Posts

This Animal Has 50 Babies at a Time!

If you have trouble keeping track of your kids, imagine having 50 of them at once!  That’s how many offspring the dead-leaf mantids in the Indonesian Rain Forest produce in a single batch.  These big bugs are a type of praying mantis perfectly camouflaged to look like dead leaves.

Zoo keepers are working on breeding a self-sustaining population of this species, so the 50 tiny mantids were a welcome addition.

Zoo keeper Dave Messmann explains why it’s important for the zoo to breed and support its own population of dead-leaf mantids, as opposed to relying on outside sources.  “We want to sustain our population so we don’t have to have new insects shipped to us,” he said.  “If one of our populations crashes, there is no guarantee that another zoo is still exhibiting this species. Even if they do have some, they may not have any surplus animals to send us.”

Dead-leaf mantids can reproduce in two ways.  One is fertilization, when a male mantid approaches a female in the traditional mating ritual, resulting in fertilized eggs.  As with other praying mantis species, the female is larger than the male and may become aggressive shortly after mating.  Females can also reproduce via the asexual method of parthenogenesis.  This happens when the female lays unfertilized eggs that hatch into viable young.  Parthenogenesis typically results in female offspring since there is no genetic component from a male without fertilization.

mantid fort wayne zooWhether fertilization or parthenogenesis occurs, the next step is the same:  the female produces an egg case called an “ootheca” (see photo on left) in which eggs are deposited.  In the case of fertilization, the female makes the ootheca 4-6 weeks after mating.  The material for the ootheca is excreted from her abdomen like a ribbon and formed into a case that will protect her eggs.  She adheres the ootheca to the wall of the aquarium she lives in.

The zoo currently has one adult male mantid and keepers believe that the 50 new babies resulted from fertilized eggs.

Babies emerge from the ootheca after five weeks and look like miniature adults.  They go through six instars (phases) before reaching full maturity.  The young, or “nymphs”, double in size during each instar, then shed their skin before doubling in size again.  The six instar phases take about 3-4 months.  Dead-leaf mantids live about one year.

Dead-leaf mantids eat pinhead crickets and certain types of vegetation but will sometimes prey on each other.  They are native to Southeast Asia.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Tengku orangutan wearing hard hat

Happy Birthday, Tengku!

Tengku the Sumatran orangutan turns 28 this week.  He was born on July 3, 1986 and came to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in 1995, shortly after the opening of the zoo’s Indonesian Rain Forest.  During his nearly two decades here, Tengku has formed a special connection with zoo guests.  His social demeanor and playful behavior inspire people to care about orangutans in the wild.

What can you do to support Tengku and his wild cousins?  Here are some ideas from his birthday list:

  • Visit the zoo and spend some time in the Indonesian Rain Forest.  There you can learn more about the plight of orangutans in the wild.
  • Share your photos and stories of Tengku on social media to raise awareness about orangutan conservation.  You can connect with the Fort Wayne Children’s zoo on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Adopt an orangutan to help us provide healthy food, exceptional care, and veterinary needs for your animal for one whole year.
  • Splurge on an orangutan VIP Experience.  Go behind the scenes with Tengku and Melati and watch as they create a unique painting right before your eyes – then take the painting with you for a one-of-a-kind home accent.  (Ages 8 and older only – up to four guests per VIP experience)
  • Get educated about endangered orangutans and find out what you can do to help.  The Orangutan Conservancy, one of the zoo’s conservation partners, is a good resource.

Area Manager Tanisha Dunbar has been working with Tengku for the past 13 years.  She shared her thoughts regarding this very special primate, “It has been a joy working with him since 2001 and I am looking forward to working with him for many years to come.  Happy Birthday, Tengku!”

Below is a photo gallery of some of Tengku’s memorable moments.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

black-breasted leaf turtle

Teeny-Tiny Turtle Baby

Our newest zoo baby may be small, but tiny creatures are a big deal for the zoo keepers at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  Say “hello” to our brand new black-breasted leaf turtle in the Indonesian Rain Forest

This teensy terrapin is almost three weeks old and weighs just over six grams (about the same weight as a quarter).  Black-breasted leaf turtles are an endangered species managed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, which makes this a very important birth.  Zoo keepers are caring for the hatchling behind-the-scenes and monitoring its progress carefully. 

Dave Messmann, who works with turtles and other zoo reptiles, related the cautious enthusiasm surrounding the baby animal, “We waited for two weeks before inviting anyone to take pictures.  We wanted to be sure that the hatchling was thriving before introducing it.  We’re excited about hatching an endangered species and we’re monitoring this one very closely.”

Click on the photos to enlarge (additional text below):

Why are black-breasted leaf turtles endangered?  It all comes down to habitat destruction and over-collection.  Black-breasted leaf turtles are native to Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam and Southern China.  They are used in Traditional Asian Medicine, and are often sold as pets. These turtles’ unique facial expression and small size make them particularly attractive within the pet trade.  However, Messmann contends that this endangered species might not be as easy to rear as people assume.  “Turtles require a lot of care and proper nutrition throughout their lives.  At the zoo we give them a specific diet and document their care.  If people don’t feed and nurture them properly their shells can become deformed.”  The diet to which Messmann refers consists of fruit, vegetables, worms and crickets.

Black-breasted leaf turtles live up to 20 years but only reach an average length of five inches, making them one of the smallest turtles in the world.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital. 

 

 

orangutan

Tengku Helps Wild Orangutans

Tengku, the zoo’s male Sumatran orangutan, has something new to add to his resume:  International Researcher.  Tengku’s contribution to the research of Dr. Graham L. Banes, a biological anthropologist who visited the zoo last week, may help save these rare apes from the brink of extinction.

orangutan research zoo attraction

Dr. Banes shows some of his research to Tengku.

Dr. Banes studies the biodiversity of orangutans in zoos and in the wild and is building a database containing genetic information on every captive orangutan in the world.

Tengku provided a blood sample so researchers can study his DNA as part of a four-generation study.  Zoo keepers had already trained him on this procedure via operant conditioning.  This video from 2012 shows the procedure:

Managed programs have existed in zoos for decades, but zoos are not the only participants in orangutan research.  Orphanages and rehabilitation centers, which are found on the “front lines” of orangutan conservation, are also included in this study.  Such facilities house orangutans who have been displaced, injured, or orphaned as a result of habitat destruction.

Dr. Banes explained that ensuring genetic biodiversity in zoos and rehabilitation centers is important.  A genetically diverse population decreases the likelihood of health problems and reduces the rate of infant mortality.

A healthy zoo population will become essential if Sumatran orangutan populations continue to decline.  Orangutans have endured an 80-90% reduction in their natural habitat.  In other words, they are running out of places to live.  Their species is listed as “critically endangered” by the IUCN (source: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/39780/0).   To compound this situation, proposed changes in Indonesian law further threaten the survival of orangutans in the wild.  According to Dr. Banes, “Preserves are being un-protected.”

Tengku is helping his wild cousins, and so can you.  The AZA has prepared an online petition to the Indonesian government regarding the destruction of the 10-20% of rain forest cover that remains.  You can go to change.org to review and sign the petition.

The IUCN estimates that there are around 7,000 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild.  To put that number into perspective, consider that Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis holds 70,000 people for NCAA basketball tournaments.

The zoo’s conservation page lists resources for those wanting to get involved with the conservation of wild animals and wild places.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

crocodile skink zoo attraction

The Baby Boom Continues

The zoo’s baby boom continues as zoo keepers welcome a new addition to the Indonesian Rain Forest…a teeny, tiny, two-inch crocodile skink.  It’s the first time this reptile species has ever been hatched at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo!  This imperious addition to the animal kingdom weighed-in at two grams, approximately the weight of a pencil eraser. 

Although its name implies a lizard of force and stature, this particular crocodile skink began its life cycle in a fragile state.

Late last year, zoo keepers discovered by accident that the adult crocodile skinks had produced an egg.  Dave Messmann, a zoo keeper in the Indonesian Rain Forest, accidentally disturbed the egg while cleaning the skinks’ aquarium.  “We were concerned about the disturbance.  It’s a best-practice to avoid moving a reptile egg once it’s discovered, ” Messmann stated.  He also explained the reason why zoo keepers would have preferred avoidance, “An air pocket inside the egg can shift if the egg is moved, potentially causing the embryo to suffocate.” 

Hoping for the best, zoo keepers decided to incubate the egg and observe.  They constructed an incubator by filling a deli tub with wet moss and poking holes in the tub’s lid.  The egg was carefully placed atop the moss and the tub was placed on a shelf.  The egg was then allowed to incubate at room temperature, undisturbed.  After sixty days, a live hatchling was observed!

At eleven days old, the crocodile skink baby weighed-in at 2 grams.  Now thirty days old, the baby is doing fine and continues to develop normally.  It will likely reach an adult length of eight inches and top-out at one pound.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

Click on the pictures to enlarge:

pheasant pigeon zoo attraction

For Your Zoo-to-Do List…

Maggie, a very friendly green-naped pheasant pigeon in Indonesian Rain Forest, experienced a life-changing event in August when she was introduced to Zazu, a male pheasant pigeon.  Maggie and Zazu quickly became a pair, and recently welcomed a new baby!

Winter has been a busy time for Maggie and Zazu.  They built a nest on the forest floor and took turns incubating their single egg.  Now that their chick has hatched, both parents hunt for seeds, fruit, and insects to feed their chick.    

Feeding a new baby bird is a tireless job, but all their work is paying off.  The new chick is already half the size of its parents and will soon be foraging for food on its own.

Keepers are eager to learn the chick’s gender, but they’ll have to wait until they can catch it.  The chick is always on the move and darts behind vegetation when approached. “The way we determine a pheasant pigeon’s sex is by doing a blood draw.  We’re waiting until the baby gets a little older and more comfortable with the staff before we approach it,” says zoo keeper Tiffany Jones.  

Green-naped pheasant pigeons are native to New Guinea and nearby islands, and they are considered endangered in parts of their range.  Pheasant pigeons are non-flighted birds, but they can glide for short distances.  The zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan for these birds to manage breeding and maintain a genetically healthy zoo population.

Because she often strolled alongside the rain forest boardwalk, Maggie is well-known to zoo guests.  We’ll see if she returns to her old habits this summer when her chick becomes independent.  Visit Maggie and see if you can spot the new chick when the zoo opens for the season on April 26.

Click on the images below to enlarge:

 

reticulated python zoo attraction

How Many Keepers Does it take to Hold a Python?

When Bo the reticulated python got his annual physical last week, it took seven people just to hold onto this unusual patient in the Indonesian Rain Forest.

At 15’ 3” long, Bo is 61 pounds of pure muscle and squirmed mightily to express his displeasure at this visit from the vet. 

Reticulated Python zoo attraction
It took seven zoo keepers to hold Bo during his annual vet exam.

Zoo staffers get their hands on this powerful snake only once a year, so despite Bo’s protests, zoo veterinarians Dr. Joe Smith and Dr. Kami Fox wanted to examine every inch of him (one hundred eighty-three inches, to be exact!) 

Lead snake keeper Dave Messmann held Bo’s head while other keepers and veterinary staff lined up to stretch out the snake.  Keepers inspected Bo’s skin, looking for irregularities in his scales or lumps under the skin. 

Messmann gently held Bo’s mouth open with a rubber spatula so Dr. Fox could examine the snake’s teeth.  A string was run down Bo’s spine to determine his exact length, and Dr. Fox drew blood from Bo’s tail for testing. 

“Bo is a healthy snake,” said Dr. Smith after the exam.  As if he was trying to prove his excellent physical condition, Bo downed a tasty rat immediately after being returned to his exhibit.

Picky Eaters? We’ve Got Them, Too!

Bill the lion may have a big appetite, but that doesn’t mean he’ll eat anything!  According to African Journey Area Director Amber Eagleson,  Bill’s reluctance to accept dietary change lead to his reputation as a “picky eater”.  

“All our big cats eat a commercial ground-meat diet we purchase by the ton.  Whenever we switch meat companies, Bill is always the last to comply.  We find it ironic since he eats the largest amount of meat in the entire zoo!” states Eagleson.  

Fortunately for Bill, who consumes approximately eight pounds of meat each day, the zoo changes animal diets only a supplier cannot meet the necessary nutritional requirements.  To ease the transition to a new diet, Eagleson explains that “For most carnivores, we will mix 75% of the meat they are accustomed to with 25% of the new meat for a week and then go to 50:50 and then 25:75.  Almost always, it is no big deal for the animal.  However, Bill has given us problems almost every time.”  

What’s a zoo keeper to do?  In the case of Bill “The Picky Eater” Lion, the transition starts at 95% new to 5% old and proceeds gradually from there.

In the Indonesian Rain Forest, the term “picky eating” takes on a different definition.  Melati, Tengku, and Tara, the zoo’s Sumatran orangutans, approach their lunch very carefully.   They reach inside of pumpkins and carefully pluck out seeds one at a time.   The orangutans then shell and eat each pumpkin seed until the last one is gone.  According to Tanisha Dunbar, Area Director for the Indonesian Rainforest, Melati approaches the task so precisely that she finishes every last seed “without breaking a single one.”  

Dunbar also points out that, “Melati can peel grapes without breaking them.”  How’s that for “picky eating”?

There’s A New Bird in Town!

Meet Leonard, our newest resident in the Indonesian Rain Forest.  Leonard is a crested wood partridge, or “roul roul” (short for his Latin name Rollulus rouloul).  Born on May 16, 2013, he traveled to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo from Milwaukee.  His diet includes a mix of corn and seeds similar to the items that a roul roul might forage from the forest floor.  Although they can fly short distances, roul rouls spend the majority of their life in low-lying areas.  In fact, roul roul chicks begin walking and foraging on their own just one week after they’re born!

The crested wood partridge is a near-threatened species.  They nest and forage in the tropical rain forests and bamboo thickets of Southeast Asia, and their primary threat is habitat destruction.  Here are some of the areas that the crested wood partridge calls home:

  • Thailand (southern)
  •  Burma (southern)
  • Sumatra
  • Borneo

Keep an eye out for Leonard when the zoo reopens this spring –  you may be able to spot him strutting the forest floor in the Jungle Dome!  Visit our Conservation page to learn more about the zoo’s commitment to saving wild animals and wild places.

Leonard struts about the forest floor.

Leonard struts about the forest floor.

 

otter fort wayne zoo

Where Do the Animals Go in the Winter?

At the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, we often hear the question, “Where do the animals go in the winter?”  The answer is – They stay right here!  The zoo is quieter since we closed for the season on October 13, but our animals and zoo keepers haven’t gone anywhere.  Some animals spend the winter outdoors, some indoors, and many have the opportunity to do both.  Here’s a list of where a few of our animals spend their fall and winter “vacation”:

 Outdoors Indoors                    Both                       
  • North american river otters
  • Indonesian Rain Forest Birds
  • African Journey birds
  • Sea lions
  • Komodo dragon
  • Primates
  • Red pandas
  • Jelly fish
  • Lions

Why do some of the animals stay in while others go out?  According to African Journey Area Manager Amber Eagleson, it all depends on something called “access temperature”.  The access temperature is the threshold that’s safe for a particular species.  “Zoo keepers monitor the outdoor temperature to determine whether an animal can go outside”, states Eagleson.  Access temperature varies considerably, even for animals from the same geographic region.   For example, giraffes have an access temperature of 45 degrees.  African birds can endure much lower temperatures.  Eagleson states that “Ostriches have an access temp of zero degrees and for storks it’s five to ten degrees.”

The animals of the Indonesian Rain Forest also have a diverse range of access temperatures.  According to Area Manager Tanisha Dunbar, primates venture outdoors as long as temperatures are above 40 degrees.  The 40-degree threshold also applies to tigers.  Says Dunbar, “Some of the animals have continuous access to the outdoors, and some go out on exhibit if the weather allows it.”  The birds of the rain forest, however, spend the off-season inside the rain forest dome.

So although the zoo is closed for the season, the animals are still here…with the exception of one group.  The horses and ponies spend the winter off-site at a family farm.

The animals of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo will all be here and ready for opening day on April 26.  Will you join us?