Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Reptile Weekend 2013 Part 1

Oh my goodness!  Reptile Weekend this year at the Museum was a smashing success thanks to several organizations that came to display their exotic reptiles and promote proper reptile care and conservation.  This year, I took so many pictures!  I can't post them all at one time, so this is the first of several "guess what reptile" posts.  Let's start off by seeing if you can guess who these scales belong to:
Figured it out?  They are not native to Virginia, as these are all exotics.  The first animal was shedding it's skin, and when it completely shed, the skin looked like this:
Did you guess a snake?  If so, you're correct!  The first photo showed the scales of a cobra--yep, that's right, a cobra!  However, it doesn't have the usual pigments one might expect.  Technically it's not an albino, because it still has some yellow pigment, but the effect is extraordinarily beautiful:
Cobras are native to India and Pakistan.  Here's a photo of the cobra with its neck flared out:
It has the usual heat sensing pit about midway between its nostrils and its eyes, and in this photo I was lucky enough to catch its tongue flicking out--they use their tongues to "smell" the air.  They do this to find their prey which is usually rodents, and maybe lizards and frogs. Yes, it's venomous and the venom is highly toxic (containing neurotoxins and cardiotoxins)
The second photo showed off the brilliant green and orange scales of a Giant Day Gecko, native to Madagascar.  It lives in trees of rainforests and grasslands.  Here's a shot of the underside--look at the scales on its toes--it's sort of like velcro, and lets the gecko "stick" to things, even the slick surface of the glass aquarium it was in:
What was really cool was when it arrived here, it was getting ready to shed--so at first it looked sort of milky, and the skin began to split on top of its head:
Over the space of about 30 minutes or so, it rubbed up against some tree bark and the skin began to peel off.  When the skin peeled off the head, it sort of looked like a "hoodie":
As the skin peeled off, the lizard ate the shed skin (wow, talk about recycling!) and in this shot it's eating the shed skin off its toes:
The third photo was of a really big lizard--she's an Asian water monitor, native to Sri Lanka, India, Indochina, Malaysia and Indonesia.  This one is about two feet long from snout to rump, and with the tail she was about four feet total:
What magnificent scales!  I watched her walk around and noticed she has very long claws:
What a beautiful face!:
And a parting shot--she has a really long tongue, used to "smell" the air, much like snakes do.  She's carnivorous eating rodents, bird, bird egg, and even other reptiles:
Many thanks to Clyde Peeling's Reptiland in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, for their generous loan of these magnificent animals.  Also a tremendous thanks to Travis Land, Maggie McCartney, and Adrienne Pack and all their staff and volunteers for doing a truly wonderful job organizing this annual event.  More reptile--and amphibian!--photos to come.  Until then...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bird Beaks 1

Bird beaks come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Why?  If you think about what each bird eats and how it goes about getting its food, it starts to make a lot of sense:  bird beaks are basically "tools" that help a bird get and eat its food.  Can you guess who these beaks belong to?  The first is from a bird we have in our Outdoor Aviary, but we frequently see these as wild birds on the pond outside our Museum as well.  Notice the very sharp, curved tip:
This next one is from a bird of prey:
This long pointy beak is from a wild bird we often see on the Museum grounds, usually near water:
And last, this beak is very odd looking, but efficient at catching fish:
If that first sharp beak reminded you of a fish hook, well, that's because it is a fish hook!  It belongs to a cormorant.  In this photo, the cormorant is eating chopped fish in the Outdoor Aviary:
Cormorants have a brilliant blue color inside their mouth--and also notice its beautiful blue eyes:
I've watched our cormorants manipulate objects, like this stick, with surprising dexterity:
The second beak belongs to one of our eagles--when I took this backlit profile photo, I noticed that you can see how razor-sharp the ends of the beak are.  Perfect for eating fish!
Most pictures of eagles show the head in profile, but I thought you'd also like to see the front an eagle's face to see how hooked the beak is.  Also, see the nostrils at the top of the beak?
The third beak belongs to a wild great blue heron.  As far as I can count, there are at least three wild great blue herons that live on our Museum grounds.  I've watched them patiently stalk their prey (fish, frogs, etc.) at the water's edge:
We have a great blue heron on exhibit in our Outdoor Aviary.  We have him because of his cross-bill deformity--he would not be able to feed himself properly in the wild:
Here's a top view of the cross-bill deformity.  (Also notice the white patch of feathers on his head--that means he's an adult.  The wild great blue heron above is a juvenile--no white patch top of the head.):
 Last beak belongs to a pelican--the bottom of his beak is basically like an elastic sack:
Here you see the pelican getting ready to catch a fish--our curatorial staff sometimes does pelican feeding demonstrations, much to the delight of our visitors:
That's all for now.  I'll do another "bird beaks" blog in the future.  As usual, feel free to send comments if you wish.  More off the beaten path in two weeks!