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!

Volunteer Spotlight: Daylyn L.

At the Greensboro Science Center, we are honored to welcome approximately 750 volunteers each year, giving a cumulative 36,000+ hours of their time. With a friendly greeting and a warm smile, our volunteers help us carry out our mission each day, educating our visitors about our animals and exhibits and inspiring them to learn more.

This week, we’d like to introduce you to Daylyn L. Daylyn has been volunteering at the Greensboro Science Center since 2013. She says:

Daylyn LAs a child, I visited the Greensboro Science Center all the time. Now, even though school keeps me busy, I like to volunteer at the GSC on the weekends, at least 2 or 3 times a month. I was drawn to volunteering at the Greensboro Science Center because I have a passion for all animals. I love educating people about the different kinds of animals that live at the GSC. Since volunteering there, I found a new passion for herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians.

One of my best memories of being a volunteer was the day I got to shadow the Herp staff. I was allowed to assist with the husbandry and feeding of the snakes, lizards, salamanders, frogs and turtles. I even got to pet one of the Rhinoceros Iguanas, Rocky! I enjoyed shadowing the Herp staff because I want to be a herpetologist. I learned a lot that day and the staff made me feel welcomed.

Volunteering at the Greensboro Science Center means a lot to me. While working with the animals is a lot of fun, I have had a lot of really cool experiences interacting with visitors. A lot of the same people come to the Center every time I volunteer, so they always speak to me when they see me. I love seeing kids come to the Center and show their parents around. The best part of all, however, is knowing that what I do to teach the people might change the world as we know it. That is the most rewarding thing with volunteering at the Greensboro Science Center.

Meet the Keeper: Lauren Irk

Lauren has worked as a zoo keeper at the Greensboro Science Center for about four and a half years. She knew early on that she wanted to work with animals, but didn’t want to become a veterinarian. The primary reason was that she didn’t want the responsibility of euthanizing animals. “It would be too hard,” Lauren said. “I would cry every time.”

So, she took her passion for animal care along a different route by enrolling in Davidson County Community College’s Zoo and Aquarium Science program. During the program, she became an intern at the Greensboro Science Center and, in her second year, was hired part-time by the Center. Since then, she has worked her way up and is now a full time keeper in the Center’s herpetology department.

Her primary responsibilities include making diets, feeding, administering medications when necessary and general cleaning. Although general cleaning does include the dreaded “scooping of the poop,” she did note that reptiles don’t go to the bathroom as often as mammals… which, um, we guess is a job perk…

But, to Lauren, the real perks are a bit different. She loves talking to kids. “They’re funny,” she said, “especially when they know stuff already.”

She also enjoys it when new animals arrive. It’s always exciting for her to have something different to work with – especially if it’s a new species.

“I like being a female in the reptile department,” Lauren said. It is typically a male-dominated field and people are often surprised to hear what Lauren does for a living. However, Lauren is surprised at the number of female counterparts she has in zoos across the country. So take heart, ladies, if your passion lies in pythons, you’re not alone.

Lauren with a skink

Keeper, Lauren, with one of her charges – a blue tongued skink.

While you might think the danger of a reptile keeper’s career lies in the rattlesnake, copperhead or Burmese python, don’t be fooled. The real threats are tortoises… “I’ve been stampeded by tortoises,” Lauren admits. “If there’s food, they will stampede. They’ll run you over for it.” (Note: no zoo keepers were harmed in the telling of this anecdote.)

Another interesting thing you might not know about a reptile keeper’s job is that they spend time training their animals. That’s right, they can be taught! The Center’s tortoises have learned to target and are now learning to pick up their feet when asked. And Maggie, the rhinoceros iguana, is learning to wear a harness.

All of the keepers in the herpetology department get along great, Lauren said. They each have specific jobs they do and specific animals to care for each day, but they also have a little time to have fun. While they do tend to goof off occasionally, one thing they always take seriously is the health and well-being of their animals.

Creature Feature: Yellow Spotted River Turtles

Yellow Spotted River Turtles are now on display in Amazon Edge!

Yellow Spotted River Turtle

Yellow Spotted River Turtle

Two Yellow Spotted River Turtles recently moved into the Amazon exhibit. They get their name from the yellow spots visible on a juvenile’s neck. The spots fade as the turtle ages. These turtles are considered very aquatic and typically leave the water only to bask, so they may be found either swimming in the water or sunning themselves on the logs in the exhibit.

They are omnivores and in their native habitat (the Amazon River Basin), they eat vegetation as well as insects and crustaceans. Here, they are given a variety of food, such as pieces of shrimp and fish, aquatic turtle pellets and pieces of fruits and vegetables – like pear, apple, grapes and squash.

FUN FACT: These turtles are side-necked turtles – they pull their head in to the side when threatened.

Yellow Spotted River Turtle in the Carolina SciQuarium

Yellow Spotted River Turtle in the Carolina SciQuarium

Our Yellow Spotted River Turtles are about two years old and came to us from the San Antonio Zoo. They currently have a carapace length of about 7 inches, but they can grow to be about 14 inches long. You can visit them in the SciQuarium daily from 9:00am – 5:00pm.

Yellow Spotted River Turtles are currently listed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. One reason for this classification is that they are a popular food item in some parts of their range.

Meet Jim and I

One of the most unique animals visitors encounter at the Greensboro Science Center is a little Yellow Bellied Slider that goes by the name Jim & I. The double name gives a small clue as to why this little one is so popular among visitors… it was born with two heads.

How Does This Happen?

When Jim & I was just a little fertilized egg, traveling down mom’s birth canal, the egg began to split. Under normal circumstances, the egg splits completely and an eggshell forms around each. But in this case, nature had different plans. Before the egg could divide entirely, the eggshell formed around Jim & I, resulting in partial twins sharing one shell.

About Jim & I

Jim and I

Jim and I

Jim & I was born sometime around August of 1999 and was found in Badin Lake, NC. Upon its arrival at the Center in April of 2000, Jim & I was just about the size of a quarter. Jim & I probably has two stomachs and two hearts. Both heads are capable of thinking and eating individually.

About Yellow Bellied Sliders

Yellow Bellied Sliders are often found in ponds, slow-moving streams and swamps throughout the southeastern United States. They can be identified, as their name suggest, by their yellow belly. The bottom shell is yellow with some black markings along the edge. These turtles are active during the day, spending much of their time basking in the sun. They are omnivores, eating aquatic plants and algae, crustaceans, insects, fish and tadpoles.

You can see Jim & I in the herp lab on the lower level of the Museum. The exhibit tank is located at the end of the room and is visible from the hall window.

A Keeper’s Role: Lauren

The Role of a Zoo Keeper in the Herp Department

Zoo Keepers in our Herpetology Department are responsible for the care of our reptiles and amphibians as well as the insects and arachnids in Bug Discovery. They also play an important role as conservationists and frontline educators. Each day, our Herp Keepers begin with a meeting to make sure staff is all on the same page. They catch each other up on the latest developments regarding their animals and exhibits and go over things to do that day.

Lauren Teaching Maggie To Station

Keeper Lauren Teaching Maggie, the Rhinoceros Iguana, To Station

After this morning meeting, they begin the day by performing general maintenance in each exhibit. Each morning exhibit husbandry such as cleaning waste, adding fresh water, bedding changes, water quality checks, and water changes for aquatic herps are performed,  and enrichment items are also added – even for reptiles!  From there, they move on to making diets and working on projects such as updating or redoing exhibits. They may also spend some time searching the grounds for logs, rocks, etc. needed for exhibits.

Herp Keepers also participate in Keeper Talks, including a special 3:00 Keeper Talk featuring a crocodile feeding on Wednesdays and Sunday from June through August (weather permitting). Throughout the day, they try to take a few minutes to visit with guests and answer any questions they may have about animals in their care.

The day ends with afternoon feedings and a final walk through to check on each animal before heading out for the night.

About Lauren

Lauren is a Zoo Keeper in our Herpetology Department who came to the Greensboro Science Center in December of 2009. Her favorite part of working at the GSC is talking with the public – especially when they take special interest in the animals she cares for.

Her favorite animal is Maggie, the Rhinoceros Iguana. She has been training her to “station,” a process designed to help with food aggression. When Lauren tells Maggie to station, she will walk onto her platform where she is rewarded with food. Lauren is then able to put down her food bowl without Maggie interfering. If Maggie disobeys, she is subjected to a time out which means Lauren leaves the room for a minute. Maggie is learning that when she disobeys, it takes longer for her to get her food. She is also learning to “target” which means she walks to the target (a tennis ball on a stick) and taps it with her nose. When she follows instructions, she’s rewarded with food. This process allows keepers to direct her where to go when necessary.

Maggie Learning To Target

Maggie Learning To Target