It’s not often that our big Reticulated python gets to wander the halls of the Herpetarium at the OKC Zoo but sometimes it is the only way to move her from one location to another, or just to let her stretch and explore. Her massive size of over 20 feet long at nearly 140 pounds, combined with “I want to be left alone” attitude, preclude one from simply putting her in a box and toting her around.
Visitors who frequent the Herpetarium notice that animals on exhibit often switch location within the building or change buildings entirely. Shuffling habitats is important and many visitors are surprised to find that behind the naturalistic exhibits a completely different world exists.
The OKC Zoo reptile and amphibian staff is responsible for the care and wellbeing of a fluctuating number of animals. Currently, we have close to 375 but it may go as high as 600. A large percentage of these specimens are off exhibit in reserve holding. It could be said that this is where the real magic happens.
Animals both on and off exhibit originate from all over the globe with wildly diverse habitats. Most people know that reptile and amphibians are poikilothermic (“cold blooded”) but many do not realize they are also stenotherms, meaning they can only thrive within a small temperature range. Add to this that each has evolved in a micro habitat within certain climatic conditions (i.e. desert, swamp, rainforest, etc.) and one soon begins to realize the issues stemming from housing this diverse group of animals.
Anyone who has dabbled with gardening is familiar with the term “zone”, referring to how land is segmented by weather climates. Some plants from different zones require a greenhouse that replicates the perfect weather conditions. Our Herpetarium is much like a huge greenhouse that replicates environments for multiple zones. We do this through the use of humidifiers, supplemental heating and specialized lighting that is tailored specifically for each occupant. Lighting can be especially complicated because we need to maintain specific lumen levels (brightness) as well as necessary UV requirements and also provide basking sights for thermoregulation. All of these necessities must be monitored daily not only to ensure functionality but also seasonal adjustments.
Dietary needs are another issue and, while most snakes feed on rodents, this is not true of the many lizard, frogs, and turtle species we maintain. For them, we maintain insect colonies and use the help of our nutritionally savvy veterinary staff to provide proper herbivorous diets.
The entire reptile staff is proud to present our visitors with a large and diverse collection to marvel at and learn from. We are lucky to have the support from both management and the community to make this happen.
I have often compared our work to watching a duck on a pond. The duck appears to glide effortlessly on still water, while under water its little feet are paddling away vigorously! So the next time you walk through the Herpetarium halls admiring the collection, think of the flurry of activity it takes behind closed doors!
– Joe Branham, zoological manager of herpetology