Saturday, June 20, 2009

Camera Critters 63

Camera Critters

It's time for Part 2 of our Behind The Scenes Tour of the Reptile House at the Houston Zoo. I've had several emails asking why the reptile house. I've got several answers! First, it's hotter than Hades this time of year in Houston and the reptile house is indoors and air-conditioned. Second, I like reptiles and amphibians. 2008 was the year of the frog and my interest in these critters grew. It was a lot of fun for me to hold the Giant Waxy Monkey Tree frog.

Just a little about the Year of the Frog 2008:

The Global Amphibian Crisis Why do we need amphibians?

We need amphibians. Humans have discovered antibiotic and anti-tumor properties, analgesics, anti- inflammatory compounds, and natural adhesives from amphibians. We have used them to learn anatomy and for medical research and tests. Changes seen in amphibians have often been heralded as an indicator of changes in ecosystems because of their semi-permeable skin, which makes them particularly sensitive to changes in their terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Where are the amphibians?

The Problem
Frogs and toads are disappearing, along with salamanders, newts, and the unusual caecilians. Older than the dinosaurs, recent studies show that almost one-third of all known amphibian species (and there are over 6,000 of them!) are faced with the possibility of extinction, while 120 species are thought to have gone extinct in recent decades. No other class of organisms – birds, mammals, or plants – has faced such a high risk of widespread extinction.

The Culprits

- Habit loss

• Chemical pollutants -

• Invasive species -

• Disease - A mysterious fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (“Bd”), is the culprit behind both current and historic, dramatic and rapid amphibian population declines throughout the world, including “pristine” mountain areas.

I urge you to Google and learn more.

Meanwhile, back to our Behind The Scenes Tour!

Most of our tour really was behind the scenes, in areas the public doesn't see. We were surprised by the number of critters that are never placed on display. There were many critters that were confiscated at airports that now have permanent homes at the zoo and will never be on exhibition. There are snakes that have simply gotten too old to be out -- one has cataracts, another has a bad back, and other animals simply get too stressed to be placed on exhibition.

Cage after cage of venomous snakes.

Blue Poison Dart Frog

Dart Poison Frogs from the rain forests of the Americas come in a dizzying array of colors and patterns. Some are used by native tribes to poison the tips of blow-darts for hunting. Poison dart frogs, in general, are safe from predators because their bright, bold colors serve as a warning signal to birds and other animals that might eat them. The colors warn about potent toxins in the skin strong enough to kill almost any animal that eats it. Complex compounds in the skin secretions of dart frogs are now being studied by scientists for potential medical use. These hopping pharmacies have already provided a possible substitute for morphine which is non addictive and 100 times more potent.

Rhinoceros Iguana

Rhinoceros Iguanas, like all squamates, must warm themselves from external sources. Clever solar collectors, they shift position as the sun moves to fine-tune internal temperature.

Like all squamates, this Rhinoceros Iguana is covered in scales—small, hard, platelike thickenings of the skin. Scales protect bodies and help reduce water loss. Unlike fish scales, squamate scales are specialized folds of skin.


These big, heavy-bodied iguanas were once the largest animals on the Caribbean islands where they live. Their only enemies were—likely—birds of prey, such as hawks. Today, they are food for humans and their pets.


No one knows the function of the horns that give the Rhinoceros Iguana its common name. Bigger in males than females, they may be useful in combat among males and in displays such as head-bobbing.

A few of the 40 or so species in the family Iguanidae are medium-sized lizards, between 15 and 30 centimeters (six inches and one foot) long. But most species are large, and none is larger than the Rhinoceros Iguana. These animals have successfully crossed ocean barriers; several species live on remote islands.

Panther Chameleon

When Judith placed the Panther Chameleon in my hands she kept saying "he has claws. They may scratch you. I can't leave him out long. He gets stressed easily." Let's just say ... he stayed out longer than I think Judith imagined! We got along quite well. Unfortunately we didn't get a picture of Judith picking him up from me and putting him back in his cage -- he curled his tail around my fingers. Too cool!

Panther Chameleons are very finicky creatures, who require a precise environment which almost exactly mirrors that of a jungle, and are time consuming. They also require a lot of particular vitamin supplementation and have a demanding diet, consisting of mostly crickets. They also eat mealworms, super worms, wax worms, and butter worms, though the latter two are not recommended for sustained periods of time, as they are very fattening.

Panther Chameleons can live up to 10 years in captivity. Females, if bred often, usually only live 2-3 years after laying eggs (between 5 and 8 clutches) because of the stress put on their bodies.

Like most species of chameleons, the Panther Chameleon is very territorial. They spend the majority of their life in isolation, apart from mating sessions.

Parsons Chameleon

This Parsons Chameleon was one of the confiscated animals and will never be on exhibit.

The Parson's chameleon (Calumma parsonii) is a very large species of chameleon that is endemic to isolated pockets of humid primary forest in eastern and northern Madagascar. It is listed on CITES Appendix II, meaning that trade in this species is regulated. As with the majority of chameleon species from Madagascar, it is illegal to import Parson's chameleons from their native country.Despite their large size, these animals are very delicate in captivity. They may live to 20 years of age in the native land.

Parson's in Captivity
Because of their striking appearance, Parson's Chameleons were once imported to the United States of America in fairly large numbers. Sadly, because of their delicate nature, suceptability to stress, and lack of care on the part of the importers, nearly all of these animals died shortly after arrival in the USA.

Between January of 1988 and June of 1994, over 4000 C. parsonii were reported to have been imported to the USA. Most people agree that the actual number of animals entering the country was significantly higher. Not accounted for are animals smuggled on the black market or which were not accounted for in shipping documents.

Some people estimate that the total number of Parson's Chameleons imported for the pet trade in the USA could exceed 10,000 animals. Actual numbers are impossible to calculate, since records prior to 1988 are not available.

Of the estimated 10,000 animals imported, all but a few have died. A recent project by CIN to document all known captive Parson's turned up fewer than 200 imported animals. This suggests a deplorable survival rate for an animal whose life expectancy is estimated to be greater than 20 years.

Parson's are very stationary animals. Adults may go for long periods without moving except to eat, drink, mate or deficate. They also do not spend much time basking, like many other true chameleons. They will, however, sit in the sun for short periods and slightly flatten one side of their body toward the sun. These sunning sessions are rarely more than 10 - 15 minutes long and usually take place early in the morning as soon as sun is available.

Next week Part 3 and the real STAR of our visit!

Have a wonderful weekend.


2sweetnsaxy said...

Great post and wonderful photos. I've never been on a behind the scenes tour but would love it. I think that is where the real stories are. Those poison dart frogs do come in amazing colors. I've only seen a few but they always fascinate me.

Babooshka said...

The blue one is just amazing. How could anything so beautiful be so poisonous.

Cezar and Léia said...

wow great post and very informative!
purrs and love
Luna(from Brazil)

Sharon said...

I am working on my fear of snakes. I found your post to be really informative and I only clutched the desk to or three times...LOL. I enjoyed your post from a far, brave lady. Sharon :-)

Carletta said...

Lots of great info with fantastic shots!
I'm loving that little blue frog. :)
Stay cool if you can.

My post is here: Carletta’s Captures</a

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hey Dragon, I loved this post. It's so neat when people post pictures and then explain all about them. I love it!!!!

That Blue Dart Frog is SO pretty... Amazing how something as pretty as that can be poisonous.

The Chameleon looked like a toy... The colors are amazing.

Thanks again and have a great weekend.

Bruce said...

Very pretty chameleon! Lots of good information...thanks:)

Sharon said...

You must work at this zoo to get all these behind the scenes tours!
Thanks for sharing it all with us!

Anya said...

I love the bleu frog,
never seen before sooooooooooo BLEU

Anonymous said...

This is just fascinating to read. I once thought of owning a less rare chameleon, but after learning about its particular needs, I was dissuaded. It didn't seem right to me to keep such a beautiful creature captive, and I really feel terrible when I see these creatures in pet stores for sale, only to go home with someone to an almost certain death. I shall research this deadly amphibian fungus. One of my greatest pleasures as a child was catching and releasing frogs by the bucketful at our cottage. Sadly my granddaughters have never had this experience.

Anonymous said...

Liked your post - very enlightening and great photos. I too like amphibians. I worked at an aquarium years ago and got to take folks on behind the scenes tours - really cool. Glad you shared yours with us! And glad these creatures have a place to live out their lives.

Janice said...

Wow, fabulous photographs, thanks for sharing.

storyteller said...

Wonderful information with your photos today ... loved the behind the scenes tour ;--)
Hugs and blessings,

Sue said...

Interesting post. I love behind the scene tours. I went on one at Seaworld along time ago, and it was awesome.

The poison dart frog is so blue! cool. Thanks for sharing all this info.

Martha said...

Just love all these photos you've posted! I had a shot of one of the blue poison dart frogs for camera critters a few months back. They are all beautiful creatures!

Joy said...

Amazing photostory!

Kate said...

The dart frog is very striking!

jabblog said...

Really interesting post. I learnt a lot. I've never heard of a snake suffering from a bad back before - poor creature.

Sue said...

Terrific pics! Thank you for sharing them. I particularly like that wee blue frog, what different colour!

The Bodhi Chicklet said...

I love learning more about things that I never would think to pick up a book and find out about. Katherine Center is your neighbor?! I've just started the book, but that's amazing!

Kate T. said...

What a GREAT post! I think amphibians are so interesting - and that chameleon you were holding is a beauty.

Thanks for all the info...


Carole said...

Who would ever consider that a snake could get a bad back? It's just something you never think about.

That chameleon is fantastic, and that dart frog, though pretty.

What a great 'behind the scenes' look.

Grace and Bradley said...

Thank you for all the information of Parsons Chameleon. I hope we in America should learn that we need to let the nature be itself not trying to own and change every bit of our environment.

Pretty Things said...

I took Zack and a friend of his to the National Aquarium, and we saw a ton of different poisonous frogs. One type was as tiny as my thumbnail. Amazing!

Karen said...

Thankyou for this really fascinating post !!!

That blue frog is rather cute and I like the rest of the critters as well !

I didn't know that snakes could get bad backs.... I sympathise with them !!

Cecile/DreamCreateRepeat said...

What fun it was to see you added to my list of "followers." Welcome! I enjoyed your post -- I'm a big fan of frogs! You were certainly lucky to get such a great behind-the-scenes tour.

Can I ask how you found my blog?!

~3 Sides of Crazy~ said...

The blue poison dart frog is my favorite!

Julia said...

Hi, Thanks for yourcomment, re my sister's art...she is the artist in the family, not me...she has been creating for years and I have only just started....
Love the tales from the Zoo...yes, it would be awful if we kept losing them at the rate we are now!....
I would like to save the pic of the blue frog for a future collage?...Will you give me permission?..xx

Anonymous said...

The color of the blue poison dartfrog is just amazing. What great shots!

The Bodhi Chicklet said...

Wheeeeeee! You've been redesigning! Nice changes. Isn't coding fun?!

fishing guy said...

Snap: What great photos of the snakes and lizards. I like the blue frog.

Your EG Tour Guide said...

Interesting post. I had no idea that studying amphibians is leading to so much knowledge of compounds that can help humans. The panther chameleon is so colourful!