Preparing for Winter: Reptiles & Amphibians

The Greensboro Science Center is home to a number of reptiles and amphibians, including four awesome Aldabra tortoises! Although they live at the GSC all year long, during your winter visit, you won’t see these guys out and about in our zoo.

As cold-blooded animals, Aldabra tortoises need warm weather to stay healthy. When temperatures dip below about 60 degrees, they remain inside their blockhouses where the temperature is maintained at a toasty 80 degrees and where they have access to heat lamps and UV lamps.

You probably notice in your very own backyard that you don’t see turtles, snakes, frogs, and the like during winter. Many of these animals hibernate during the colder months. If you see one around as the temperatures begin to cool, the best thing to do is to leave it alone. If the animal is in an unsafe location, you can move it to a brushy area where it can burrow and hide. To help local reptiles and amphibians, you can create brush piles in your yard where they can stay warm and safe through winter!

Eury’s Story: Caring for an Aging Anteater

Since 2008, Eury has been one of the most charismatic crowd-pleasers in our zoo. 

If you’ve participated in a Zoo Trek, you may have experienced the shock of his 2-foot-long tongue snaking inside your sneaker. 

If you’ve accidentally dropped a little one’s shoe into his exhibit, you may have seen firsthand the catastrophic consequences of his inquisitive nature. 

And, if you’ve listened to a Keeper Talk featuring our beloved anteater, you may have heard him fondly referred to as a grumpy old man. Temperament aside, at 19 years of age, Eury is, in fact, considered “old.” 

In the wild, giant anteaters have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, while in captivity, they have been known to reach 20 years of age. As with all of our geriatric animals, our animal care staff has been working hard to help ease the side effects of Eury’s advancing age. 

Eury arrived at the GSC with an old hip injury. To compensate for the damage, Eury had naturally been bearing more weight on the uninjured side, which led to chronic arthritis in that knee. 

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An x-ray of Eury’s old hip injury. The left side of the image shows the damage.

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An x-ray of Eury’s damaged knee. The right side of the image shows the affected area.

To manage his pain, our team has been making adjustments to Eury’s habitat as well as administering medication as necessary. 

Inside the blockhouse (the indoor part of his exhibit), keepers are ensuring the kiddie pool he uses as a bed is full of a thick, comfy layer of pine shavings. Additional mulch is regularly added to the area  to create a soft surface for him to walk on. In the outdoor exhibit space, the yard is being tiered to create a more gentle slope, which will be easier for his old bones to navigate.

When it comes to medication, Eury receives a daily glucosamine/chondroitin supplement, a daily dose of meloxicam and two daily doses of both tramadol and gabapentin. In addition, he receives a glycosaminoglycan injection every two weeks. New to his care routine are daily cannabis oil treats.

Eury has also recently started acupuncture and cold laser therapy sessions, which he is handling very well. Dr. Tara Harrison, from North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, visited the GSC in early June to assist with his first session. In addition to demonstrating the proper technique to our teams, she also brought along a group of her students to observe and participate. To keep Eury occupied while acupuncture was in progress, our animal care staff provided him with some of his favorite snacks. Eventually, those snacks ran out. While those assembled would likely give him the shirts off their backs, they opted for another of his best-loved enrichment items instead – the shoes off their feet (Eury is quite fond of investigating stinky shoes).

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For the last 3 years, Eury has been regularly evaluated by animal care staff using our quality of life assessment. During these assessments, Eury’s primary keeper and our veterinarian discuss Eury’s health, well-being, and current and potential treatments. For his most recent assessment, it was noted that, although Eury has chronic and severe arthritis, he is still maintaining himself (grooming, eating, drinking, keeping weight on, etc.) and he is responding well to the acupuncture and cold laser therapy sessions. 

Eury is a geriatric anteater and is experiencing some of the issues that come with advanced age, but he is still doing well and his keeper and vet will continue to monitor his quality of life and provide him with supportive care.

 

Conservation Creation – iNaturalist + Monkey Madness

If you’ve been to the Greensboro Science Center or any other zoo or aquarium, you’ve probably seen many animals with a “Conservation Status” listed on their exhibit signage. These statuses range from ‘Extinct’ to ‘Least Concern.’ ‘Extinct’ means that there are either no more instances of that animal left in the wild, or that the ones remaining have no chance of reproducing. ‘Least Concern’ means that this animal is abundant in the wild and that there are currently no concerns revolving around its population numbers. Scientists have many ways of determining how many animals of a species exist in the wild – methods ranging from recording calls in the forest or tagging animals in the ocean to be tracked with innovative technology.

While these methods can give us an idea of what animal populations look like, there are many situations in which a population doesn’t fit into a specific category. For example, you may see an animal that is listed as ‘Data Deficient.’ This means there isn’t enough information to determine what their population realistically looks like. This applies to many ocean animals, since they can be difficult to track due to the ocean’s vastness. There are other instances where an animal can be listed as ‘Least Concern’ overall, but still be vulnerable in certain areas. This is why it’s important to be mindful of wildlife when you encounter it, regardless of an animal’s conservation status.

Now, for an activity! This month, instead of a craft, we’ll be sending you on an adventure! All you will need is a smartphone or tablet and the spirit of a biologist. Start by downloading the app, iNaturalist. This is a free app for Apple and Android that will allow you to track local wildlife and help scientists learn about the animal populations near you! Learn more about the app by visiting inaturalist.org.

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Once you have downloaded the app, you can begin your adventure! You’ll be taking photos of the plants and animals you find. If you already know what you’re looking at, you can identify it yourself on the app. If you don’t know what you’ve found, however, other users of the app can help you figure out what it is.

By participating, you’ll be helping scientists to learn about the plants and animals near you, giving them insight on what needs to be done to help and protect these beings. You can use iNaturalist anywhere you go – including your home, a vacation spot or one of Greensboro’s beautiful parks. Now… break out your safari hat and begin your journey as a Citizen Scientist!

Want more conservation? Get hands-on at the GSC! During July 2019, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 & 2:30, join our educators at the howler monkey exhibit to learn about these monkeys and how they’re being affected by habitat loss. While there, you can make a seed bomb – made from seeds of local plants – to take home to enrich your local wildlife habitats! 

Conservation Creation: Terrific Turtles

Ever wonder what the difference is between a turtle and a tortoise? To answer this, you must first know that all tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. This is because all tortoises and turtles belong to the Testudine family, meaning they are reptiles with a hard shell. However, turtles break off into other smaller families (dependent upon their traits). The most obvious difference is that tortoises only live on land, while turtles will spend at least some of the time, if not a majority of their life, in the water. Another distinguishing characteristic is that tortoises are herbivores (vegetarians), while turtles are omnivores, eating both plants and living creatures like insects.

While there are several differences between tortoises and turtles, one thing they have in common is their need for protection. Due to their hard outer shell, these animals are well equipped to protect themselves from the natural predators who see them as a potential meal. However, they are not prepared to save themselves from human threats (like habitat loss). This is why it is important to make sure that we don’t disturb wild turtles or tortoises when we see them and make sure to keep pets like cats and dogs inside so that they don’t become a potential predator for one of our shelled friends. We can also help by being cautious drivers. Many turtles have an internal homing sense and desire to stay close to their original home. This sometimes means crossing roads to find food or potential mates, then returning home. If you do see a turtle in the road and want to help, make sure that you move them to the side they are trying to get to, and only do this if you are safely able to do so.

Now… for some fun! This month, we will show you how to use bottles to make a turtle bank! If you want to take an extra step to help turtles and tortoises, consider donating to the following organizations, which we also support here at the Greensboro Science Center:

The Orianne Society: Nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of reptiles, amphibians, and the lands they inhabit.

The Turtle Survival Alliance : Nonprofit dedicated to conserving struggling turtle and tortoise populations through a variety of techniques including breeding programs and habitat protection.

 

DIY Steps

What you will need: plastic bottles, scissors, glue, fun foam or craft felt, a marker, craft supplies of your choice, and an X-ACTO knife or sharp blade (using adult assistance).

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Step 1: Using the X-ACTO knife, cut off the bottom of a plastic bottle, then use scissors to smooth out the edge.

Step 2: Place the bottom of the plastic bottle on top of your foam or felt, then use your marker to trace a circle around it.

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Step 3: Use your marker to draw a tail, a head and feet on to the circle, then cut out your turtle shape.

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Step 4: Put glue on the rim of the plastic bottle bottom from earlier and place it on top of your turtle base. Allow it to dry.

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Step 5: Use your X-ACTO knife to make a small slit in the bottom of your turtle.

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Step 6: Get creative! Add your own decorations to your turtle’s shell. If you use glue to adhere your embellishments, make sure to allow everything to dry before using your bank. You can also use your creation to store small household items such as buttons, screws or headphones!

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Conservation Creation: 180 Steps Around the World

Summer is right around the corner and it’s once again time to take a tour around the world – all from within our very own Jeansboro Junction (located in Friendly Farm)! On this tour, you will get the chance to learn about our farm animals and their natural histories, as well as earn a souvenir to take home with you.

While commercial farms tend to focus on a single crop or species of livestock, smaller family farms tend to have many different plants and animals, which is what you will see in our farmyard here at the Greensboro Science Center. When farmers are setting up their farms, they will often think about the relationships between their herds and their gardens. For example, horse manure is a great crop fertilizer and can be used to help grow vegetables for people as well as hay for livestock. Free-range chickens are great for keeping pests out of gardens while also providing eggs to sell or eat.

During the farm planning process, farmers need to be aware of the needs of both their animals and their gardens to ensure an efficient and healthy farm. For our activity this month, you will be planning and creating your own farm diorama! Below, you will see an example of a farm that we created, as well as how to make a horse for your farmyard.

What you will need:a box, craft supplies and a creative mind! Running short on craft supplies? Visit Reconsidered Goods to stock up on donated materials without breaking the bank!

Step 1: Figure out what kinds of animals you want on your farm and what they will need to live happy and healthy lives. To get started, remember that the three essential needs for any living creature are food, water and shelter. If you’re using the internet, search for animal care sheets (ex. Horse Care Sheet) to find out what each animal needs.

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Step 2: Make your cork horse! Start by breaking 3 toothpicks in half. Use the pointy ends to add legs and a neck to your horse. You will have half of a toothpick left over.

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Step 3: Attach a smaller cork to the neck area of the horse; this will become the head. Use glue to attach string for hair and googly eyes (if you would like) for the finishing details.

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Step 4: Create your diorama with the animals you want on your farm! For our farmyard, we decided we wanted to have a garden, free-range chickens with a chicken coop, a fenced-in pasture for sheep and horses, and a well to make providing water easier on our farmer. For an added challenge, try using only recyclable materials or materials from your yard!

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Katrina the Crocodile’s Pre-Ship Exam

Last week, Katrina, our female Nile crocodile, was examined by the GSC’s veterinary team in preparation for her upcoming move to a fellow Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facility, Zoo Boise. Katrina came to the Greensboro Science Center in 2009 from Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. She has shared the exhibit with Niles, our male crocodile, since then.

With the capacity to grow up to 16 feet in length, the time has now come for our crocodiles to go their separate ways, giving them the space they need as they continue to grow. Katrina will likely be making her move to Idaho in May. At that time, two keepers from Zoo Boise will come to North Carolina to accompany her on her FedEx flight out of Piedmont Triad International Airport.

When animals are moved from one facility to another, it is standard procedure for the receiving facility to acquire up-to-date medical information. In order to provide the most accurate information possible, our veterinary team gave Katrina a full physical exam. So, how does one go about giving a crocodile a physical?

Our team of animal care professionals met prior to beginning the exam to discuss the method they would employ to restrain Katrina as well as to determine the role of each individual involved. Additionally, the pool inside the exhibit was drained, and all tools and supplies were gathered and placed within easy reach.

The temperature at the time of the exam was relatively cool for a cold-blooded animal, at 63 degrees. While the cooler weather could mean Katrina had a little less energy than usual and wouldn’t pull quite as much, our team never takes any chances when it comes to safety. With such a strong, alert animal, every precaution was taken.

Inside the blockhouse, a team was responsible for catching Katrina by fastening a rope around her head and one arm. Once secure, the team pulled her outside into the grass (where there is less of a chance of injury if the animal rolls). A rope was carefully slipped around Katrina’s jaws and tightened to cinch her mouth shut.

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The animal care team moves with precision to stabilize Katrina’s powerful jaws.

A warm, wet towel was placed over her eyes before two members of the animal care team simultaneously moved in to hold her still. Her mouth was then taped shut.

During the exam, our veterinary team drew blood, checked her eyes and tested the movement of her joints. They inserted a microchip, took a fecal sample and updated x-rays. They also used the opportunity to take measurements (she’s now 7’ 2” in length!!!) — not only for her medical records, but also for logistical planning purposes as she prepares to fly to Idaho.

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The team prepares to insert a microchip.

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From the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail, Katrina measures 7’ 2”.

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Our portable x-ray generator allows the team to take – and quickly review – x-rays on exhibit, which is less stressful for the animal and less dangerous for the keepers.

Other than a small abrasion on her foot, our vet team tells us Katrina is in great shape! We will certainly miss her here at the Greensboro Science Center, but we are excited for her future at Zoo Boise where she’s sure to continue educating and inspiring guests with her strength, power and beauty.

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Keepers Use Night Vision Cameras to Spy on Maned Wolf Pups

At just over three months old, our four maned wolf puppies, Stella, Luna, Betts, and Cieza, are fully weaned. Keeper Lauren has been providing them with “grown-up” food, but since they’re still shy around people, she hasn’t been able to see them actively eating on their own. In order to determine whether the pups are eating by themselves or still relying on mom, Anaheim, as their main source of food, Lauren installed night vision cameras in their blockhouse.

Here are a few clips of what she’s seen:

The puppies are eating the same food that their mom eats: 30% ground beef mixed with 70% pureed fruits and veggies, plus supplements. The fruits and veggies are pureed and mixed with the meat because, while meat is their favorite, as omnivores, fruits and veggies are vital to their health. Mixing everything together ensures they are motivated to eat their veggies!

Mixing the meat with fruits and veggies also helps keep their meat intake in check. If maned wolves eat too much meat, they can get cystinuria, a condition in which crystals form in their urine. Cystinuria can be deadly, so keepers work hard to ensure our animals eat a well-balanced diet!

You may be wondering why the pups are coming inside so late at night to eat! Our maned wolves are given the choice to come and go as they please after hours. On nicer days, they tend to sleep in their outdoor den boxes, which are heated to stay above 50 degrees – for those cool nights! If it’s especially cold outside, they often opt to sleep inside the blockhouse, where temperatures are heated to a nice, warm 73 degrees.

As you can see, our maned wolf pups are growing up quickly under the faithful care of our dedicated animal care staff. Be sure to stop by the maned wolf exhibit the next time you visit for a chance to see these playful pups in action!