WILTON — The whir of plastic wheels set in motion by small, furry degus intrigued a shopper at Mt. Blue Agway Monday.
The cage, holding half a dozen degus, sits among smaller cages of hampsters, gerbils and mice and near a longtime garden pond where a variety of large and small fish swim inside the Route 2 store.
From another nearby cage one hears the sounds of just a slight chirp although several crickets roam the cage floor.
The live animals and insects are a new addition to the garden supply and outside equipment store that also offers dog and cat food and supplies.
After the last pet store closed in Farmington, customers started asking for crickets and worms to feed their lizards, geckos and carnivorous reptiles, Ryan Bibeau, general manager said. Some of these items required a trip to Augusta or Lewiston.
Aiming to please, the store added insects and worms to the product line.
When John Deere products disappeared from the store's inventory, Bibeau said he began to consider other options.
Customers appeared to want the smaller animals and reptiles offered by previous pet stores. He began the research and purchases necessary to add a potential line of live fish and reptiles perhaps ready by next month while bringing cages of degus, hampsters, gerbils and mice to the store.
While watching the degus' antics on the spinning wheel, Bibeau shared his knowledge of the rodent that has found a home with families locally and across the country. Dogs and cats can be a long-term commitment he said of the new interest. The degu offers less of a commitment although they can live 8 to 14 years compared to about the three-year life expectancy for gerbils and hampsters.
Think of a small Chinchilla, he said of the furry animal intent on spinning his wheel only stopping to interact with another degu.
"They are very social, love people and can be trained," he said of the rodent originally from Chile.
They can be litter trained and employees in another Agway in northern Maine have trained degus to ride on their shoulders, he said. The northern store is the only other Agway that carries the animals as far as he knows.
As a large store dog brings his toy over for a little attention, Bibeau said the degus love to play with the dog in a controlled environment. They are curious and playful, active during the day. A half-hour's sleep and they're ready to go again, he said.
Being such a social animal, the store only sells degus by the pair unless they know a single one is going into a colony of other degus, he said.
Bibeau has done his homework, learning about the small critters he wants to add to the store's product line. It's company policy to be knowledgeable of the products offered, he said.
"We feel we need to be experts," he said of any product line offered at the store.
He hopes to have everything in place including the addition of fish and reptiles by spring, ready for customers who come in for planting supplies. Meanwhile, he continues to plan, research and purchase necessary items. He's also open to suggestions from customers, he said.