The snakes and salamander returned to the Curiosity Center yesterday after weeks of construction. While a new wall went up, they were tucked away in the classroom, safe from all of the sawing, sanding, and painting. Plenty of work remains for the main exhibit, but they returned home once the Curiosity Center was put back together. For them, the move was easy. Digger, Emory, and Scuba got to rest in their travel crates while volunteers hefted glass terrariums from the classroom to the exhibit hall. Then heating pads had to be plugged in, light timers reset, rocks and branches rearranged, and water bowls filled. After all of that, I hope Digger enjoys her new view of the cheery orange wall and entryway!
Looking back at all of my “News from the Mews” articles from 2017 is a testament to what we can accomplish in 365 days. Carson gained confidence on glove and the snakes got help shedding their skin with added humidity. We saw changes in the seasons and wildlife, from a robin boldly defending its nest in spring to tracking nighttime visitors in the snow. The birds traveled to Minnesota and visited Cable’s Fall Festival, played with new enrichment items, and received windows and skylights in their mews.
In addition to the happenings of their daily lives, our living collections taught 85 programs this year and reached a total of 2,206 visitors. With all of their hard work, I think they’ve earned a relaxing winter!
Once I’m satisfied that all of the birds are okay, the next stop in my morning routine is the Curiosity Center to check on the herps. I make sure their heat pads are working and heat bulbs are shining. But most importantly, I look in each terrarium to make sure no one escaped overnight. Finding the animals can be tricky when they are are designed for camouflage. I always expect to find Emory the rat snake curled up under her log, but am occasionally surprised when my eyes finally spot her stretched out over the natural branch, hiding in plain sight.
The other critters are even better at hiding. Digger the hognose snake often coils deep inside her cave, leaving just a glimpse of her scales visible through the opening. My movement awakens Scuba the salamander next door, who bursts out from under the damp soil hoping for a worm or two. His meal would have to wait, but I send down a fine mist to rehydrate the top layer of bedding and keep Scuba’s skin from drying out. Finally assured that all of the living collections made it through the night, I am able to focus on the day’s tasks ahead of me.
Emory the Great Plains Rat Snake went on an adventure this week exploring the Museum’s main exhibit. When I set her down on the Human Microbiome table, I wondered how she would use the handles on the puzzle pieces.
Emory curved around one knob and pushed off, propelling her head forward. I was amazed to see her use these points to even travel in reverse. With the very tip of her tail wrapped around one knob, she pushed back against another and eventually coiled her whole body around her tail. I watched the video over and over, but I have to admit that I still don’t understand exactly how she does it!
What is perhaps our most numerous species in the living collections joined the Museum with a single purpose: to feed the tiger salamander. Red worms, also known as red wigglers, make up the bulk of Scuba’s diet. But their job description has expanded to include reducing office waste and teaching about compost.
These wigglers are native to Europe but have been introduced around the world. They live in the top layer of soil where they eat decaying plant material. Their lifestyle makes them very adaptable to being indoor composting companions. “Vermicomposting,” the art of using worms to make compost, has become a popular way to recycle food waste like apple cores, tea bags, and wilted lettuce. With a simple Rubbermaid bin, a few handfuls of shredded newspaper, and a steady supply of food scraps, a colony of red worms will find a happy home in your kitchen (or in my case, my office).
I was excited to go home to the Twin Cities last weekend to join my family at the Minnesota State Fair. Starting out early in the morning, we found breakfast at the mini doughnut stand and wondered what to do next. My eye was soon caught by a tortoise outside of “Monty’s Traveling Reptile Show.” I always thought this building was a little tacky, with signs worthy of a peculiar circus, and had never been inside. I was surprised when my mom said, “Let’s go in, you’ll love it!”
The atmosphere inside was not the circus I was expecting. Instead, a variety of reptiles lay in individual terrariums with educational signs about each. The number of reptiles represented from around the world was stunning. As I stepped away from the diamondback rattlesnake display (grateful that I live in a place with so few deadly animals), I saw a peaceful Black-throated Monitor lizard snoozing against the glass. There was a clear view of a gaping hole in the side of his head.
I knew that snakes don’t have external ears, so what could that hole be? It turns out that most reptiles like lizards, crocodiles, and turtles, do have external ears. This lizard’s tympanic membrane, or eardrum, was clearly visible and capable of picking up sound waves through the air.
After a full day at the Fair, I was relieved to return to the quiet town of Cable and to care for my own reptiles. I had to admire Digger’s smooth head which lacked a hole for his ear. His ear structure (hidden behind a layer of scales) is capable of hearing sound waves through the air but is better equipped to sense vibrations transmitted through the ground into his jawbone. Even though he didn’t respond, I’m sure he heard my excited, “Hello, Digger!” when I returned.
When Emory, the Great Plains Rat Snake, had cloudy eyes last week, I set up a sort of spa to help with her upcoming shed. She had trouble shedding her skin last time and I suspect humidity was to blame. In dry conditions, the skin cracks and breaks off in many little pieces. It can even be more difficult to peel off and some skin might get stuck on. This can be a problem especially for the clear scale covering the eyes. If the eye caps stay on, layers build up during each shed and will eventually damage the eye.
To avoid these problems I installed a simple “fogger” in Emory’s enclosure. An ultrasonic fog generator (visible as the red glow in the photo) sits in a bowl of water and produces a fine mist. Just a 20-minute session with the fogger is enough to raise the humidity from 35% to 50%. With this daily burst of humid air, Emory was able to shed her skin overnight all in one piece.