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!

Conservation Creation: Red Panda-monium, featuring DIY Seed Bombs!

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Red pandas are undeniably one of the world’s cutest animals. With bright red fur, striking facial features and a big fluffy tail, these animals have quickly become popular throughout the internet and in the hearts of our guests. However, these traits serve a larger purpose than to pull at our heartstrings! Red pandas are native to Southeast Asia, particularly in the temperate forests near the Himalayan Mountains. In these areas, temperatures remain cool and that large fluffy tail is used almost like a blanket to keep these small animals warm. In addition to providing warmth, that beautiful thick red fur helps these animals camouflage themselves within the red lichens that grow in their natural habitat.

Believe it or not, the red panda is the original panda. Red pandas were discovered around 50 years before the black and white giant pandas that we typically think of. These animals have caused quite a headache for scientists over the years as they’ve tried to figure out the relationship between red pandas and giant pandas.

Currently, red pandas are classified in their own unique family called Ailuridae. However different these animals may seem, they do share some commonality. For one, both the red panda and the giant panda love to eat bamboo! These animals are also both greatly affected by habitat loss. Here at the Greensboro Science Center we support the Red Panda Network, an organization dedicated to preserving these animals. You can also help red pandas by donating to the Red Panda Network here (https://www.redpandanetwork.org) and by continuing to visit the Greensboro Science Center and other AZA accredited zoos and aquariums!

Remember to join us during the month of September on Tuesdays and Thurdsays at 10:30am and 2:30pm at our red panda habitat to participate in our Conservation Creation activity as well as on September 14thfor Red Panda Day!

While red pandas live thousands of miles away from us, there are things we can do for animals effected by habitat loss right here in North Carolina! Some of these animals include our local pollinators such as bees and butterflies. As we move in to the cooler months of fall, we can begin planting flowers and other plants to help out these animals. To get started, we have a cool DIY activity for you to do at home that will be fun for you and beneficial to our local pollinators: Seed Bombs!

DIY Seed Bombs

What you will need: Air-dry clay, potting soil or compost, water, seeds, a large mixing bowl, a measuring cup of any size

To choose seeds that will be the most beneficial to your area, visit this website: https://www.ourstate.com/tips-bee-friendly-garden-north-carolina/

Seed-Bomb-Ingredients

Seed bomb ingredients

Step 1: Take 1 part clay, 1 part water, and 2 parts potting soil or compost and combine them in your mixing bowl.

Seed-Bomb-Combine-Ingredients

Combine 1 part clay, 1 part water, and 2 parts potting soil or compost

Step 2: Use your hands (or a large spoon) to mix the ingredients together, adding water as necessary. Your final mixture should be similar to Play-Doh in consistency.

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Mix ingredients, adding water as necessary, until the mixture has a Play-Doh-like consistency

Step 3: Add your seeds of choice to the mixture and mix thoroughly.

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Add seeds

Step 4: Form the mixture into balls or another fun shape of your choosing.

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Form the mixture into balls

Step 5: Allow 2-3 days for your seed bombs to dry and then toss them wherever you would like your seed bombs to grow! Seed bombs don’t require care or attention so they can be placed wherever you would like to see your flowers. Visit them often in the Fall and Spring to see if you have any insect visitors!

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Completed seed bombs!

Red Panda Day Celebration: September 14

red-panda-day-2019On Saturday, September 14, 2019, the Greensboro Science Center (GSC) is celebrating International Red Panda Day with a variety of crafts, games, education stations, and activities. The celebration will take place at the red panda exhibit in the GSC’s zoo from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

During the event, GSC guests will be invited to become Red Panda Rangers – individuals recognized by the Red Panda Networkas those who help spread the word about red pandas. To become a Red Panda Ranger, guests can pick up a passport and travel to stations representing countries in Asia where red pandas are found, complete activities and earn stamps. Participants who complete the passport will be given a small token of appreciation as they are deputized as official Red Panda Rangers.

Red panda paintings, created by the GSC’s red pandas, Tai and Usha, will be available for purchase. Proceeds will be donated to the Red Panda Network. Guests can also support the Red Panda Network by dropping loose change into a red panda bank.

In addition, guests will have the opportunity to symbolically adopt a red panda. Donations made through the GSC’s Adopt An Animal program provide critical support for animal care, education programs and wildlife conservation at the GSC. Adoptions can be made during the event, in the TriceraShop gift shop or online at www.greensboroscience.org/give.

International Red Panda Day activities (excluding donation opportunities) are free with general admission or GSC membership. General admission is $14.50 for adults ages 14 – 64, $13.50 for children ages 3 – 13, and $13.50 for seniors ages 65+. Children 2 and under are free.

Busy Bees and Other Prominent Pollinators

Here at the Greensboro Science Center, we love all animals – big and small! One of our smallest residents is perhaps one of our most important: the honey bee.

Bees are social insects that live in colonies all over the world. These colonies consist of one queen, female worker bees and male drones. Worker bees, which make up the majority of the hive’s population, do all of the work – from gathering nectar to creating honey and building the hive. Worker bees have to be incredibly efficient because their lifespan is only around 45 days, which is much less than the lifespan of their queen, who can live up to 7 years! Drones are there only to help reproduce and keep the hive populated.

Honey bees are one of our most important pollinators. When they fly from flower to flower looking for nectar, pollen gets stuck on their hairy legs. When they are visiting other flowers, some of that pollen will fall off – and that is how those plants become pollinated. Through this process, we estimate that bees are responsible for pollinating plants that create 1/3 of the food that we eat here in the United States! Unfortunately, bee populations have been decreasing, which not only affects wildlife, but us as well.

You can help bees by choosing plants that they like for your gardens at home such as Purple Coneflower, Great Blue Lobelia and Goldenrod. You can also join us at the Greensboro Science Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30am and 2:30pm in August by our beehives in Friendly Farm to get a packet of seeds as well as help create a community beehive from bottle caps!

Fun Fact: Do you know what to do when you’ve been stung by a bee? Believe it or not, you don’t want to swat at the insect! When a honey bee gets crushed, it releases a pheromone that signals danger to other bees which causes them to swarm. When a bee stings, its stinger comes out so it cannot sting you more than once. Remain calm, brush the bee off and remove the stinger from your skin.

Now for an easy DIY way of helping bees beat the August heat!

Just like us, bees and other pollinators need water to stay healthy. You can help them by leaving trays of water out for them!

What you will need: A tray like a pie tin or small bowl, marbles or decorative stones, and fresh water.

Bee-Materials

Step 1: Place your marbles or stones into the tray.

Bee-Marbles

Step 2: Pour water into the tray so that the tops of your marbles or stones are just above the water. The idea is that they will give insects something to sit on so they can drink without risk of drowning.

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Step 3: Place your tray somewhere in your yard for bees and other insects to stop and get a drink! If you don’t like insects near you or your house, you will want to place these somewhere that you won’t be bothered by them.

 

If you want to monitor your station to see who drops by, consider tracking your visitors with the iNaturalist app! You can read up on this app in our previous Conservation Creation blog. And don’t forget to get plenty of water yourself and stay hydrated in the summer heat!

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).

Eury-Acupuncture

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: 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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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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