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Category — Keeper’s Komments

Spring Bees

Male Carpenter Bee image by Matt Ward

Male Carpenter Bee image by Matt Ward

Spring has sprung and before long the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden will be inundated with school groups and Carpenter Bees. And while your first instinct will be to avoid them I promise you, the school children are not to be feared. Neither are the Carpenter Bees (Xylacopa viginica), the large, yellow and black flying insect frequently encountered on zoo grounds during spring. Though they are often mistaken for Bumblebees they can be most easily differentiated from them by their black, hairless abdomens; Bumblebees have fuzzy abdomens. Carpenter Bees were so named because the females excavate their nest tunnels in wood. But the bees only nest in the wood, they do not feed on it; Carpenter Bees feed on nectar and pollen. And while Carpenter Bees can sometimes damage wooden structures the damage is occasionally caused by woodpeckers working to excavate the bees themselves for food.

Carpenter bees overwinter as adults and are among the first insects observed in spring. Each male stakes out a territory in the vicinity of a nesting female awaiting the opportunity to breed. Any other males entering the territory will be chased away and just about anything else entering the territory will be investigated. Females will reuse old tunnels or excavate new ones. Within each tunnel is a series of small chambers. A single egg is left in each chamber along with a small amount of nectar and pollen to nourish the larvae. Young Carpenter Bees will emerge from their chambers in late summer to feed on nectar in preparation for a long winter’s hibernation. The following spring they’ll emerge and begin the cycle all over again.

The Carpenter Bees encountered on zoo grounds are generally males, who’ll investigate anything that comes into their territory. Males can be easily differentiated from females by the gold or white marking between their eyes. Carpenter Bees are large and fast flying so it’s easy to see why people mistake their curiosity for aggression. But there’s really nothing to fear; male Carpenter Bees, like all male bees, wasps or hornets cannot sting. The stinger is a modified ovipositor (egg laying organ) which males don’t have. Female Carpenter Bees are capable of stinging but rarely do unless harassed.

Carpenter Bees are probably the most common bees in greater Cincinnati. The Carpenter Bees you’ll encounter at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden are going about their lives the way their species has for countless millennia. They just happen to be doing it at a zoo instead of in a deciduous forest.

Winton Ray
Curator of Invertebrates & Aquatic Animals
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

March 30, 2016   2 Comments

Sara. Remembrance of a life well lived.

By: Cathryn Hilker, Founder of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program


Cathryn and Sara in 2000

As so many cheetahs before her, Sara came to live on our Mason farm when she was 5 weeks old. We intended to raise her with an Anatolian shepherd dog so she could have a companion for herself but also a companion who could speak to the program of wildlife management in Namibia where these dogs are widely used for predator control.  Captive cheetah are often raised with a dog, as they make excellent companions, but not always. As soon as this little cheetah named Sara saw our little Anatolian puppy the cat attacked the dog with such a ferocious attitude that I had to separate them.  Their relationship became even worse over the next several days until I sent the puppy back and got a much bigger and older Anatolian dog. This change worked well and Sara and Alexa where lifelong companions.  They did school shows, summer shows, tv appearances and much more until Alexa retired, leaving Sara to continue alone. Upstairs she went, downstairs, elevators, moving stairs. She did all that and more, never failing to do her part.


Sara and her companion Lexi

The joy of running is in the heart and the ancient memory of every cheetah. Sara was no different. At home in her first few weeks we only did short runs in her fenced in yard but the day came when I wanted to see how much Sara could do. I was there with her when the joy and the play of running suddenly turned serious for her.  It was a Reds baseball cap that triggered her natural instinct to run with utter resolution. To chase, to catch, to hold. I could hardly get the cap away from her. Then she knew what running meant to the cheetah. It made her break her own record for speed, when the National Geographic filmed her, at age 11, running 61 mph. 100 meters in 5.95 seconds.


She will be remembered by thousands of school children who heard her loud purr or heard her nails clicking on the table top where she stayed during the program. My memories are imprinted in my heart and mind of a tiny brave little cheetah who grew up and turned into the elegant animal that the mature cheetah is. The claw marks from her tiny little claws when she was a cub remain on my bedspread to this day and the hole she chewed through my zoo jacket and the awkward job I did of sewing it up will remain there for the rest of my life.


photo by Jill Halpin

We will miss Sara’s eyes, fixed on our eyes, always asking “what next”?  Indeed Sara, what next, in your giant shadow of grace other cheetahs will follow your lead and our race to educate and tell your story so that your species can always be, waiting to answer “what next”.

January 22, 2016   38 Comments

Meet the King Penguins of the #BestParadeInAmerica


Every day at 11am and 2:30pm during Penguin Days, presented by FirstEnergy, you will find the zoo’s Aviculture Department leading the way during the Best Parade in America, the Penguin Parade!  Our colony of King Penguins walk between the Wings of Wonder bird house and the entrance of the Children’s Zoo where they spend the day outside enjoying the winter weather.  One common question that we get at almost every parade is “What are their names?”  Here is a handy dandy list to help you out identifying each member of our colony the next time you are walking with us:

Kyoto - red - 2


-Kyoto-  Red.  You can usually find Kyoto leading the group at each parade.  He also marches to the beat of his own drum, especially when we walk near fresh snow or by the entrance to the Basecamp Café.  Maybe he is a fan of green restaurants, since it is the greenest restaurant in the land.

charlemagne - yellow


-Charlemagne- Yellow.  Charlemagne may be the youngest, but is by far the largest King in our colony.  You can usually find him trying to keep up with his older brother Kyoto in the front of the parade.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

-Martin Luther- Purple.  Luther usually stays to the middle of the group during the parade.  In my opinion, he is the best looking King out of the bunch.



-BB- Green.  The only female of our group, you can find her bringing up the rear of the parade.  She has successfully reared quite a few King chicks while here at the zoo, Kyoto and Charlemagne being two of them.



-Larry- Blue.  While Luther might be the best looking King, Larry is definitely the most regal-looking.  Watch him during the parade, and you will probably see him holding his chest out proudly and possibly even vocalize during the route.  Larry and BB have incubated a few chicks together, see above; watch them while outside to see if they are performing any courtship behaviors.  You can usually find Larry in the middle of the group as well.



-Burger- Orange.  On rare occasions, you will find the elder statesman of the colony, Burger, out with the rest of the group.  It doesn’t happen too often, but he usually decides to go on parade at least once per season, and likes to hang near the back of the parade.

Hopefully this list makes it a little easier for you to identify the birds during the Best Parade in America.  Test your knowledge every day through the month of February at 11am and 230pm, as long as the temperature is below 50 degrees.  The weather might be cold, but Penguin Days is a great way to get outside and enjoy the season while seeing some amazing animals while you are at it. Follow #BestParadeInAmerica and @cincinnatizoo on Twitter for updates!






January 13, 2016   3 Comments