Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches

Their distinctive hiss emanates not from their mouths, but from “spiracles,” which are small holes in their abdomens used for breathing. These cockroaches live in large colonies and hiss when threatened by predators to sound an alarm for the colony, or during fights between males.

Asian Water Monitor

This adolescent male monitor was found in on a street in nearby Goleta, far from his native range in South and Southeast Asia. He is believed to be an escaped pet, but was never claimed. Keepers are accustoming him to being handled, and perhaps to even wear a harness for walks.

Caiman Lizard

This lizard’s armored-looking back resembles that of a caiman alligator, thus the common name. A South American native, they have muscular jaws and strong teeth for cracking the shells of their favorite food: freshwater snails.

Tarantulas

The Zoo’s three species of tarantula all have colorful names: Mexican red-kneed tarantula, pink zebra beauty tarantula, and Chilean rose hair tarantula.

Henkel’s Leaf-Tailed Geckos

These Madagascar reptiles actually do have tails that resemble a dead leaf, complete with chunks missing as if the leaf has rotted away. In fact, it’s not just the tails: their whole bodies are camouflaged to resemble a rotting leaf.

Milky Tree Frogs

The Zoo recently had a milky tree frog baby boom (more like a tadpole boom) with more than 100 hatched. We kept a bunch and sent some to AZA facilities in Houston and Nebraska. But don’t touch – frogs’ skin can absorb hand lotion and other substances from your hands, potentially causing them harm.

Poison Dart Frogs

Poison dart frogs get their name because indigenous people of Central and South America use their toxin secretions to poison the tips of blow darts.  While bright coloration warns potential predators of their toxic nature, many species of dart frog are actually minimally poisonous.

Venomous Snakes

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake

Mattie, the Zoo’s Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, has the distinct dark diamond pattern that the species’ name suggests. She’s 4.5 feet long and around 8 pounds, which is small for the species. Keepers say she is intense and defensive, which is typical of the breed. “She’d prefer to be left alone 100 percent of the time,” reports one keeper.

Southern Pacific rattlers

Southern Pacific rattlers vary widely in coloration. Rico, who lives in Rattlesnake Canyon, is black (“melanian” in snake parlance) with an orange pattern on his back. This species also can be silver, gray, brown, olive, or even greenish; all have dark-rimmed spots on their backs. Rico is “relatively calm and easy to work with,” according to keepers.

Taylor’s cantil (black moccasin)

Taylor’s cantil (black moccasin), a cousin of the U.S. cottonmouth, is found only in northeastern Mexico. Their hinged fangs lie flat against the jaw until they swing forward during a strike. Keepers note that this female snake is always alert and quite cautious, but can be unpredictable.

False water cobras

False water cobras The false water cobra is named for its ability to flatten its neck to appear larger, which makes it look like a cobra. But the false water cobra does not rear up vertically and tends to stay close to the ground. Their fangs are in the back of their mouths, and they chew their prey to inject the toxins. “He’s a patient assassin who explodes onto his food, hitting it intensely,” say keepers of this 7-foot-long male snake.

Safety First

Zoo staff has been trained in safety protocols for handling venomous creatures, including snakes. Some of the safety measures are

  • Working in pairs and keeping up detailed communication
  • Never handling the snakes; always using snake hooks
  • Feeding them using tongs, and from a safe distance
  • Never entering their enclosure without first removing the snake
  • Double-check the enclosure before entering

If an accident were to occur, a supply of snake antivenom is kept at nearby Cottage Hospital.

Chief, Inside and Out

He’s 10½ feet long and weighs more than 40 pounds – that’s Chief, our Burmese python. He’s so big, it takes two keepers to measure him and 12 separate x-rays to get every inch during his annual checkups (see below).

Python Feeding in Slow Mo/Infrared

This video was taken by local company FLIR Systems using thermal imaging cameras to capture the big snake being fed a snack in both infrared and slow motion. The differences in coloration are due to relative temperatures.

What You Can Do

Think twice before you squash that spider or spray your lawn – you might need these “icky” creatures more than you think!

“Gross?” “Scary?”  These critters may be hair-raising to some people, but they are also big helpers. Bugs, lizards, spiders, and snakes all play a part in making human lives better.

  • Without snakes, crops would be devoured by millions of mice.
  • Without spiders, human homes would be crawling with pesky bugs.
  • Without bugs as decomposers, soil would be hard-packed and littered with dead plants and animals.
  • Without insects to pollinate them, there would be no fruits or vegetables for us to enjoy.
  • There would be no honey, beeswax, silk, and other useful products.
  • The food web would collapse, as these creatures are the food source not only for each other, but also for birds and mammals.