Everyone knows that bees (and other species) pollinate flowers. But what happens afterwards? New flowers spring up but the fruits of these pollinators hard labor can also be found in the shape of… well, fruits! These soft organs produced by some plant species usually encase seeds that need planting. It’s how these plants reproduce. But what purpose do these plants serve?
Most fruits are meant to be eaten. The seeds often have protective layers that can withstand animal digestive tracts so they come out “the other end”. The animal’s feces and the ground create a perfect place for a new seedling to grow and thrive. It also helps transport the seed away from its parent plant creating less competition for resources, but do we ever see the evidence of this? Yes!
OKC Zoo animals receive fantastic diets. The Zoo’s black bears enjoy a rotating diet of romaine, kale, bok choy, cantaloupe, honey dew, watermelon, carrots, sweet potato, grapes and much more. Some of these fruits are seedbearing and sometimes, we are lucky enough to see the results. Recently, caretakers discovered cantaloupe growing in the black bear habitat at Oklahoma Trails. It was later returned to the bears as an enrichment treat.
But black bears aren’t the only ones who have produced plants. Just last year, our bison grew their very own pumpkin patch after enjoying some gourd-related enrichment treats in the fall. Unfortunately for the pumpkin plants, the bison found it very tasty and we never saw a full-sized pumpkin. They ate the whole vine down to its roots! Sometimes though, zoo fruit plants come from unlikely sources.
At a zoological facility in Ontario, Canada, some grey wolves received gourds for enrichment. Zoos often use fruits as enrichment for carnivores because they are a good way to mimic prey items with harder outsides and softer insides. As it turns out, the wolves were pretty good at growing their own gourds!
These are just a few of the many ways that our ecosystems are all connected. Without animals, many plants would not exist today! We must cherish everything and help our local ecosystems thrive with green living practices.
-Kat Jay, carnivore caretaker