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Friday, March 16, 2018

No Excuse for Single Use

Creating wildlife habitat on zoo grounds, such as toad abodes and bat boxes, is one way in which zoo and aquarium professionals can help wildlife.  Another is to reduce waste.  This means not only in the animal side of the organization, but on the visitor side.  Especially where consumables are most often used - the gift shop and the concession stand.

An enormous percentage of the trash in our landfills is of the single-use plastic product nature.  These include plastic bags, drinking straws, and cups and cutlery.  Even more distressingly, many of these items don't make it to the landfill, because they are discarded on the ground or make their way into waterways.  These are all items that zoos and aquariums utilize - and all can be replaced.

Many zoos do not sell drinking straws.  Not only are they wasteful, but they can easily find their way into enclosures where they may be consumed by animals.  Plastic bags can be replaced with reusable ones, for sale in the gift shop.  Some cities, such as Washington DC, are already charging customers a tax on plastic bags to discourage their use - an extra five cents or so per bag at the grocery store.  Cups and cutlery could be replaced with metal or reusable hard plastic, which can be washed and served again.

Zoos should practice what they preach about conservation.  Then, they should preach again, louder and more clearly.  We should make going to the snack bar just as educational of a lesson in conservation as any of the animal exhibits around the park.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Species Fact Profile: Atlantic Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara)

Atlantic Goliath Grouper
Epinephelus itajara (Lichtenstein, 1822)

Range: Coastal Atlantic Ocean
Habitat: Shallow Coastal Waters, Mangroves (Juveniles)
Diet: Crustaceans, Fish, Mollusks
Social Grouping: Solitary, Small Schools
Reproduction: Breed July through September.  Gather at breeding sites to spawn.  Mature slowly - males mature at 4-6 years old, females at 6-7. 
Lifespan: 40 Years
Conservation Status: IUCN Critically Endangered

  • Body length up to 2.5 meters, weight up to 360 kilograms
  • Dull green, grey, or brown-yellow scales with small dark spots on the head, body, and fins.  Smaller individuals tend to have vertical striping or blotching
  • Large, stocky body with broad head and small eyes, rounded fins
  • Only predators of adults are large sharks and humans; smaller individuals may be preyed upon by barracuda, moray eels, and smaller sharks
  • Believed to have the ability to change sex at some point during their lives - this has been documented in other grouper species, and is assumed to be the case with this one
  • Populations in the Pacific Ocean now listed as a separate species, the Pacific goliath group (Epinephelus quinquefasciatus)
  • Very susceptible to overfishing due to large size and slow reproductive rate, popular with fisherman due to taste and size.  Populations have been recovering ever since protection was offered in the 1990's
  • Historically was called "jewfish", though unknown exactly why - suggestions have included it being a corruption of "jawfish" or saying that it was kosher.  No longer used by American Fisheries Society after being deemed culturally offensive
  • Potentially aggressive, have been known to attack human SCUBA divers.  Territorial - if angered, will make a rumbling sound with its swim bladder.
  • Bred in captivity for the first time in 2015 by Colombian biologists 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Satire: Rate a Species

About a week ago, the Oregon Zoo created a simple instagram post, featuring one of their river otters.  It was an style review of the animal, highlighting its adaptations and attractions.  The post was given the hashtag #rateaspecies.  The hashtag spread across social media, with zoos, aquariums, and private individuals weighing in.  I've decided that from now on, I'm going to rank every new animal we acquire.  Some of them might not be suitable for public posting...

Check out a few other reviews here!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Grow Your Backyard Wild

Putting up Toad Abodes is a simple, easy, cheap way to make your backyard better wildlife habitat.  There are plenty of other options you can choose, however, to make a small-scale local difference for native species.  Besides toads, you can provide shelter for birds and bats by erecting birdhouses and bat boxes.  You can set out bird feeders and birdbaths.  You can add a rock pile.  You can try to reduce your dependency on pesticides and herbicides.  Make sure your windows and glass doors are bird-safe.  If you have the space, you can add a small pond.

A Southwestern Garden at the Albuqurque BioPark Botanic Garden - if you're in a desert, why plant water-hungry ornamentals when you could landscape with natives already adapted to drought?

One of the best decisions that you can make for wildlife is to replace a high-maintenance grassy lawn (with the endless requirements of watering, spraying, and mowing) with a garden of native plants.  These species add a lot of benefit to your yard.  Not only do they require much less maintenance, since they'll be growing in the environmental conditions that they've evolved to thrive in, they provide food and shelter and nesting material for native species.

A major challenge is that many homeowner's associations require that homes maintain a grassy lawn, but hopefully if enough people start moving towards the native landscaping, more HOA will relent.

If you are interested in making your own home better wildlife habitat, check out the National Wildlife Federation's "Garden for Wildlife" certification program.  Check off the items on the list that you do to provide shelter, food, and water, and you could get your own yard certified as "Wildlife Habitat."  And not just homes - every school, community center, park, business campus, and basically anyplace else that has some green space should strive for this.

To say nothing of every zoo.

Wildlife needs habitat to survive and thrive - it's as simple as that.  We can try to set off large areas for them, like National Parks - but I've come to believe that every little extra bit helps as well.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Toad Abodes

Kermit aside, frogs and toads get a bad rap - people think they're slimy (true, in the case of frogs) or that they give you warts (false).  In truth, we have a lot to be grateful to them for - they are some of our ecosystems' most effective agents at controlling the number of mosquitoes and other insects, as well as slugs, snails, and other gardening pests.  What better way to share our appreciation then by inviting them to come over and stay with us?

A fun, simple, kid-friendly way to make your backyard better amphibian habitat is the Toad Abode.  At its simplest, it's just a clay flower pot, placed on its side and either propped up with rocks so it doesn't move around or half-buried in ground.  Place it in a damp part of the yard, then place some damp leaves inside it to act as a moisture-retaining substrate.  If you want to go all-out you can add a saucer of water (with gently-sloping sides please!) outside to serve as a soaking pool, periodically filling it up with clean, chemical-free water.

Individuals or families with artistic bends can derive a lot of fun by painting or otherwise decorating the pot before placing it outside.  In my case I think I'd prefer to leave it unadorned so it would blend in more easily with the garden's settings, but that's just my taste.  Because these days everyone finds ways to make hobbies more expensive, some garden stores are now selling actual "Toad Abodes" which look like little houses or igloos or other structures.  They would work as well, though again, a simple pot works just fine.

A Toad Abode costs maybe five bucks or so and takes about ten minutes to install, and that's assuming you or your kids want to paint it first.  Once it's done, you've got a nifty little amphibian shelter for your yard.  There aren't many ways to make a positive difference in improving wildlife habitat for little cost and little effort, so it's great to take the opportunities when they arise.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Species Fact Profile: Giant Waxy Tree Frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor)

Giant Waxy Tree Frog (Monkey Frog)
Phyllomedusa bicolor (Boddaert, 1772)

Range: Northern South America
Habitat: Rainforest, Tropical Grassland
Diet: Insects
Reproduction: Breed year round, but most commonly in the rainy season (November through May).  Construct nests in trees over ponds.  Up to 600 eggs laid in a gelatinous mass, which are folded up in the leaves by the male.  After 8-10 days, the eggs hatch and the tadpoles drop into the water, where they will undergo metamorphosis.
Lifespan: 10 Years
Conservation Status: IUCN Least Concern

  • Body length 9-12 centimeters, with females slightly larger than males
  • Skin is dark green on the back, fading to white or pale yellow on the stomach.  Some small white spots outlined in black, denser on the sides and back legs.
  • The fingers end in large adhesive disks, which are used to help cling to trees when climbing - they tend not to jump too much
  • Active by night; during the day, they lie on a leaf or cling to a branch, where their bright green back coloration blends in with the foliage
  • To reduce the risk of drying out in the tropical sun, these frogs produce a wax-like substance from special glands on their skin, which they then wipe across their bodies
  • Skin secretions contain toxins which are being studied for potential pharmaceutical applications.  These secretions were used in shamanic rituals in parts of the species range, producing hallucinations and hypersensitivity that were believed to help hunters possess the energy and stamina to hunt for days
  • Locally common, but may be declining in some areas due to habitat loss