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A Tale of Two Mantises

Praying Mantises, insects in the order Mantodea were so named because of the prayer-like posture of their folded front legs. In the eyes of their prey there’s nothing divine about mantises. There are more than 2,300 species of mantises worldwide and while they vary in size, shape and color they all have one thing in common, they are voracious predators. Cincinnatians can encounter two remarkable mantis species; the native Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) and the introduced Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinesis).

The Carolina Mantis varies in color from light-green to medium-gray and is normally between 1-1/2″ and 2-1/2″ long. These mantises range from the eastern and central United States south through Central America and into northern South America. Carolina Mantis nymphs have the ability to alter their color to match their habitat each time they molt. Adult male Carolina Mantises are strong fliers and will actively stalk their prey. Adult female Carolina Mantises have shortened wings and are heavier bodied; they cannot fly so they lie in wait to ambush their prey.

Carolina Mantis

Carolina Mantis

The Chinese Mantis varies in color from light-green to brown and is normally between 3-1/4″ and 4-1/4″ long. Native to Eastern Asia the Chinese Mantis was allegedly introduced to the United States late in the 19th century to control agricultural pests. By most accounts the Chinese Mantis has done little to control pests despite having become established throughout most of the United States. In some areas the presence of the larger Chinese Mantis has negatively impacted the smaller Carolina Mantis.

Chinese Mantis

Chinese Mantis

Both Carolina and Chinese mantis hatchlings emerge from egg cases in spring and are so small they can be dispersed by strong winds. As the young mantises grow so too does their choice of prey; tiny fruit flies are replaced by increasingly larger flies, bees and moths. Adult Carolina Mantises can capture medium-sized butterflies while adult Chinese Mantises can capture hummingbirds. Both species will mate in late summer or early autumn, leaving their egg cases on the stems of shrubs or bushes. These egg cases will endure even the harshest winters to deliver the next generation the following spring.

Mantises are among the world’s most recognizable and beloved insects. Their grace and ferocity have inspired poets and martial artists. Children the world over have marveled at them in backyards and kept them as pets in quart jars. If you see a mantis this summer please take a few minutes to observe and appreciate one of Cincinnati’s most amazing insects.

Winton Ray / Curator of Invertebrates, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

July 1, 2014   1 Comment

Introducing the Animals of AFRICA!

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is excited to announce the grand opening of the next phase of its AFRICA exhibit! Here, visitors will immerse themselves into the African Savannah, featuring East African architecture, landscape, and natural elements, while taking in the sights and sounds of one of the most majestic countries in the world, right in their own back yard.

The Cincinnati Zoo’s new signature exhibit, Painted Dog Valley, is the featured exhibit in this phase of the opening. The exhibit highlights one of the most predatory and endangered species in all of Africa—the African painted dog. Known for their famously large, round ears and beautifully “painted”, multi-colored coats, the African painted dog exhibit will have a crystal clear waterfall, a large eye-to-eye viewing window, and multiple vantage points. At the turn of the 20th century there were more than 500,000 painted dogs in 39 countries. Today, there are only 3,000 dogs in Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa combined, making them the rarest species on the African continent.

Wild Dog_AndyWithers

In addition to African painted dogs, visitors will enjoy the breath-taking beauty of a new open-vista exhibit, featuring, impala, Thomson’s gazelle, ostrich, pink-backed pelican, and Ruppell’s vulture, to name a few! Visitors will watch as a variety of species graze on tall grasses, make stops at the watering hole, and laze about under the summer sun.  Over the summer this herd will continue to grow, as animals are added in phases to ensure a calm and safe introduction to each other and the exhibit space.

impala_Christian Sperka

This systematic approach is a necessary precaution needed when introducing multiple species in one exhibit. These precautions ensure the animal’s comfort and safety, while also allowing keepers the time needed to carefully evaluate each step along the way.

Phase one, the addition of pelicans, vultures, and cranes, is currently underway and Zoo guests could see them together this weekend.  Toward the end of next week, once those animals are acclimated, the Zoo hopes to start the second phase with the addition of the ostrich.  Once the animals are settled, the Zoo will then add guinea fowl. And finally, the impala, gazelle, and lesser kudu will be introduced. This final phase could happen late summer or early fall, depending on the time frame for earlier introductions and each individual animals temperament.

A third exhibit space has also been completed during this exhibit opening – the future site of meerkats.  Currently,  this exhibit will be home to the Zoo’s bat-eared foxes, with meerkats arriving Summer 2015!

The Zoo hopes visitors will enjoy meeting the new painted dogs, seeing the bat-eared foxes in their new home, and watching the phased introduction as the herd grows.

Africa is now open!

June 27, 2014   No Comments

Painted Dogs: Connecting our Africa Exhibit to Carnivore Conservation in Tanzania

We are in the home stretch, putting the finishing touches on Phase IV of our ambitious Africa exhibit this week, which opens to the public on Saturday. Soon, the large savannah will be home to Thomson’s gazelles, impala and lesser kudu as well as ostrich, pink-backed pelicans and more. New exhibits include bat-eared foxes (future meerkat) and, of course, African painted dogs.

Thomson's gazelle (Photo: Paul Mannix)

Thomson’s gazelles (Photo: Paul Mannix)

Ostriches (Photo: Benh Lieu Song)

Ostriches (Photo: Benh Lieu Song)

African painted dog (Photo: Christian Sperka)

African painted dog (Photo: Christian Sperka)

It’s been quite a few years since the Zoo has exhibited African painted dogs and we’re all very excited about their return. Our female is named Imara. She came to us from Oglebay’s Good Zoo. Our male is Haka and he came to us from the Brookfield Zoo. Both of them were born in 2012. Their exhibit is a large, beautiful grassy yard featuring trees, a creek and a rocky den. Guests will be able to view them up close through a large glass window on one end of the exhibit. At the other end, the viewing opportunity is open air.

Watering the grass in the new painted dog yard.

Watering the grass in the new painted dog yard

You'll be able to find out what it's like to have large ears like a painted dog.

You’ll be able to find out what it’s like to have large ears like a painted dog.

Installing the signs at the bat-eared fox exhibit.

Installing the signs at the bat-eared fox exhibit.

African painted dogs are endangered in the wild with fewer than 6,000 remaining in central and southern Africa. The Zoo contributes to their conservation by supporting the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP) in Tanzania. RCP works with local communities to ensure the survival of carnivores and people in and around Ruaha National Park. The Ruaha region is home to Africa’s third largest population of painted dogs and 10% of Africa’s lions.

Lion in Ruaha region of Tanzania (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

Lion in Ruaha region of Tanzania (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

RCP documents the presence and location of wildlife species through community-reported sightings and photos taken by motion-triggered cameras. Through the Ruaha Explorer’s Club, the Zoo sponsors one of the cameras. In return, RCP posts images taken by the Cincinnati Zoo Cam on a dedicated Facebook page; like the page to follow along! Interested in sponsoring a camera yourself? Find out more on RCP’s website.

Painted dog caught on camera in Ruaha region (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

Painted dog caught on camera in Ruaha region (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

RCP also works to improve the lives of people and predators by reducing attacks on livestock and retaliatory attacks by people. Reinforcing fencing around corrals to keep livestock safe from predators at night, for example, goes a long way towards building positive relationships between people and predators.

Improved corral fence, or boma (Photo: Jon Erickson)

Improved corral fence, or boma (Photo: Jon Erickson)

RCP also helps communities realize tangible benefits from having carnivores around by providing employment for local people, school supplies, scholarships and a stocked medical clinic. Regular education and outreach activities such as movie nights and community meetings are held. They even take villagers and schoolchildren who have never been to the national park on educational visits with support from the Cincinnati Zoo’s Angel Fund.

Local Maasai women visiting Ruaha National Park (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

Local Maasai women visiting Ruaha National Park (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

We hope you will come see Imara and Haka, our new painted dogs, at the Zoo next time you visit and we invite you to join us in supporting the conservation of their counterparts in the wild.

June 25, 2014   No Comments