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Fur, Feathers & Scales - Silkie Chickens

Some of you may know I have my own little flock of chickens in my backyard, but I also work with chickens at my zoo job!  We have two silkie chickens--one hen and one rooster.  Their names are Diana and Red, and they are hilarious!  Red crows all the time, and always lets Diana eat first and steal his food.  If we leave the back door open, they willingly stroll inside looking for someone to toss them a handful of mealworms.


Silkie chickens get their names from their soft, fluffy feathers and  are much smaller than most other chickens.
They have dark skin and even dark grey muscles and bones (so I've read.).  Weird, right?




Chickens are so much fun to watch because they have such goofy movements. I mean, just look at this guy:



Even weirder is that they have more toes than other kinds of chickens. These guys have five per foot!. 
 

I didn't photograph Diana much, but I did get this gem...



And here's a behind-the-scenes peek at our set-up.  It's pretty entertaining to have chickens pecking around your classroom!
















If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out my other Fur, Feathers & Scales posts!
Fur, Feathers & Scales - African Pancake Tortoise

 
Have you ever heard of a pancake tortoise?  I'm convinced they might be the cutest creature with scales.  These are not reptiles that I work with directly, like this lizard or this turtle, but my friend and coworker, Craig Hunter, does work with them.  Craig is our zoo's knowledgeable reptile and amphibian keeper.  He is also a talented photographer who shot all of these photos for us! 
 
Our zoo has four African pancake tortoises (not currently on exhibit), and they are the neatest things.  If you've ever held a tortoise or turtle, you know that they have hard, solid shells.  Pancake tortoises actually have flexible shells.  It's such a strange sensation to hold these tortoises and be able to feel them breathe--I was amazed!  Their shells are not solid, but have small openings between the underlying bony plates, allowing them to flatten slightly as they squeeze under rocks and into small crevices for protection.  In fact, rather than retreating into their shells, they will quickly run to find shelter to evade danger.



African pancake tortoises are pretty great climbers, and are considered to be the fastest tortoise. Their lighter, more flexible shell likely contributes to their speed.  They are found throughout Kenya and Tanzania and eat only vegetation.   




Because these tortoises are so flat, females usually only produce and lay one egg at a time, every six weeks during mating season.  Because of their low reproductive rate and collection for the pet trade, wild populations of African pancake tortoises are declining.  You can help them out by not ever buying one as a pet.



Aren't they great?!



You can check out more of Craig's photography on facebook, and be sure to follow him on instagram, too (@moriarty1984).
Fur, Feathers & Scales - Greater Hedgehog Tenrec



I realized last week that I've never introduced you guys to this animal!  This is a Greater Hedgehog Tenrec from Madagascar!  This particular one is a female, and her name is Maivana. 


Tenrecs look a lot like hedgehogs, because they are distantly related to them. However, tenrecs are endemic to Madagascar, meaning they're not found anywhere else in the world (in the wild.)  They are nocturnal and have fairly long whiskers to help them navigate dark, forest habitats.



Tenrecs can use their long toes and toenails to climb, and they have a surprisingly strong grasp with their legs and feet.  They are omnivores and eat vegetation and worms, grubs and other invertebrates. 

They are covered in spines that are used for protection.  In my opinion, a tenrec's spines are not quite as sharp as a hedgehog's spines.  Often I compare a tenrec's spines to feeling much like a hairbrush.  They can make chirping noises, and they also huff and hiss whey they're being defensive. 



Maivana was really fun (read: difficult) to photograph.  She was all over the place!  I was using a clay pot to keep the poster board backdrop in place, and she just wanted to climb it.  Check out some of our blooper photos below!






Hilarious!

A Week in the Life....My Zoo Job
As a zoo educator, my job is different during the summer than during the school year.  I primarily do outreach programs during the school year, where I leave zoo grounds with some critters and go to schools to teach kids about them. During the summer, the kids come to us and we hook them up with cool classes like "Zookeepers in Training."  My summer classes at the zoo started a couple weeks ago. These particular classes are for kids ages 10-12, are two days long and are area specific, meaning each class will focus on a different part of our zoo.  Last week kids learned about zookeeping for African animals and for Reptiles and Amphibians. Below are some photos I took of Henry the Hippo.  The Africa class kids cleaned out his indoor housing and then got to toss him some produce.




The reptile/amphibian class kiddos got to feed our giant aldabra tortoises.  There are two males and two females, and they are estimated to be over 70 years old!




Below are some photos from my phone of other activities and animals we saw during classes:



I didn't have class on Friday, but I did have a morning program at a local elementary school.  We talked about animals from all over the world.  They got to see and touch a chinchilla, bearded dragon, tenrec, and a dove.  (I just realized that I haven't done a Fur, Feathers & Scales post on tenrecs yet...you can look for that coming up soon!)

Also on Friday, we had a quick photo shoot with a new eastern screech owl, Dr. Whooo.  He was giving us hilarious expressions, so I thought I'd share those with you.  The last photo is the shot we decided to use for our project. Silly owl. 



I hope you enjoyed this peek into my day job!  I want to know what you guys do too!  Share about your job in the comments!
I tried something new!
The classes that I teach at my zoo job started this week.  They're called Zookeepers in Training, and kids 9-12 years old learn what it takes to be a zookeeper.  It's really fun, even for me.  I get to hang out with the zookeepers and animals, too, and I usually learn a few new things each class.  This time, our class got to help plan a new puzzle feeder enrichment item for the Capuchin monkeys.  It involved tacking a few pieces of metal together with a welder.  The kids each took turns with the helmet and watched the zookeeper weld.  Then, it was my turn to watch, and I actually attempted some welding.  Let's just say I need more practice!



Here's to trying something new! Have a great weekend friends!
Danizoo Comment
Fur, Feathers & Scales - Pigeon
I have some new critter friends to share with you!!  At my zoo job, we now have these  pigeons! 

 They're homing pigeons, which means they have the ability to find their way home over very long distances--not that they'll be using that particular skill though now that they live at the zoo.  These types of pigeons can actually be very fast and are sometimes even raced against each other. So neat! 

 

We've named them Orville and Wilbur after the Wright brothers.  Cute, right?  I love the noises they make, and I love their iridescent feathers.



Pigeons are found worldwide, and have a wide lifespan--they live an average of six years in the wild but can live beyond fifteen years in captivity. They eat lots of seeds, and sometimes maybe leaves or even fruit.  They'll also eat small insects and worms.


If you're a bird fan, I highly recommend the book Birdology.  It's has a whole chapter on homing pigeons, and other chapters include cassowaries, chickens, parrots, etc. 

I look forward to working with these birds more and sharing them around my community!
Fur, Feathers & Scales: Netherland Dwarf Rabbit
It's time for another dose of cute.  And what better animal is there to go with my new blog design?



Meet Benjamin!  He is a Netherland Dwarf Rabbit.  He is one of our program animals at my zoo job.  He joined us last year, because his owner developed severe allergies to him and could no longer keep him.  He is about six years old.



Often, many people think that rabbits are lumped in with rodents, but they are in their own group called lagomorphs. One of the differences between rodents and lagomorphs has to do with their teeth.  Most folks know that rodents, like rats and squirrels, have two large front teeth (incisors) on their top and bottom jaws.  Rabbits actually have two pairs of teeth on the top and the bottom.  The second pair sits just behind the first pair of incisors.  Oh, and like rodents, rabbits' teeth do continually grow.



They are herbivores and eat only vegetation.  But rabbits do have a secret.

They eat their own poop.

Rabbits have two types of poop--one is a dry pellet, and the other is a wetter, uh, nugget.  The wetter poo is less digested, so they eat it right away so that it passes through their digestive system again, ensuring maximum nutrient absorption.



The American Rabbit Breeders Association recognizes 48 different breeds of rabbits. The Netherland Dwarf is one of the smallest, weighing up to two and a half pounds.


If you love bunnies, I'm going to leave you with this list of videos for your enjoyment. Maybe your next travel destination?


Worth it.
So, I work with teenagers as part of my zoo job.  Back in grad school, my Master's degree project was implementing a teen volunteer program at the zoo where I work.  I called it ZooTEENS.  We're going on the program's sixth year this summer.

Sometimes this part of my job is really hard.  There have been a few days where I just wanted to throw in the towel.

But every now and then, something happens that makes me realize that it's all worth it.

Like recently, when we opened up the application process, a former ZooTEEN (who has grown too old for the program) posted this on her facebook wall:  "If you love animals, are willing to work hard and not bitch (too much), learn something new every day, and get an awesome experience, I highly recommend that you apply! I wouldn't be where I am today if not for Zoo Teens and of course, Dani Ives."

And then today, I read a local article which featured an interview from another former ZooTEEN turned employee:  "O’Toole says that her time as a volunteer taught her many important life skills. 'I became comfortable approaching and talking to groups of people I didn’t know, learning about ethics and my true calling in life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the ZooTEEN program.' ”

It's moments like this that make me love what I do.

Because even when things get tough, it's worth it. 

Danizoo Comment
Fur, Feathers & Scales - Mali Uromastyx
Nope. That wasn't a typo. My fingers were properly placed on my keyboard. In fact, my spell check wants to change uromastyx to burgomaster.  Really? What is that?  Anyway, a uromastyx is a real thing.  And until very recently, I didn't know much about them.  So, we're basically learning together! See how fun this is?

Meet Agatha the Mali uromastyx, which is a lizard sometimes known as a spiny-tailed lizard, and rightly so.




They are found in North Africa and the Middle East. 




Agatha is roughly eight years old, and the average lifespan for one of these guys is about 15 to 20 years.  You might have noticed that she has a slightly misshapen tail.  She used to be housed with a male who bit her tail.  Needless to say, they broke up. 




They average 10 to 18 inches in length (but one species can be much larger) and eat only vegetation. They don't drink much either, because they get nearly all the water they need from the vegetation they consume. 




This mali uromastyx species is sexually dichromatic, meaning the males and females are different colors--the males are more brightly colored than the females.




My favorite thing about Agatha (although her big, fat, spiny tail runs a close second) is the way she excretes salt to normalize the amount of sodium in her body.  You and I excrete salt through sweat and urine.   She has nasal salt glands that secrete clear fluid, which later dries as a fine, white powder. That white stuff on her face is actually salt.



Thanks for learning about this reptile with me! What's your favorite thing about Agatha?