A surprise delivery of seven tiny newborn rodents provided a real Christmas miracle for students and staff at Tupton Hall School.
One lucky Year 7 student took the school’s pet degu ‘Bella’ home to look after over the holidays.
But she and her family got more than they bargained for as they watched the animal’s waistline rapidly expand.
“Bella just got wider and wider – they didn’t know what was wrong,” said Tupton Hall’s Head of Science, Victoria Hennessey.
“They finally took her to a local pet shop where they were told she was pregnant.”
The degu, a South American rodent closely related to guinea pigs and chinchillas, has a gestation period of just 3 months.
Bella’s seven little ones – five boys and two girls - were born on 3rd January.
“We think she must have already been expecting when she arrived here in November,” said Mrs Hennessey, who also runs the school’s Small Animal Club every Thursday lunchtime.
“All the children have been very excited since their arrival. They just want to pet them all the time – teaching has been very difficult!”
But the animals are not just there for the cute factor. Children at Tupton Hall School are learning how to look after the school’s animals, discovering the differences between species and hopefully being inspired to continue studying science at college or university.
A future ambition is to link the animal club with the Children’s University (CU) scheme where students can gain a qualification based on the work they do outside of school hours.
“Degus are born with fur and with their eyes open. They are able to walk within just a few hours,” said Mrs Hennessey.
“Our students who come to Small Animal Club have been brilliant. They are so positive and enthusiastic – even getting stuck in with feeding and cleaning out the animals’ cages.”
The school menagerie currently includes a mischief of mice, a school of fish and a couple of rats. It is hoped that a bearded dragon may even be acquired in the near future.
But as for the baby degus… they all have safe, responsible homes to go to once they are old enough.
Said Mrs Hennessey: “Several kind students and staff have offered to keep them in the long term. But for now we are simply enjoying having them here.”