12 Days of Grub: Day 7 – Seven Snakes a Slithering

On the Seventh Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

The 2900 species or so of snakes are incredibly diverse in terms of colors, size, and habitat.  However, they all share certain common characteristics.  One of these is that all snakes are carnivorous and must consume whole prey.  Snakes have a very highly modified skull which allows them to consume very large prey items.

The type of prey consumed and method of capture is quite diverse.  Some snakes are sit-and-wait ambush predators while others actively hunt for their food.  Some, like boas and pythons, kill their prey by constriction.  Contrary to popular thought, venomous snakes use their venom as a prey capturing device, and not as a means of defense. Next time you are visiting The Houston Zoo, please visit the Reptile and Amphibian building.  Check our keeper chat board and you might be able to see one of our staff feeding some of our snakes!

Aruba Island rattlesnake (Crotalus unicolor)

Some snakes are generalists, and will eat a wide variety of other animals; others are more specialized and consume only specific prey items.  For example, wild King cobras consume only other snakes.  They have even been known to eat each other on occasion!  Others, like the Aruba Island rattlesnake pictured here, will eat several types of different lizards and rodents.  Several species of snakes are known to eat only eggs, while one species eats only snails.

Angolan python (Python anchietae)

Although snakes in the wild consume live prey, here at the zoo we have trained most of our snakes to accept previously euthanized food items.  Most eat rats and mice while our large pythons eat rabbits.  While the amount varies, the Herpetology section uses around 165 rats and 588 mice of all sizes to feed our animals each month.

The size of the food item and the amount depends upon the species of snake we are talking about.  Snakes have a lower metabolic rate than mammals or birds, so consequently they need less food.  Most of our snakes eat only once a week, while others might go several weeks to a month between feedings.  During periods of hibernation, snakes may go several months without eating.

Speckled kingsnake (Lampropeltis getulus holbrooki)

Some of our snakes are more finicky or are more specialized in their diets.  In addition to rodents and rabbits the Herpetology Department also receives dietary items such as quail, lizards, frogs and toads, and even other small snakes!  For these species, a detailed knowledge of the snake’s natural history and considerable training in methods of herpetological husbandry is required.  This is where the skills of our highly experienced and knowledgeable staff are employed.

Written by Stan Mays

Give the Gift of Grub this holiday season to help provide tasty meals for our snakes and all of the animals at the Houston Zoo!  Our reptilian friends thank you in advance for your support.

Thank you to TXU Energy for generously matching the first $25,000 in donations this year!

12 Days of Grub: Day 6 – Six Mole-rats Mining

On the Sixth Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

Here at The Houston Zoo we know Mole Rats are clearly the original miners. They dig tunnels, they dig out feeding chambers, they dig out a chamber for their queen, and also one for a latrine. And they do it all in a termite-like social setting known as eusociality (meaning truly social). There are only two known eusocial mammals in the world and we have them both in Natural Encounters: The Naked Mole Rat and the Damaraland Mole Rat, both from Africa.

The Naked Mole Rat is the better known of the two but it is neither truly naked, truly a mole nor truly a rat, which just adds to the mystique of this animal. Naked Mole Rats spend nearly their entire life in darkness of underground burrows. Our pink, buck-toothed ( their incisors are on the outside of their mouth which help them dig) friends tunnel beneath the arid African soils constantly looking for food such as roots and tubers and evading predators such as snakes.

Their colonies are structured with a Queen running the show who only reproduces with a select few males. Below them are the soldier mole rats that defend the colony. Due to extremely poor eyesight, they use odors to distinguish friend from foe and since a colony all uses the same latrine chamber, they typically all smell the same and that is all I will say about that but since I used latrine and smell in the same sentence, you get the idea. At the bottom of the colony are the smaller workers who dig the tunnels, maintain the burrows, find the food and are for the Queen and her pups, lots of pups – like up to 25 in a litter every 90 days.

This species has evolved over time to live in colonies of up to 200 animals, all nearly genetically identical, in an environment devoid of normal levels of oxygen, complete darkness. Oh, and they do not drink water – ever.

There are 37 species of Mole-rats, all equally amazing, so come by and learn more of what lies, crawls, eats and sleeps beneath the ground.

Give the Gift of Grub for the holidays to help feed our mole-rats and the rest of the Zoo’s 6,000 animal residents!  From now until December 31, your gift could go twice as far thanks to a generous matching gift challenge by TXU Energy.  All gifts, up to $25,000 total, will be matched dollar for dollar in an effort to help the Zoo provide for its growing animal family.  Our mole-rats really dig that.

Written By Peter Riger

12 Days of Grub: Day 5 – Five Golden Frogs

On the Fifth Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Five Golden Frogs (these endangered amphibians are WAY more priceless than golden rings), Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

The Golden frog, Atelopus zeteki, is a species as important to the people of Panama as the Bald eagle is to citizens of the United States.  Their cultural significance dates back to Mayan times, and even today they are considered to be symbols of good fortune.  In Panama, the Golden frog (also known as the Rana dorada) has become a national symbol of nature.  Golden frogs are still used as advertisements for restaurants and hotels, and even appear on lottery tickets. You can also find some of those great Golden frogs here at The Houston Zoo!

Golden frogs are small frogs that range in background color from brilliant gold to greenish yellow with highly variable black markings.  They are endemic to cloud forests with clear running streams and prefer cooler temperatures.  Females are larger than males.  Wild frogs have a unique skin toxin, zetekitoxin, which is used for defense much as in other poison dart frog species.  The basis for this toxin comes from the food they eat in the wild; captive animals lose their toxicity.

Unfortunately, very few Panamanians have ever seen a wild Golden frog.  Habitat destruction, agrochemicals, and over-collection for the pet trade have all played a part in the decline of the Golden frog population.  The worst threat, however, has been the appearance of a recent fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (also known as “chytrid”) which is highly contagious and fatal to both adult and larval Golden frog.  In response to these threats, the Houston Zoo has joined a conservation initiative called Project Golden Frog along with a group of other zoos and scientific organizations whose primary goal is to preserve this species.

The Golden frog diet in the wild consists of a wide variety of different species of arthropods.  In captivity adults receive primarily two week old crickets that have been fed a highly fortified diet and are dusted with vitamin and calcium powder.  They are also given flightless fruit flies and occasional silkworms and small hornworms.  Newly metamorphosed frogs receive fruit flies, day old crickets and small arthropods known as springtails.

Maintaining not only the Golden frog, but also the other amphibians at the Houston Zoo is a challenging task.  These animals eat a lot of insects! Did you know that the Houston Zoo feeds over 18,000,000 (no, I did not make an error in the number of zeros) crickets per year to the animals in our collection?  The zoo amphibian species consume a significant part of this number.

Written by Stan Mays, Herpetology

 

Help provide tasty and nutritious grub for the Zoo’s Golden Frogs and the rest of our animal family this holiday season: Give the Gift of Grub!  TXU Energy is matching all donations through December 31, up to $25,000 total, so your gift could have TWICE the impact.  Don’t miss out on this truly GOLDEN opportunity.

12 Days of Grub: Day 4 – Four Calling Birds

On the Fourth Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Four Calling Birds (Kookaburras to be exact), Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

Blue-winged Kookaburra

Anyone who has watched a television show or movie filmed in a tropical location has undoubtedly heard the call of a Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaguineae). While these birds are only found in certain areas of Australia and New Zealand, the call of this bird has become synonymous with untamed wilds and is often added to the soundtrack to create a more “natural” feel. Less melodic but much more visually-striking, our Blue-winged Kookaburras (Dacelo leachii) are also favorites amongst our guests.

The call of a kookaburra may in fact be one of the most interesting things about these birds, with a great deal of myth associated with the vocalization. Aboriginal legend tells us that the Kookaburra is a messenger for the Earth, using a powerful call to alert the Earth of the lighting of the great fire in the sky. In actuality kookaburras will call for a variety of reasons (including territoriality and excitement), and these early morning calls are typically used to assert territorial boundaries. However, this myth does indicate the majesty of the call and the reverence it has inspired.

However, kookaburras have a great many other interesting attributes. While they may appear somewhat fluffy and cuddly, these birds are in fact accomplished predators. Kookaburras consume large food items by beating the prey against a rock or log to break down bones and make the food item easier to swallow.

Laughing Kookaburra

At the Houston Zoo, our birds receive a wide variety of food items to keep them interested in their food and also ensure their nutritional well-being. Our birds eat mice, chicken chicks, anoles (small lizards), crickets, mealworms, smelt, walking sticks and a specialized ground meat diet to ensure optimum feather condition! In the course of a month, these four birds can eat:

  • 50 Mice
  • 50 Anoles
  • 16 Chicken Chicks

A variety of insects are also readily accepted by these ravenous birds. Our Keepers at the Houston Zoo also perform regularly-scheduled feedings so that our guests can learn even more about these fascinating birds. Our Laughing Kookaburras and Blue-winged Kookaburras are on-exhibit daily at Birds of the World, a large outdoor area showing off some of our most interesting feathered residents!

Give the Gift of Grub this holiday season to help provide tasty meals for our Kookaburras and all of the animals at the Houston Zoo!  Between now and December 31, TXU Energy has generously agreed to match all donations, up to $25,000 total, so your gift could go TWICE as far.  That’ll give our birds something to call about.

12 Days of Grub: Day 3 – Three Wild Dogs

On the Third Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

Three African Wild Dogs call the Houston Zoo home.  Blaze, Aries, and Mikita have resided here since May of 2007 and are representatives of one of the most social carnivore species in the world.  African Wild Dogs, or Painted Dogs, have fascinated researchers with their ability to cooperate with both the hunt and the sharing of the kill.  Wild packs will allow the young to eat first and will even feed sick and injured dogs by regurgitating the meat.

Blaze, Aries, and Mikita share about 5 pounds of meat daily.  In addition to their normal diets, the African Wild Dogs also enjoy special treats such as goat’s milk, chicken, tuna, herring, blood pops, rats, quail, and eggs.  They are the only carnivores at the Houston Zoo that are fed together as a pack. You can learn more about the painted dogs’ social habits by reading about them in National Geographic.

Our guests may hear some interesting sounds coming from the pack during feeding times or when a new toy is introduced, but they are not necessarily the sounds of conflict.  Each dog is simply trying to assure the other that he is the most submissive/youngest and therefore more deserving of the treat or toy.  It may sound like loud fighting, but Painted Dogs have a large and expressive vocabulary – equal only to the dolphin!


Painted Dog packs, found in Africa, are highly successful with their hunts.  While lions and leopards may only catch 20-30% of what they attempt, African Wild Dogs top the charts at about an 80% success rate, largely owed to their endurance, cooperation, and communication! They prey primarily on impala and other medium-sized antelope, but can take down prey as large as Cape Buffalo if they have enough pack members.

Written by carnivore keeper, Samantha Junker

Give the Gift of Grub  for the holidays to help feed our wild dogs and the rest of the Zoo’s 6,000 animal residents!  From now until December 31, your gift could go twice as far thanks to a generous matching gift challenge by TXU Energy.  All gifts, up to $25,000 total, will be matched dollar for dollar in an effort to help the Zoo provide for its growing animal family.  Blaze Aries and Mikita thank you in advance for your support!

12 Days of Grub: Day 2 – Two Grizzly Bears

On the Second Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Two Grizzly Bears and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

Grizzly Bears are known for their love of fish and The Houston Zoo’s Boomer and Bailey are no exception!

 

The two 32 year old bears weigh in at 490lbs and 518lbs respectively and each consume about 12lbs of fish and meat, 15lbs fruits and vegetables, and 35lbs omnivore biscuits every week. They are offered a variety of produce items including oranges, apples, pears, pineapple, mango, papaya, avocado, lettuce, bananas, and several different types of berries. They also receive treats of honey, yogurt, and peanut butter. Each bear has his own likes, dislikes, and favorite items. This summer, keepers even kept a chart of each bear’s preferences to further tailor their diets to their personal tastes!

Brown bears have the largest range of any bear species and can be found in a variety of habitats. Grizzly bears are a sub species of brown bear and are found in the continental Unites States, Canada and interior Alaska. The name “grizzly” refers to their “grizzled” or grey blond hair in its fur. Brown bears are easily recognizable by the large muscle on their shoulders, which is used to help them dig for rodents and other foods.

Grizzly Bear diets vary depending on what foods are available. They are omnivorous and although the main part of their diet is fruits and plant material, they will occasionally eat deer, elk, and caribou. To maintain such a large body, they must consume a lot of calories, especially before hibernation. They can gain as much as three pounds a day to put on enough fat to make it through the long winters.  If you’d like to learn more about grizzly bears and other bear species, visit the Great Bear Foundation or the Center for Wildlife Information!

Written by Carnivore Keepers, Samantha Junker and Courtney Patterson

Help provide tasty and nutritious grub for the Zoo’s grizzly bears and the rest of our animal family this holiday season: Give the Gift of Grub! TXU Energy is matching all donations through December 31, up to $25,000 total, so your gift could have TWICE the impact.  Yes, that means you could help feed TWO bears for the price of ONE!

12 Days of Grub: Day 1 – Darwin the Cassowary

Sing along with us!  On the First Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed… Darwin the Cassowary!  (Who needs a partridge in a pear tree, when you’ve got a bird that can eat a pear in one gulp!?)

Our Double-wattled Cassowary, Darwin, may be the most notorious chow hound at the Houston Zoo.

Darwin weighs in at 110 pounds and eats 11 pounds of food daily.  His diet consists of a wide variety of fruit (strawberries are his favorite), vegetables, and a special dry pellet diet, that smells and looks a little like guinea pig food!   That’s over 4000 pounds of food a year, about the weight of a fully grown male elephant!

Darwin doesn’t just eat a TON (or two!) of food, he can eat very large pieces of fruit as well.  He doesn’t chew or break up his food very often; he just tips his head back and swallows the food whole. Check him out:

Due to their impressive eating talents, cassowaries in the wild are known as a keynote species in their native rainforests.  These birds are the only known animals who can distribute the seeds of over 70 different kinds of trees whose fruit is too large to be swallowed by any other animal.

Not only that, but there are 80 species of plants whose seeds have such a high toxicity that only the cassowary can eat and distribute these fruits!  Cassowaries are aided in this by the relatively shortest and fastest digestive system in the bird world, a powerful liver, and a very unique set of stomach enzymes.

This super fast digestion means that very often, fruit will pass through Darwin’s system before being fully digested.  Cassowaries practice coprophagic behavior…let’s just say they recycle the undigested pieces of food.  Waste not, want not!

To see just how quickly Darwin can eat, you must watch this nail-biting video of a peach eating contest between Darwin and his keepers.  It may not end the way you would guess!

 

Give the Gift of Grub this holiday season to help provide tasty meals for Darwin and all of the animals at the Houston Zoo!  Between now and December 31, TXU Energy has generously agreed to match all donations, up to $25,000 total, so your gift could go TWICE as far.  That means you could help provide TWICE the peaches for Darwin!

Give the Gift of Crickets to Houston Toads

Proud Texans want to preserve our natural heritage, and the Houston toad is a part of that heritage.

Thank you All for your donations so far to our Gift of Grub Campaign. The year is over but you can still contribute if you had been wanting to  but the holidays kept you busy. Help us to feed our 6,000 animals and priovide everything they need to be healthy and happy in the coming year by clicking www.houstonzoo.org/gift-of-grub or our CONTRIBUTE tab on Facebook!

 

AN ENDANGERED TOAD OF TEXAS NEEDS OUR HELP!

Did you know the Houston toad has not been seen in Houston since the 1960’s? It was the first amphibian ever placed on the Endangered Species List and is still considered one of the most endangered in North America. Although it once hopped in the Hous­ton area, rapid growth of the city resulting in habitat loss caused their disappearance in this area. Today, only a few hundred remain in the wild, and only in a handful of rural counties in the sandy soils of east central Texas.

A Houston toad in hand is worth.... lots!

Why should we care about the Houston Toad?
Toads and other amphibians control the insect population and are indicators of the health of our environment. The Houston toad is the only “endemic” toad in Texas. This means this species can be found in Texas and nowhere else on the planet. If they disappear from Texas, they are gone forever. Proud Texans want to preserve our natural heritage, and the Houston toad is a part of that heritage.

 What the Houston Zoo is doing to help Houston Toads
Did you know that at any given time, we care for thousands of Houston toads behind the scenes at the Zoo? At the moment, our Amphibian Conservation Programs Manager, Paul Crump, the Herpetology staff, and our dedicated Houston Toad Keeper are diligently caring for 4,000 endangered toads! When Houston toad eggs are found in the wild, they are carefully transported to our quarantine facility. The tadpoles will eventually emerge from the eggs and go through metamorphosis in a safe environment without threat from predators. In the wild only 2 out of every 1,000 toads will make it to adulthood. They are a vital part of the food web and are food for many other animals. Adult toads are then released back to the ponds they came from with hopes they will now be able to survive and reproduce. This type of conservation strategy has been proven effective in other endangered species recovery efforts. Because they are endangered, we are giving them a “head start” by helping them through this vulnerable part of their existence. A head start means a “favorable or promising beginning”.

What you can do to help Houston Toads
Help us to feed them by donating to our Gift of Grub campaign!

A Bug-Munching Mania
At the Zoo, the tadpoles feed on algae, sweet potatoes and leafy greens until they pop out their legs, develop lungs and emerge from their aquatic environment. Then dinner then switches to crickets — lots and lots of crickets! During the height of our Houston toad capacity in the spring our little toads will go through 1 million crickets per week! And let me tell you,  if you are looking to start a profitable new business, you should look into cricket breeding! Crickets are super-dooper expensive!

We are currently attempting to set up our own cricket colony at the Zoo and plan to add Mung beetles to the Houston toad menu as well.

Variety is the spice of life, even for a toad!

Learn more about Houston toads and how we are helping to preserve Texas wildlife at https://www.houstonzoo.org/HoustonToad/.  You can also pick up the November 2011 Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine to read all about the recovery of the Houston toad in Texas.

Give the Gift of Grub to 6,000 animals at the Houston Zoo

It’s New Years Eve folks!  The last day of the year to contribute to our Gift of Grub fundraising campaign and receive a tax deduction for  2010. Help us to feed our 6,000 animals and priovide everything they need to be healthy and happy in the coming year by clicking https://www.houstonzoo.org/gift-of-grub/ or our CONTRIBUTE tab on Facebook!

We’ve looked all month in this blog series at just what it takes to feed our 6, 000 animals at the Houston Zoo, and provide what they need to be healthy and happy.

It all starts with our commissary, and while our first five blog posts focus on the variety of items they procure and prepare, this video gives you a true feel for what goes on while the rest of us are still asleep…

Have a safe and happy New Years Eve everyone!

We appreciate you so much for visiting us here to read our four blogs, to comment, Like, Tweet and share them on Facebook.

There’s all kinds of fun and interesting things in store for our blog readers in the coming year so we’ll see you in 2011!

Gift of Grub Series: Browse on Zoo Grounds

Please consider giving a year-end, tax-deductible gift of grub to help feed our animals in the coming year by clicking www.houstonzoo.org/gift-of-grub or our CONTRIBUTE tab on Facebook!

A snack for Toby, the red panda

This month-long series has mentioned so many kinds of foods that are bought or ordered by the commissary, then further prepared and dispensed by keepers. In almost each post you may have noticed the use of the mysterious term “browse” that many of our animals get as well.

A babirusa with fresh browse

Browse simply means the leaves and tender shoots that our animals might come across to nibble on in daily life in the wild.  We duplicate this by providing browse for them in their habitats.  The thing that may be a surprise to our guests is that we grow quite a bit of this browse on grounds.

Our Coquerel Sifaka dives in

We have a large, full-time horticulture team, led by Joe Williams. Like the old phrase, they are at hard at work outside, whether it’s in pouring rain, cold temps, or high humindity. Monday through Friday they spent between four and six hours doing cutting browse, which accrues anywhere from 100 to 200 pounds of it a day!  

Horticulture Manager Joe Williams and some of his team collect browse grown on grounds almost every day

Most of the plants and trees used for browse grow naturally, so they don’t take a lot of time or energy to plant.  We do add ginger, banana and a variety of bamboos, but those are planted in the Zoo’s overall landscape and when they are normally trimmed, that’s used as browse. 

A little nosh for our South American Tapir

At some point, horitculture may plant a browse garden or pockets of browse in a couple locations on Zoo property.  Proper pruning techniques are used to ensure that the health of the plants or he aestheics of the Zoo grounds are not affected.

Written by Rochelle Joseph, and Joe Williams, Horticulture Manager 

Our handsome okapi say gimme some browse!

It takes $600,000 a year to feed our over 6,000 animals at the Houston Zoo. That’s a big bill!

Please consider gifting your furry, feathered and fanged friends this holiday with a tax-deductible donation  during our Gift of Grub campaign at: https://www.houstonzoo.org/gift-of-grub/ or click the Contribute button on Facebook!

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