Spotlight on Species – Otters!

On July 16th, from 10AM – 3PM, the Houston Zoo will be celebrating a Spotlight on Species (SOS) all about otters!

Did you know that there are 13 different species of otters and that several of the species are endangered?

Did you know we have otters right here in Texas?

Come and learn about Texas otters and otters around the world.  Meet our North American River Otter and

Asian Small-clawed Otter
Asian Small-clawed Otter

Asian Small Clawed Otters that call the Houston Zoo home.

The SOS will take place in both the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo and the Natural Encounters building.  There will be lots to learn along with activities and fun for the whole family.    There will be tables with information and education materials along with special Meet

the Keeper chats at both locations.  It is also going to be Snow Day at the Zoo, and our North American River Otter, Belle, will be

North American River Otter

getting snow to play in!

The Naturally Wild Swap Shop will be participating too!  Any nature reports or nature journals on otters brought in on the day of the SOS will receive DOUBLE points!  Also, if you take the electronic pledge that day to go plastic bag free and come tell us in the Swap Shop, you will earn you 25 points.  If you take the pledge you will also be entered in to a drawing for one of two special otter experiences.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here to learn more.

Penny Cat sees something new

Hi everyone.  Penny the cat here.

Something big is happening behind the scenes in the George P. McGovern Children’s Zoo!  I can hear a lot of noise and see a little movement behind the fence, but I can’t quite figure it out.

I really wanted to go check it out, so I got one of my handlers to take me over to see what is going on.

Look at that new building!
Look at that new building!

You won’t believe it!  The building that houses the animals that go to events, presentations and classrooms is being re-done!  So much construction!  The building is being expanded and there will be lots of room for the ambassador animals to live.

I am a little jealous.  Those guys are going to have so much space and such a nice new building.  Being the Princess Kitten that I am, I think I deserve a new spot too, don’t you?  A cat like me should be living in luxury.

 

I am going to have to start working on a plan…….

They are Toadally Texan!

Some of the most amazing things about Texas are all of the fabulous native wildlife species.  Texas has a long and rich natural history – from the Horned Lizard, to the Nine Banded Armadillo, to the state flying mammal, the Mexican Free-tailed Bat.  But, some of our native species are in jeopardy.

Meet Tina Toad.  She is one of the Houston Zoo’s ambassador animals and is a retired Houston Toad that was a part of the Zoo’s breeding program.  After laying over 10,000 eggs (yes, Moms, I said 10,000), she was retired and came to live in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.  Recently, we were able to get a picture of her with another kind of Texan.  Kurtis Drummond, safety with the Houston Texans, came by along with Bethany and Brianna from the Houston Texans Cheerleaders.

The Houston Toad is one of Texas’ most imperiled species.  Its range was formerly known to include 12 counties in Texas, but it is now only in a few counties in east-central Texas.  The largest remaining populations are found in the Lost Pines region of Bastrop County.  Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation are the most serious threats facing the Houston Toad.  Red fire ants can also have a devastating impact by killing young toads and altering local insect and arthropod populations which the toads feed on.

From Left to Right: Sr. Naturalist Suzanne, Houston Texans Cheerleaders Bethany and Brianna, Texans Safety Kurtis Drummond and Sr. Keeper David.
From Left to Right: Sr. Naturalist Suzanne, Houston Texans Cheerleaders Bethany and Brianna, Texans Safety Kurtis Drummond and Sr. Keeper David.

Their habitat is associated with deep sandy soils within the Post Oak Savannah of east central Texas.  The toads burrow into the sand for protection from cold weather in winter and hot dry conditions in the summer.

Breeding season peaks in March and April.  Large numbers of eggs are produced; however, each egg has less than one percent probability of survival.  Eggs hatch within seven days and tadpoles turn into tiny toads in as little as fifteen days.

The Houston Zoo has a 1200 square foot Houston Toad quarantine facility, managed by two full-time Houston Toad specialists, that serves as a location for the captive breeding and head-starting of wild Houston toad egg strands for release.  Approximately 1,950 Houston toad tadpoles were transferred from the Houston Zoo to Texas State University for release into native habitat as of January 2015.  The zoo also has established a collaborative, conservation-based Houston Toad research project with local universities including Rice University and the University of Saint Thomas.

To meet Tina the Houston Toad, come by the Naturally Wild Swap Shop between 9AM and 5PM any day the Zoo is open.

 

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here to find out more.

 

Penny Always Has Something to Say

Hi everyone.  It’s Penny the Swap Shop cat.

Penny
Penny

I have been enjoying seeing so many guests lately!  There were lots of people here for Zoo Boo.  That was so much fun.  Now, it’s time for Zoo Lights and everyone likes that! We have had some rainy days, but the dry days were amazing.  Lots of people came out on the good weather days.  I like that weather too.   I especially like sitting in the windows in the sun.

There was a different kind of guest in the Shop recently.  I didn’t get to stay out and see him, but I knew he was out there.   I heard all about it (and smelled him too!).  It was a goat!  His name is Alvin, and he

Visitors meet Alvin in the Swap Shop
Visitors meet Alvin in the Swap Shop

is a Nubian goat.  I heard that he is really tall – much taller than me.  He came in with his trainer, Amber.  I already knew Amber; she is one of the Zookeepers in the Children’s Zoo.  I found out that Nubian goats are dairy goats and originally came from Africa.  They like really hot climates – so they must really love Houston.  They also have some really awesome long ears.    You can meet Alvin and lots of other goats in the Contact Area of the Children’s Zoo.

Of course, if you want to meet me, you will have to come to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.

Alvin and his trainer Amber
Alvin and his trainer Amber

As an Ambassador for the zoo, I sometimes go out to classrooms or presentations. But, when I am not working, I live in the Swap Shop.  The Naturalists that work there seem to understand that I am the one really in charge.

Don’t know ab0ut the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

Pollination Station Arrives

Check out the new amazing Pollination Station in the Children’s Zoo!  What is a Pollination Station?  Just think of it as an insect hotel.

Before
Before

 

You will notice that many different materials were used in our Pollination Station’s making.  This allows many different insects to use the different shape openings to lay their eggs.

30% of all North American bees use some kind of tunnel in which to lay their eggs.  Providing a food source and houses for these bees is very important in the efforts to help our pollinators.

A huge percentage of our food crops rely on pollinators.  Without our pollinators, we could lose nuts, spices, many fruits and vegetables, cotton, alfalfa and even chocolate.  75% of flowering plants and over

Pollination Station in progress
Pollination Station in progress

30% of our food crops rely on pollinators.

What kinds of insects will be making this palace their home?  Wasps, dragonflies, bees, moths, and spiders.

The next time you are in the Children’s Zoo, check out the Pollination Station next to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.  And, if you have planted pollinator plants in your own gardens, bring a report or pictures to the Swap Shop for points and you can be registered as a Pollinator Pal.

The finished Pollination Station
The finished Pollination Station

 

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information on how it works.

Big News in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

 

Our staff is growing! Meet Sara Riger, our newest Naturalist. Sara has been a part of the Houston Zoo for 11 years and has a vast range of experience and knowledge. She has worked with animals in Natural Encounters, Primates and Carnivores during her time with the zoo.

Sara Riger Naturalist
Sara Riger Naturalist

But her experience goes even further back than that! During her career, she has also worked at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York, and the Nashville Zoo. She is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, The Clouded Leopard Management Committee, and is Co-chair for the Houston Zoo’s Enrichment Committee.

Originally from New York State, Sara and her husband, Peter, (who she met at the Bronx Zoo and who now also works for the Houston Zoo) have made a happy home in the Houston area along with their four legged kids – Peanut, Shaemus, Fluffy, Sebastian and Mateo.

Sara is a wonderful addition to the Swap Shop with her knowledge, experience and enthusiasm for working with people of all ages. The next time you are at the Houston Zoo, come by and say hi to Sara and welcome her to the team. (It might even earn you 5 points in the shop!)

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

 

 

Penny the cat discovers Gorillas

Hello all. Penny the Swap Shop cat here. There is something new going on at the zoo.

I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I kept hearing about these new animals at the

Penny contemplating gorillas
Penny contemplating gorillas

zoo…..gorillas. So, I did some research.

It seems the Houston Zoo has added 7 new gorillas. A bachelor group and a family group. I didn’t think they would be so impressive until I saw pictures of them.   They are actually amazing!

There are three males in the bachelor group – Ajari (14 yrs. old), Chaka (30 yrs. old) and Mike (23 yrs. old). The family group consists of one male, Zuri (31 yrs. old), with Holli (25 yrs. old), Sufi (13 yrs. old) and Benti (40 yrs. old).   Their exhibit is beautiful and took a long time

The gorilla family in their new exhibit

to build.   They have a much bigger house than I have in the Swap Shop.   But then, they are a lot bigger than me so I suppose that is fair – even if they aren’t cats.  I guess that also explains why they get to be outside without a leash when I don’t.

I learned that gorillas are disappearing in the wild. It is due to habitat loss and illegal hunting. That made me pretty sad. But, the Houston Zoo is working with organizations in the field to help save the gorillas. They work with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE) to help the wild gorillas. Every time you come to the zoo to see our gorillas, you are helping wild gorillas.

Come and see me at the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.  I will be here carefully contemplating gorillas.

Don’t know about the Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

Pollinator Pals in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

Meet the first of the Houston Zoo’s Pollinator Pals!

 Ollie, Drake and Ginger are regular traders in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, and now they are also Pollinator Pals! They each picked out the plant they wanted to grow and what pollinators they wanted to attract. Ollie planted hyacinth bean to attract hummingbirds, Drake planted passion flower vine to attract gulf fritillary butterflies, and Ginger planted milkweed to attract monarch butterflies.

Drake planting passion flower
Drake planting passion flower

Pollinators are extremely important to us, and they are declining. Our lives would be severely impacted by the loss of any of our pollinators. Many of the foods we eat rely on pollinators.  Fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, cotton, alfalfa (for the cattle we rely on), honey, coffee, agave, chocolate and more!

Ginger gives a thumbs up for her milkweed seeds
Ginger gives a thumbs up for her milkweed seeds

How does one become a Pollinator Pal? Plant a pollinator garden! It can be as small as a potted plant or as large as a full scale garden. Once your garden is planted, take some pictures and bring a report about it to the Swap Shop to earn points. Then as

Check out Ollie's hyacinth bean seeds
Check out Ollie’s hyacinth bean seeds

your garden grows and attracts pollinators, bring in reports on what you have seen and how the garden is doing. Your points can then be spent in the Swap Shop for some amazing natural items.

Learn more about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop!

The Buzzzzzzz about Bees

You may already be aware that there are several species of bees in our area.  But do you know how important they are to us as pollinators?

Bees pollinate an estimated 30% of all our food crops.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to lose any of the foods I love.   We have about 200 species of bees here in Houston.  Let’s talk a little about two of them.

Leaf cutter bee Photo courtesy of Wildscreen Arkive
Leaf cutter bee
Photo courtesy of Wildscreen Arkive

A fairly common bee in the Houston area is the leafcutter bee.  These bees are smaller than honeybees, grey and black, and a little bit fuzzy.  It’s easy to spot a female because the bright yellow pollen she collects from flowers is carried underneath her abdomen, not on her legs.  Leafcutter bees use leaves from various plants, such as roses, to help seal their nest chambers (this keeps the larvae protected while they grow).  If you notice semicircular patches missing from individual leaves in your garden, you probably have leafcutter bees around – but don’t worry, they don’t take much.   You can even build a bee house to attract these and other kinds of fascinating bees.

The country’s most widely utilized pollinator is the European honey bee.  They are not aggressive and are great fun to watch.  If you plant a pollinator friendly garden, you might attract these little beauties to

European honey bee photo courtesy of Bellengen Bees
European honey bee
photo courtesy of Bellengen Bees

your own backyard!

Some of the plants that rely on bees for pollination include many fruits and vegetables, coffee, cotton , and even the alfalfa cattle eat.  A lot would be affected if we lost these amazing insects.

How can you help?  Plant a pollinator garden!   For more information about bees and other pollinators, go to http://www.xerces.org/fact-sheets/ or join us at the Houston Zoo for Pollinator Days on June 20-21.

 

Carnivorous Plant Garden Opens May 16

We all know that the Houston Zoo has lots of carnivores, right?   Lions, tigers, bears, foxes and many more. But, did you know that even some of the plants on grounds are carnivorous?

The Zoo’s amazing Horticulture Department is opening a new carnivorous plant garden! The grand

Sundew
Sundew

opening will be May 16. This wonderful garden is generously underwritten by Pet Flytraps (petflytrap.com).

Carnivorous plants all have a few things in common. They all capture and kill prey. They all have a mechanism to facilitate digestion of prey. And, they all derive significant benefit from nutrients from the prey. They often grow in swamp or bog areas, and many are native to the United States. One of the most popular and well known carnivorous plants, the Venus Flytrap, is found in boggy areas in North and South Carolina.

Venus Flytrap
Venus Flytrap

There are actually 6 orders, 9 families and 595 species of carnivorous plants. It’s not hard to figure out what their benefit for humans is – pest control. Some of these important plants are endangered. You never want to take them from the wild, and when buying one, be sure it is from a reputable vendor. That is crucial information because these plants are an indicator species. That means that if there is something wrong in the habitat they grow in, they will show the effects first.

One question many have about these plants is – how can insects pollinate these plants when they eat insects? Seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? The flowers of these plants usually grow on a stalk that reaches well above the traps. That way, the pollinators, often bees or flies, aren’t caught in the trap and eaten. You can learn more about pollinators during Pollinator Days at the Houston Zoo on June

Pitcher Plant
Pitcher Plant

20-21.

Some of the plants you will be able to see in the garden include Venus Flytraps, Sundews, Butterworts, both native and tropical Pitcher Plants and more.   Members of our Horticulture Team will be available at the carnivorous plant garden from 10AM to 3PM on the 16th so that you can learn even more.

 

 

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