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Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Posted on: February 4th, 2014 by wgoodman

The loggerhead sea turtle is perhaps the most common of the sea turtles. It gets its name from the large head that is shaped like a log. This reddish-brown turtle averages 3 feet in length and weighs around 400 pounds. Loggerheads can also live more than 50 years. Sea turtles spend almost all their lives submerged but must breathe air for the oxygen needed to meet the demands of vigorous swimming activity. Their smooth shells and paddle-like flippers help move swiftly through the water at speeds up to 15 miles per hour.

Habitat

Loggerheads can be found worldwide in all but the coldest waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. They live in the open water or in coastal areas. Loggerheads are the only one that still regularly nests on the U. S. Atlantic Coast, on beaches from New Jersey to Texas. The highest populations in North America are found on barrier islands from North Carolina to the Florida Keys. This species does not generally come on land, though females will come ashore to lay eggs.

Diet

The loggerhead sea turtle’s powerful jaws are well suited to eating hard-shelled prey. They feed on crabs and other crustaceans, mollusks, jellyfish and sometimes fish and eelgrass.

Behavior

Male sea turtles almost never leave the ocean whereas females only leave to lay eggs. The U.S. nesting season occurs from April through September, with a peak in June and July. Nesting occurs primarily at night. Loggerheads are known to nest from one to seven times within a nesting season (mean is about 4.1 nests per season) at intervals of approximately 14 days.  Mean clutch size varies from about 100 to 126 along the southeastern U.S. coast. Incubation duration ranges from about 42 to 75 days, depending on incubation temperatures. Hatchlings generally emerge at night. Age at sexual maturity is believed to be about 32 to 35 years. 

Predators

Hatchlings and young Loggerheads are at a greater risk for predation. However, once the turtles reach adulthood, their size protects them from predation from most large marine animals. The greatest threat is loss of nesting habitat due to coastal development, predation of nests, and human disturbances like coastal lighting and housing developments that cause disorientations during the emergence of hatchlings. Other major threats include incidental capture in longline fishing, shrimp trawling and pollution. Incidental capture in fisheries is thought to have played a significant role in the recent population declines observed for the loggerhead. Although sea turtles cannot withdraw their heads into their shells, the adults are protected from predators by their shells, large size and thick scaly skin on their heads and necks Loggerhead Sea Turtle is currently listed as “Threatened” on The United States Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species List and now they are now listed as “Endangered” on the IUNC Red List of Threatened Species.

Diamondback Terrapin

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by wgoodman

The Diamondback Terrapin gets its name from the diamond-shaped growth rings on the back of its shell. The word “terrapin” comes from an Algonquin word for edible turtles that live in brackish water. You can count the age of a terrapin by counting the rings on its scutes. Each scute is unique just like fingerprints are to each human. In the early 1900s, Diamondbacks were a popular gourmet food. Their numbers declined due to unregulated harvesting and habitat loss through coastal development, which then put them on the endangered species list. Thankfully, they are on the rebound due to conservation projects. The Terrapins now have a safe territory here at the Aquarium!

Habitat

They live in brackish marshes, beaches and mud flats and are typically found along the Atlantic Coast of the eastern United States from Cape Cod to the Florida Keys and west along the Gulf Coast to Texas.

Diet

Diamondback Terrapin are omnivorous (eating both meat and plants) they consume fish, snails, worms, clams, crabs, and marsh plants.

Behavior

The terrapin will go into hibernation in riverbanks or at the bottom of creeks and rivers in the winter.

Females are significantly larger than males. After mating the female will come up onto the beach and dig a nest to lay a clutch of about 10 to 15 eggs. The eggs will hatch in 60-100 days and like most turtles the temperature decides the gender of the hatchlings. If it is warmer it will produce more females and if cooler it will produce males. If hatchlings do not emerge because of cold weather they will overwinter in the sand and hatch the following spring.

Predators

Diamondback terrapin are threatened due to habitat destruction,  road construction (commonly found as road kill) and drowning in crab traps.

Colombian Red Tail Boa

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by wgoodman

The boa constrictor belongs to the family Boidae, which includes seven genera of boas, four genera of sand boas, and eight genera of pythons. Though some of the 64 species in the family are less than 3.3 feet (1 m) in length, others are the largest snakes in the world; a green anaconda was recorded as being 37 feet (11.3 m) long!

Facts

They climb well, and those in forests may spend a lot of time in trees. Though boa constrictors can swim, most don’t spend significant time in water. During winter, in cooler parts of their range, they may become somewhat torpid, without being completely inactive.

Habitat

Red-tailed boa constrictors originate from tropical South and Central America, from Colombia to and Brazil all the way north through Mexico.

Diet

Their carnivorous diet consists mainly lizards, birds’ rodents, and depending on size may eat larger animals such as birds and monkeys. They do not eat every day and perhaps only once a week. During cooler winter months they may forgo eating entirely.  Boas, are constrictors, and consume their prey by suffocating it by coiling around it. Their teeth, then, do not deliver any poison when they bite, and are fused to their jaw, however, they are still sharp and dangerous. They shed their teeth and grow new ones throughout their lives.

Behavior

Red Tail Boas are ovo-viviparous, which means the female retains her eggs internally until they hatch, so she bears live young. Most clutches number 20-50 thin-membrane eggs; the record is 77, at the zoo in Quebec. The neonates are born after 100-150 days of development. Females can store sperm for quite some time before fertilization takes place, so the total apparent gestation can take 10 months. The female will usually eat little or nothing while she is retaining eggs (called gravid in reptiles).

Predators

Hatchlings fall prey to larger birds and reptiles. During adulthood, larger predatory animals like jaguars and crocodiles are predators.

Matamata Turtle

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by wgoodman

The Spanish meaning for matamata is “it kills, it kills”.  Matamata turtles are well adapted to a life in the water among the leaf and plant debris. Their bodies are rough and knobby. The head and neck are large and flat, and are covered with numerous protuberances, warts, skin fringes, and ridges.The purpose of the skin flaps on the head and neck is much debated. It is known that these flaps contain nerves that respond to stimuli, that is then sent back to the brain, which helps in detecting prey. The flaps or tufts also help camouflage the turtle from prey. They drift and sway with any current in the water or movement of the turtle, making the turtle appear as if it was covered with weeds or algae.

Habitat

Tropical rivers, including the Amazon, as well as other rivers in South America. They live on the bottom, in the shallow areas of muddy, slow-moving bodies of water such as rivers, swamps and marshes.

Diet

Matamatas feed primarily, upon live fish. In addition, they will eat amphibians, invertebrates (such as insects and crustaceans), small mammals, and birds. When they eat they open their mouth and expand their throat, they extend the head up and catch their prey. These movements, made at the same time, create a suction action that draws the prey to their long and expanded throat; the pray is swallowed and the water is expelled out.

Behavior

Prior to mating, the male will extend its head towards the female while opening and closing its mouth. After mating (normally from October to December), the female excavates a nest and deposits from one to two dozen eggs in it. She does not guard the nest. Unlike most reptiles (whose eggs are soft and leathery) the matamata eggs have brittle shells. They are almost round and are about 3.5 cm in diameter. The incubation time is approximately 200 days.

Predators

The matamata falls prey to large snakes, but mainly humans hunt these animals for the pet industry.

Green and Teal Iguana

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by wgoodman

In Central America, where iguana meat is frequently consumed, iguanas are referred to as “bamboo chicken” or “chicken of the trees.” They generally live near water and are excellent swimmers. If threatened, they will leap from a branch, often from great heights, and escape with a splash to the water below. They are also tough enough to land on solid ground from as high as 40 feet and survive. The two prominent nostrils on the iguana’s head are used to expel a saline solution to regulate its body’s salt level.

Habitat

Found mostly in the southern United States (as an invasive species), Mexico, Central America, and South America.

Diet

Adults are herbivorous, eating fruits, leaves, flowers, young shoots and grasses; juveniles may also eat insects, snails, and other invertebrates.

Behavior

Green iguanas typically breed in the dry season. After a gestation of about 3 months, females lay 20-70 eggs in a burrow in the sand. Nests are up to a meter deep and may be shared with other females when nesting space is limited. Females return to the nest several times but do not guard their eggs. After a 3-4 month incubation at an ideal temperature of 88°F, the young all emerge at the same time, opening their eggs with special teeth called caruncles.

Predators

Predators of the iguana include hawks, eagles, large snakes, large mammals (including coatis, jaguars, ocelots and margays), lizards, and humans. Their eggs may also be eaten by many animals, including crocodiles and caimans. The iguana uses a number of clever tricks to escape its enemies. One tactic is to dive underwater, where it can hold its breath for up to 30 minutes. Another way it avoids predators is by staying perfectly still among the leaves, so that its green body blends in with its background. If attacked by a predator, an iguana can inflate the flap of skin (dewlap) under its chin and bob its head up and down to make itself look larger and more threatening. It can also lash out at an attacker with its tail, which doubles as a whip. If necessary, the tail can even come off (the iguana can grow a new one).

Red & Yellow Footed Tortoise

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by wgoodman

These Tortoises look quite similar to one another. The only difference is just the color of the scales on the forelegs and their heads.

Habitat

Found in South American countries live in dry forest areas, grasslands and the savanna. They also live in areas of rain forest that are close to open habitats. Red-footed tortoises share some of their range with yellow-footed tortoises; their ranges overlap in where they both inhabit forests and grasslands.

Diet

Red and yellow-footed tortoises are primarily herbivorous but also eat small amounts of animal matter. They also eat fungi, live and dead plants or fruits, flowers, soil, sand, and slow moving animals such as snails, worms and insects that they can capture.

Behavior

Breeding occurs with the beginning of the rainy season. Males identify each other through a characteristic head movement that is a series of jerks away from and back to a middle position. If another tortoise is a male, he will make the same head movements. Males will battle each other, attempting to turn over one another.

However, there is not set territory to defend, they battle merely for the opportunity to mate with females. If the soliciting male receives a response of no head movement, this indicates that the other tortoise is a female. Scientific experiments and observation have shown that for mating to continue, both male and female must have “correct” coloration on the respective mate’s head. Then, the male sniffs the cloacal region of the female. Copulation usually follows the sniffing, but the male repeatedly circles the female and bites the legs of the female before mating.

The female excavates a nest in leaf litter and lays a clutch of five to 15 eggs from July to September. During the nesting season, she might lay several clutches. She does not incubate the eggs, so they must be well-disguised to avoid predators. The eggs have brittle shells and incubation lasts an average of 150 days, but can take as little as 105 days or as much as 202 days to hatch. As is the case with many reptiles, the eggs of red-footed tortoises are temperature sex dependent.

Incubation periods with temperatures above 88° Fahrenheit result in the hatching of females. Incubation periods with temperatures below 82° Fahrenheit result in the hatching of males. At incubation temperatures between these ranges, mixed sexes will hatch. Excessively high temperatures can cause lower hatch rates and deformed hatchlings.

Predators

Predators of the red and yellow footed tortoises include foxes, wild dogs, lizards, rats and skunks.

Caiman Lizard

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by wgoodman

The genus Dracaena is a Romanized form of the Ancient Greek δράκαινα – drakaina, which means “female dragon.”  The name “caiman” comes from their appearance, which resembles the caiman crocodile of South America. As the caiman lizard spends most of its time either in or around the water, the body of the caiman lizard has adapted in ways which help it to live an aquatic lifestyle more successfully. The best example of this is the long, flattened tail of the caiman lizard which helps to steer it while swimming.

Habitat

The caiman lizard can be found inhabiting the rainforest and swampland areas of South America in the countries of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru and Guyana. Caiman lizards are most commonly spotted in areas which are flooded as they are very aquatic creatures.

Diet

The caiman lizard’s tongue is forked, and is used to enhance its ability to smell and locate prey. Caiman lizards are large carnivorous predators that only hunt other animals in order to gain their nutrients. Snails are the primary source of food for the caiman lizard along with other invertebrates such as insects and crabs, and occasional larger animals such as fish, rodents and amphibians.

Behavior

Although little is known about the reproduction of the caiman lizard, they are thought to behave in a similar way to other large lizard species. After mating, female caiman lizards will lay their eggs into a hole in the riverbank which they cover up to protect them from hungry predators. When the baby caiman lizards hatch, they are completely independent as there is no prenatal care from the caiman lizard parents.

Predators

Due to its relatively large size and part water, part tree-dwelling lifestyle, caiman lizards have limited predators within their natural environment. Large predatory mammals including jaguars are known to hunt the caiman lizard along with other large reptiles including snakes and crocodiles.

©Photo by: Andy Maddox of Pet-A-Plenty

Amazon Tree Boa

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by wgoodman

Amazon Tree Boas average about five feet in length. They are very slender, enabling distribution of their weight throughout the body which makes residing in and traveling through trees much easier. They vary in color and are usually shades of yellow. These snakes are also known to be very aggressive.

Habitat

South America found in the Amazon Basin this boa spends the vast majority of its time living in the mid level canopy of the rain forest.

Diet

Snakes that hunt using constriction as a means of subduing prey will very quickly grab their prey with their teeth using a very fast strike. The constrictor will quickly wrap coils of their bodies around the prey and squeeze or constrict the prey item. They squeeze tightly so that the prey animal can’t breathe and it suffocates, this process usually requires about 3-4 minutes for the prey animal to be killed. Contrary to popular belief, a snake does not “unhinge” its jaws; the jaws in fact are not actually attached in a mechanical way. Long tendons and muscles connect the upper and lower jaws. The lower jaw is actually made up of two separate bones to further enhance the animal’s ability to manipulate large prey items. Once the snake has the animal past its jaws a series rhythmic muscular contractions then pull the prey down the snake’s throat and into its stomach. They mainly feed on small mammals & birds, occasional lizard.

Behavior

Live babies are born each year to the female boa.  An average size litter is 5-8 young.  The babies are aggressive feeders.

 Predators

Tree Boas are arboreal and they have unique adaptations in their scale color that makes them less susceptible to predators. Their color, a mixture of brown, white, ochre, and sometimes gray, camouflages them when they are in trees. The predators include the harpy eagle, humans, saddleback tamarin.

African Bullfrog

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by wgoodman

The African bullfrog is aggressive; it may inflate its body and attack an intruder with its huge mouth. Local people consider the meat to be a delicacy. During the dry season, which in some parts of the bullfrog’s range could last for more than a year, African bullfrogs stay underground in chambers that they excavate using horny tubercles on their hind feet.  While underground, they stay relatively cool and damp but cannot feed. They adapt to this circumstance by entering a dormant state known as estivation that is triggered by excessive heat or drought.

Habitat

The African bullfrog is found near waterways, rivers, streams, and other wet spots in open country or the arid and semiarid areas throughout Central, Eastern, and South Africa.

Diet

African bullfrogs are ambush predators. They sit partially buried with snouts exposed, waiting for some unsuspecting animal to wander by. African bullfrogs will eat anything that they can fit into their very wide mouths! This includes invertebrates, fish, other amphibians, reptiles, rodents, and small birds. When prey comes within range, an African bullfrog will drop its lower jaw forcefully, unfurl its tongue, and snatch its meal. It makes use of “odontodes” – sharp, tooth-like projections in the lower jaw, which helps to keep prey in its mouth.

Behavior

Frogs breed when they emerge from hibernation with the return of rains. The female lays between 3,000 and 4,000 eggs in shallow water. Tadpoles emerge the second day after eggs are laid.

Predators

Turtles and monitor lizards prey on bullfrog tadpoles. Birds are the most likely predators of adult African bullfrogs. People also hunt and eat African bullfrogs.

Red Eared Slider

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by wgoodman

The red-eared slider is named for the bright red patches on the sides of its head and the way it slides into the water when alarmed. As a sociable species, the red-eared slider often climbs atop one another while basking in the sun on a log or rock emerging from the water.

Habitat

They prefer to live in quiet, slow-moving waters with muddy bottoms and plenty of aquatic plants. These turtles are found in both fresh water and brackish waters. Even though, they are aquatic creatures, these turtles are commonly found on logs and rocks, basking in the sun. Red-eared slider turtles are sometimes found stacked upon one another, while basking. Reptiles do not hibernate but actually brumate, becoming less active but occasionally rising for food or water. Red-eared sliders brumate over the winter at the bottom of ponds or shallow lakes and they become inactive, generally, in October, when temperatures fall below 50 °F.

Diet

Red-eared sliders feed on both plants and animals. While the juveniles prefer small creatures, their older counterparts tend to eat more plants. Other than aquatic plants, their diet includes fish, crayfish, carrion, tadpoles, snails, crickets, wax worms and aquatic insects.

Behavior

The breeding season lasts from late spring to early summer. Courtship and mating activities for red-eared sliders usually occur between March and July, and take place underwater. Turtles are amniotes which requires females to nest on land. Females prefer soft, sandy soil with good exposure to the sun for their nest site. The females will lay 2 to 30 oval, soft shelled eggs. The eggs are fertilized as they are being laid and buried in the sand. The sex of the Red-eared Slider is determined by the temperature during development.

Predators

Raccoons, otters, mink, foxes, and other medium-sized animals will prey on turtles and their eggs.

Eastern Musk Turtle

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by wgoodman

Another common name for it is the Stinkpot. When disturbed, musk turtles can release a foul odor.

Habitat

Found in most permanent bodies of water with slow current and soft bottoms, including ponds, lakes, swamps, streams and rivers. It is not found in brackish waters. Often climbs slanting trees on swamp and marsh edges, where they occasionally fall onto boaters.

Diet

They are carnivorous, consuming a wide variety of aquatic invertebrates including crayfish, freshwater clams, snails, aquatic larvae, tadpoles and various insects.

Behavior

Breeding occurs in the spring, and females lay two to 9 elliptical, hard-shelled eggs in a shallow burrow or under shoreline debris. An unusual behavior is the tendency to share nesting sites. The eggs hatch in late summer or early fall.

Predators

Musk turtle nests are often victim to raccoons and other predators. Some fishermen kill musk turtles that are hooked when they try to eat bait. As with all turtles, cars are a major killer. Their defense mechanism is to excrete a musk scent from a small gland in their underside, hence the name musk turtle. This is used to scare away predators.

Black Racer

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by wgoodman

One of the key facts about black racers to remember is that they are fast moving, hence their name, and will use their speed to escape from most threatening situations. If cornered, however, they can put up a strong fight and will bite hard and repeatedly. If they feel threatened, they are also known to vibrate their tails in leaves and grass in order to mimic the sound of a rattle snake. As well being very fast moving on land, black racers are also very good swimmers and tree climbers.

Habitat

Found in forest areas, brushes, thickets, fields, anywhere that is heavily grassed.

Diet

When on the hunt for food an individual typically holds its head up, above the ground, and moves rapidly through undergrowth. Black racers hunt by sight and eat a wide variety of prey including insects, lizards, snakes, birds, rodents and amphibians. To eat its prey, the snake will suffocate and crush its victim into the ground (compared to most constrictors which coil around their prey). When hunting, a Black Racer will attack quickly, usually attacking in grassy areas – or in water. In general, it chooses its location carefully.

Behavior

Mating takes place in the spring, from April until early June. Around a month later the female will lay anywhere from 3 to 30 eggs and will hatch in the early fall. Baby black racers look much different than adults. They come born with numerous spots, both black and white. These spots merge together, as well as darken, as the snake grows older.

Predators

A large majority of these snakes are killed by vehicles; furthermore, many of this species are killed on purpose out of fear. Its appearance is very similar to a Water Moccasin, a poisonous snake that is found in similar locations as a Black Racer. Other threats to the Black Racer include the hawk, as well as other larger birds.

Inland Bearded Dragon

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by wgoodman

The inland bearded dragon gets its name from the spikes located under its chin which resembles a beard. The bearded dragons look much fiercer than they are.  The “spines” on the sides of their heads and bodies might look intimidating, but they are actually soft. When bearded dragons are excited or alarmed, they expand their throats to look much bigger. They have acute vision, with full color, but poor depth perception. It also has a photosensitive organ, or third “eye,” on the top of its head, which can sense light and shadows. It has ears — holes on the side of its head — that provide excellent hearing. On the roof of its mouth, it has a Jacobsen’s Organ, which provides for keen smell and taste. Lying against the ground, it has a sense of touch that can feel vibrations transmitted through the soil.

Habitat

Bearded dragons are lizards that are native to Australia. They live in the arid, rocky, semi-desert regions and open woodlands. They are adept climbers, spending time on branches and in bushes, even found on fence posts when living near human habitation.

Diet

These lizards are omnivores (eating both meat and plants), voracious eaters of invertebrates and small vertebrates alike. They also forage for soft plant matter, including greens, fruits, and flowers. Like most desert dwellers, they spend the hottest part of the day in underground burrows and are well adapted to the cool desert nights. Bearded dragons live in harsh environments and are well adapted to eat whatever food is available. During harsh seasons, they survive on nutrients and fat reserves stored in their large abdomens. If required, they will dig into the ground and remain dormant for long periods of time until unfavorable conditions, such as unusually hot or cold weather, improve.

Behavior

Bearded dragons reach sexual maturity at 1 to 2 years of age. During courtship, a male will indicate his interest by rapidly bobbing his head. If the female is receptive to the male’s overture, she will begin to bob her head, but at a slower rate. During copulation, a male’s throat area “beard” will visibly darken to nearly black, while a female’s throat darkens to a lesser extent. Females normally lay clutches of 15-25 eggs in shallow nests dug into sandy soil. Hatchlings weigh about .07 ounces at birth and average 4 inches in length. Young usually grow rapidly and gain adult size within a year.

Predators

Predators include large goannas (sand monitor lizards), dingoes, and birds of prey.