Like most of the animal departments here at the zoo, our day starts at 7AM sharp. The first order of business is to clean all 144 tanks in the quarantine building – that’s a lot of tanks! Each tank is divided into two sections: a dry portion that has a deep layer of moss for burrowing, and pool area, where toads can soak and drink. After the water from the previous day is drained from each tank, the tank is sprayed down and any leftover food or fecal matter is removed. After cleaning, the tank is filled up again with clean, reverse osmosis water (just like the fancy bottled water you pay big bucks for!)
Remember that in the last post we mentioned that toads prefer living in sandy soil. There are several reasons that we don’t keep our toads in sand in captivity. The first reason is that the sand is very difficult to clean; therefore waste products quickly build up in the tank which could potentially make the toads sick. Also, have you ever tried to move a wheelbarrow of wet sand? It’s heavy! A tank full of sand is very difficult to move, which would overly complicate our daily cleaning regime. Sand is also somewhat pricy, so for as often as we disinfect each tank, it would get very expensive to continue to buy new sand.
Instead of sand we use a moss from New Zealand that is collected from an area where no amphibians are found. This is important because it reduces the possibility that this moss could have an amphibian disease that could be transmitted to our toads. This moss is also slightly alkaline (basic) which reduces bacterial growth. The moss is light weight very easy to use. We make sure each tank has a deep layer of moss so that the toads can burrow down into it just like they would in sand in the wild.
In conjunction with cleaning and refilling each tank, we also collect fecal specimens to be submitted to the veterinary clinic. This routine health screening ensures that our captive colony toads are free of parasites. After the morning husbandry is done, we then spend time feeding the toads. Feeding occurs on a regulated schedule, because like most captive animals, we don’t want to feed them too much to maintain their health! We mainly feed the adult toads large crickets, but we also supplement this cricket diet with waxworms and mealworms. The younger toads eat smaller crickets, fruit flies, and bean beetles.
After the toads are fed, the remainder of the day is spent taking care of the bugs that we use for food (we grow the small crickets, flies, and beetles ourselves), building new or fixing old tanks, performing medical treatments, or working on our own research projects or the helping out with the projects of our collaborators. Occasionally we get out for a Houston toad keeper chat, so check the zoo website in the next few weeks if you are visiting the zoo and want to catch us!
Like all conservation programs, teamwork is absolutely required for its success. Not only do we rely on our external partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and Texas State University, we also get tremendous support internally from the zoo. The aquarium provides us with most of our water, the vet staff gives us an incredible amount of medical support (it’s a lot of work to keep 2,000 toads healthy!), and keepers from Herpetology and the Children’s Zoo regularly lend us a helping hand with the day-to-day husbandry. We have also had a fantastic group of interns and volunteers whose enthusiasm and hard work continues to inspire us to make our program better. Thanks to everyone who has lent us a helping hand, we couldn’t do it without you! Stay tuned next week for a “guest blog” from one of our current interns, Jacquelyne Brauneis!