The Nur"sss"ery

If you’ve found yourself walking through the Zoo’s Herpetarium building within the last year you might’ve noticed that one of your favorite scaley creatures has found a new home. The reticulated python has moved into a bigger, better and more exciting habitat. The reptile and amphibian department has renovated her old slithering grounds into a baby nursery.  There, guests can watch as young reptiles and amphibians grow into their own skin.

 In the past year, our team has cared for several nursery residents, including various species of turtles, venomous snakes, geckos, frogs and nonvenomous snakes. Most of the younglings can be found in their own habitat, while others have been sent to other AZA-accredited zoos.

 Taking care of baby reptiles can be quite challenging at times, but it’s also an incredibly rewarding part of my job. For example, baby turtles have a tendency to be highly selective when it comes to food. When caring for a picky eater, I try a myriad of food items until I learn their preference. After beginning to frequently eat that particular item, the turtle will start to sample other food items until they are fed a wide variety of things.

With the exception of a few species, reptiles and amphibians do not show any maternal care. This factor is what makes the reptile and amphibian nursery so successful. Because of the exceptional care these animals receive from our team, they are healthier and have a better chance of surviving than theircounterparts in the wild.

My favorite nursery residents are the Red-eyed tree frog tadpoles. Although all of the tadpoles hatched on the same day, some ate more than others and grew at a faster rate. In one, single aquarium guests can view tadpoles at multiple stages of life - some have only back legs, while others have both front and back legs, and some have no legs at all. It’s exciting an exciting phenomenon to witness every stage of a tadpole’s life at one time.

Today, guests can view a multitude of reptile and amphibian species in the nursery, including New Caledonian giant geckos, Hinge-back tortoises, Short-necked turtles, tentacled snakes, green and black poison dart frogs, Mexican box turtles, Red-eyed tree frogs and a Diamondback terrapin. We also have a few more special species in our incubator, but I won’t spoil that surprise!

Guests are welcome to peek inside the Herpetarium’s ever-changing nursery anytime. Who knows! You may even witness a live hatching, or two.

 –  Danielle Leopold, animal caretaker

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