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Impossible to choose a favorite

“What is your favorite animal to work with?” As someone working in the zoological field, I get asked this question a lot…a……LOT. To be honest, for me, it is really almost as difficult as a parent saying who their favorite child is.

When it comes to my favorite animals in general, that would be fairly easy: plethodontid salamanders (also called the lungless salamanders). These amphibians are represented by a large number of species here in the southeastern U.S., with Georgia having around 50 species. Now, while I am simply fascinated by these animals, I don’t work with them very much in the zoo setting (although Zoo Atlanta does have a couple of species in our Georgia eXtremes habitats). I love going out to observe them in the wild. They have very interesting behaviors and life histories that are just so much fun to observe!
But, as I don’t work with many of these salamanders at the Zoo, the Herpetology Team and I work with a wide array of species (over 100!) With that much diversity and individual animals, it can be really tough to choose which is the favorite.

Some have certain unique traits or behaviors that draw us to them. For example, prehensile-tailed skinks (Corucia zebrata) for tight-knit family groups, in some cases even multi-generational groups. And Lake Titicaca water frogs (Telmatobius culeus) have unique “duck-like” faces and flaps of skin along their sides to aid with oxygen absorption. This species also provides some unique challenges in their daily care, as they require specific cool temperatures to keep them healthy. Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis), along with other monitor lizards (Varanidae), display learning abilities which provide the Herpetology Team with opportunities to do more than just care for their basic needs, but also to provide many kinds of complex enrichment, including training of behaviors that help to keep them active and engaged. These trained behaviors can also aid the Herpetology Team in their daily care.

Just like with any work of art, a person’s choice of their favorite animal or favorite animal to work with is completely subjective, and also likely to change over time or situation. But to be perfectly honest, we all enjoy working with ALL of the animals that we are lucky to have in our care!

If you’re visiting us in Scaly Slimy Spectacular, don’t hesitate to say hi and ask us about the animals we work with!

Robert L. Hill
Associate Curator of Herpetology

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl