When frogs eat something toxic, they “throw up” their entire stomach! Using muscles in their throat, they eject their stomach through their mouth, wipe it clean with their front legs, and swallow it back down again.
Where at the Zoo
Indian Star Tortoise
Where in the World
Together, reptiles and amphibians are called “herps.” They rely on the environment around them--the sun, water, or ground--to generate the heat they need to survive. With a continuous supply of warmth and water, the majority of the Earth’s herp species live in the tropics. All are habitat specialists, with unique adaptations for avoiding predators and acquiring food.
What They Eat
Where They Live
What They Do
How They’re Doing
Care at the Zoo
Enrichment helps animals demonstrate natural behaviors, adds variety to their day, encourages them to explore their environment, and enhances their entire well-being. Because herps are a large and varied group, keepers provide enrichment based on what each species might experience in the wild.
In the wild, the landscape is always changing. One way to provide enrichment in zoos is by changing an animal’s physical environment. For herps, this might include adding perches to enclosures to encourage climbing, using water features or misting to assist with the shedding of skin, or changing the material on the surface of the enclosure (e.g. wood chips, soil, or moss) to encourage natural behaviors such as nest-building or burrowing. For example, the zoo’s Asian forest tortoises take turns for “summer vacation”. Individuals are rotated between the indoor exhibit and a large outdoor enclosure during the summer months, and given leaf piles in the exhibit to hide under.
Because regulating body temperature is so important for herps, providing them with multiple places to take cover (especially across different temperature and moisture gradients), allows them the opportunity to make choices in their environment. Keepers give our dart frogs coconut halves and bromeliad plants to hide in or lay eggs on, and add moist moss or dry leaf litter to vary the humidity.
Varying the feeding schedules can also lead to an increase in predatory behavior and therefore an overall increase in activity. It can also provide keepers with a way to supplement an animal’s diet with vitamins. Keepers at the zoo prepare pureed mango dollops for our geckos. In addition to being a tasty treat, powdered supplements are sprinkled in the puree.Wild snakes flick their tongues constantly in response to different smells. In captive snakes, this behavior can decline over time without introducing them to new smells. One way keepers encourage this natural behavior is by adding the smell of live prey or the shed of another snake to the animal’s enclosure.
Of the 6,000 known species of amphibians in the world, about half may disappear within the next 50 years. Imagine if the world was to lose half of its birds, half of its mammals, or half of its fish……the loss of amphibians is unprecedented. This represents the most extreme loss of species since the dinosaurs.
Why Should I Care?
Why Are They Disappearing?
The Turtle Conservation Fund is an exciting new initiative created through the cooperative efforts of three major turtle conservation organizations: Conservation International, IUCN Turtle Survival Alliance, and IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. The mission of the Turtle Conservation Fund is to ensure that no species of tortoise or freshwater turtle becomes extinct, and that sustainable and protected populations of each species continue to exist in the wild.
The components of the initiative include three main areas. The first is support and development of breeding colonies, both captive and wild. Second, the fund will help support conservation biology research including field surveys, data collection, reintroduction techniques, and genetic studies. Finally, the fund will support in-country education and training programs in veterinary and husbandry techniques and help with facility enhancement for zoos and rescue centers.
The Minnesota Zoo's Ulysses S. Seal Conservation Grant Program has provided financial support to The Turtle Conservation Fund for its work toward preserving all tortoises and freshwater turtles in Southeast Asia. Staff champions for this project were Tropics Mammals Keeper, Karla Anderson and Tropics Bird Keeper, James Nelson.
Zoos across North America are working to conserve several tropical reptile and amphibian species through cooperative programs called Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs. One of the goals of these programs is to maintain genetically healthy populations of endangered and threatened herp species through managed breeding programs in zoos and aquariums. Currently, the Minnesota Zoo participates in SSP programs for the Radiated tortoise, Asian forest tortoise, and Komodo monitor.
Reptiles vs. Amphibians (“Herps”)
How are they different?
Most amphibians lead double lives. From eggs laid in water, young metamorphose from gills to lungs and fins to legs as they develop into adults and prepare for life on land. Nearly half of respiration is carried out through sensitive skin, which amphibians must always keep moist. Because their skin is so sensitive, scientists consider amphibians “bio-indicators,” organisms that reflect the relative health of the ecosystem they live in.
Habits and adaptations
The Asian Turtle Crises
Turtles have long been prized in East Asia for food and in traditional medicine. Because of recent economic growth and new wealth, the trade in turtles has exploded. Turtles are long-lived and reproduce far too slowly to sustain the current harvest of over 10 million wild turtles each year. Although international trade for most of Asia’s 90 turtle species is illegal, it is believed that without rapid action most will be extinct within 10 years.
All tortoises are turtles, but not are turtles are tortoises:
Tropical turtles and tortoises on exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo include the Asian forest tortoise, Indian star tortoise, Radiated tortoise, and Vietnamese black-breasted leaf turtle.
These small to medium-sized lizards can be found in warm, tropical climates throughout the world. They come in a multitude of colors and patterns and some species can change color to blend in with their surroundings or turn darker to absorb more heat. Geckos' skin may be rough with visible scales or look and feel smooth and rubbery. They have a lifespan of approximately 16 years.
Habits and Adaptations
Geckos at the Minnesota Zoo: Look for Tokay geckos and Standing’s Day Geckos on the Tropics Trail. Like all geckos, ours can climb almost any surface and can often be seen sticking to the glass in the exhibit.
Monitors have long necks, powerful claws, and strong legs. Most species are terrestrial (live on land), although a few spend at least part at of their lives in trees (arboreal). Water monitors, as their name suggests, are semi-aquatic. They are excellent swimmers and use a flattened lateral “fin” on their tail to steer though water in pursuit of prey. The most famous member of the monitor group is the Komodo monitor, also known at the Komodo dragon. Ranging in length from 6-9 feet and averaging 200 pounds, Komodos are the world’s largest living lizards.
Learn more about Komodo dragons
Pythons are found in Africa, Asia, and Australia, and include some of largest snakes in the world. Most species are equally at home on the ground, in trees, or swimming in warm waters.