finished fast, and then she buried the spot where the eggs were for the next several hours. She is now back to eating, and only occasionally does she look at me like I am the big, bad wolf. Anyway, just wanted to share.

Kathryn on parental care
No real parental care--they go in for large numbers of eggs instead. "The Babe" laid around 180 eggs last year. As you can imagine, in the wild mortality must be high, to end up with just replacement numbers; otherwise Australians would be chin-deep in beardies by now. So, they care for them in captivity exactly like they care for them in the wild--lay 'em, bury 'em, forget 'em.

Tammy & the zoo on male participation

OK, she didn't lay her eggs yesterday, just practicing I guess or trying to make her Mom crazy! I came home & she was out of the hidey box & Kinko, her mate was in it with his head sticking out. Poor guy, he gets just as crazy as I do when she is getting ready to lay, a couple times I had to rescue him from being buried, she throws vermiculite everywhere & if he doesn't move she just throws it all over him! I have to admit he does look cute sitting there all buried in vermiculite, he doesn't appreciate the humor in it though you can tell by the fed up look on his little face!

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Egg binding (dystocia)

Alta on egg binding (dystocia)
Egg-binding is diagnosed by behavior, not by time a female harbors the eggs. As long as a female is still acting fine, she's fine. The symptoms of egg-binding include lethargy, depression, and non-responsiveness. Egg-binding seems to be quite rare in BDs. You may find Melissa Kaplan's article on egg-binding useful. It's at: http://www.sonic.net/melissk/dystocia.html

Kathryn on unbred females
Yes, unbred females do lay eggs--it is not BREED OR DIE!! as it is in some species. Any female can become egg-bound, but the usual cause of becoming egg bound seems to be the lack of an appropriate place to lay eggs. Normally, the female can retain the eggs for a period while she searches for an appropriate place and digs; but if retained too long, they become a problem, that can be lethal. There are other causes as well, some possibly physiological, that we can do nothing about--so no need for guilt feelings, if you had a BD demise from this problem.

I've run into an additional occasion of egg retention, that was not due to dissatisfaction with the available egg-laying site. Once "The Babe" lets me know she is ready to lay (by incessant digging in her cage, etc.) and I take her out and put her in the egg-laying container, she usually digs for a few hours, occasionally over two days, but then lays her eggs fairly promptly. However, twice, she showed an unusual behavior: as usual, she stopped digging and backed up ready to lay eggs, but then, she failed to produce. I consider this (not producing eggs even though she had dug her burrow and assumed the position) to be a sign of egg-binding, some difficulty in laying. The symptom wasn't the amount of digging, but the long delay in producing the first egg, after she had stopped digging. I treated her with warm water baths and some very very gentle message of the tummy area. The first time, she produced a "bad" egg, hardish and irregular in shape, and then produced a few more, under water. I then put her in her laying box, and all proceeded as normal. This last week, after she showed some reluctance to lay as normal, I soaked her over two days running, and she then proceeded to lay normally.

Alta Brewer on when dragons finally lay
I've never had a gravid BD, but what I've learned with female igs to just give up. ;) I've had gallons and gallons of dirt/sand spread all over my dressing room by an ig that loved digging in her nesting box, but then laid her eggs in front of the sliding door in the dining room. I've also had an ig that laid her eggs into her UVB light--she climbed on top of it and let loose, behind the nightstand in the bedroom, on the chest, and in my husband's slippers in the closet. [Your dragon] will choose the spot she wants to lay. What you think of it is irrelevant. ;) All you can do is provide the best spots you can and see where she picks. Egg-binding is diagnosed by symptoms, and if your dragon is merely digging, she doesn’t have the symptoms. If she becomes lethargic and just plain sick looking, then I'd worry, but not until. Egg-binding is rare enough in BDs that I just wouldn't worry at all. She'll lay her eggs when she's ready.

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