Thursday, October 13
Hello all from the Herpetology Department! My name is Hayley Bryan, and I am a seasonal herpetology keeper here at Zoo Atlanta. I started out as an intern last fall in the Herpetology Department, and I quickly fell in love with the “herps” I’ve come to know and love. Fast forward a year later and look at that, I’m a seasonal keeper now! I have found this job to be one of the most rewarding, satisfying, and downright fun things I have possibly ever done. Herpetology is a wonderful fit for me, considering it wears me out enough for me to be happy at the end of the day. For those who don’t know what herpetology is, it is the study of reptiles and amphibians. So that ranges from salamanders to crocs, turtles to lizards, and frogs to snakes, with turtles being what I spend most of my time with.
At this time of year, we’re steadily moving some of our more tropical turtles in before the cold really sets in. Some native species will be staying outside in what we call hibernacula. These are structures that we place in the ground to allow for the most natural hibernation. The hibernacula allow these turtles to remain outside so they can mimic their brethren out in the wild. These brumation cycles allow for our turtles to be ready to breed by the time spring rolls around. As for our exotic turtles, seeing as they are not accustomed to Georgia’s cold winters, we bring them into an indoor winter area which we set up every fall. Every turtle or group of tortoises gets its own special area, which we fill with mulch and leaves. The leaves break down and rot, which in turn creates hotspots in the mulch. These warm spots keep our turtles warm even during the coldest winters here. The hibernacula outside are also stuffed with leaf litter for this exact same purpose. This ensures that our animals stay warm enough throughout the entire winter while they patiently wait for spring.
Turtles aren’t the only things that will be hibernating. Behind the scenes, we have a special program dedicated to America’s longest native non-venomous snake, the eastern indigo snake. These guys are being prepped by feeding them lots of food before the cold settles in. Like turtles, they also go through a brumation period, but we aren’t breeding these beauties. You may think “well, what’s the point of hibernating them if you aren’t going to breed them?” Well, I’m glad you asked, concerned Zoo patron! Again, brumation leads to the animal acting more like it would in the wild. This is especially important for these eastern indigo snakes because although we aren’t breeding them, they will in fact be released into the wild one day. We are allowing instinct to take over to let these snakes learn how to survive out in the wild by themselves. This is also important as it helps prepare them for their eventual wild breeding cycles. With that being said, our indigos will be released in groups to ensure that things like this don’t happen. I’m hoping that someday I’ll be able to see hundreds of my snakes’ grandbabies out in the wilds of Georgia.
Well, I hope you guys had fun with me today and learned a little bit more about the mystery that is herpetology. Come see me sometime at Zoo Atlanta so we can talk about snakes and turtles and other such wonderful things! Until then, keep an eye out for some cool stuff out there! This is Hayley B. signing off, hope you have a fantastic day!
Seasonal Keeper, Herpetology