Nine-Banded Armadillo

NOTE: Education Animals are “behind-the-scenes” animals & only appear to the public during Educational events. This includes scheduled events or programs such as daily animal mingles, private onsite programs, and zoo reaches. For more information, please reach out to edureservations@lvzoo.org.


Program and General Information

Nine banded armadillos can be found in Northern Argentina through Southern United States and are the only species of armadillo found in the United States. They can get in length up to 2.5 feet long (from nose to tip of tail) and weigh up to 15 pounds. Males are generally larger than females. Nine-banded armadillos are blackish-brown to grey in coloration with yellowish white hair on its underside.

Armadillos are the only mammals covered by an outer body of armor made up of bony plates. Although named the “nine-banded”, these armadillos can have anywhere from 7-11 bands. Their primary diet consists of 75% insects and the other 25% consists of small reptiles, amphibians, and even plant matter (fruits, seeds, fungi). Breeding occurs once a year in the summer months. Gestation lasts 4 months after which the female will almost always give birth to 4 identical quadruplets. The young will nurse up to 60 days before the mother weans it, however, they young may remain with the mother for several months. They are considered mature at 1 year.


Diet

Nine-banded armadillos are generalist feeders and use their sense of smell to track down almost 500 different foods, most of which are invertebrates. Insects make up 75% of an armadillo’s diet, while the other 25% consists of of small reptiles, amphibians, and even plant matter (fruits, seeds, fungi).

Their sense of smell is their best sense, being able to smell invertebrates that are 8 inches below the surface. They can even stand on their hind legs to get a better vantage point for smelling. The armadillos’ long, curved claws help them to dig up prey, and like most insect eating mammals, their tongues are very long and sticky to slurp up insects quickly. The wiry hairs on an armadillo’s sides and belly, similar to “curb feelers” on a car, can help it sense prey underneath it.

Nine-banded armadillos are nocturnal and spend their waking time burrowing or feeding.


Habitat and Range

The nine-banded armadillo is the most widespread armadillo species, and the only armadillo native to the United States. Their range covers Southern North America through Argentina.
These armadillos prefer warm, wet climates and live in forested, grassland, wetland, and woodland habitats. Small streams are no obstacle for these amazing animals. The nine-banded armadillo can hold its breath for up to six minutes and can swim or “walk” along the bottom of rivers.


Common Physical Features

Nine-banded armadillos are a medium sized armadillo reaching lengths of 2.5 feet and weighing up to 15 pounds. Armadillos are the only mammals covered by an outer body of armor. Although called the nine banded, these armadillos can have anywhere from 7-11 bands. They are blackish-brown to grey in coloration with yellowish white hair on its underside. Males tend to be bigger than females. Their limbs are short with four toes on the front feet and five toes on the back feet. All digits have strong claws, however, the middle digits having the longest claws. These claws are very powerful and are used to dig to find insects.

Adaptations: The armadillo’s “armor” or carapace is made out of tough leathery skin and dermal plates (called osteoderms) which are divided into three sections: a scapular shield, a pelvic shield, and a series “bands” around the mid-section.

The dermal plates provide a tough yet flexible covering accounting for 16% of the armadillo’s total body weight. The armadillo’s head is also covered in keratinous scales, the same material that makes up our fingernails and hair, but their ears and underside lack any protective armor.

They have a long and tapered snout used to project their tongues in and out in order to forage for insects. Like most insect eating mammals, their tongues are very long and sticky to slurp up insects quickly. Insects are captured by digging up underground nests and/or tearing the bark off of rotting trees and turning over rotting leaf piles. Armadillos also have wiry hairs on their sides and bellies that act like feelers to help the armadillos sense any prey beneath them.

Unlike the three-banded armadillo that can actually rolls up in a ball for protection, the nine-banded armadillos, along with the other 18 species, must run, dig or press themselves in the dirt to keep from getting flipped over when threatened.

The nine-banded armadillos’ abandoned burrows are utilized by other animals, such as pine snakes, rabbits, opossums, mink, cotton rats, striped skunks, burrowing owls, and eastern indigo snakes.


Behavior and Life Cycle

Armadillos will often be solitary, only getting together in order to breed. Breeding occurs once a year in the summer months, and mature adults will breed every year for the rest of their life. Once breeding is successful, the gestation period lasts about 4 months, after which the female will almost always give birth to 4 identical young.

Right at birth their eyes are open and within a few hours they are up and walking around. At birth, the carapace of the offspring has not yet hardened and the unprotected young are extremely vulnerable to predation.

The young will nurse up to 60 days before the mother weans it, however, they young may remain with the mother for several months. Young armadillos are considered mature at one year. A baby armadillo is called a pup!


Conservation Messaging

Together with Nature
While not currently threated, nine-banded armadillos are are considered to be pests by many since they will burrow and destroy crops in order to eat insects.

This has led to many armadillos being killed by farmers and gardeners. They also can fall victim to cars. Nine-banded armadillos have a tendency to jump straight up into the air when they are startled, which often leads to their demise on highways. They are small enough that cars can pass right over them, but they leap up and hit the undercarriage of vehicles. And in some places, armadillos are even killed for their shell and eaten.

What can we do?: Although they are considered pests by some, armadillos are an important predator to many insect agricultural pests. In addition, these mammals are used for many medical research for leprosy due to their low body temperature to host the disease. Planting natural areas around your house or community encourages wildlife into the area by providing food and shelter for those species and can help keep them away from important crops.

Never remove an animal from the wild! Some well-meaning people will trap and relocate “pest” animals but the truth is, trapping rarely ends well for wildlife and is not a long term solution. While you might be thinking you are helping that animal, most people don’t realize the amount of care and time that goes in to caring for these animals, and removing them from their natural environment can be detrimental to the wild populations. If wild animals are not causing damage or posing danger, the best solution is to coexist! If you come across injured wildlife please call your local wildlife rehabilitation center as they are better equipped to handle and care for that animal.

The most important thing that we can do to help sustain their habitats is to “Leave No Trace”. Once you leave nature, no one should know that you’ve been there. This means bringing out anything that you’ve brought in. Additionally, leaving the environment unaltered is equally important.


Fun Facts

  • Armadillo means “little armored one” in Spanish. They are closely related to sloths and anteaters.
  • Armadillos’ teeth are single-rooted and peglike, ranging from 30-32 teeth. Armadillos are excellent swimmers because they can hold large amounts of air in their digestive tracts.
  • Armadillos will switch their activity level based on the season. In the summer, they are more active during the cooler nights whereas the winter they are more active during the warmest time of the day.
  • Their shell is considered to be modified skin (unlike a turtle who’s shell is made of bone) and has small hairs on its plates.
  • The largest armadillo species, the giant armadillo, can get up to 5 feet!

Bibliography

Mexican Red-kneed Tarantula

NOTE: Education Animals are “behind-the-scenes” animals & only appear to the public during Educational events. This includes scheduled events or programs such as daily animal mingles, private onsite programs, and zoo reaches. For more information, please reach out to edureservations@lvzoo.org.


Program and General Information

The Red Knee Tarantula is a type of burrowing tarantula that inhabits the scrub- forest habitats and semi-desert regions of the Pacific mountains of Mexico. They are a moderately large arachnid; a fully mature Red Knee can reach approx. 4-6 inches in its total leg span. They are a very stocky species of tarantula with a tan and black carapace and orange setae (hairs) on their legs and abdomen. Like most tarantulas, the Mexican redknee tarantula is covered in thin setae that they can use for climbing, sensing, and defense. Their diet primarily consists of arthropods, but they will also eat small amphibians and mammals. Breeding season occurs in the summer during the rainy season. The female constructs an egg sac and lays 200-400 eggs the following spring. Eggs hatch inside the egg case after about 3 months, and will remain inside for another 3 weeks. Spiderlings mature between 4-7 years.


Diet

Redknee tarantulas primarily eat arthropods, such as insects and other spiders, but will also prey on small amphibians and small mammals. Most tarantulas can go weeks without eating but water is necessary.

They are nocturnal hunters and do not spin webs to catch prey. Tarantulas carve deep burrows into soil banks not only to keep them protected from predators, but these burrows also enable them to easily ambush passing prey. The burrow is typically located in or not far from vegetation.

Redknee tarantulas are venomous and will inject their prey with this venom, which is full of digestive enzymes that break down the prey and turn it into nutritious soup. This venom is not fatal to humans.


Habitat and Range
Mexican redknee tarantulas are native to the Central Pacific coast of Mexico; can also be found in Southwest US and Panama. They inhabit the complex scrub- forest habitats and semi-desert regions where there is an abundance of food. They need to burrow, so they are rarely found on rock faces.

The entrance of the tarantulas burrow is just slightly larger than the body size of the spider. The tunnel, usually about three times the tarantula’s leg span in length, leads to a chamber which is large enough for the spider to safely molt in. Further down the burrow, via a shorter tunnel is a larger chamber located where the spider will rest and eat its prey. When the tarantula needs privacy, (when molting or laying eggs), the entrance is sealed with silk that is sometimes covered with soil and leaves.


Common Physical Features

Mexican redknee tarantulas are fairly large arachnids with a leg span of 4-6 inches. They are black or tan with orange setae (hair) on their legs and abdomen. Following molting, the colors are more pronounced. They have eight eyes, which are very small and generally not very strong. Tarantulas have four pairs of legs, or eight legs total.

Each of their 8 legs is also equipped with 2 claws that help them scale a variety of surfaces with ease. In addition to their legs, tarantulas have four other appendages near the mouth called chelicerae and pedipalps. The chelicerae contain the fangs and venom. A tarantula’s fangs fold under the body, meaning that it must strike downward to impale its prey. The pedipalps are used as feelers and claws, and are also used by the male as a part of reproduction. Both the chelicerae and pedipalps aid in feeding.

Adaptations: Tarantula’s digestive system is designed to handle liquid food. In order to be able to properly eat their prey, tarantulas will inject their prey with venom. The tarantula’s venom acts as a neurotoxin, affecting the nervous system, and a cytotoxin, breaking down tissues. The venom will act as a digestive fluid and work to break down the prey into a nutritious soup for the tarantula to easily eat. Although this tarantula’s venom has not caused any known fatalities to humans, people may experience a range of allergic effects and caution should be taken when handling a tarantula.

Like most tarantulas, the Mexican redknee tarantula’s body is covered with tiny hairs. These hairs serve various functions, from holding hairs to grip on varied surfaces and hairs for combing silk, to sensory hairs. When threatened tarantulas will do a short display where they will raise their front legs and present their fangs in preparation to defend themselves, after which they will beat a hasty retreat or will simply walk away. New World tarantulas (those that live in the Americas) have urticating hairs on their abdomens that can be used for defense. These spiders can rub their back legs together to flip these hairs and flick the urticating hairs off their abdomens, causing an irritating reaction in an attacker and even cause respiratory issues in smaller animals. High-strung specimens will often show a dark bald patch on their abdomens from flicking away the hairs.


Behavior and Life Cycle

Mexican Red Knee Tarantulas are solitary. They will only socialize during the breeding season; older spiders may readily cannibalize younger spiders.

Breeding begins in the summer during the rainy season. Males will signify they are ready to mate by approaching a female in her burrow and performing a “dance” by vibrating the abdomen and tapping the front legs. When this is successful, the female will be enticed to follow the male out of the burrow. Males will approach females with special hooks on their pedipalps, used to “lift” the female and bend her backwards. He then uses his other set of legs while collecting sperm with his pedipalps into a packet, which he inserts into the female’s spermatheca, which can store the male’s living sperm.

Spiders are oviparous, which means they lay eggs. Females will produce an egg sack, which contains 200-400 eggs, a few weeks after mating has occurred. Eggs hatch inside the egg case after about 3 months, and will remain inside for another 3 weeks. Spiderlings will molt 4 times a year until they are mature at around 4-7 years.


Conservation Messaging

Together with Nature
Habitat destruction and fragmentation are a major concern for Mexican redknee tarantula populations and have put them at risk. Human activities, such as residential and commercial development, farming and ranching, and construction of roads and railways have all led to the decline of tarantula populations. Tarantulas play an important ecological role because they prey upon insects. Spiders help keep gardens healthy by eating pest species that can destroy trees, flowers, and bushes. They can also help by catching mosquitoes in their webs which will create a happier outside oasis for you and your family. Even though tarantulas are not found naturally in Pennsylvania, it is still important for us to realize that arachnids are vital to our environment, even in our own backyard.

What can we do?: One thing we can do to help tarantulas is create a spider friendly garden! Planting natural areas around your house or community encourages wildlife into the area by providing food and shelter for those species. Keeping undisturbed areas under shrubs or in flower beds will encourage spiders to create their webs in these areas.

Never remove an animal from the wild! Some well-meaning people will trap and relocate “pest” animals but the truth is, trapping rarely ends well for wildlife and is not a long term solution. While you might be thinking you are helping that animal, most people don’t realize the amount of care and time that goes in to caring for these animals, and removing them from their natural environment can be detrimental to the wild populations. If wild animals are not causing damage or posing danger, the best solution is to coexist! If you come across injured wildlife please call your local wildlife rehabilitation center as they are better equipped to handle and care for that animal.

The most important thing that we can do to help sustain their habitats is to “Leave No Trace”. Once you leave nature, no one should know that you’ve been there. This means bringing out anything that you’ve brought in. Additionally, leaving the environment unaltered is equally important.


Fun Facts

  • While Mexican Red-Knee Tarantulas are not usually harmful to humans, people with allergies to other arachnids such as other spiders or scorpions may have a reaction. The tarantula’s hair-like setae serve them in many ways, but primarily as sensory structures. Some are sensitive to pressure, others to heat or air movement or vibrations.
  • As they outgrow their existing skin, all tarantulas regularly go through an extensive molt, shedding their entire skin as well as the linings of their mouth, fangs, respiratory organs, stomach, and sexual organs.
  • Tarantulas can regenerate a leg if one is lost.
  • There are over 800 documented species of tarantulas.
  • The most notable nemesis of the tarantula is the Pepsis wasp. Also known as the tarantula hawk, this wasp parasitizes the unfortunate arachnids, using them as a living nest in which to raise their young.

Bibliography

Shingleback Skink

NOTE: Education Animals are “behind-the-scenes” animals & only appear to the public during Educational events. This includes scheduled events or programs such as daily animal mingles, private onsite programs, and zoo reaches. For more information, please reach out to edureservations@lvzoo.org.


Program and General Information

Shingleback skinks are native to the desert grasslands, shrublands, and sandy dunes of Australia. They are a large lizard with a sturdily built body and relatively large head. They grow to 12-18 inches in length. Coloration differs from light brown streaks to earthy tones and darker coloration. They use their bright blue tongues to hunt prey, ward off predators, and attract a mate. Shingleback Skinks are solitary lizards that only meet in the spring or winter to breed. These skinks are ovoviviparous and females give birth to 10-20 live young about 100 days after reproduction. Skinks take about 3 years to mature. Because of their docile nature and relatively decent size, skinks have become popular pets. By purchasing and owning an exotic animal, you could be supporting the illegal exotic pet trade so be sure to do your research and only purchase from reputable breeders.


Diet

Shingleback Skinks are omnivores that eat a mixture of vegetables and protein, with minimal fruit. In the wild, they eat a variety of bugs, snails, flowers, and fleshy leaves. Under human care, they can eat many types of protein including pinky mice, mealworms, insects, turkey, chicken, and lean beef, as well as most vegetables. Their diets at the zoo include insects, vegetables, and fruits, as well as a mouse every other week.

Much like a snake, skinks will use their tongue to sniff out their prey by tasting the air and using their Jacobson’s organ to determine the location of their prey.

Skinks store fat reserves in their tails to use when food is scarce. They draw upon these reserves during the winter when they begin a hibernation-like period called brumation.


Habitat and Range

Shingleback Skinks live in Australia. They commonly live in semi-desert ecosystems with burrows. They also live in grasslands and shrublands and use leaf litter or logs to hide.

Skinks are ground-dwelling animals and typically use burrows to escape predators and the scorching heat. They bask in the sun early in the day to raise their body temperature, then move off to forage for food. They retreat to their shelter at the end of the day to sleep among leaf litter or under rocks and logs.


Common Physical Features

The Shingleback Skink is a large lizard reaching up to 12-18 inches long. They have a sturdily built body and relatively large head. Coloration differs from light brown streaks to earthy tones and darker coloration. The Shingleback Skink has a stumpy tail that is typically the same color as its body and closely resembles the head. Their scales are supported by bony plates called osteoderms that give them extra protection from predators. Their unique scales not only add extra protection, but also help the skinks blend in with their environment since they look just like pinecones!

Adaptations: Shingleback skinks have unique adaptations that allow them to catch prey and avoid predators. Just like their close relative, the blue-tongued skink, shingleback skinks also have a bright, blue- colored tongue. They use their tongues to sniff out prey, find mates, and escape from predators. Like other reptile species, shingleback skinks have a Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouth. They will stick out their tongue in order to pick up scent particles in the air or from the surface of objects. They will then bring those particles into their mouth to the Jacobson’s organ, which will process the information from the scents. This information can help find potential mates, prey, or predators.

Their blue tongue isn’t just for sniffing! Because they are not quick enough to escape potential predators, blue-tongued skinks will employ a few fascinating defense mechanisms. When threatened, shingleback skinks will open their mouths wide and stick out their bright, blue tongue. Bright colors in the wild tend to indicate that an animal is either poisonous or venomous, like our poisonous, brightly colored dart frogs. The shingleback skink is neither poisonous nor  venomous but uses its bright tongue to trick predators into thinking it is.

Shingleback skinks’ tails closely resemble their heads. This is a defense mechanism used to confuse their predators. If under threat, they will wiggle their tail to draw the attention away from their head. A shingleback’s tail is fat storage. Unlike many other skink species, shingleback skinks cannot drop their tail. If they lose their tail they will not be able to grow it back.


Behavior and Life Cycle

Shingleback Skinks are solitary lizards that only meet in the spring or winter to breed. Males are very aggressive and fight other males for a chance to breed. During copulation, they even tend to bruise females. Shingleback skinks are ovoviviparous which means that females will lay eggs inside their bodies. The eggs hatch inside the body and the mother will give birth to live young. The mother can then reabsorb all of the nutrients left behind from the eggs inside her body. After reproduction occurs, females will give birth to 2-3 live young 100 days later. Several days to a few weeks after birth, baby skinks will begin to explore on their own eating slow-moving insects and licking fruit when available. They take 3 years to mature.


Conservation Messaging

Purposeful Pet Ownership
Although a relatively large-sized lizard, shingleback skinks are incredibly docile and rarely bite unless threatened. This has made them quite popular in the pet trade. Many people don’t realize, however, just how much work goes into caring for reptile species. Reptiles require specific lighting, humidity, space, nutrients, substrate, heating, and if they do not receive the proper care then that reptile’s health can decline rapidly. It can be difficult to find veterinarians that are equipped to care for reptiles if they get sick.

By purchasing and owning an exotic animal, you could be supporting the illegal exotic pet trade. Oftentimes these exotic pets are taken out of their natural habitat to be sold in the pet trade, which can be detrimental to wild populations. One more exotic pet in captivity is one less animal in the wild which is resulting in species population numbers dropping drastically.

What can we do?: Be sure to fully research any pet before buying one. While you may think a reptile would make a cool pet, it’s important to know all of the care that goes into providing that animal with the best possible welfare, and as mentioned before reptiles require a lot of extra care. It is important to make sure that if you do buy an exotic pet that you are buying it from a reputable breeder, someone who knows how to properly care for the animal and hasn’t taken that animal from its natural habitat.

Do not release an unwanted pet into the wild. While you may think that you are doing something good by releasing the animal back into the wild, animals that have been kept under human care often do not know how to survive on their own out in the wild and could end up getting hurt or dying if left to their own devices.


Fun Facts

  • The Shingleback Skink goes by many nicknames, including the “Pinecone Skink”, “Lazy Skink”, and “Stumpy-Tailed Skink”.
  • Skinks may look like snakes, but they have external ear holes and eyelids which makes them lizards.
  • They are threatened by invasive species of feral cats and dogs in the wild.
  • Breeding pair bonds may last a lifetime—the male and
    female reunite each year during mating season but spend winters
    apart.

Bibliography

Angolan Python

NOTE: Education Animals are “behind-the-scenes” animals & only appear to the public during Educational events. This includes scheduled events or programs such as daily animal mingles, private onsite programs, and zoo reaches. For more information, please reach out to edureservations@lvzoo.org.


Program and General Information

Angolan pythons are a non-venomous, constrictor species native to the shrublands and rocky outcrops of Southern Angola to Namibia. They are a moderately sized snake ranging from 3-6 feet in length. These pythons are a reddish-brown to brown (almost black), overlaid with irregular white or cream bands and spots. Their belly is yellowish and their head is covered by a large, reddish-brown triangular marking bordered on the sides by creamy white, black- edged bands. Angolan pythons are carnivores and their diet consists of small mammals, birds, amphibians and insects. Not much is known about this snake, but October is thought to be peak breeding season. Angolan pythons are oviparous and lay small clutches of 4-5 eggs, which hatch after about 70 days.


Diet

Angolan pythons are carnivores. Their diet primarily consists of small mammals and birds, but will also prey on small amphibians and occasionally insects.

They are largely nocturnal preferring to hunt for their food at night. Angolan pythons have five heat sensitive pits on either side of their face allowing them to figure out the distance and direction of warm-blooded prey.


Habitat and Range

Angolan pythons are found in Southwest Africa from Southern Angola to Namibia. These snakes live in the scrublands, grasslands, and rocky areas limited to elevations between 2460 and 5250 feet above sea level.

Little is known about the python’s natural history in the wild due primarily to its isolation within its range, some of which has experienced war and political unrest. From what field observations have been done, Angolan pythons appear to prefer rocky outcrops and drier habitats. Precipitation is rare and populations will concentrate around whatever source of water they can find.

Angolan pythons can withstand extreme temperatures as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit and as low as 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Because they live in such harsh environments, these snakes will often seek shelter in caves and rocky outcroppings. Bead-like scales help Angolan pythons retain moisture in their dry environments.


Common Physical Features

Since these snakes live in such a harsh environment and the political unrest and wars surrounding their native habitats make it difficult for researchers to reach them, little information is known about these snakes. The info that we do know is from what few field observations have been made throughout the years. Angolan pythons are a moderately sized snake that can grow up to 3-6 feet. Pythons and Boas, including Angolan pythons, have anal spurs, appearing on each side of the vent. These spurs are important for the mating process, aiding the snakes in clasping onto their mate. The spurs on males are generally longer than those on females.

Angolan python’s coloration form a type of camouflage called countershading where the upper side is dark in color and the underside is light in color.

Adaptations: Being primarily nocturnal hunters, Angolan pythons have adapted to hunt better at night. Above their lip they have heat-seeking pits, which are able to detect wavelengths of light in the infrared spectrum and the signal is processed visually, meaning, they are capable of seeing a thermal image of their surroundings giving them an advantage in hunting in the dark as well as seeking out refuges when temperatures are too hot or cold.

Snakes have an interesting way of sniffing out their prey items. Like other reptile species, Angolan pythons have a Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouth. They will stick out their tongue in order to pick up scent particles in the air or from the surface of objects.
Their tongues are forked at the end, splitting in two directions in a V-shape, allowing the snake to pick up scent particles from two different directions. When the tongue is brought into the mouth to the Jacobson’s organ, the organ will process the information and determine which side of the tongue the scents came from. This will inform the snake which direction to go to find that scent. (If it picks up the scent on the left fork, then it knows to go to the left. If it picks it up on the right, then it goes to the right. And then if it picks up the scent on both forks then it knows the scent is coming from straight ahead. )

Angolan pythons are ambush predators; they will sit and wait for their prey to come to them. Like other snakes, they do not have moveable eyelids. Instead, they have a special clear scale that covers the eyes, making them appear to be always awake. Not having eyelids allows the Angolan python to refrain from blinking and keep its cover when it is camouflaged. Once a prey is close enough, the Angolan python will grab the prey and wrap tightly around it.

They have powerful body muscles to squeeze and suffocate prey. Snakes have a highly flexible skull that allows them to swallow their prey whole. Contrary to popular belief, they do not actually unhinge/dislocate their jaws to swallow prey because there isn’t anything to actually unhinge/dislocate! A snake’s jaw is only loosely joined to its skull by ligaments, which allows the jaw to be solid enough to bite, but flexible enough to expand for swallowing. Once prey is inside the mouth, the snake alternate using the left and right sides of the upper and lower jaws to “walk” the prey to the back of the throat where powerful muscles will help force the prey down the rest of the body. To better visualize the movement of the jaw imagine laying on your stomach and crawling using your elbows and knees to move. That is similar to how the snake’s upper and lower jaws work to push the food into the mouth and down the throat.


Behavior and Life Cycle

Angolan pythons are oviparous, laying small clutches of 4-5 eggs. It is not known whether or not the females incubate the eggs as other pythons do. The eggs hatch after about 70 days, and hatchlings are between 10-17 inches long.

Hatchlings are independent from birth and mature around 3 years of age.


Conservation Messaging

Purposeful Pet Ownership
Although a decent sized snake, Angolan pythons are considered fairly docile. This has made them quite popular in the pet trade. Many people don’t realize, however, just how much work goes into caring for reptile species. Reptiles require specific lighting, humidity, space, nutrients, substrate, heating, and if they do not receive the proper care then that reptile’s health can decline rapidly. It can be difficult to find veterinarians that are equipped to care for reptiles if they get sick.

By purchasing and owning an exotic animal, you could be supporting the illegal exotic pet trade. Oftentimes these exotic pets are taken out of their natural habitat to be sold in the pet trade, which can be detrimental to wild populations. One more exotic pet in captivity is one less animal in the wild which is resulting in species population numbers dropping drastically. This is especially harmful for species like the Angolan python whose populations are already hard to get to and study because researchers may not be able to catch a decline in numbers as easily or quickly.

What can we do?: Be sure to fully research any pet before buying one. While you may think a reptile would make a cool pet, it’s important to know all of the care that goes into providing that animal with the best possible welfare, and as mentioned before reptiles require a lot of extra care. It is important to make sure that if you do buy an exotic pet that you are buying it from a reputable breeder, someone who knows how to properly care for the animal and hasn’t taken that animal from its natural habitat.

Do not release an unwanted pet into the wild. While you may think that you are doing something good by releasing the animal back into the wild, animals that have been kept under human care often do not know how to survive on their own out in the wild and could end up getting hurt or dying if left to their own devices.


Fun Facts

  • Angolan pythons are one of the rarest snake species in Africa. They are also known as Anchieta’s Dwarf Pythons.
  • Ecological Role of Reptiles: Snakes play an important role as both prey and predator in ecosystems all over the world. They can be very important in regulating the populations of pest species such as rodents which are common around human activity.
  • Angolan pythons are the national snake of Namibia.

Bibliography

Amazon Milk Frog

NOTE: Education Animals are “behind-the-scenes” animals & only appear to the public during Educational events. This includes scheduled events or programs such as daily animal mingles, private onsite programs, and zoo reaches. For more information, please reach out to edureservations@lvzoo.org.

Program and General Information
Amazon milk frogs are one of the largest frogs in South America growing up to 4 inches in length. They live up in the tree canopies in the rainforests of South America. While they rarely leave the trees, milk frogs prefer to be near slow- moving water. They are a light gray color with patterns of brown or black banding, which fade as they age. The name “milk frog” does not refer to their color; it refers to the poisonous secretions this frog may secrete when threatened.
Breeding takes place between November and May. Females lay ~2000 eggs in slow-moving water or in water trapped in a tree cavity, where males will come and fertilize them. Eggs hatch within 1 day and metamorphosis from tadpole to adult takes about 3 weeks.

Diet
Milk frog’s diet consists of insects, other invertebrates, and other small amphibians. As long as they can fit it in their mouth, a milk frog will try to eat it!

Milk frogs don’t use their tongue to catch prey like other frog species do, but instead ambush prey and use their front limbs to shove the prey into their mouth. Frogs will actually use their eyes in order to swallow their prey. Frog saliva is very thick and while it aids in keeping prey items in their mouth, it also makes swallowing more difficult. So in order to swallow frogs will push their eyeballs into their mouth cavity and push down on the prey against the tongue. This will increase the pressure inside the mouth liquifying that super thick saliva, which releases the prey from the tongue and forces that prey down the throat.

Habitat and Range
Amazon milk frogs can be found throughout Northern South America, but most commonly in Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. They spend the majority of their lives up in the tree canopy and rarely, if ever, descend to the rainforest floor. Because of their highly permeable skin, which allows for easy transport of water and oxygen through the skin, milk frogs prefer high humidity and moist environments. They are often found near sources of water, whether that is slow-moving bodies of water on the forest floor or pockets of water in tree cavities.

Milk frogs are nocturnal (awake during the night), and can be found hidden under leaves and vegetation above streams during daylight hours.

Common Physical Features
Amazon milk frogs are a relatively large frog when compared to other species of frogs in the South America. They range from 2.5-4 inches in length with females being larger than males. Milk frogs are typically light gray in color with patterns of brown or black banding. They also have a long snout, large toe pads, and rough and bumpy skin texture. Juveniles are more distinct in color and have a smoother skin texture; bumps on the skin will form and their coloration will fade as they age. This coloration acts as excellent camouflage in the rainforest’s canopy. Milk frogs are a hardy frog with muscular limbs and large feet.

Adaptations: Milk frogs have large toe pads that allow for excellent climbing; in fact the toe pad of the milk frog can hold up to 14x the animal’s body weight! This is especially beneficial since this species of frog is primarily arboreal.

Their scientific name “Trachycephalus” refers to their rounded snout, which they use for pushing aside vegetation to hide amongst. Their common name “milk frog” does not refer to their coloration but to their poisonous secretions. When stressed or threatened, milk frogs may release a milky-white toxin, that although is not as potent as other frog toxins, can cause a predator to become sick. And not only does this toxin assist in deterring predators, but it also acts as a sort of sunscreen for the frog. Milk frogs can rub it all over to aid in water retention to ensure that they do not dry out in the sun.

Milk frogs also have large vocal sacs and are quite vocal, especially at dusk and dawn when they are most active. Males become even more vocal during breeding season while they try to attract a mate.

Behavior and Life Cycle
Because they are mainly an arboreal (tree-dwelling) species, it is very rare that you would see a milk frog on the forest floor. In fact, the only time a milk frog would come down from the trees is during breeding season. Breeding season occurs during the rainy seasons of November through May. The male is responsible for finding a suitable area to lay the eggs, whether that is in a water filled-tree cavity or other source of water. The male will call to females to come and lay their eggs in the water. The female lays ~2000 eggs in a gelatinous mass, which the male will then fertilize. Once the eggs are fertilized, a male may call for another female to lay a mass of eggs next to the fertilized eggs. He will leave these eggs unfertilized so that they do not hatch and can provide food for the newly born tadpoles. This is the end of parent care, though both parents may remain near the vicinity of the hatching site.

Eggs will hatch within one day, and once the tadpoles hatch they must find their own food source and are left to fend for themselves. It takes about 3-5 weeks for tadpoles to metamorphose into froglets. At this point, the frogs will leave their natal area to find a territory of their own. They reach sexual maturity at 1 year.

Conservation Messaging
Conservation of the Natural World
Although population numbers are stable, habitat loss and pollution are a concern for the Amazon Milk frog and could lead to future decline. Human activities, such as residential and commercial development, farming and ranching, construction of roads and railways, and fishing have all contributed to habitat destruction for the milk frog.

Pollution is another big concern for frog species. Amphibian’s permeable skin can easily allow toxins and pollutants to enter their bodies, therefore, they cannot survive in polluted habitats. Tree frogs are considered an important indicator species that warns of future environmental degradation. If population numbers begin to decline then there is a strong possibility that that habitat could be polluted.

What can we do?
Supporting local conservation efforts and organizations is a great way to help ensure species such as the Amazon Milk frog continue to thrive. Switching to a more sustainable lifestyle can also help. By using public transport, turning off lights that are not in use, reducing the use of plastic, and using more organic cleaning products we can help to reduce pollution in our environments.
Remember the phrase, “reduce, reuse, recycle!”

Never remove an animal from the wild! You might think you are helping it, but most people don’t realize the amount of care and time that goes into caring for these animals, and removing them from their natural environment can be detrimental to the wild populations. And while you may think they would make a cute pet, amphibians have a lot of special requirements, such as heating, humidity, nutrition, light, that all need to be considered before purchasing; and always be sure you are buying from a reputable breeder.

Fun Facts
While not all tree frog species are affected, the widespread infectious fungal disease chytridiomycosis has devastated many wild populations worldwide. Chytrid fungus can infect waterways and can cause the keratinized areas of the frogs to thicken. This hinders the ability to pass oxygen and other gasses through the skin and causes the frog to dry out. We can help prevent the spread of the Chytrid fungus by washing items we take into waterways, rinsing off our boots and shoes after being in waterways, and by not handling any wild animals.

Milk frogs are also known as “mission golden-eyed tree frogs” because of their unique yellow/copper eye color.

Bibliography
https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/31/512622260/to-catch-prey-frogs-turn-to-sticky-spit
http://beardsleyzoo.org/amazonmilkfrog-fk1
http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/55823/0 http://amphibianrescue.org/tag/trachycephalus-resinifictrix/ http://www.auduboninstitute.org/animals/frogs-beyond-green/amazon-milk-frog-3022 http://www.clemetzoo.com/animals/index.asp?action=details&camefrom=exhibit&name=RainForest+Amphibian+Exhibits&animals_id=1196
https://www.sfzoo.org/amazon-milk-frog/
https://www.saczoo.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Amazon-Milk-Frog-Factsheet.pdf

Raccoon

Physical Description

Raccoons typically have greyish-brown fur on top and light gray fur underneath. The tail has 5 -7 complete dark rings, alternating with broader brown or gray rings. One hypothesis for the dark fur that covers its eyes is that it may help reduce glare and enhance the nocturnal animal’s night vision. Because its hind legs are longer than the front legs, they often appear hunched when they walk or run.


Predators

Common predators they may encounter include coyotes, wolves, hawks, and owls.


Lifespan

In the wild, they will live an average of 2-3 years, but in human care they have been known to live up to 20 years.


Reproduction

Females are more monogamous, while males tend to be polygamous and don’t help raise their young. Their gestation period is approximately 63 days and litter size will be 1-7 kits. Kits are 3-5 oz at birth, have little fur, no teeth, and their eyes are closed.


Fun Facts

  • Their front paws are incredibly dexterous and contain roughly four times more sensory receptors than their back paws. This allows them to differentiate between objects without seeing them, which is crucial when feeding at night.
  • Raccoons are not very social and are typically solitary. Females will raise their young, but once the kits reach 10 months old they are ready to leave mom

Conservation Messaging

Raccoons are often seen as pests since they will go through your garbage, get close to humans, and sometimes scavenge throughout the day.

The common misconception with raccoons is that they have rabies if seen during the day and will attack you if you are near which is actually not true. Raccoons will flee a situation if they feel scared as long as they have an exit. So please keep your distance from them to allow them that opportunity to flee. Also just because you see a raccoon during the day, does not necessarily mean they have rabies, are sick or dangerous. Raccoons are opportunistic so they may be looking for food to support young, taking advantage of a garden while the dogs are inside, or trying to move to a new location to call home.

Ways to co-exist safely with raccoons are to keep your outside trash lids secure and keep trash inside your car while driving. Often time’s raccoons are killed when trying to eat such things as banana peels or apple cores on the side of the road and often get hit by cars. No matter where you are, always “Leave No Trace.”

Linnaeus’s Two-Toed Sloth

NOTE: Education Animals are “behind-the-scenes” animals & only appear to the public during Educational events. This includes scheduled events or programs such as daily animal mingles, private onsite programs, and zoo reaches. For more information, please reach out to edureservations@lvzoo.org.


Program and General Information

Linnaeus’s two-toed sloths are native to the tropical rainforest canopies in Central and Northern South America. They are arboreal and spend the majority of their time up in the trees. Two-toed sloths can reach up to 21-29 inches long and weigh around 10-20 pounds. The coloration of sloth’s fur varies from gray-brown to beige with a greenish cast due to algae growth, and unlike most animals, their fur grows from their stomach to their back. Sloths are herbivores that eat primarily leaves, flowers, and fruit; they will occasionally eat eggs and insects as well. Breeding season occurs throughout the year with peak season being March-April. After a 10 month gestation period, females will give birth to a single young. The young will stay with their mothers from 9 months – 2 years, after which they will branch off on their own. Females reach maturity at 3 years old, and males at 4-5 years old.


Diet

Sloths are herbivores, meaning they eat only plant matter. Their diet consists primarily of leaves, flowers, twigs, and fruit. Sloths may occasionally eat eggs and insects as well. Sloths eat by grasping vegetation with one foot, pulling it to their mouths, and chewing it repeatedly.

Because they live high up in the trees, sloths are able to reach leaves on high, narrow branches that other animals can’t reach. Sloths are nocturnal. They spend about 15 (or more!) hours a day asleep, waking up at night to look for food. In order to find enough food, each sloth has a home range of about 10 acres.

A sloth’s diet isn’t very nutritional, so to compensate it has a large, multi-chambered stomach that is able to hold large quantities of food. they also chew their food for a very long time before swallowing in order to maximize digestibility. Two-toed sloths have one of the slowest digestive rates of any mammal. It takes approximately 30 days for their food to travel through their digestive system; in fact, sloths only poop once a week!


Habitat and Range

Linnaeus’s two-toed slows are native to Central and Northern South America. They are an arboreal species that can be found high up in the tree canopies. Sloths may move to a new tree each night, but typically won’t travel more than 40 yards per night. When sleeping, sloths often curl up in a ball in the fork of a tree.

Sloths curved claws are excellent for climbing, but can make traversing land very difficult. Because of this, sloths rarely leave the trees and only come down if its necessary, like when they need to defecate. Sloths may be clumsy on land but are actually excellent swimmers. They can drop from a tree into a river to swim across it while doing the breaststroke.


Common Physical Features

Linnaeus’s two-toed sloths are 1 of 2 living species of two-toed sloth (the other being Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth). They can grow up to 21-29 inches long and weigh around 10-20 pounds making them slightly larger than the three-toed species. Two-toed sloths get their name from their two front toes; like other sloths, they have three toes on their hindlimbs. The coloration of sloth’s fur varies from gray-brown to beige and is lighter around the face. They have a short, fine undercoat and an overcoat of longer, coarser hair. Their long curved claws allow them to hang from and move across branches and act almost like a safety harness for sloths as they hang. These sloths also have incredibly strong core muscles and can support themselves even when hanging by only two limbs. Two-toed sloths have long, pig-like snouts and can sweat from the very tip of their nose when hot or stressed. They also have hairless pads on their hands and feet.

Adaptations: The sloth is the only mammal whose hair grows in the opposite direction. To accommodate their upside-down lifestyle, the hair parts in the middle of the belly and grows toward the back, which allows rainwater to run off their bodies and prevent them from getting soaked during rainstorms.

Each strand of the sloth’s fur has a unique groove running along the hair shaft that traps moisture. Because sloths are so slow moving and are sedentary for most of their time, the moisture trapped in these grooves helps facilitate algae growth. Algae growth on sloths is considered a mutual symbiotic relationship, a close ecological relationship between individuals of two species that benefits all involved. The moisture in the sloth’s fur provides an excellent home for the algae, and in return this algae causes the sloth’s fur to take on a greenish hue which helps the sloth to camouflage from predators in the green of the tree canopies. Sloth’s fur is also home to a variety of invertebrate species, some of which aren’t found anywhere else in the world. The algae provides food for the invertebrates, and the sloth’s feces provide a perfect home for invertebrates to lay their eggs!

Sloth’s spend about 15 (sometimes more) hours a day sleeping and become most active at night where they will look for food to eat. They have the lowest and most variable body temperature of any mammal, ranging from 74-92 degrees Fahrenheit, due in part to the fact that sloths can’t shiver to keep warm. In order to regulate their temperature, sloths need to move in and out of the sun. If the temperature drops to low, however, sloths are at a risk of dying because the bacteria in their gut will stop working to digest their food.

Their variable body temperature coupled with their reduced muscles and weight allows the sloth to move around without expending a ton of energy, which is important because they do not receive a ton of energy from the food they eat (i.e. leaves and twigs). In order to compensate for this lack of nutrition and to help them conserve more energy, sloths have large, multi-chambered stomachs that can hold huge quantities of food. Sloths chew their food for a very long time before swallowing in order to maximize digestibility, but it can still take up to a month to digest. Although they do not need to expend a ton of energy, the energy that sloths are able to get from their food only allows for very slow movement, which explains their slow-paced lifestyle.

A sloth’s main defense is camouflage, but it can also use its sharp teeth and claws to protect itself. Sloths’ nails and teeth continuously grow throughout their life. Sloth’s nails are actually made out of bone and are covered by a nail sheath. Although they lack true canine teeth, sloths do have sharp teeth for tearing off leaves and bark. In the wild, sloths naturally file down their nails and teeth while moving through the trees and eating.

Sloths have poor eyesight and rely heavily on their sense of smell. Males will scent mark branches to establish a meeting place for breeding.


Behavior and Life Cycle

Linnaeus’s two-toed sloths are generally solitary animals and only come together for breeding. Breeding occurs throughout the year, but peak season is typically March-April. Females appear to initiate breeding and will vocalize via a high-pitched scream to advertise to males she is ready to mate. If more than one male reaches the female at the same tie, they will fight while hanging from their hindlimbs. The winner gets the chance to mate with the female. The mating process only lasts a few seconds, after which the male will leave the female to rear the young. Females will give birth to a single young after a 10 month gestation. The baby climbs onto the mom’s belly and clings while nursing for four to five weeks. Hiding in the mom’s fur provides protection for the vulnerable newborn. Young sloths can begin eating solid food about 10 days after birth and obtain the strength to move on their own after 5 weeks, but will remain with their mothers for up to 9 months. When the young sloth is ready to branch out on its own, the mother will leave the tree for the young to inherit. Several sloths can live in a similar home range without competing for food or space. Females reach maturity at 3 years old, and males at 4-5 years old.


Conservation Messaging

Conservation of the Natural World
Habitat destruction and human encroachment continue to be major threats to sloth populations. At one point, rainforests covered almost 40% of the earth’s surface, but excessive logging and burning has reduced that percentage to only 6%. Every second approx. one and a half acres of rainforest are lost to unsustainable agricultural practices.

The fragmentation of the rainforest is forcing sloths to climb down from their trees and drag themselves along the forest floor in order find enough food, which leaves these slow moving animals vulnerable to predation. There is also the possibility that they may get struck by passing cars and trucks when crossing roads built through the rainforest.

Sloths are hunted for their coat, meat, and claws and now face the new threat of being collected as part of the illegal pet trade.

What can we do?: One way you can help is by buying sustainable products. Products such as chocolate and coffee that come from the rainforest can be harvested in a more sustainable way. Instead of buying these products from sources that may be contributing to the destruction of the rainforest through destructive harvesting, look for options that help aid conservation efforts by using sustainably sourced ingredients. By purchasing products from certified organizations such as Bird Friendly or Dove Dark Chocolate, you are helping in the conservation of forests and habitats around the world!

Another way you can help is by limiting the amount of waste you accumulate. See if you can reuse something before you throw it away. If we all do this, the demand for resources found in the rainforest may decrease, helping to preserve the sloths’ one and only home. Remember: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!”

Along with being hunted for their fur and meat, sloths are also captured for the illegal pet trade. Never remove an animal from the wild! Removing them from their natural environment can be detrimental to the wild populations. And while you may think they would make a cute pet, sloths would NOT make a good pet. They have a lot of special requirements including proper nutrients, space, heating, lighting, humidity, etc. Caring for a sloth is hard work, and the majority of people are not properly equipped to handle them.


Fun Facts

  • The sloth’s internal organs, including stomach, spleen, and liver, are located in different areas due to their upside-down lifestyle.
  • Sloths are related to armadillos and anteaters (all in family Pilosa).
  • Sloths have weak hind legs and are unable to stand or walk. To move on land they must use their strong front legs to crawl and pull their bodies along Although considered solitary, groups of female sloths will sometimes occupy the same tree.
  • A sloth’s voice sounds like the hiss of a deflating balloon, but they can also squeal and grunt as needed.
  • Our sloth uses our scent to identify us since he cant actually see that well. This means we can’t switch up our shampoo or deodorant or he may not recognize us!
  • Bean gets his name from the cocoa and coffee beans found in the rainforest. The pygmy sloth is critically endangered and the maned sloth is vulnerable.
  • Thousands of years ago, large ground sloths roamed the United States. They ranged in size from an average-size dog to that of an elephant!

Bibliography

Fennec Fox

NOTE: Education Animals are “behind-the-scenes” animals & only appear to the public during Educational events. This includes scheduled events or programs such as daily animal mingles, private onsite programs, and zoo reaches. For more information, please reach out to edureservations@lvzoo.org.


Program and General Information

Fennec foxes are native to the desert and semi-desert habitats of North Africa across the central Sahara from Mauritania to Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. They are the smallest of the canid species averaging only 9-16 inches in length and weighing around 3-4 pounds. Adult fennec foxes have thick, full fur ranging in color from reddish cream to light fawn/sand (sometimes even white) and have a black- tipped tail. Their large ears, measuring about 4-6 inches, are their most distinguishing feature. These foxes are omnivores and eat mostly rodents, birds, insects, reptiles, and eggs, as well as, grass, berries, and fruit. Breeding season occurs from January-February, with kits being born in March and April. After a gestation period of about 50 days, females will give birth to litters of 2-5 kits.

Females stay with the kits until they are weaned, after 60 to 70 days; and males venture to hunt for food for the family. Maturity occurs around 10-11 months.


Diet

Fennec foxes are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. They are opportunistic feeders and will consume small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and eggs. They will also eat a variety of shoots, roots of grasses, berries, and other fruits.

Fennec foxes are mostly nocturnal animals. They spend most of the day in an underground burrow, which can be as deep as 3 feet, avoiding the desert heat. They emerge from their dens at dusk to begin the search for food.

Fennec foxes have adapted to the dry Sahara Desert and can go extended periods of time without water.


Habitat and Range

Fennec foxes are native to the desert and semi-desert habitats of North Africa. They are found primarily across the central Sahara from Mauritania to Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. Being desert dwellers, these foxes have many adaptations that allow them to live with very little water and combat the heat of the desert sun.

While they are considered solitary, fennec foxes will often live in small, family groups of around 10 individuals: a breeding pair, littermates, and older siblings. They burrow into sand dunes during the day to avoid the extreme heat. Individual dens tend to be close in proximity and are sometimes even connected to one another.


Common Physical Features

Fennec foxes are the smallest of all the canid species (including foxes, wolves, dogs, coyotes, and jackals). They average 9-16 inches in length and stand at about 8 inches tall. Their tail can get up to 12 inches and their ears are almost half the length of their body at 4-6 inches. Adults have thick fur that is typically a reddish cream or light fawn/sand color to help them camouflage in their desert habitat. The violet gland, a specialized gland found on the upper surface of the tail that is thought to be used for scent marking, and the tip of the tail are black.

Adaptations: Fennec foxes have many adaptations that help them thrive in their desert environments. Their fur not only helps these foxes camouflage, but it also aids in temperature control, deflecting heat during the day and keeping them warm at night. Fennec foxes also have a layer of fur on their paws that protect their feet from the hot surface of the sand. While their legs may not be very long, fennec foxes can run 20 miles per hour. They keep their tongues curled to conserve salvia and only start to pant when the temperature is above 95 degrees.

Perhaps the fennec fox’s most notable feature is its large ears. These ears can be half as long as the fox’s body and assist the fox in a few different ways. Fennec foxes’ ears can help keep them cool in the desert heat. Mammals that live in hot, dry climates tend to have more surface area with larger ears, longer legs and tails, and slimmer bodies; this increased surface area helps to dissipate heat.
Fennec fox ears are full of blood vessels that are close to the skin and act as a cooling system. These ears are also extremely useful for hunting prey. Fennec foxes have extraordinary hearing that allows them to find prey that is burrowing underground.

The Sahara Desert averages less than 3 inches of rainfall per year, so the fennec fox has various adaptations to minimize its need for water. Their specialized kidneys are adapted to restrict water loss, and most of the water they need comes from the food that they eat. Their extensive burrowing may also cause the formation of dew, which can then be consumed.


Behavior and Life Cycle

Breeding season for the fennec fox occurs between January and February. These foxes are monogamous and mate for life. Females will give birth to a litter of 2-5 kits after a gestation period of about 50 days. Kits are typically born in March or April. Females will stay with the kits until they are weaned, ready to go off on their own, while the male ventures out to hunt for food for the family.

When they are first born, kits are blind and their ears are folded over. After about 10 days they will open their eyes and their ears will begin to lift. Maturity is reached around 10-11 months.

Like other canids, fennec foxes bark, as well as whimper and whine to communicate. They will also mark their territory by urinating around the perimeter.


Conservation Messaging

Purposeful Pet Ownership
The biggest threat to fennec foxes is humans and the illegal pet trade. In sandy areas, the Fennec fox is well known and people will trap and sell them as pets. By purchasing and owning an exotic animal, you could be supporting the illegal exotic pet trade. Oftentimes these exotic pets are taken out of their natural habitat to be sold in the pet trade, which can be detrimental to wild populations. One more exotic pet in captivity is one less animal in the wild which is resulting in species population numbers dropping drastically.

Fennec foxes do not make good pets. They are always alert and attentive and are easily distressed by loud noises and unexpected events. A zoo setting is rather predictable and these foxes can get used to the daily level of noise and activity, but most homes are not as predictable of a setting and are likely to cause increased stress. And while fennec foxes are playful, they do not enjoy being held or touched. They are excellent at digging and tearing items and can be highly destructive in a household setting.

What can we do?: Be sure to fully research any pet before buying one. While you may think an exotic animal would make a cool pet, it’s important to know all of the care that goes into providing that animal with the best possible welfare, and oftentimes these animals require a lot of extra care. It is important to make sure that if you do buy an exotic pet that you are buying it from a reputable breeder, someone who knows how to properly care for the animal and hasn’t taken that animal from its natural habitat.

Do not release an unwanted pet into the wild. While you may think that you are doing something good by releasing the animal back into the wild, animals that have been kept under human care often do not know how to survive on their own out in the wild and could end up getting hurt or dying if left to their own devices.

Supporting organizations that aid in the conservation of wildlife is another great way to help ensure species like the fennec fox continue to thrive.


Fun Facts

  • The fennec fox is the national animal of Algeria and their soccer team is named “Les Fennecs.”
  • The name “fennec” comes from Arabic and is derived from the Persian word fanak or fanaj, referring to a variety of furry animals.
  • Their playfulness often includes piercing screams, like air being released from a balloon, which they will sometimes produce for minutes on end.
  • Fennec fox dens can have as many as 15 entrances and may even connect with dens of other families.

Bibliography

Woma Python

NOTE: Education Animals are “behind-the-scenes” animals & only appear to the public during Educational events. This includes scheduled events or programs such as daily animal mingles, private onsite programs, and zoo reaches. For more information, please reach out to edureservations@lvzoo.org.


Program and General Information

Woma pythons are a non-venomous constrictor species native to the shrublands and woodlands of Australia. They are a medium sized snake ranging in length from 4.5-8.5 feet. Males tend to be smaller than females. Woma pythons are generally light brown-green and black in color, with a tan-yellow underbelly. he scales around the eyes are usually a darker color than the rest of the head. This species also lacks the heat sensing pits of all other pythons. Breeding season occurs from May to August. Females are oviparous and lay 5-20 eggs per clutch. Eggs incubate for 2 months and, once hatched, hatchlings are independent.

Hatchlings will mature between 2-3 years. Snakes are becoming more popular in the pet trade. By purchasing and owning an exotic animal, you could be supporting the illegal exotic pet trade so be sure to do your research and only purchase from reputable breeders.


Diet

Woma pythons consume mainly small reptiles, as well as mammals, birds, and bird eggs.

They are ambush predators and have a neat trick for attracting prey. Woma pythons wiggle their narrow, pointed tails to entice prey to come close while keeping the rest of their bodies completely still. Once the prey is close enough, the python will lunge forward, bite onto the prey, and coil around it. They will then constrict the prey and swallow it whole. Woma pythons have also been known to squash their prey against the walls of their burrows.


Habitat and Range

Woma pythons are native to the Australian interior, from central Australia into the south-western edge of Queensland, and into northern South Australia. They mainly inhabit grasslands, shrublands, savannas, and woodlands.

Woma pythons hunker down in hollow logs and burrows by day, and hunt by night, though they occasionally may be seen basking during the day in mild weather. Woma pythons have a unique way to travel across hot sands; it will lift parts of its body off the ground and move forward.


Common Physical Features

Woma pythons are a medium sized snake ranging in length from 4.5-8.5 feet. Males tend to be smaller than females. Where they live dictates woma pythons’ coloration. For the nocturnal woma, a distinctive pattern of light and dark brown alternating bands down its body is effective camouflage. These signature stripes may fade with age.

Coloration ranges from yellow to reddish, gray, or olive brown, but they are generally light brown-green and black in color, with a tan-yellow underbelly. The scales around the eyes are usually a darker color than the rest of the head. The woma python has a narrow head and small eyes. Its body is broad and flattish in profile and its tail tapers into the skinny “lure” it uses to entice prey. This species also lacks the heat sensing pits of all other pythons

Adaptations: Snakes have an interesting way of sniffing out their prey items. Like other reptile species, ball pythons have a Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouth. They will stick out their tongue in order to pick up scent particles in the air or from the surface of objects. Their tongues are forked at the end, splitting in two directions in a V- shape, allowing the snake to pick up scent particles from two different directions. When the tongue is brought into the mouth to the Jacobson’s organ, the organ will process the information and determine which side of the tongue the scents came from. This will inform the snake which direction to go to find that scent. (If it picks up the scent on the left fork, then it knows to go to the left. If it picks it up on the right, then it goes to the right. And then if it picks up the scent on both forks then it knows the scent is coming from straight ahead. )

Woma pythons are efficient constrictors/squishers of prey. Should a prey item find itself in the woma’s burrow, there may not be enough room for it to properly wrap around and constrict the animal, so instead, the snake squishes it against the burrow walls. Like other snakes, they do not have moveable eyelids. Instead, they have a special clear scale that covers the eyes, making them appear to be always awake. Not having eyelids allows the snake to refrain from blinking and keep its cover when it is camouflaged. Womas will use their tail to lure prey close before constricting or squishing them.

They have powerful body muscles to squeeze and suffocate prey. Snakes have a highly flexible skull that allows them to swallow their prey whole. Contrary to popular belief, they do not actually unhinge/dislocate their jaws to swallow prey because there isn’t anything to actually unhinge/dislocate! A snake’s jaw is only loosely joined to its skull by ligaments, which allows the jaw to be solid enough to bite, but flexible enough to expand for swallowing. Once prey is inside the mouth, the snake alternate using the left and right sides of the upper and lower jaws to “walk” the prey to the back of the throat where powerful muscles will help force the prey down the rest of the body. To better visualize the movement of the jaw imagine laying on your stomach and crawling using your elbows and knees to move. That is similar to how the snake’s upper and lower jaws work to push the food into the mouth and down the throat.


Behavior and Life Cycle

Breeding season occurs May-August. A female will lay her eggs inside her burrow the following September-October. Woma pythons are oviparous and lay 5-20 eggs per clutch. Once the eggs are laid, females will coil around them for temperature and humidity control. Since pythons cannot regulate their internal body temperature, they cannot incubate their eggs per se; instead, they raise the temperature of their eggs by small movements of their body. The eggs will hatch in 2-3 months. Hatchlings are independent and will mature within 2-3 years.


Conservation Messaging

Purposeful Pet Ownership
Many snake species are becoming more popular in the pet trade. Many people don’t realize, however, just how much work goes into caring for reptile species. Reptiles require specific lighting, humidity, space, nutrients, substrate, heating, and if they do not receive the proper care then that reptile’s health can decline rapidly. It can be difficult to find veterinarians that are equipped to care for reptiles if they get sick.

By purchasing and owning an exotic animal, you could be supporting the illegal exotic pet trade. Oftentimes these exotic pets are taken out of their natural habitat to be sold in the pet trade, which can be detrimental to wild populations. One more exotic pet in captivity is one less animal in the wild which is resulting in species population numbers dropping drastically.

What can we do?: Be sure to fully research any pet before buying one. While you may think a reptile would make a cool pet, it’s important to know all of the care that goes into providing that animal with the best possible welfare, and as mentioned before reptiles require a lot of extra care. It is important to make sure that if you do buy an exotic pet that you are buying it from a reputable breeder, someone who knows how to properly care for the animal and hasn’t taken that animal from its natural habitat.

Do not release an unwanted pet into the wild. While you may think that you are doing something good by releasing the animal back into the wild, animals that have been kept under human care often do not know how to survive on their own out in the wild and could end up getting hurt or dying if left to their own devices.


Fun Facts

  • The specific name, ramsayi, comes from Australian zoologist Edward Pierson Ramsay.
  • The Woma Python eats many species of Australia’s most venomous snakes and is actually immune to venomous snake bites.
  • Woma pythons are preyed upon by the king brown snake Pseudechis australis, also called the mulga snake.

Bibliography

Pancake Tortoise

NOTE: Education Animals are “behind-the-scenes” animals & only appear to the public during Educational events. This includes scheduled events or programs such as daily animal mingles, private onsite programs, and zoo reaches. For more information, please reach out to edureservations@lvzoo.org.


Program and General Information

Pancake tortoises are a unique species of tortoise both physically and behaviorally. They grow to be about 6-7 inches in length and can be found in the scrublands and rocky outcrops of Eastern Africa. Their unusually thin, flat, and flexible shell makes the pancake tortoise lighter and quicker than other tortoise species. Instead of hiding inside of their shell, pancake tortoises will run from predators and use their flexible shells to wedge themselves into narrow rock crevices to hide. The yellow and brown patterns running along the shell provide natural camouflage in their habitats. Breeding occurs between January and February. Although they can produce numerous eggs throughout the summer, females will only lay one egg at a time in loose, sandy dirt from June to August. Eggs will hatch within 4-6 months and hatchlings are independent as soon as they hatch


Diet

The pancake tortoise is strictly vegetarian, and its diet consists primarily of dry grasses and most other vegetation. They will also take advantage of fallen fruit and seeds, and even indulge on succulents such as aloe.


Habitat and Range

Pancake tortoises are native to the arid savannas and scrublands of Kenya and Tanzania. An introduced population is also found in Zimbabwe. Kopje habitats, which consist of rocky outcrops, also provide a good habitat for pancake tortoises. They live in isolated colonies and spend much of their time hidden among the rocks. The rocky outcrops and scrublands these turtles occupy can be 100-6,000 feet in elevation.

Pancake tortoises generally only emerge from their shelter for about an hour at a time, usually in the morning and early evening, to bask and feed. They never stray too far from their shelter. Pancake tortoises are the fastest of all the tortoise species. Thanks to their lightweight shell, these tortoises are able to escape quickly if they do happen to run into trouble.

The pancake tortoise is surprisingly social and gets along well in a group as long as there is food for all. As many as ten tortoises have been found sharing the same crevice. Pancake tortoises are one of 53 tortoise species that inhabit Africa. However, they are the only member of the genus Malacochersus.


Common Physical Features

Pancake tortoises can grow up to be 6-7 inches long and weigh about 1 pound. The carapace, or top part of the shell, is brown with a variable pattern of radiating dark lines on each scute, or shell plate. The plastron, or bottom part of the shell, is pale yellow with dark brown seams and light yellow rays. The head, limbs, and tail are yellowish-brown. The colors on the Pancake tortoise help to keep it camouflaged while moving around its habitat.

A turtle’s shell is actually a part of its body. The turtle’s ribs and backbone fuse together to form the shell. The shell is covered with a layer of protective plates called scutes. These scutes are made of keratin, the same stuff that makes up our nails and hair, and can be shed. Turtles shed their scutes for numerous reasons: as they grow, to replace damaged scutes, and to shed off any parasites or disease.

Adaptations: Tortoises can be distinguished from turtles by a few defining characteristics. Tortoises tend to have high, dome-shaped shells, large, thick limbs with sharp claws, and prefer to eat more vegetation than meat. All of these features enable tortoises to traverse and survive better on land.

Unlike other tortoise species, Pancake tortoises have a flat, flexible shell instead of a dome-shaped, solid shell. Openings between the bony plates of the shell make the pancake tortoise much lighter and more agile than other tortoise species. The flexible bridge, the area where the plastron and carapace connect, allows for the shell to be flattened slightly as the tortoise seeks shelter in rock crevices and inflated to wedge the tortoise into its hiding space, ensuring no predators can pull them out.

Since they cannot hide completely in their shell, these tortoises rely on speed and flexibility. Once they wedge themselves into a rocky crevice, Pancake tortoises will hide until the threat is gone. Spike-like scales on their limbs help to protect the tortoise while it is hiding. This built-in armor can keep the tortoise’s face, arms, and legs safe from bites and scratches from predators.


Behavior and Life Cycle

Pancake tortoises are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs outside the body. Under human care, breeding can occur year-round, but the breeding season is typically between January and February. The male will pursue the female and will fight with other males for the right to breed with her. From June to August, females will lay one egg at a time in loose, sandy dirt. Eggs will incubate in a hole about 4 inches deep for 4-6 months. Females are able to produce more eggs every 4-6 weeks over the season.

Hatchlings are a mere 1-2 inches long and are independent as soon as they hatch. Their shells are actually dome-shaped when born but begin to flatten as they grow. The sex of pancake tortoise hatchlings is temperature dependent: lower temperatures tend to produce more males, higher temperatures tend to produce more females.


Conservation Messaging

AZA Institutions
As of 2019, Pancake tortoises have been listed as endangered. The greatest threats facing this species are habitat destruction and its over-exploitation by the pet trade. Given the low reproductive rate, populations that have been harvested for the pet trade or have been disrupted by habitat loss may take a long time to recover. Breeding efforts are underway in European zoos, where wildlife care specialists ensure that the eggs are incubating at the proper temperature for the sex needed for the growth of this population. As an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited facility, the Lehigh Valley Zoo is proud to play a role in the conservation community through participation in Species Survival Plans, or SSPs. Our Pancake tortoises are part of a breeding program where we help to maintain captive populations that are both genetically diverse and demographically stable.

What can we do?: By visiting the Lehigh Valley Zoo and other AZA member institutions, you’re supporting the highest level of animal care and welfare, along with the promotion of conservation of animals such as the Pancake tortoise.


Fun Facts

  • The pancake tortoise is thought to be the fastest tortoise and the best climber, due to the lightness of its shell. They are able to scale nearly vertical surfaces. They are also able to flip upright quickly if they fall on their backs.
  • The pancake tortoise is surprisingly social and gets along well in a group as long as there is food for all. As many as ten tortoises have been found sharing the same crevice.
  • Long before the name “pancake tortoise” was popular, these animals were called the “soft-shelled” tortoise, due to their pliable plastron.

Bibliography