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In past blogs, I’ve tried to answer a few of the most common questions we get asked at the African penguin exhibit. Today I thought I’d tackle another one: “Where do the penguins go at night?”

Our penguins do not stay out on exhibit all night. During the warmer months, they come inside around 4 p.m., not only so we can thoroughly clean the exhibit for the next day, but also for their own safety and well-being.

  • During heavy mosquito months, penguins are susceptible to mosquito-born diseases such as Avian Malaria, Encephalitis and West Nile Virus. Though these diseases pose little risk to humans, they can be deadly to our penguins. Therefore, all standing water in and around the exhibit is removed, replaced or chlorinated every day during the time when penguins are off exhibit.
  • Bringing them in at night allows us to better control their environment. Although penguins can adapt to a range of temperatures thanks to their tightly overlapping feathers, it should be noted that the nightly low temperature on the coast of south Africa seldom drops below 50 degrees fahrenheit. The same cannot be said for many of our Rochester nights!
  • Because the Zoo is located within Seneca Park, there is always the possibility of a predatory animal intrusion into the exhibit. Such animals could include coyotes, foxes, raccoons and cats.
  • Lastly, returning them to their indoor holding area aids in pair bonding by allowing pairs to spend the night in their nesting boxes.

If you’ve ever visited the Zoo in the winter, you’ve probably noticed our penguins are seldom on exhibit. That’s because, while most people associate penguins with ice and snow, our African penguins would never encounter snow in their natural habitat and are not fond of the cold weather.

Therefore, as the days get colder, their time outside is limited. And once the temperature drops below 37 degrees fahrenheit, our penguins do not go outside at all.

For a behind the scenes look at our indoor holding facilities and how our birds get there, check out this video:

 

–Kevin Blakely, Zoo Keeper

Bornean orangutan Bella and her parents Kumang and Denda have just been enrolled in an enriching research program where their decision-making and mathematical skills will be scientifically assessed on exhibit for Zoo guests to observe.

Bella, photo by Mike Wemett.

Bella, photo by Mike Wemett.

The University of Rochester Cognitive Sciences research lab of Dr Jessica Cantlon will be expanding its ongoing research with our olive baboon troop to include 36-year-old Kumang, 12-year-old Denda and 2-year-old Bella. Earlier this week, Denda demonstrated impressive finger and tongue dexterity skills in his first trial, starting with games and treats. The tasks will become more engaging and technical over time, advancing to double sided touch screens where Zoo guests will be able to watch the orangutans demonstrate cognitive skills.

Denda and Sara, one of Dr. Cantlon's research assistants. Photo by Dr. Jeff Wyatt

Denda and Sara, one of Dr. Cantlon’s research assistants. Photo by Dr. Jeff Wyatt.

“Bella is curious and playful,” says zoo keeper Mike Wemett. “As a zoo keeper, I have the privilege of watching her grow up and learn from her mother, and this research will track some of that development.”

Bella, photo by Mike Wemett.

Engaging science to better understand orangutan intelligence will help us advance novel approaches to designing new programs and exhibits that are stimulating and enriching.

—Dr. Jeff Wyatt, Director of Animal Health and Conservation

Recently this year I was asked to help out a few of our ZooTeen Leaders by getting footage of the otters to be used in a conservation film.

Jack Fox, Aditya Tangirala and Eli Wipf then put together this video to educate people about the importance of the river otter to local ecosystems.

Our two female river otters, Heather and Sara helped by hamming it up for the camera and showing off their natural behaviors!

 

 

ZooTeen Leaders have  submitted their film to the Rochester Teen Film Festival. Finalists’ videos will be screened at 5:30 p.m on Wednesday, August 5, 2015 on the main screen at the Little Theatre in downtown Rochester. Good luck to the ZooTeen Leaders and we hope to see you at the festival!

 

—Catina Wright, Otter Keeper

In the fall of 2014, the Zoo’s fire-bellied toads were getting a new home located in the Oak classroom in the Z.O.T Zone. The idea was to give them a more natural habitat through a BOCES distance learning program.

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Photo by Ceci Menchetti

The class would research the needs of the fire-bellied toads (Bombina orientalis), sketch out a design for an exhibit, and then build the exhibit to the specs that the team came up with. The kids learned about the natural behaviors of the toads and made sure that parts of the design to encourage these behaviors were included in the exhibit. Soon after, the toads moved into their new home.

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Photo by John Adamski

The exhibit was a little over five times bigger than the previous one with new, improved habitat features. It incorporated a land area with moss, live plants, and plenty of hiding spots, including a coconut shell. There was a small waterfall which gently spilled flowing water back into a larger water area than they have ever had before.

There were plenty of vines tangled around the exhibit, too. The frogs were often hiding, but could be seen from time to time going from one side of the exhibit to the other. At feedings, they would always come out in the open.

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Photo by John Adamski

The new exhibit, with all of the great features, created some unexpected results: it made it harder for educators to locate the toads to take on education programs. The waterfall was sometimes getting taken apart to gain access to them. So in an effort to simplify, we decided to buy a one piece waterfall with the pump housed inside. In order for the pump to run, we had to raise the water level a couple of inches higher than normal. Once the waterfall was in place and working, it made it much easier for educators to access the toads.

The water level rise also had another unforeseen consequence. The toads started to breed! They were often seen in amplexus, a type of mating behavior exhibited by some externally fertilizing species. Soon after, they laid their first clutch of eggs on May 13, 2015.

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Photo by John Adamski

The tadpoles in the eggs quickly developed, and within a few days they were moving inside the eggs. A few days later they would all hatch and were about one centimeter in length. The tadpoles grew quickly!

I’ve read that fire-bellied toads take from one to five months to make the transformation into froglets. Ours have taken a little less than a month! The change in water level must have triggered the toads to start breeding. Who knew that such a subtle change in their life could make such a big difference!

 

John Adamski, Assistant Curator

Kira Hydock is an AAB Pre-Veterinary Fellow in Seneca Park Zoo‘s five-week, funded research and clinical fellowship for pre-vet college students this year. The AAB Pre-Veterinary program exposes fellows to animal medicine and conservation through the completion of a research project, observation of clinical procedures and rotations through animal care facilities and laboratories. Read on for the second installment of Kira’s blog posts about her experience at the Zoo this summer:

Baoons Pico-de-Limon (left), Olivella (back) and Kalamata (front). Photo by Kira Hydock

Baoons Pico-de-Limon (left), Olivella (back) and Kalamata (front). Photo by Kira Hydock

I could write about so many exciting things that happen every day, but the general theme for this week was “family planning” with the neutering of two male baboons, Pico-de-Limon and Samson, and the implantation of a contraceptive under the skin of one female, Sabina. After three female baboons had babies four years ago at an unexpectedly young age, the decision was made to introduce a contraceptive program, which would also reduce conflict within the troop by preventing the females from coming into swell (the outward signs of heat characterized by swollen and red rear end). Planned breeding and contraceptive programs are an important component of zoo medicine, both for the welfare of the animals on exhibit and for the health of the species in general.  Unplanned pregnancies can disrupt social order and create a situation in which one or several animals must be housed separately or transported to a different zoo. From a broader perspective, breeding programs like the AZA’s Species Survival Plan® (SSP) Program are essential for the maintenance of endangered and threatened species in captivity, which, according to AZA, ultimately contribute to conservation projects in the field.

Dr. Wyatt performing a contraceptive procedure on Pico-de-Limon with Kira Hydock monitoring heart rate. Photo by Randi Conway

Dr. Wyatt performing a contraceptive procedure on Pico-de-Limon with Kira Hydock monitoring heart rate. Photo by Randi Conway

Assisting in the baboons’ procedures was not only significant for me in that I learned a lot about breeding programs of animals in conservation care, but also because they were the first surgeries on zoo animals that I have ever observed. It was a unique and incredible experience to support Zoologist Robin English and Director of Animal Health and Conservation Dr. Wyatt throughout the process, and to monitor the effects of the anesthetic drugs through regular measurement of heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and other vital parameters. I cannot thank them enough for offering me such an amazing opportunity! Look out for more of Kira’s stories about her AAB Pre-Veterinary fellowship on the Seneca Park Zoo Keeper Blog this summer!

Kira Hydock is an AAB Pre-Veterinary Fellow in Seneca Park Zoo‘s five-week, funded research and clinical fellowship for pre-vet college students this year. THe AAB Pre-Veterinary program exposes fellows to animal medicine and conservation through the completion of a research project, observation of clinical procedures and rotations through animal care facilities and laboratories. Read on for the first installment of Kira’s blog posts about her experience at the Zoo this summer:

Kira Hydock hot on the "chase."

Kira Hydock hot on the “chase.”

As the morning sun gleamed through the clouds and cool mist sprayed my face, I peered closely at the ground, careful not to let a leaf or stone go unexamined.  The group I was with consisting of students, a zoologist, a veterinarian, and a Seneca Park seasonal foreman followed close behind.

What were we doing you may ask?

Chasing the most endangered animal in New York:  the Chittenango ovate amber snail!

Chittenango ovate amber snail. Photo from senecaparkzoo.org

Chittenango ovate amber snail. Photo from senecaparkzoo.org

Really, a snail?!  Yes!

Despite their small size and their ability to discretely camouflage themselves on the rocks along the side of the Chittenango Falls, these little creatures hold a special place of concern in New York, particularly for snail enthusiasts, such as PhD-candidate Cody Gilbertson who has dedicated the past several years to surveying the falls for these snails and working to establish a captive population.

Corey Gilberston gluing a bee tag onto a Chittenango ovate amber snail.

Corey Gilberston gluing a bee tag onto a Chittenango ovate amber snail.

Cody’s passion and dedication demonstrates the importance of the Chittenango ovate amber snail and the efforts being pursued to preserve the species, which has been endangered due to habitat disruption and competition with an invasive snail species.

The entire experience, from learning about the snails to “scaling” (or in my case, clumsily crawling) the side of the falls to separating the collected snails by species and tagging the Chittenango ovate amber snails, exhibited the key components for field conservation work that can be applied to any species, be they small endangered snails on the side of a cliff or polar bears in the arctic.

Take home message:  don’t discount a species just because it is small — we never know the full role they play in our wild ecosystems until they are gone.

 

— Kira Hydock, 2015 AAB Pre-Veterinary Fellow

Photos and headline by Dr. Jeff Wyatt

Frogs and toads have a lot in common. They are both amphibians in the order Anura, which means “without a tail.” Toads are a sub-classification of frogs, meaning that all toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads. They both reproduce in water, and they even look alike.

Lemur leaf frog and Panamanian golden frog (actually a toad). Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Lemur leaf frog and Panamanian golden frog (actually a toad). Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Lemur leaf frogs. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Lemur leaf frogs. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

It can be pretty easy to get them mixed up, so here are some hints to help you tell frogs (family Ranidae) and toads (family Bufonidae) apart.

Both frogs and toads live near ponds, swamps, and marshes. Frogs can live on the ground or in trees. But toads live only on the ground.

Both frogs and toads have stubby front legs, but frogs have slimmer bodies and longer hind legs. These limbs are especially good for leaping from tree to tree and for swimming.

Green and black poison dart frog. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Green and black poison dart frog. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Frogs usually have webbed hind feet, and some have webbed front feet. Toads have shorter hind legs, good for hopping around on the ground or walking and crawling. They are a bit slower and less active than frogs. Most toads don’t have webbed feet or sticky toe pads. They move by a series of short hops on land.

Green and black dart frog. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Green and black dart frog. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Frog skin is usually smooth and moist. Toad skin is drier and bumpier. The bumps look like warts and feel rough to the touch.

Yellow banded dart frogs. Phone by Kellee Wolowitz

Yellow banded dart frogs. Phone by Kellee Wolowitz

African bullfrog. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

African bullfrog. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Frogs lay eggs in bunches, or clusters, which have a jelly-like substance around them. Toads lay their eggs in lines or strands on the leaves of plants that live in the water.

Green and black dart frog eggs on a leaf. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Green and black dart frog eggs on a leaf. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Green and black dart frog tadpoles developing inside eggs. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Green and black dart frog tadpoles developing inside eggs. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Panamanian golden frog (actually a toad) with eggs. Photo by John Adamski

Panamanian golden frog (actually a toad) with eggs. Photo by John Adamski

Panamanian golden frog tadpoles. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Panamanian golden frog tadpoles. Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

These are the basic differences between frogs and toads, but things can still get confusing! The Zoo houses Panamanian golden frogs in the Main Building, and although they have frog in their name, they are actually toads!

However, for the most part, these guidelines will help you distinguish between the two types of amphibians.

Panamanian golden frog (actually a toad). Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

Panamanian golden frog (actually a toad). Photo by Kellee Wolowitz

—Kellee Wolowitz, Zoologist

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