A World of Discovery - Great Lakes Zoological Society Conservation Center and Rescue - A Great Family Destination!

What's New at the Zoo

Scaly Tails- Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper the Fire Belly Toad came to us by a women who was given him as a gift for her son in August. After researching the care needed for this animal, she decided that everyone would be better off if she could surrender him to us. Reptiles and amphibians need a lot of care, and sometimes- after all is said and done- it can be quite expensive to collect all of the correct equipment needed for a healthy habitat.
Dennis Hopper was originally "Hopper", but we then decided to name him "Dennis Hopper", as it seemed to fit his personality all the better.

He lacks an eye-patch, however. And this is a good thing. Here is Dennis Hopper with Bethany: 

These beautiful amphibians are found in the highlands and rice patties of China, Korea, and Southern Russia. "Fire-bellied" is derived from the brightly colored red- or yellow-and-black patterns on the toads' ventral regions, which act as aposematic coloration, a warning to predators of the toads' reputedly foul taste. Here is a closer look:

The other parts of the toads' skins are green or dark brown. When confronted with a potential predator, these toads commonly engage in an Unkenreflex, "Unken-" being the combining form of "Unke", German for fire-bellied toad. In the Unkenreflex, the toad arches its back, raising its front and back legs to display the aposematic coloration of its ventral side.
Come check out Dennis Hopper's ukenreflex sometime!

Scaly Tails - Tang!

Uromastyx is a genus of African and Asian agamid lizard whose members are better-known as spiny-tailed lizards, uromastyces, mastigures, or dabb lizards. Uromastyx are primarily herbivorous, but occasionally eat insects, especially when young. They spend most of their waking hours basking in the sun, hiding in underground chambers at daytime or when danger appears. They tend to establish themselves in hilly, rocky areas with good shelter and accessible vegetation.

Tang is one of three Uromastyx here at the zoo! He has a lot of personality.

Scaly Tails - Athena!

Meet Athena, our new eight foot Red Tail Boa!

Athena was surrendered to us by a couple in Flint that could no longer afford to care for her. Bethany, Brittany and Amber took a trip one morning last week to retrieve her. She's incredibly sweet and very comfortable in her new home here at GLZS. Welcome, Athena!

Scaly Tales - Sirabi!

Meet out newest resident, Sirabi, the Sudan plated lizard! This little lady came to us all the way from Chicago. She was being treated for a leg injury when her previous owners decided they could no longer care for her. She's with us right now on display.

Like many plated lizards, she has a very docile personality. We're still learning her quirks and habits, though, and we're very excited to have her as part of our permanent exhibit.

Plated lizards are native to the region around the Sudan in eastern and southeastern Africa. They are called Sudan plated lizards because they have keels all over their body. This species tends to only be 18 to 24 inches in length. Sudan plated lizards prefer to live in burrows which they dig themselves.
They are primarily insectivores, but will also eat vegetable matter and some fruits.

These lizards are notoriously docile and prefer to run and hide rather than confront a threat. They will tail whip, though. Like some other species of lizard they can drop their tail can be dropped and it can regenerate.

Scaly Tales! - Maize and Steve Z.

Meet our two corn snakes, Maize and Steve Z. Like a few of our other snakes, they exhibit color morphs, meaning they have been specially bred to show different coloring.

Maize is considered amelanistic, meaning the gene that is responsible for showing black has been turned off.

Amelanistic and albino can be used fairly interchangeably. Amelanism describes one form albinism; albinism simply means the animal is lacking pigment. Steve Z. is both amelanistic and anerythristic, which means the orange gene has been turned off as well as the black, leaving only white and yellow behind.

Maize is a rescue and came to us after he was found in someone's backyard last year. Corn snakes are not native to Michigan, and his amelanism leads us to believe he was an escaped (or released) pet. Steve was surrendered to us by someone who didn't feel like he could give Steve the attention a pet deserved.

Corn snakes in the wild typically have brownish-red skin with orange "saddles" that are outlined in black. Corn snakes are a species of rat snake native to North America, and can be found in central and southeastern United States. The corn snake's name comes from farmers finding it in corn cribs where they would hunt various rodents.

Scaly Tales - Rocky and Apollo!

10/1/14 UPDATE:

Apollo has been re-homed! Rocky and Apollo, although brothers, reached a time in their mature lives that it was no longer safe for them to live together. They and developed an unhealthy attitude toward each other, and so we decided it was time for them to live separate lives.

Apollo now lives in another sanctuary and even has himself a lady friend! Rocky is a lot happier now that Apollo isn't on his back anymore (or that HE isn't on his back anymore, pun intended) and enjoys his daily walks in the zoo.


Our two largest tortoises are Rocky and Apollo, the sulcata or spur-thigh tortoises. These brothers were in two previous homes before coming to us. They are about 24 years old and weigh just over 100 pounds.

When they are born, sulcatas can fit in the palm of your hand, but they can live up to 100 years and weigh over 200 pounds! Due to the difficulty many people find in caring for and re-homing them, the American Tortoise Association has requested that these animals no longer be bred or sold in pet stores or reptile shows.

They are native to the Sahara and the Sahel in Africa and in the wild they will dig large underground holes to escape the heat. Their burrows can be 30 inches deep and some tunnel systems have been recorded extending 10 feet underground. This tendency to dig sometimes translates to a desire to make holes in the walls, which Rocky and Apollo did when we first moved them into their enclosure. See the extra wood panel in the corner? We had to patch that up after they tried to burrow into the wall.

Sulcatas are also known as spur-thigh tortoises as a result of the distinguishing spur on their back legs. These spurs are used for defense, though once they reach their adult size they tend not to have many natural predators and the spur will be used in sparring between tortoises.

When these two aren't sparring they're usually snacking on hay and checking out our visitors. We hope you can stop in and pay them a visit soon!

Scaly Tales - Leia!

Meet our latest addition - a little purple White's tree frog named Leia. She was surrendered to us when her previous owners were no longer able to care for her. She's a little shy and is still adjusting to being out on display, but if you look close under her logs or behind the leaves you may find her!

Leia and other White's tree frogs have several features that set them apart from other tree frogs. They have horizontal pupils, as opposed to the vertical ones many other tree frogs have, and their coloring can range from light blue to green to a grayish purple - like Leia. They have a ridge of fat above their eyes, making her and other White's tree frogs look like they're a little on the heavy side. They are nicknamed the dumpy tree frog for this reason, but they are also known as a the smiling tree frog.

They are native to Australia, the Torres Straits, and New Guinea. They are accustomed to both wet and dry weather. In dry weather, they will make a cocoon for themselves out of sloughed epidermis and mucus, or take refuge in a tree hollow. They have a tendency to live in trees and get their moisture from rainwater that collects in leaves and the crevices in tree trunks.

Stop in sometime and visit our latest addition!

Scaly Tales - Bufus and Vlad!

We have two large frogs at the zoo. Bufus, our cane toad

and Vlad, our African bullfrog, or pyxie frog:

Cane toads, like Bufus, are considered true toads in that they are toothless and warty, and excrete an alkaloid poison when stressed. The tadpoles are also poisonous, making these toads poisonous throughout their entire lifecycle. They are native to Central and South America, though they were introduced into Australia to fight the cane beetle, from which their name is derived. They have since become considered an invasive species and a pest. They are very large as well, generally measuring four to six inches as adults. Their diet can include reptiles, birds, and small mammals.

Vlad was surrendered to us about a year ago after his owner was no longer able to care for him. Vlad gets his name from his six big teeth in the front of his mouth, and African bullfrogs eat a variety of proteins ranging from insects to mice! Here at the zoo, though, Vlad typically gets worms in addition to crickets. The African bullfrog is also referred to as the pyxie frog. It's nickname is derived from its scientific name, Pyxicephalus adspersus, meaning 'round head.' Pyxie frogs are considered true frogs because they have smooth and moist skin and powerful back legs.

Stop in sometime to wish these guys a happy National Frog Month! 

Scaly Tales - Poison Dart Frogs!

In honor of National Frog Month, we're going to feature a series on our resident frog species! This entry will focus on our dart frogs! We have two species at the zoo: Anthony's poison arrow frogs

and dyeing dart frogs

Poison dart frogs as a whole are spread throughout South and Central America. Amazonian tribes would wipe their darts on the frogs to use their poison when hunting, giving them their name. It is believed dart frogs become poisonous due to their diet in the wild as they are not poisonous in captivity. Only three species are dangerous to humans with the most deadly being the golden poison arrow frog. These are found in Colombia along the western slopes of the Andes, and their only natural predator is the fire-bellied snake.

Scientists are looking into utilizing dart frog poison for medicinal uses, and they have developed a synthetic version of the compound that could be used as a painkiller.

The dyeing dart frog's name is, as you could likely see from the spelling, not derived from its poison, but its color. Legend says that tribes in the Amazon would rub dyeing dart frogs on young parrots and use them to color the birds' feathers.

Dart frogs tend to eat small prey items compared to their size. Here at the zoo, we only feed them fruit flies. When they are excited - like when they're hunting fruit flies - their toes twitch. We're not sure why, but it's very amusing.

Dart frogs are also fantastic dads! The female will lay her eggs on a leaf, where the male guards them until they hatch. Then, he scoops the tadpoles onto his back and carries them to a small pool of water where they can grow. They live about 10 to 13 years in captivity.

Scaly Tales - Dave and Heather!

Heather and Dave are the two noise makers who greet you when you first enter the zoo. They are responsible for the beeps, chirps, and whistles you hear as you walk through the exhibits. They mimic the phone then answer "hello," they beep like the keys on the cash register while you're in the gift shop and confuse the employees who aren't quite sure if there's already someone helping you, and they repeat the sound of your camera shutter after you take a picture. When they're all alone and think no one is paying attention to them, Heather practices some of the many words she has learned over the years and Dave hones his cricket impression.

Dave arrived as a surrender after already having been through two owners. We decided to keep an ear out for another African grey to give him a friend, and eventually a friend of the zoo gave us Heather. Greys, like many other parrots, are social birds and tend to bond to a life partner. Without a permanent bird buddy, we would risk Dave bonding to a staff member. If the staff member left for any reason, the separation could be very traumatic for Dave.

African grey parrots are common pets, and live to be about 50 years or older. They are extremely intelligent, and it's important to keep them thinking. You'll often see toys hung up in their enclosure to give them something to play with and destroy. We love to get our visitors in on it by offering craft activities that allow people to build enrichment items with treats hidden in them for our African greys and macaws on special occasions. The most famous example of African grey intelligence is Alex the parrot. Dr. Irene Pepperberg studied Alex's capability to learn language through a variety of tests. Alex had learned over 100 words, showed an understanding of the concept of zero, and had just started being tested on optical illusions and his comprehension of written English sounds when he died suddenly at 31 in 2007.  

African grey parrots' conservation status has been elevated from Least Concern to Vulnerable because of trapping for the pet trade. It is believed an estimated 20 percent of the African grey population is caught from the wild and sold in the pet trade. There is no sure way of telling whether your parrot is captive bred or wild caught, though a solid metal band around their legs can help indicate the bird was captive born. This band is slipped onto the parrot's leg when it's only a few days old, during a time when the bird is already rapidly growing. A few days later the bird has grown enough that the band can't come off. You can see Heather's band around her leg, but Dave's band fell off when he was younger. They are both captive born birds.

Stop in sometime to say hi to Heather and Dave - they might say hi back!

Scaly Tales - Akili!

Akili is another one of our residents who had been owned by a college student before coming to us.  When he arrived 4 years ago he was about 30 inches long, and now he's about five feet from nose to tail and 30 to 35 pounds.

Akili is another staff favorite.  They love him for his lazy, goofy, and sometimes clumsy personality.  He's well known for finishing his meal and then falling asleep, mouth open and drooling, right over his food bowls.  

He eats a protein-heavy diet of eggs, superworms, cockroaches and the occasional quail.  Monitors in captivity are often fed mice, which actually is not good for them and can lead to heart disease if they are fed mice too often.

Black throat monitors are native to Tanzania where they live in dry habitats, and they are the second longest and the heaviest species of monitor in Africa. They are terrestrial animals that will climb trees to escape predators, the heat, and to snooze, as Akili often does. They are a subspecies of rock monitor, meaning they tend to be a shorter and stockier type of monitor. Rock monitors, as well as most monitors in general, are noted for holding their ground in a confrontation and often will not try to hide when humans approach them. They will puff up and hiss when they feel threatened, and use their long tails as whips in addition to their sharp claws and teeth to defend themselves.

Monitors may actually be quite intelligent.  Dr. John Phillips of the San Diego Zoo found that they could potentially count to six.  Maybe behind that drooling, sleepy exterior is the mind of a monitor brainiac.

Come match wits with Akili sometime! If he's awake...

Scaly Tales - Spot!

Spot is another rescue story.  A local college student owned Spot, and moved away during the semester without taking Spot with him, leaving him in less than ideal conditions.  When we got him about a year ago the end of his tail had been damaged as a result of poor circulation, which was likely caused by inadequate heat.  He was also a little underweight.  However, as you can see, he's very happy in his new home.

Spot has blossomed quite a bit in his time with us.  Behind the scenes he used to be very shy, and we had to keep his cage covered up to avoid stressing him.  Once we put him on display though, he opened up and made himself quite comfortable.  We have enough foliage in his enclosure to let him feel as though he has plenty of spaces to hide, and he blends in quite well.  Staff routinely need a few minutes to find him when it's time to feed him, then he'll happily snap cockroaches out of their hands.

Veiled chameleons like Spot are common pets, though by no means are they considered a beginner pet for reptile enthusiasts.  They require specialized care, as well as a large enclosure they can have to themselves.  They are a more aggressive and territorial species of chameleon. They are native to the mountains of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.  They are omnivores, and Spot is fed a regular diet of cockroaches, crickets, and salad.  They are also ambush predators, like many other animals we have, and they will hold perfectly still for extended periods of time while they wait for a prey item to wander into view.

Veiled chameleons are well known for having several special features as well.  Their eyes can operate independently of each other; like Spot keeping one eye on the camera and one eye on the camerawoman.  They have a famed sticky tongue that actually isn't sticky, it has a muscular structure on the end that enables it to wrap around and grip the prey item.  Their "veil" is also called a casque and both males and females have one.

Scaly Tales - Sherman!

Sherman the savannah monitor came to us as a surrender about two years ago.  GLZS staff love him for his quirks and calm demeanor.  He is about 10 years old, and he is, unfortunately, a fraction of the size he should be.

Sherman didn't receive the best care, and is one of several residents we have here that highlight how the difficulties that can come with caring for a reptile pet can lead to health problems in the reptile - namely, poor nutrition and insufficient heat and humidity.  He had trouble shedding completely due to poor nutrition and low humidity, and he is missing the ends of some of his toes as a result.  He is partially blind as well.  His vision has improved since he came into our care, and because of this we speculate it may also be related to nutrition.  He loves eating - and who doesn't? - but due to his poor vision he occasionally needs to be tong-fed speedy cockroaches.

Sherman is living the good life at the zoo now.  He's known for getting into strange and amusing positions while sleeping, sprawled out under his heat lamp, after a big meal.

Savannah monitors tend to be between two and five feet long.  They are native to Africa, and often eat molluscs and arthropods in the wild.  They may also give clues to how dinosaurs breathed.  They can extract oxygen from the air when they're both inhaling and exhaling, a trait that was assumed only to belong to birds.  It was thought that this method of breathing was developed in birds as a result of the high-oxygen demand of flight, and a marker of the evolution of warm-bloodedness as dinosaurs evolved into birds.  In 2010, it was discovered alligators used unidirectional breathing, and later savannah monitors were found to use unidirectional breathing as well! Read more at National Geographic.

Sherman is up for adoption and needs an experienced owner that can provide the quality of care a monitor lizard in captivity requires.  Sherman needs a large enclosure with deep bedding that will allow him to dig.  He would most likely need a custom built enclosure, as a typical glass enclosure one would find in a pet store would be too small.  He eats a varied protein diet that includes crickets, eggs, superworms, snails, and cockroaches.

Stop in sometime and say hi to Sherman!

Scaly Tales - Winston!

Winston is a staff favorite here at GLZS.  He is a black and white Argentine tegu, which are the largest of the tegus.  Many of you may remember that Winston arrived over a year ago after being left on our doorstep in a cardboard box one morning.  He spent a long time in the biggest enclosure we had available - a 110 gallon tank, which was too small for him - he barely had room to turn around! Another enclosure opened up though, and now Winston has a much larger space to explore!  He spends his days digging and napping in his log or under his lights.

Argentine tegus are known for being a more dog-like species of lizard in that they are friendly, inquisitive, and tolerant of being handled. Winston has charmed the staff here at the zoo with his big jowls and docile personality, as evidenced by the love notes on the door to his enclosure.

We are currently testing his disposition to see if he would make a good educational animal in the future to be used in our birthday party or field trip presentations.  He has already made a few appearances and has been very well-behaved, so he may soon join our regular roster of educational animals!

Argentine tegus tend to live 15 to 20 years in captivity.  They are omnivores and will typically consume insect proteins (as opposed to mice and other rodents) as well as fruits and vegetables.  Black and white tegus live throughout Argentina and have adapted well to a temperate climate.  They will often hibernate in groups during the winter. They are adept swimmers and have even been found far out at sea by fishing boats.

He would wave good bye, but those lights are... so... warm.... zzzzzzzzz...

Scaly Tales - Lawan!

One of our most popular exhibits by far is Lawan (pronounced LA-wan), our reticulated python.

Lawan has been a resident of the zoo since it opened in 2011.  The man who donated her to us designed enclosures for large snakes for a living, and was well-versed in the care required for an animal like Lawan.  He was kind enough to donate her so we could use for our exhibit and for educational purposes.  In nature, reticulated pythons tend to exhibit a dark greenish brown and black pattern - Lawan's yellow coloring is known as a tiger morph. Pythons in captivity are often specially bred to exhibit a variety of colors. You will not find Lawan's coloring in a python in the wild.  Reticulated pythons are native to Southeast Asia.

Lawan's size is the first thing everyone notices about her. Reticulated pythons are the longest snake species in the world, with anacondas being the heaviest.  The longest reticulated python recorded in captivity measured 33 feet in length.  We haven't weighed or measured her since we received her, but we estimate that she is 19 feet long and weighs near 150 pounds.  We speculate that Lawan may still grow another 10 feet before she finally slows down. All snakes will grow throughout their lives, though they hit a certain length when their growth slows considerably.

We feed her a large rabbit once every two weeks.  Snakes have a much slower metabolism than people, and they will typically consume a large meal once every few months.  Reticulated pythons are known as ambush predators, meaning they tend to sit and wait for prey to walk by instead of hunting it.  Her thick body shape in indicative of this, and can be observed on a smaller scale by comparing our sand boa (also an ambush predator) and our king snake, who has a lean body designed for seeking out and occasionally pursuing prey.

Sitting coiled and perfectly still for extended periods of time is something Lawan would be doing regularly in the wild while she waited for a large deer or pig to pass near her.

We don't quite know Lawan well enough to judge her temperament.  She seems more curious than aggressive, but we still take many precautions when caring for her. The doors leading into her enclosure are padlocked and only the senior zoo keeper and curator are allowed to access it.  Snakes' teeth tend to curve backward to help facilitate moving its meal down into its throat. The curved teeth also make it very difficult to spit out anything that's securely held in the snake's mouth, therefore, we tend to only clean her enclosure when she has her mouth full.  We typically have about 20 minutes to clean up until she swallows her rabbit.

Lawan is easily our largest and most impressive resident.  She is fortunate enough to have come to us from a good home, and she continues to thrive here while entertaining and educating our visitors.  Stop by the zoo and meet Lawan!

Feasts for the Beasts Schedule!

Nov. 26, 27, and 29 the zoo will be hosting presentations and interactive activities to teach you about reptile diets and what we feed our residents here at the zoo!  Stop by and make enrichment toys for your favorite zoo friend then help our keepers prepare nutritious treats for our other animals.  We will also have lessons about why a varied diet is important for people and animals alike, and feeding demos!

The feeding demo schedule is:

11 am: Carpet pythons
2 pm: Peach-throat monitor and Asian water monitor
4 pm: Sulcata tortoises

11 am: Anaconda
2 pm: Red-eared slider turtles and dwarf caiman
4 pm: Red-footed tortoise

11 am: Sulcata tortoise
All day: Snake feeding!

This event coincides with our Canned Food Drive! $1 off admission for every non-perishable food item you bring with you! (limit 2 per person).  All food donations will go to Food Gatherers!

Our First Boo at the Zoo!

We wanted to recap our spooktacular Boo at the Zoo, held on Oct. 26, and thank everyone involved in it.

We had so many fun activities, like pumpkin painting, prize drawings, a scavenger hunt, and our spooky trail.  This whole event was put together by a talented team of volunteers known as Friends of the Zoo, or FOZ (or fozzies).  Their hard work and resourcefulness made the event great - and you can be part of this team, too, by e-mailing us at info@glzszoo.org and telling us you're interested!

You can view our Facebook photo album of the event here.

We want to give a big shout out to all our wonderful sponsors as well - we couldn't have made this event possible without them, too!  They are, in no particular order:

Michael O'Quinn with Edward Jones Investments, Jim Downing with Ameriprise Financial, Colonial Lanes, Whole Foods, Ann Arbor Hands on Museum, Emergency Veterinary Hospital, Irene Felicetti's Soy Candles, Zingerman's Meijer, Lead Institute, Zal Gaz Grotto, Lexi's Toy Box, Pizza House, McDonald's, the Blast Corn Maze, Dexter Research Center, Ruhlig's Produce, and Bagger Dave's.

Boo at the Zoo helped to raise nearly $4,000 for us!  We hope everyone had a good time, and we look forward to seeing you all again next year!  

NEW  Zoo-To-You Outreach Programs at the Great Lakes Zoological Society

GLZS is excited to offer new educational programs that can come directly to you!  Our outreach programs are designed to inspire and connect students with the natural world around them by providing up-close animal experiences featuring a select group of invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles. All programs are age appropriate and follow Michigan Science Grade Level Content Expectations for all ages. Use the new Zoo-To-You outreach program to introduce, reinforce or conclude your classroom curriculum.

Program details:
  • Availability: Programs can be scheduled weekdays 10am-4pm. Evening events can be scheduled upon request.  Reservations are required.
  • Duration: A 45-60 minute presentation is designed with your group's needs and interests in mind.
  • Group Size: Please schedule for groups of approximately 30 students; schedule additional presentations for larger groups.
  • Please call for pricing.
Outreach Topics:

Outreach topics include but are not limited to the following.
  • Colorful Creatures
  • Amazing Adaptations and Survival
  • Animal Classifications
  • 'Myth'understandings
Stay posted for additional Outreach Topics!
Please contact the Education Coordinator for more details at education@glzszoo.org or call (734)332-1628

Welcome to our 'What's new at the Zoo' blog

Welcome to the Great Lakes Zoological Society's 'What's New at the Zoo' blog!  We'll be keeping everyone updated on happenings at the zoo like some of our events, new animals, and other things around your favorite reptile zoo.

Check back on our website, our blog page, or add it to your RSS feed for new posts! This is the place where we will announce new events, talk about cool things at the zoo, and some generally cool stuff we would like you to know.

So, keep tuned and see what neat things are to come!