Right From The Get Go- Lets Talk About Geckos!

Those of you who visit the Reptile Zoo often probably know of the cutest little lizard in existence, Charlie the Crested Gecko!

With his big, off kilter eyes, stubby little tail, and tiny toes that look like leaves, Charlie steals the hearts of hundreds of visitors a year, who will often coo “Can you have these as pets?!” Yes you can! Crested geckos like Charlie are becoming incredibly popular for their ease of care and sweet personalities.

Crested geckos are native to the southern parts of the island of New Caledonia, located between Fiji and Australia. They get their name from the eyelash-like projections over their eyes, which continue down the back, creating a “crest”. They are also referred to as eyelash geckos. These geckos are primarily nocturnal, and prefer to live up high and in trees, but may move lower to the ground to sleep. They are decent climbers, aided by their sticky feet, small claws, and prehensile tails.

Check out that prehensile tail and those sticky feet!

Their feet possess microscopic hairs that will bond (on a molecular level!) to whatever surface they stand on. If you observe one walking, you will actually see them peel their toes up backwards so they can simply take a step! These geckos are able to lose their tails as a defense mechanism, but unfortunately do not grow them back once they have dropped them. While this sounds traumatic, it actually isn’t such a huge deal. The blood vessels running to the tail seal off almost instantly, and will heal over completely in less than a month. It is highly uncommon to see an adult crested gecko in the wild that still has its tail. While most lizards with this ability grow their tails back, crested geckos only get the one tail. If they drop it, it’s gone for good.

Charlie is an example of a crested gecko without a tail.

Another fun thing about this species of gecko is that they are vocal! People usually don’t think of lizards as loud pets, but some geckos can be quite the talkers! Species like tokay geckos are loud and even sound like they’re yelling their name (TO-kay TO-kay is what it sounds like!). Crested geckos aren’t quite so noisy, and make anywhere from a low quiet growling noise to a surprisingly loud harsh bark. They’re known as “the devil in the trees” back in New Caledonia, as their barks can get quite unnerving when a loud chorus starts.

Adorable babies!

Crested geckos have several traits that make them desirable as pets. They do not require a huge amount of space, have fairly simple lighting and heating needs, and can be fed a prepackaged powdered diet and completely thrive on it. Hatchling and juvenile crested geckos do well in a 10 gallon aquarium, and adults can be kept in a 20 gallon tank. Since they are such avid climbers, height and plenty of foliage are more important than length. Reptile Supply companies have actually started to make specific setups just for crested geckos. Combine that ease of care with a gecko that tames very quickly, lives on average 15 years, and is known for its sweet nature, and you have one super awesome Prehistoric Pet!

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Iguana Tell You A Story!

Sorry folks, bad title pun aside, I wanted to sit down and tell you guys the super cool story behind two of our really special red iguanas! Our big male and lovely female red iguanas came to us from a previous owner who was concerned about their breeding.

Big Popiguana

The female had laid a previous clutch that never hatched, so the iguanas came to us to see if we could provide a better environment and hopefully bring her next clutch to term. When the pair first arrived, we could plainly see that the female was near to bursting with eggs. Aside from her abdomen being fairly swollen, you could actually see the small bumps of the eggs pressing against her sides. We got the pair settled into a roomy cage, and set about trying to find an appropriately sized lay box. Due to her size, we actually had to improvise quite a bit, and actually ended up using a trash can packed with a combination of sand and soil that was wetted down and compacted so that she could dig herself a suitable hole in which to lay her eggs. It ended up doing the trick nicely, as she was only with us for 4 days before she laid her eggs! Based on her size and how inflated she looked, we were expecting a huge clutch, but we were still mightily impressed to see that she laid 50 eggs! We removed the lay box from the cage and placed the eggs into an incubator.

Big Momiguana

While the eggs were “cooking”, we worked on getting to know our newest, biggest breeding pair. The adults took a bit of time getting used to their new enclosure, but with a ton of patience, time, and love they’ve settled in nicely. Both iguanas love to chow down on the leafy greens that are so important to their diets, but they also both go bananas for…. well, bananas. One thing that we’ve noticed is that the male is fairly protective of the female. While she is fairly nice and tolerant of some handling, he will flap his dewlap, puff himself up, and on occasion, chase people who walk past his cage. He has been seen cuddling with her, very tenderly laying his dewlap over her shoulders or head. While they haven’t shown signs of producing another clutch, it’s very dear to see them still so close together.

Just about 60 days passed before we saw signs of movement from the iguana eggs. We were pleasantly surprised and more than a little confused to see that our clutch of 50 eggs had yielded 56 iguanas! Did the Reptile Zoo have its own moment of spontaneous generation? Are we just really bad at counting? No! Turns out we simply had a few batches of twins! While the sets of twins are markedly smaller than their single-egg siblings, they are no less healthy, and are very cute! The baby red iguanas are actually born with a fair amount of green on their bodies. Each time they shed, they lose a little bit of that green pigmentation and get redder and redder as they age.

Little bit of green still showing on this guy!

All of the babies ate within 24 hours of hatching, which is unusual for almost any reptile. Usually there is a bit of a fasting period where they live off the remaining nutrients from what was left of their yolk. The babies must take after their parents when it comes to eating habits. Once we had established they were healthy and doing well, we placed them into an enclosure that closely replicates the environment they’d have in the wild. They have tons of room to climb, with branches and foliage spanning the entire length of their roomy cage. They love to be fed, and will clamber all over each other to get at their greens. We’re so excited to have these little nippers here with us, and hope you’ll come visit them soon!

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Meet Karissa!

If you’ve had the pleasure of having Karissa present at one of your Jurassic Parties, then you’ll know what an absolute sweetheart she is. Her patience and smiles make her excellent with kids of all ages, but underneath that sweet tiny exterior is a core of iron. This girl can haul a 60lb tortoise with the best of our presenters, despite being a head shorter than all of them.

Karissa is currently studying Biology at UC Irvine, and eventually wants a career working with animals. She applied to work at the zoo about a year ago and was THRILLED to receive an interview, and then a job offer. Before she worked for us at Jurassic Parties, Karissa volunteered with all sorts of animals; reptiles and mammals alike. She’s worked local reptile events for kids, and donated her time and energy to animal shelters. Her passion for animals and outreach make her such a fantastic employee.

Reaching out to the chameleons.

Karissa one day hopes to work in the conservation field with endangered animals in Africa. She holds a special place in her heart for big cats, which she hopes to one day work with at a zoo or rescue organization. When not presenting at Jurassic Parties, Karissa is working towards her bachelor’s degree in biology. Her favorite food is pizza, her star sign is Aquarius (just like Forest!), and her favorite animals at the Reptile Zoo are the Dumeril’s boas. The funniest thing that happened to her so far at work was when she was talking to a visitor, one of our chameleons went to the bathroom right above her. She finished answering the question she was asked, and then in true polite and sweet Karissa fashion, excused herself to freshen up.

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Something Wicked This Way It Hops!

We’ve got a new species here at the zoo! While they look fairly unassuming, these new animals are set to make a splash. Everyone, welcome the new cane toads! Worf, Worfina, and Goldie were generously donated by Brian Allen, and are just so special we couldn’t wait to tell you all about them!

First off, cane toads are considered an invasive species here in the United States. These toads are originally from Central and South America, and were introduced by humans as a pest control measure in sugar cane fields. This happened to spectacularly backfire, as the toads didn’t eat the beetles that they were supposed to, and instead began to reproduce and spread across the southern states. What makes them harmful and invasive instead of just an introduced species is that they out-compete native toads for food; they have been known to eat 20x the amount of food of a similarly sized native toad species. They feed on a variety of insects, but as they grow larger they will begin to eat anything that fits in their mouth, including matter that is already dead. They have no set breeding season and reproduce year round, which is problematic as they can spawn up to 30,000 eggs in a single spawning event. In prime habitat, cane toad populations can reach up to 2,000 toads per hectare. That’s 2 toads every 10 square meters! Aside from outcompeting native toad species, these toads have another nasty trick up their sleeve… poison.

The cane toad has a large gland located behind the eye. When stressed or scared, these toads ooze a milky white liquid called Bufotoxin. This toxin is present in all the life cycles of the cane toad, even down to the tadpoles and eggs. When this toxin comes in contact with skin, it reddens and swells. If it enters a cut on the body or is ingested, the poison affects breathing, blood pressure, and heartbeat. Victims may excessively salivate, vomit, or become paralyzed. This nasty substance has actually been the cause of some controversy; it is considered a class 1 drug in Australia, right up there with cannabis and heroin, as it can also bring on hallucinations if ingested. Before you go getting any ideas, this toxin can also bring on an acute case of dead, so avoid touching/licking/mouthing the toads. Here at the Reptile Zoo we do not play around, and always handle these toads with gloves to avoid any contact with this nasty poison. While there is usually not enough toxin to kill an adult human, children and especially family pets are at risk. Many dogs and cats have unfortunately become victims of cane toad poison.

Check out the little pores in the paratoid gland! That's where the poison comes out

All that nastiness aside, we couldn’t be more excited to have these toads here! You all know we have a soft spot for freakishly large animals, and while these toads aren’t quite there yet, we know that one day they’ll be outstripping our African Bullfrogs in size! So make sure you come by and admire Worf, Worfina, and Goldie in their new home next to our giant python habitat!

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Meet Michael!

Meet Michael!

Those of you who follow our blog and come to the zoo know that, around here, we love our gentle giants. Not all of them are snakes and lizards though! We wanted to formally (and belatedly) introduce you to Michael, one of the fabulous people that make up the team here at the Reptile Zoo.

When Michael isn’t traveling all over Southern California bringing joy and reptiles to people everywhere, he can usually be found at our petting station in the zoo, chatting to visitors about all of the exotic animals we have here. His knowledge of reptiles can only be dwarfed by his impressive stature. He is an information sponge, and has been soaking up reptile facts since he was a little boy. The most common question Michael gets is “Where did you learn all this stuff?” and he cheerfully replies “All self-taught!” Michael began in 2013 as a lot of our employees begin, by working for the zoo in our OC Fair exhibit over the summer.

When not working here at the zoo, Michael likes to relax, hang out with friends, and occasionally go out for a spirited round or two of airsoft. His favorite foods are anything new and exotic. Michael aspires to one day be like Steve Irwin, an ambassador to reptiles and people alike. His favorite animal at the zoo is Harvey, the red panther chameleon living above the photo booth. Like Mandy and Lauren, he too is a Scorpio! He kindly took the time to narrate his funniest moment at the zoo:

“ I was replenishing water to the cages around the zoo. Upon opening the olive python cage, one made a break for it. While I was trying to coil it back up into its cage, the other olive python decided my forearm looked like a good spot to bite. It let go two seconds later, but I was strangely calm and proud of receiving my first big snake bite. It’s a badge of honor around here. Soldiers compare war wounds, we compare animal bites. Jay and Lynda were trying to patch me up, but it wasn’t so bad as it looked. I’m honestly a little disappointed that it didn’t leave a better scar… “

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Don't have a boring party! Have a Jurassic Party! Fun, educational, and the experience of a lifetime!

Voted "Best Party in Orange County"  Jurassic Parties brings an exciting “hands-on” presentation with "Prehistoric Pets" from around the globe including giant pythons, lizards, frogs, tortoises, and tarantulas just to name a few. Your host creates an outrageously fun, exciting, and educational experience that you and your guests will never forget. You can join-in on the fun or just stand back, watch, and learn. The presentation is full of photo opportunities and concludes with a group photo with our large python!

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Meet Forest!!!

It’s no surprise that many (read: all) of our employees are carnivores, but nobody here hams it up like Forest. This awesome dude graduated from University of San Francisco with a degree in Biology and minor in Performance Arts and can turn anything you say into a joke. His sense of humor comes in very handy here around the zoo. Aside from being able to laugh at someone telling him to “RUN FOREST RUN” for the millionth time, he kills the crowds at our Jurassic Parties with his lightning quips and funny turns of phrase.

Forest got his foot in the door like so many of our other employees, by working at the Orange County Fair in our traveling zoo exhibit. His incredible energy, passion for reptiles, and drive for work solidified our desire to bring him onto our team as a permanent employee. Forest is a jack of all trades, working both for the front counter helping in sales, delighting kids at their birthday parties with his reptile knowledge, and entertaining visitors at our hands-on area at the zoo. He’s only been an official employee for a few weeks, but he’s always excited and ready to learn something new and help out. While he has been otherwise warmly received, Lauren has perceived him as a threat to her unofficial “best hair” title.

When not working at the zoo, Forest likes to go to Disneyland, play guitar, and especially study acting. His favorite food is super cheap frozen pizza and chubby hubby ice cream, and his star sign is Aquarius. He moved to LA to be a film actor, and his greatest dream is to be nominated for the Oscars and thank the Academy. His favorite animals at the zoo are the green anacondas. His funniest experience here at the zoo was during the filming for KTLA morning news; our giant reticulated python flung itself out of everyone’s arms and hit him square in the forehead. Luckily for him, its mouth was closed!

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Reptile Facts Friday- CHAMELEONS!

This week on Reptile Facts Friday, we’re super excited to introduce you to the 3 chameleon species we have here on permanent display at the Reptile Zoo! Before we get started on specific species though, here’s some fun general facts about all chameleons:

1)Chameleons have the longest tongues to body size in the animal kingdom! These dudes can have tongues up to 2x the length of their bodies.

2)Almost half of the chameleon species in the world are only found on the island of Madagascar!

3)Chameleons don’t actually change color to blend into their surroundings. Scientists have found that chameleons change color based on light, temperature, and mood changes. Some species (such as our own Meller’s Chameleons) even change color to “talk” to each other

4)Chameleons can see in 2 different directions at once and have 360 degree visibility. The only time a chameleon focuses on something with both eyes is when it is about to eat what it’s looking at.

5)Chameleons have prehensile tails just like monkeys. They use these tails to hold onto branches when climbing, and can actually hang from things just with their tails!

We’d like to start with our most flamboyant chameleons, the panther chameleons! We’re lucky enough here at the reptile zoo to have three lovely panther chameleons; Harvey, Pascal, and Guillermo! While all the same species, these lovely little guys are all different localities. Panther chameleons have different colors based on where in Madagascar they are found. Harvey is an Ambilobe chameleon, Pascal is a lovely Nosy Be, and Guillermo is Ampiskiana. Harvey in particular is a favorite of many employees at the zoo for his extraordinarily friendly behavior, preferring to climb on people than his awesome free range habitat. He got his name from an interesting week where half his face was red and the other half was a dark green, giving him a Two-Faced Harvey Dent appearance.

Handsome Harvey

Picturesque Pascal

Gorgeous Guillermo

Next up is the Parsons Chameleon! Parson the Parson’s Chameleon (we get real creative with the names here) is a big handsome male, and an impressive example of one of the world’s largest and heaviest chameleons. These chameleons are a beautiful mint green, and when disturbed they can put on an impressive display of spots and stripes all across their bodies.

Happy Parson

Unhappy Parson

They are very hard to take care of, as their needs for space, ventilation, and water are all great. In the wild, these chameleons live in areas of Madagascar that can get up to 150 inches of rain a year, so if you visit there’s a good chance you’ll see one of our employees patiently misting down Parson to make sure he stays good and hydrated. He lives above our photo booth with Harvey the panther chameleon.

Lastly are some lovely chameleons you might already be familiar with, if you are faithful readers of the RZ blog. Our Meller’s chameleons make up the majority of our chameleons at the zoo; we currently have 7 on display in our brand shiny new Meller Manor exhibit.

People often have a hard time noticing these cute little dudes as they blend in so gosh darn well into the foliage we added to their home. We’ve started challenging kids and adults alike to try and find all 7, which is harder than it sounds. Meller’s chameleons are the only truly social chameleons in the world, which is why we can house so many together in such a lovely exhibit, which was sponsored by Brian Allen and ExoTerra. I learned a fun fact the hard way about these chameleons; they have the sharpest nails of any chameleon I’ve ever met. Last time I tried to hold one it looked like I got savaged by a very small cat.

That’s it for this week; we hope you guys learned some fun stuff about chameleons!

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Remembering Thelma and Louise

It has been an uncommonly hard year for us here at the Reptile Zoo. Shortly after the loss of our beloved Twinkie, we found that our dynamic duo, Thelma and Louise had too passed. It seems unfair and tragic that after the loss of such a big part of our team, we must say goodbye to another member that made our little zoo so special. The two-headed Texas ratsnake who delighted kids and adults for the past 14 years has sadly gone on to snake heaven, leaving a two-headed hole in our hearts.

Thelma and Louise was an incredibly special snake. Most polycephalic (that’s science talk for more than one head) creatures are stillborn, and even fewer survive longer than a few days or weeks once born. Our two-headed duo surpassed all odds, surviving to an incredible 14 years. Considering that a normal one-headed Texas ratsnake has a lifespan of 10-15 years we’re ultimately saddened but unsurprised by her passing.

Polycephalic creatures are formed when twin embryos fuse inside the egg or womb they are developing in. Any animal can have two heads, but snakes are one of the few species that can generally survive, or even in special cases like Thelma and Louise, thrive. The ability of a two headed animal to survive generally depends on just how well individual parts and organs formed. Thelma and Louise each had their own throat and windpipe, which joined up to share one stomach and set of lungs. In general, whichever head got to the food first was the one that got to eat. This occasionally led to some funny conundrums, like when Thelma and Louise each had one end of a mouse and wouldn’t let go, leading to a Lady and the Tramp-esqe dinner.

In the end, Thelma managed to wrestle the mouse away from Louise (Louise was the left head) and send it down to their shared stomach. Either way, they were both fed!

Showing off their pearly whites...

Rest in Peace lovely girls, you’ll be sorely missed.

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Reptile Facts Friday- Australia Edition

It’s Reptile Facts Friday!

We’re starting a new blog series here at the Reptile Zoo where we take 3 of our awesome animals and tell you a fun fact about them! This week, we’re highlighting our favorite Australian Lizards and their awesome defense systems!

Let’s start with one of the most charismatic reptiles out there, the bearded dragon! Beardies, as they’re called by enthusiasts, have one of the most obvious defense mechanisms of the lizard world. These little dudes are covered in big spikes all along their neck, cheek, and sides. Smaller spikes stand out from their legs, tail, and head.

Anything that wants to eat a bearded dragon has to think twice, as these guys are like the puffer fish of the lizard world. When feeling threatened, these guys will poof themselves up to almost double their usual body width. That lovely beard of spikes will inflate and turn black, and they will open their mouths and hiss. The overall effect is rather impressive, as you can see.

Image © David Kleinert (http://davidkphotography.com/index.php?showimage=370)

Our next Aussie is slightly more subtle but no less awesome. The blue tongued skink gets its name from its main form of defense! These cool lizards have a tongue that is, you guessed it, blue!

When feeling threatened, the skink will puff itself up, hiss, and show off its bright blue tongue. Bright colors in the animal kingdom generally mean that the animal with them is poisonous. While the blue tongued skink doesn’t actually have poison or venom, their attacker will usually fall for the trick and leave them alone.

Image © David Kleinert (http://www.davidkphotography.com/index.php?showimage=323)

If that display doesn’t work, their hard thick scales can protect them from bites. They’re capable of running surprisingly fast for their tiny legs, and can drop their tails at will to distract a predator. Most of the time their snake-like appearance is enough to make anybody think twice about touching them.

The last and possibly most bizarre Australian lizard is the Frill-Necked Lizard, or Frilled Dragon. These little guys get their name from the large flap of extra skin attached to their jawline. The frill is usually kept close to the body and out of the way to prevent damage, giving them a slightly wrinkly appearance.

When threatened, the lizard opens their mouth and extends their frill, showing off the bright colored spots usually hidden in the folds of skin. This rapid increase in perceived size is enough to frighten any predator, but the lizard doesn’t stop there. They will hiss, stand on their hind legs using their tail for balance, and even chase after their attackers to make good and sure they don’t get messed with.

So there you have it! Three Australian lizards with three awesome defenses! That’s all for Reptile Facts Friday this week!

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