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Designing a new snake habitat

This is Claire from the Herpetology Team. If you’ve been up to Scaly Slimy Spectacular, then you’ve seen our cool habitats for our even cooler animals. The Herpetology (Reptiles and Amphibians) Department has over 50 different habitats in Scaly Slimy Spectacular, Georgia eXtremes, and scattered across the Zoo. A lot of work goes into designing and building these spaces for our animals to live in. Every aspect of habitat design must be considered, with the end goal of maintaining our animals’ well-being. How does the process work then, you might ask? Well, first things first. Research. Where do these animals live in the wild, how do they utilize their environments, and why do they choose the places they do? All the habitats must maximize the number of natural behaviors our animals can engage in and allow them to self-regulate as they would in the wild. This applies to a variety of conditions: light, temperature, humidity, and elevation. Having a good understanding of an animal’s natural history is essential.

Having an example would probably be helpful, so let’s go with what I’m up to right now. Currently I am building a new copperhead habitat in Georgia eXtremes. Step one for redoing any habitat is sanitization. We don’t want any possible diseases or contagions transferring between different species. Next, I want to think about the snakes’ habitat in the wild. This is a native Georgia species that can be found in forests, mountains, and along swamp borders. They are primarily terrestrial (ground dwelling) and use their scale color and pattern to blend into leaf litter on the forest floor. With this in mind, I want their habitat in Georgia eXtremes to have some nice ground areas with leaf litter, soil, mulch and sand. They are used to understory plants, so I want some grasses, branches and other cover to help the snakes feel right at home. They need to be able to reach different temperatures because they are ectothermic (their body temperature is determined by sources of heat outside their body), so I need to let them choose different distances between themselves and their heat lamps. I will put in a large branch with a spot for basking close to light and some rocks to curl up on. Moss and tree bark will assist the mulch and leaf litter with maintaining some humidity and a daily misting will keep things at just the right level.

Even with all the thought and time I put into exhibits, the real judge of how well I’ve done is the animal itself. If I see the animal engaging in natural behaviors and using the different spaces I have created, then I know that I’ve done a good job.

Claire T.
Keeper I, Herpetology

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