Category Archives: Uncategorized

Ambassador Animal Paintings

Ambassador Animal Paintings

It’s the holiday and gift giving season! Do you know an animal lover and are looking for a one-of-a-kind gift you cannot get anywhere else? The Lehigh Valley Zoo team has been working hard over the last few months to provide animal paintings for guests to purchase as holiday gifts. Our Ambassador Animal Paintings are a form of enrichment that enhances animal welfare here at the zoo. The zoo’s animal enrichment program focuses on five different types of enrichment – Social, Physical, Cognitive, Food, and Sensory. The education team can provide almost all our animal enrichment categories in just one painting session.

  • Social – The animals are experiencing socialization with their keepers, trainers, and the education staff.
  • Physical – The animals will either walk across the canvas in some way or hold onto a paint brush, both will involve the animals using muscles and movement to participate in the painting.
  • Cognitive –The animals need to use their brain to problem solve and focus on the task and behavior being worked on.
  • Food – As a form of reinforcement for training, receiving food at different times during the day and in variety of ways will change up any normal routine and increase their welfare.
  • Sensory – As the animal walks across the paint, they experience new touch and smell sensory experiences. We can also change up their sense of sight by using different colors that they might not be exposed to in their habitats. Bright pinks and purples are not as common in their habitats as brown and green!

Linnaeus Two-Toed Sloth – As part of our training program, “Bean” paints with a modified paint brush to make his wonderful masterpieces. Trainers will hold out the paintbrush to him and he holds onto it with his hand while a canvas is held to the brush. As he eats his favorite snacks from a hole drilled in the handle of the brush, a beautiful painting is created.

Raccoon – “Meeko” creates her masterpieces in her habitat by completing her A-B behaviors around her holding. Trainers work to send her back and forth across the paint so that her footprints are captured on the canvas. Meeko has been working on her Hand Wash behavior to clean off the paint from her hands when she is done.

Reptiles – “Morrie” the Tegu and our other reptiles (box turtles and other lizards) will paint in a similar way to “Meeko”, but they will follow their target sticks around our Zoo Imagination Wing as they paint the canvas with their footprints, tail prints, and scales. Snakes are one of the most difficult animals to train due to the amount of time in between feedings. For a snake painting, our snakes will have their exercise time on the ground so they can slither across the canvas if they feel like it.

Frogs – Our Milky Tree Frogs are one of the hardest animals to paint with due to their ability to absorb water and chemicals through their skin. Using Reverse Osmosis water (purified water) that is safe for amphibians, the education team can have the frogs hop across a clean canvas leaving water marks and then back fill those wet spaces with watercolor to provide color to the painting. We have also had them hop across a canvas covered in painting and placed in a Ziploc bag. We can use their current target behavior (following a laser pointer) to help them across the canvas if needed.

The paint that is used by animal care and the education team is Tempura Paint. This paint is a water-based paint that is generally non-toxic and safe to use with children and with animals. Any paint is washed from the animals after the session, but only after a picture with their masterpieces!

To purchase the Lehigh Valley Zoo’s animal paintings, you can visit our Etsy Shop named LVZoo to find the most recent original paintings or to purchase high quality re-prints!




DaySnakes, Lizards, and Frogs, Oh My!

Snakes, Lizards, and Frogs, Oh My!

Why Should We Care About Reptiles and Amphibians?

If you have visited the Lehigh Valley Zoo, chances are you’ve met our river otter Luani, watched our penguins get fed, or got the chance to feed our giraffes! But have you ever ventured into our Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Center? Inside of our RAD Center, you will find a variety of different reptiles, including snakes, lizards, and turtles, as well as various amphibians. Reptiles and amphibians may not be at the top of your must-see list, but these creatures are very important to our ecosystem and the world we live in. Hopefully by the end of this blog post you will consider adding a reptile or amphibian to that list.

Let’s start off with probably the most feared reptile: the snake. While you might not be particularly fond of them, snakes are a vital part of the ecosystem’s food chain. Snakes are considered both prey and predator! They provide a great snack for bird, mammal, and even other reptile species. They are also excellent pest controllers. By eating small pest species, like rodents and slugs, snakes can maintain these populations so that they don’t get out of control. Pests like rodents often carry diseases that can affect humans, so without snakes we’d have a ton of rats and mice running around possibly making us very sick! Here in our RAD Center, we have some venomous snakes including our dusky pigmy and timber rattlesnakes. Did you know that venom from rattlesnakes can be used to further medical research? Snake venom contains many different enzymes that are not only useful to the snake for immobilizing and breaking down prey but are also useful to humans in the treatment of diseases such as thrombosis, arthritis, and cancer.

Next, we have our turtles. Do you know some of the differences between turtles and tortoises? One of the biggest is that turtles tend to live more in the water while tortoises prefer the land. Since these species inhabit both land and water, it is crucial that we help keep both our turtles and tortoises safe. Sea turtles help regulate and maintain the health of our oceans. Apex predators, like the alligator snapping, leatherback, and hawksbill turtles, help to keep certain populations in check. Without turtles our oceans would be overrun by sponges, jellyfish, etc, which are detrimental to many coral and fish species! Sea turtles also provide homes for many marine species, such as barnacles, algae, and epibionts – right on their shell! Carrying these small marine species around with them allows turtles to provide a traveling food source for fish and shrimp. On the land, tortoises act as environmental engineers! Because Gopher tortoises dig extensive burrows which are used by many other animals, the Gopher tortoise is actually considered a keystone species! Tortoises are also excellent gardeners. They eat a variety of fruits and vegetables but are unable to properly digest the seeds. Therefore, when the tortoise goes to the bathroom it will deposit those seeds in a naturally fertilized package. Check out RAD to meet our awesome turtles, like the Mata-Mata or our spotted turtles!

What about our lizards? Lizards come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and even colors, and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Much like snakes, lizards are important to the food chain as both predators and prey. Lizards provide meals for various birds, mammals, and reptile species, while also preying upon various pest species, such as insects. Keeping insect populations in check is particularly useful to humans because insects can destroy crops and spread disease. For example, the Western fence lizard is a type of insectivore that loves to dine on ticks. By eating ticks and decreasing the number of ticks found in the wild, they help reduce the spread of tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease. Additionally, did you know that there are venomous lizards? Three in fact! The Komodo dragon, the Mexican- beaded lizard, and the Gila monster. Research has found that venom from lizards, like the Gila monster, contains hormones that can help with the treatment of diabetes. If you’d like to see one of these venomous lizards up close, then check out our Gila monster exhibit in the RAD Center.

And finally, we have our amphibians! Amphibians can come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. In our RAD Center our amphibians include frogs, axolotls, hellbenders and more. In the wild, tadpoles and their adult forms, frogs, prove a tasty snack for mammal, reptile, bird, and even other amphibian species. Tadpoles also contribute to the ecosystem by eating algae which helps to regulate blooms and minimize any algae contamination. Additionally, amphibians are an excellent indicator species. Indicator species can tell us about the environmental condition of an ecosystem simply by living there. If there is an abundance of the indicator species in that ecosystem, then we know it is healthy. If there is an absence or decline, then we know there may be something negatively affecting that area. Amphibian’s permeable skin can easily allow toxins and pollutants to enter their bodies, which means they cannot survive in polluted habitats. If frog population numbers begin to decline, then there is a strong possibility that that habitat could be polluted. Hellbenders, the national amphibian of PA, act as an indicator species for many of Pennsylvania’s waterways. If you see one in the water, chances are it doesn’t have many pollutants in it! Finally, did you know that amphibians can also produce toxins? While many amphibians’ toxins are not lethal to humans, there are a few that can be quite deadly. For example, the golden poison dart frog has enough toxin to kill 10 grown men! They get their toxin from the food they eat: formicine ants. This toxin can be used in research to create painkillers that might be more effective than some of our strongest medications.

As you can see, reptiles and amphibians play a huge part in keeping our world healthy and happy. Hopefully, you’ve learned something new about these amazing animals and are willing to add one of them to your must-see list. Be sure to visit our RAD Center and check these RADically cool species for yourself!

Written by Emily Granville
Education Specialist

Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

   Back to blog posts

International Sloth Day

International Sloth Day


International Sloth Day is a way for us to celebrate one of the slowest animals in the world: the sloth! Many people enjoy sloths but aren’t fully aware of the challenges they face out in the wild. Did you know that the pygmy sloth is considered critically endangered or that the maned sloth is vulnerable? And while not all sloth species are at risk of extinction, it is important to understand the importance of their conservation. So, let’s take some time today to learn a little bit more about sloths and the ways that we can protect these fascinating creatures. 

When you think of a sloth what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Is it that they are slow, lazy, and do little more than sleep all day? While it’s true that sloths sleep 15 (or sometimes more!) hours a day, they do so much more than you think and are an important part of their ecosystem.

But first, let’s talk about why they are so slow. It isn’t because they are lazy. In fact, being slow is actually a very successful survival strategy. I mean, sloths have been around for millions of years so clearly, they are doing something right. The big reason sloths are so slow is because of their diet and low metabolic rate.Sloths eat mostly leaves, which aren’t very high in calories – the amount of energy your body gives off when breaking down food. They also don’t eat a ton of food in a day. And since their diet is already low in calories, sloths don’t get much energy from their daily food intake. So then won’t eating more leaves give them more energy? Why don’t they just eat more? I’m glad you asked! Remember we said sloths have a low metabolic rate? This means they take quite a while to digest their food (think around 30 days!). Sloths also have a multi-chambered stomach that stores tons of food, so much so that sloths are usually always full. Long digestion periods plus a full stomach equals not eating a lot, and not eating a lot plus a low caloric diet equals a slow lifestyle. 

Now that we know why sloths move so slow, let’s take a look at how this is beneficial to the environment. Sloths are essentially a walking ecosystem (a very slow walking ecosystem). They host a number of organisms in their hair from moths to fungi to even algae!

Some of these organisms, like the sloth moth, can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Sloths provide these organisms with a place to live, while the organisms provide sloths with some much-needed camouflage. In nature, sloths actually have a greenish hue to them thanks to the algae. They have grooves in their hair that can hold a little bit of rainwater which, coupled with their sedentary lifestyle, helps to facilitate algae growth. And since it rains a lot in the rainforests of Central and South America, you can imagine how much algae could grow on a sloth. Sloths are also an umbrella species helping to protect the rest of the wildlife in the rainforests. Sloths depend on trees to survive, but they aren’t the only ones. Many other species also call the trees their home. When we work to protect and preserve the sloth’s ecosystem, we are also helping out those other species.

So, now you may be thinking, “well, how exactly can I protect sloths?” It’s actually not as difficult as you would think! One of the easiest ways you can help protect sloths is by buying sustainable products. Instead of buying products from sources that may be contributing to the destruction of the rainforest, look for options, such as Bird Friendly Coffee, that sustainably source ingredients.


By switching something as simple as your coffee choice, you can make a huge difference in sloths’ (and other wildlife) lives. 


Written by Emily Granville
Education Specialist

Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

   Back to blog posts