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Habitat utilization in herpetofauna

Reptiles and amphibians come in the big and small, fast and slow, active and chill, terrestrial and aquatic, and arboreal and fossorial. Walking through Scaly Slimy Spectacular, visitors can see habitats that accommodate animals with these unique traits. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all habitat for such a diverse clade of animals like the reptiles and amphibians, many of which even require changing landscapes over the course of a year. However, modifying habitats with multiple features catering to the specific inhabitants allows our animals to thrive here at Zoo Atlanta. Here is an example:

The first step in promoting habitat utilization is increasing the surface area of the habitat itself. Let’s start with a simple glass space that will become the home for Francis, our Fiji iguana (who you may have recently noticed is in a new area!). Iguanas love to climb – but they cannot climb up glass like some frogs and geckos can. So, turning the glass walls into a rock-climber’s paradise using a concrete mix containing varying rocks and debris is perfect. Multiple ledges on the walls will enable Francis to find an appropriate area to rest and curl up under a plant if he so chooses. Adding tree branches from the ground up, and even hanging vines, adds more surface area as well.

Next, it’s time to ensure Francis feels comfortable and will display natural Fiji iguana behaviors. That means adding lots of plants so he feels right at home. These can be used as hiding spots if he is reclusive some days, but also add shades of greens that help Francis be better camouflaged. Obviously, we hope Francis isn’t too shy for Zoo guests, but providing a sense of true security should encourage curiosity and natural behavior.

The final step is adding gradients. Warmer and cooler areas from the top to bottom, left and right, and front to back. Substrates that can hold water for long periods of time and substrates that are meant to dry quickly. Areas with bright lights that will be used for basking, and also areas like shaded nooks that can be used for retreat on a hectic day. We want every square-inch of our habitats to be used for different purposes! That’s how our animals can best utilize their homes.

All of these are considerations the Animal Care Team at Zoo Atlanta makes to guarantee our animals thrive. Each factor requires a knowledge of the species’ natural history, the individual animal itself, and an understanding of how to best promote utilization. You can now see how our reptiles and amphibians choose to interact with their surroundings on your next visit! (Photo: Noah C.)

Noah C.
Keeper III, Herpetology

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