Category — Animal Sciences
Two weeks ago, one of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Pallas’ cats, Sophia, gave birth to three kittens – the first produced by artificial insemination (AI). Our research progress at CREW with domestic cats and wild cat species over the past 15 years has given us the opportunity to use assisted reproductive technologies to help manage threatened felid populations. While it is always exciting to produce the first offspring of an exotic species with some new reproductive technique, that accomplishment, in itself, is relatively meaningless if that first birth turns out to be the only birth. At CREW, our primary goal is not “world’s firsts”, it is to develop and apply the appropriate scientific tools to help us to conserve endangered wildlife populations. So we produced the world’s first Pallas’ cats by AI – why does that matter?
Well, first, this AI procedure was attempted with Sophia because she decided that she didn’t really like the male, Buster, who was selected as her mate. [Read more →]
June 24, 2011 2 Comments
Since 2008, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden staff have been involved in surveying and studying the highly endangered Black Warrior Waterdog (Necturus alabamensis) in Northern Alabama. November 9-12th marked the first trip of the fall/winter field season. Herp department staff members John Staubach, Kristin Bennett and Erik Keyster along with Alle Foster from Children’s Zoo and Chris DeChant of Innovative Zoological Solutions made up the team for this trip.
The black warrior waterdog is named for the Black Warrior River system and is one of the most endangered amphibians in the world. It is now restricted to a small portion of its historic range due to several factors including stream impoundments (dams), introduced predatory game fish, and water quality degradation. Thanks to a grant from Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and the AZA Conservation Endowment Fund, we are able to continue the work started during our pilot study the previous 2 seasons. Our goals for this trip was to continue our monitoring of the population of black warrior waterdogs (from here forward referred to as BWW) at our study site and to collect specimens of a closely related species, the gulf coast waterdog. Being closely related to the BWW, the gulf coast waterdog will be used as a “model species” to increase our understanding of what is required to reproduce members of this genus in captivity.
Our study site is approximately 7 hours from Cincinnati in the rural hills of northwestern Alabama. The study site is also approximately 40 miles from the nearest hotel, so during “mild” (over 20F at night) weather we generally choose to camp in the nearby Bankhead National Forest. For this trip we spent the first day at our study site collecting specimens of BWWs and habitat data.
BWW are not easy animals to find. They are extremely secretive and nocturnal. Their habitat usage also changes with the seasons. Collecting specimens generally depends on 2 methods- netting in and sorting through hundreds of pounds of submerged leaves or manually flipping large submerged flat rocks. The water temperature during the field season can vary from the 30s F to the 50s F. To say that conditions can sometimes be uncomfortable would be an understatement. Larvae (young waterdogs) are almost exclusively found in underwater accumulations of dead leaves, whereas adults may be found either under large rocks or in leaf accumulations depending on the season. Adults migrate to deeper water during the spring and come back in closer to shore in the winter. We think one of the reasons for this is that the leaf packs that form near the shore offer a great abundance of food for mature waterdogs, especially females that need to build up their fat reserves prior to the breeding season. Temperature also plays a role in movement patterns as shallow water becomes considerably warmer in the summer. The larval waterdogs (at about 3 ½ to 4 cm) also use these leaf packs for locating food as well as a safe place to avoid the dozens of aquatic predators that live in their habitat.
This trip we were fortunately to collect 8 larval BWWs at our study site. This is the highest number of larvae found by our team on one trip. All larvae were released after morphometric data was collected. In addition a portion of the larvae were swabbed for ‘Chytrid’ fungus. The test results will tell us if this population of BWWs has the deadly disease which has been causing amphibian extinctions worldwide. Finding larval BWWs is important because it confirms that breeding did take place earlier this year at our site.
BWWs live in rocky or sandy upland streams with cold clear flowing water. Gulf coast waterdogs typically live in more muddy or sandy streams. The second part of this trip involved driving west from our BWW study site to go find gulf coast waterdogs (GCWs). There are very few rocks in the streams where GCWs occur so the main method for finding them is netting and hauling in pounds and pounds of submerged leaves. The salamanders seem to be found in “pockets” and you may haul in leaves for a long time before hitting the “pocket”. In the meantime we find interesting fish and invertebrates, such as mussels, clams, freshwater shrimp, insect larvae and various fish from darters and madtoms to juvenile gamefish. The diversity of invertebrates and fish can be an indicator of water quality. After a long day and stops at 3 Tributaries of one stream and one stop at another stream, we were successful in collecting many larval and yearling GCWs. We also managed to pull out one adult gulf coast waterdog just as the sun was setting. Finding an adult GCW was our ultimate goal for this part of the trip. After our success we started the drive back to the Bankhead National Forest. The following day we headed back to Cincinnati with our data and swabs from the Chytrid fungus test. Hopefully the results we get from the Chytrid test will confirm that Chytrid fungus is not yet a problem for amphibians in Northern Alabama.
The trip was a success. We confirmed that Black Warrior waterdogs did successfully reproduce at our study site earlier this year. We collected the data needed to further our knowledge of the species and we were able to swab several specimens to confirm or rule out the presence of the deadly amphibian disease Chytridiomycosis. Hopefully we will be returning to Alabama in a month or two when the adult waterdogs start to move in closer to shore to fatten over the winter.
December 6, 2010 4 Comments
Where Do They All Go?
The skies are grey, the leaves are gone and the forests have grown silent. Another summer of bugs has come and gone. To some the first frost of autumn heralds the unofficial start of winter but for us insect lovers it’s a somber day; no more katydid songs, no more mantises stalking our rosebushes. “Where do they go” is question I’m frequently asked by Cincinnati Zoo visitors, unfortunately there is no single or simple answer. Here are a few ways our native insects beat the winter blues.
Only The Strong Survive – Some of our most common and most commonly noticed insects such as mantises, walking sticks, katydids and grasshoppers didn’t survive the fall’s first frost but their offspring(of sorts) aren’t so easily dispatched. Each of these summer lovers left behind countless eggs that will outlast the harshest winter and hatch come spring, once again filling our gardens and forests with life.
Stay Inside – If you’ve ever thought “It’s too cold outside, I’m simply not going out” then you’re not alone; when the outside temperature drops below 50 degrees (F) Honey bees crowd into the lower part of the hive and form a “winter cluster.” Worker bees huddle around the queen at the center of the cluster and shiver in order to keep the temperature as high as 80 degrees. In the true spirit of teamwork worker bees will even rotate through the cluster from the inside to the outside so that no individual bee will get too cold. In an effort to keep the hive clean worker bees will venture out on warm winter days for short flights to eliminate body waste.
Prepare For Next Summer, slowly – Misguided people proving to the world ,via YouTube that they can’t really skate isn’t the only thing happening on frozen pond; below the surface life continues scarcely aware of the day’s wind-chill factor or fallen snow. Dragonfly eggs are counting down to hatch day and Dragonfly larvae are maturing, albeit at a slow pace. It’s a successful life strategy that pesky mosquitoes have perfected as well.
Go Somewhere Warm – If you thought only retirees head south to avoid hockey season you’ve got it all wrong. Monarch Butterflies migrate an incredible distance, leaving the Cincinnati area in late summer/early fall and flying south-west, ultimately reaching the mountains of central Mexico. The Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve is a 138,000 acre park created to protect the overwintering habitat of the Monarchs and is more than 1,500 miles from Cincinnati. It is the descendants of the butterflies who leave our area that will return the following summer.
These are but a few of the strategies our native insects are using to survive the winter. Here at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Insectarium we’re successfully “fooling mother nature” so that you can see an incredible insect collection all year long.
Winton Ray / Head Keeper – World of the Insects
December 6, 2010 No Comments