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|Below is some information about the residents of the South America realm at The Montgomery Zoo. Come visit us to find out more.
An alligator is a crocodilian in the genus Alligator of the family Alligatoridae. There are two extant alligator species: the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis).
The name alligator is an anglicized form of el lagarto, the Spanish term for "lizard", which early Spanish explorers and settlers in Florida called the alligator.
Alligators have a variety of successful adaptations to their ecological niche that have allowed these reptiles to remain almost unchanged for 200 million years.
The alligator is notorious for its bone crushing bites. In addition, the alligator has been described as a "living fossil", having been extant for 200 million years, beginning in the Mesozoic Era.
An exceptionally large adult American alligator's weight and length is 800 pounds (360 kg) and 13 feet (4.0 m) long, but can grow to 14.5 feet (4.4 m) long and weigh over 1,000 pounds (450 kg). According to the Everglades National Park website, the largest alligator ever recorded in Florida was 17 feet 5 inches (5.31 m), although according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission web site the Florida state record for length is a 14 feet 5/8 inches (4.28 m) male from Lake Monroe in Seminole County. The largest specimen ever recorded was found in Louisiana and measured 19 feet 2 inches (5.84 m). The Chinese alligator is smaller, rarely exceeding 7 feet (2.1 m) in length. Alligators have an average of 75 teeth.
The average lifespan for an alligator is 50 years. A specimen named Muja has resided in the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia since 1937, making it at least 73 years old. Another specimen, Čabulītis, in Riga Zoo, Latvia died in 2007 being more than 75 years old.
Alligators are only native to the United States and China.
American alligators are found in the southeast United States: all of Florida and Louisiana, the southern parts of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, coastal South and North Carolina, Eastern Texas, the southeast corner of Oklahoma and the southern tip of Arkansas. According to the 2005 Scholastic Book of World Records, Louisiana is the state with the largest alligator population. The majority of American alligators inhabit Florida and Louisiana, with over a million alligators in each state.
American alligators live in freshwater environments, such as ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, lakes, and swamps, as well as brackish environments. Southern Florida is the only place where both alligators and crocodiles live side by side.
The Chinese alligator currently is found only in the Yangtze River valley and is extremely endangered, with only a few dozen believed to be left in the wild. Indeed, far more Chinese alligators live in zoos around the world than can be found in the wild. Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in southern Louisiana has several in captivity in an attempt to preserve the species. Miami MetroZoo in Florida also has a breeding pair of Chinese alligators. The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park has successfully reproduced Chinese Alligators and been fortunate enough to release some of their offspring back into the wild in China.
The Alligator exhibit is currently located in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo. A new Alligator and Crocodile exhibit is being constructed in the Spring of 2011 in the North American realm near the North American River Otters.
The Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) is a species of South American bird in the New World vulture family Cathartidae and is the only member of the genus Vultur. Found in the Andes mountains and adjacent Pacific coasts of western South America, it has the largest wing span (at 3.2 m) of any land bird.
It is a large black vulture with a ruff of white feathers surrounding the base of the neck and, especially in the male, large white patches on the wings. The head and neck are nearly featherless, and are a dull red color, which may flush and therefore change color in response to the bird's emotional state. In the male, there is a wattle on the neck and a large, dark red comb or caruncle on the crown of the head. Unlike most birds of prey, the male is larger than the female.
The condor is primarily a scavenger, feeding on carrion. It prefers large carcasses, such as those of deer or cattle. It reaches sexual maturity at five or six years of age and nests at elevations of up to 5,000 m (16,000 ft), generally on inaccessible rock ledges. One or two eggs are usually laid. It is one of the world's longest-living birds, with a lifespan of up to 50 years.
The Andean Condor is a national symbol of Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador, and plays an important role in the folklore and mythology of the Andean regions. The Andean Condor is considered near threatened by the IUCN. It is threatened by habitat loss and by secondary poisoning from carcasses killed by hunters. Captive breeding programs have been instituted in several countries.
Although it is on average about five cm shorter from beak to tail than the California Condor, the Andean Condor is larger in wingspan, which ranges from 280 to 320 cm (9.2 to 10.5 ft). It is also typically heavier, reaching a weight of 11 to 15 kg (24 to 33 lb) for males and 6 to 14 kg (13 to 31 lb) for females. Overall length can range from 102 to 135 cm (40 to 53 in). Measurements are usually taken from specimens reared in captivity.
The adult plumage is a uniform black, with the exception of a frill of white feathers nearly surrounding the base of the neck and, especially in the male, large patches or bands of white on the wings which do not appear until the completion of the bird's first moulting. The head and neck are red to blackish-red and have few feathers. The head and neck are meticulously kept clean by the bird, and their baldness is an adaptation for hygiene, allowing the skin to be exposed to the sterilizing effects of dehydration and ultraviolet light at high altitudes. The crown of the head is flattened. In the male, the head is crowned with a dark red caruncle or comb, while the skin of his neck lies in folds, forming a wattle. The skin of the head and neck is capable of flushing noticeably in response to emotional state, which serves to communicate between individuals. Juveniles have a grayish-brown general coloration, blackish head and neck skin, and a brown ruff.
The middle toe is greatly elongated, and the hind one is only slightly developed, while the talons of all the toes are comparatively straight and blunt. The feet are thus more adapted to walking, and are of little use as weapons or organs of prehension as in birds of prey and Old World vultures. The beak is hooked, and adapted to tear rotting meat. The irises of the male are brown, while those of the female are deep red. The eyelids lack eyelashes. Contrary to the usual rule for sexual dimorphism among birds of prey, the female is smaller than the male.
The Andean Condor is located in the South American realm of the Montgomery Zoo.
The Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis) is a large species (110-130 cm) closely related to Caribbean Flamingo and Greater Flamingo, with which it was sometimes considered conspecific. This article follows the treatment in Ibis (2002) 144 707-710.
It breeds in temperate South America from Ecuador and Peru to Chile and Argentina and east to Brazil; it has been introduced into Germany and the Netherlands (colony on the border, Zwilbrockervenn) . Like all flamingos it lays a single chalky white egg on a mud mound.
The plumage is pinker than the slightly larger Greater Flamingo, but less so than Caribbean Flamingo. It can be differentiated from these species by its greyish legs with pink "knees", and also by the larger amount of black on the bill (more than half). Young chicks may have no sign of pink coloring whatsoever, but instead remain grey.
The Chilean Flamingo can be seen in the South American realm of the Montgomery Zoo.
Emerald Tree Boa, Corallus caninus is a non-venomous boa species found in the rainforests of South America. No subspecies are currently recognized.
Adults grow to about 6 feet (1.8 m) in length. They have highly developed front teeth that are likely proportionately larger than those of any other non-venomous snake.
The color pattern typically consists of an emerald green ground color with a white irregular interrupted zigzag stripe or so-called 'lightning bolts' down the back and a yellow belly. The bright coloration and markings are very distinctive among South American snakes. Juveniles vary in color between various shades of light and dark orange or brick-red before ontogenetic coloration sets in and the animals turn emerald green (after 9–12 months of age). This also occurs in Morelia viridis, a species in which hatchlings and juveniles may also be canary yellow or brick-red. As opposed to popular belief, yellow juveniles (as in the green tree python) do not occur in the emerald tree boa.
Based on locality, enough that some herpetologists have considered whether they should be classified as a new subspecies. The name recently suggested for this morphological variant, but not yet widely accepted, is Corallus batesii [Henderson]. Specimens from the Amazon River basin tend to grow the largest, are much more docile than their Northern relatives and attain lengths of 7–9 feet (2.1–2.7 m), while the overall average size is closer to 6 feet (1.8 m). Those from the southern end of their range in Peru tend to be darker in color. Amazon Basin specimens generally have an uninterrupted white dorsal line, whereas the white markings in the Northern Shield specimens are quite variable. The snout scales in Amazon Basin specimens are also much smaller than in their Northern, Southern and Western counterparts found, for example, in Surinam, Venezuela, Bolivia,and French Guiana. Hybrid forms between the Northern Shield Corallus caninus and the Amazon Basin form are also known to exist.
C. caninus appears very similar to the green tree python, Morelia viridis, from southeast Asia and Australia. Only very distantly related, this is an example of convergent evolution. Physical differences include the head scalation and the location of the heat pits around the mouth.
A strictly nocturnal and arboreal species. It spends its days in a characteristic coil over a tree branch with its head perched at the center. At night, it will remain coiled on its branch. But extends its head downwards. Curled as if about to strike. It will hold still in this position, waiting for prey to approach directly below. Prey is grasped with the long frontal teeth, pulled in and constricted to asphyxiation.
The Emerald Tree Boa can be found in the Reptile House located in the South American realm of the Montgomery Zoo.
Frogs are amphibians in the order Anura (meaning "tail-less", from Greek an-, without + oura, tail), formerly referred to as Salientia (Latin salere (salio), "to jump"). Most frogs are characterized by a short body, webbed digits (fingers or toes), protruding eyes and the absence of a tail. Frogs are widely known as exceptional jumpers, and many of the anatomical characteristics of frogs, particularly their long, powerful legs, are adaptations to improve jumping performance. Due to their permeable skin, frogs are often semi-aquatic or inhabit humid areas, but move easily on land. They typically lay their eggs in puddles, ponds or lakes, and their larvae, called tadpoles, have gills and develop in water. Adult frogs follow a carnivorous diet, mostly of arthropods, annelids and gastropods. Frogs are most noticeable by their call, which can be widely heard during the night or day, mainly in their mating season.
The distribution of frogs ranges from tropic to subarctic regions, but most species are found in tropical rainforests. Consisting of more than 5,000 species described, they are among the most diverse groups of vertebrates. However, populations of certain frog species are declining significantly.
A popular distinction is often made between frogs and toads on the basis of their appearance, but this has no taxonomic basis. (Members of the anuran family Bufonidae are called true toads, but many species from other families are also called toads.) In addition to their ecological importance, frogs have many cultural roles, such as in literature, symbolism and religion, and they are also valued as food and as pets.
Feet and legs - The structure of the feet and legs varies greatly among frog species, depending in part on whether they live primarily on the ground, in water, in trees, or in burrows. Frogs must be able to move quickly through their environment to catch prey and escape predators, and numerous adaptations help them do so.
Many frogs, especially those that live in water, have webbed toes. The degree to which the toes are webbed is directly proportional to the amount of time the species lives in the water. For example, the completely aquatic African dwarf frog (Hymenochirus sp.) has fully webbed toes, whereas the toes of White's tree frog (Litoria caerulea), an arboreal species, are only a half or a quarter webbed.
Arboreal frogs have "toe pads" to help grip vertical surfaces. These pads, located on the ends of the toes, do not work by suction. Rather, the surface of the pad consists of interlocking cells, with a small gap between adjacent cells. When the frog applies pressure to the toe pads, the interlocking cells grip irregularities on the substrate. The small gaps between the cells drain away all but a thin layer of moisture on the pad, and maintain a grip through capillarity. This allows the frog to grip smooth surfaces, and does not function when the pads are excessively wet.
In many arboreal frogs, a small "intercalary structure" in each toe increases the surface area touching the substrate. Furthermore, since hopping through trees can be dangerous, many arboreal frogs have hip joints that allow both hopping and walking. Some frogs that live high in trees even possess an elaborate degree of webbing between their toes, as do aquatic frogs. In these arboreal frogs, the webs allow the frogs to "parachute" or control their glide from one position in the canopy to another.
Ground-dwelling frogs generally lack the adaptations of aquatic and arboreal frogs. Most have smaller toe pads, if any, and little webbing. Some burrowing frogs have a toe extension—a metatarsal tubercle—that helps them to burrow. The hind legs of ground dwellers are more muscular than those of aqueous and tree-dwelling frogs.
Sometimes during the tadpole stage, one of the animal's rear leg stubs is eaten by a dragonfly nymph. In some of these cases, the full leg grows anyway, and in other cases, it does not, although the frog may still live out its normal lifespan with only three legs. Other times, a parasitic flatworm called Riberoria trematodes digs into the rear of a tadpole, where it rearranges the limb bud cells, which sometimes causes the frog to have extra legs.
Poison - Many frogs contain mild toxins that make them unpalatable to potential predators. For example, all toads have large poison glands—the parotoid glands—located behind the eyes, on the top of the head. Some frogs, such as some poison dart frogs, are especially toxic. The chemical makeup of toxins in frogs varies from irritants to hallucinogens, convulsants, nerve poisons, and vasoconstrictors. Many predators of frogs have adapted to tolerate high levels of these poisons. Others, including humans, may be severely affected.
Some frogs obtain poisons from the ants and other arthropods they eat; others, such as the Australian Corroboree Frogs (Pseudophryne corroboree and Pseudophryne pengilleyi), can manufacture an alkaloid not derived from their diet. Some native people of South America extract poison from the poison dart frogs and apply it to their darts for hunting, although few species are toxic enough to be used for this purpose. It was previously a misconception the poison was placed on arrows rather than darts. The common name of these frogs was thus changed from "poison arrow frog" to "poison dart frog" in the early 1980s. Poisonous frogs tend to advertise their toxicity with bright colours, an adaptive strategy known as aposematism. There are at least two non-poisonous species of frogs in tropical America (Eleutherodactylus gaigei and Lithodytes lineatus) that mimic the colouration of dart poison frogs' coloration for self-protection (Batesian mimicry).
Because frog toxins are extraordinarily diverse, they have raised the interest of biochemists as a "natural pharmacy". The alkaloid epibatidine, a painkiller 200 times more potent than morphine, is found in some species of poison dart frogs. Other chemicals isolated from the skin of frogs may offer resistance to HIV infection. Arrow and dart poisons are under active investigation for their potential as therapeutic drugs.
The skin secretions of some toads, such as the Colorado River toad and cane toad, contain bufotoxins, some of which, such as bufotenin, are psychoactive, and have therefore been used as recreational drugs. Typically, the skin secretions are dried and smoked. Skin licking is especially dangerous, and appears to constitute an urban myth.
Assorted frogs can be seen in the Reptile House located in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
Geoffroy's Tamarin (Saguinus geoffroyi), also known as the Panamanian, Red-crested or Rufous-naped Tamarin, is a tamarin, a type of small monkey, found in Panama and Colombia. It is predominantly black and white, with a reddish nape. Diurnal, Geoffroy's Tamarin spends most of its time in trees, but does come down to the ground occasionally. It lives in groups that most often number between three and five individuals, and generally include one or more adults of each gender. It eats a variety of foods, including insects, exudates, fruits and other plant parts. Insects and fruits account for the majority of its diet, but exudates are also important. But since its teeth are not adapted for gouging trees to get to the sap, it can only eat exudates when they are easily available.
Although a variety of reproductive methods are used, the most common is for a single adult female in the group to be reproductively active and to mate with multiple adult males in the group. After a gestation period of about 145 days, she gives birth to either a single infant or twins. Males contribute significantly to care of the infants. Sexual maturity is reached at about 2 years, and it can live up to 13 years. Geoffroy's Tamarin is classified as "Least Concern" by the IUCN.
In common with other callitrichides (tamarins and marmosets), Geoffroy's Tamarin is a small monkey. With a length of between 225 and 240 millimeters (8.9 and 9.4 in), excluding the tail, it is the smallest Central American monkey. The tail length is between 314 and 386 millimeters (12.4 and 15.2 in). Males have an average weight of 486 grams (17.1 oz), and females are slightly larger on average, with an average weight of 507 grams (17.9 oz). The fur on its back is variegated black and yellow, with pale legs, feet and chest. Its face is nearly bare, but the head has reddish fur with a triangle-shaped patch in the front of the head. The tail is chestnut-red and has a black tip.
Geoffroy's Tamarin can be seen on exhibit in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
The Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla, is the largest species of anteater. It is the only species in the genus Myrmecophaga. It is found in Central and South America from Honduras to northern Argentina. Its fossil remains have been found as far north as northwestern Sonora, Mexico.
It is a solitary animal, found in many habitats, including grasslands, deciduous forests and rainforests. It feeds mainly on ants and termites, sometimes up to 30,000 insects in a single day.
The giant anteater is one of few taxa of mammals without any teeth even in a mature state. An anteater instead crushes insects it consumes using hard growths found on the inside of its mouth, and its flabby stomach. Sand and small rocks have also been found in anteaters' stomachs, suggesting that these are ingested to aid digestion (possible gastroliths). They have an average body temperature of 32.7oC, which is one of the lowest of all land-living mammals. This low rate of metabolism, common in xenarthrans, means it is inactive for a mammal. Unlike most mammals, the giant anteater's gastric acid does not contain hydrochloric acid; rather, it uses formic acid produced by its prey.
It grows to a size of up to 7 feet (2.1 m) in length, with a 4-foot-long (1.2 m) head and torso, and a 3-foot-long (0.91 m) tail. Generally it weighs from 65 to 140 pounds (29 to 64 kg).
The giant anteater is covered with stiff, straw-like hair which grows up to 40 cm long on the tail. Young have soft hair until they are mature. The dominant colouring may be grey or brown, but all have a diagonal black and white shoulder stripe.
The giant anteater is generally acknowledged to have a very keen sense of smell, used to locate ants, but is thought to have poor sight and hearing.
The giant anteater does not sleep in any fixed place, instead curling up in abandoned burrows and hollows. It covers its body with its long, bushy tail to sleep.
In the wild, it is nocturnal (or active at night) near human settlements, and diurnal (active during the day) elsewhere. It stays mainly on dry ground but is a strong and capable swimmer.
When threatened, it stands up on its hind legs, using its tail to aid balance, and may strike extremely rapidly with its claws or "hug" attackers much like a bear. An adult anteater is capable of fending off or even killing its main predators, big cats such as the jaguar and the cougar.
Despite its name, Myrmecophaga tridactyla, from the Greek meaning 'three-fingered ant eater', the anteater has five digits on each foot; however the middle three digits of the forefeet have elongated claws. These are extremely strong and are used to break open ant and termite mounds in order to feed, and provide effective defense against predators. The anteater walks on its knuckles in order to protect them, giving it a shuffling gait. Their wrist bones are adapted for knuckle-walking in much the same way as those of chimpanzees. The forefeet also have one other smaller claw, and the rear feet have five small claws.
The anteater's tongue can reach two feet (60 cm) in length, but has a width of only 1/2 inch (12.5 mm). The anteater can cover its tongue in sticky saliva, allowing it to trap ants, and can extend and withdraw it up to 150 times per minute. Pangolins, the giant anteater, and the tube-lipped nectar bat all have developed tongues which are detached from their hyoid bone and extend past their pharynx deep into the thorax, an example of convergent evolution. This extension lies between the sternum and the trachea.
The Giant Anteaters exhibit is currently located in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
The jaguar (Panthera onca) is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Mexico across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina. Apart from a known and possibly breeding population in Arizona (southeast of Tucson), the cat has largely been extirpated from the United States since the early 1900s.
This spotted cat most closely resembles the leopard physically, although it is usually larger and of sturdier build and its behavioral and habitat characteristics are closer to those of the tiger. While dense rainforest is its preferred habitat, the jaguar will range across a variety of forested and open terrain. It is strongly associated with the presence of water and is notable, along with the tiger, as a feline that enjoys swimming. The jaguar is a largely solitary, stalk-and-ambush predator, and is opportunistic in prey selection. It is also an apex and keystone predator, playing an important role in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating the populations of prey species. The jaguar has an exceptionally powerful bite, even relative to the other big cats. This allows it to pierce the shells of armored reptiles and to employ an unusual killing method: it bites directly through the skull of prey between the ears to deliver a fatal bite to the brain.
The jaguar is a near threatened species and its numbers are declining. Threats include habitat loss and fragmentation. While international trade in jaguars or their parts is prohibited, the cat is still regularly killed by humans, particularly in conflicts with ranchers and farmers in South America. Although reduced, its range remains large; given its historical distribution, the jaguar has featured prominently in the mythology of numerous indigenous American cultures, including that of the Maya and Aztec.
The jaguar is a compact and well-muscled animal. There are significant variations in size and weight: weights are normally in the range of 56–96 kilograms (124–211 lb). Larger males have been recorded at 160 kilograms (350 lb) (roughly matching a tigress or lioness), and smaller ones have extremely low weights of 36 kilograms (80 lb). Females are typically 10–20% smaller than males. The length of the cat varies from 1.62–1.83 metres (5.3–6 ft), and its tail may add a further 75 centimeters (30 in). It stands about 67–76 centimeters (27–30 in) tall at the shoulders.
Further variations in size have been observed across regions and habitats, with size tending to increase from the north to south. A study of the jaguar in the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve on the Mexican Pacific coast, showed ranges of just 30–50 kilograms (66–110 lb), about the size of the cougar. By contrast, a study of the Jaguar in the Brazilian Pantanal region found average weights of 100 kilograms (220 lb) and weights of 300 lb or more are not uncommon in old males. Forest jaguars are frequently darker and considerably smaller than those found in open areas (the Pantanal is an open wetland basin), possibly due to the smaller numbers of large herbivorous prey in forest areas.
A short and stocky limb structure makes the jaguar adept at climbing, crawling and swimming. The head is robust and the jaw extremely powerful. The jaguar has the strongest bite of all felids capable of biting down with 2000 lbs of force twice the strength of a lion, and the second strongest of all mammals after the spotted hyena; this strength is an adaptation that allows the jaguar to pierce turtle shells. A comparative study of bite force adjusted for body size ranked it as the top felid, alongside the clouded leopard and ahead of the lion and tiger. It has been reported that "an individual jaguar can drag a 360 kg (800 lb) bull 8 m (25 ft) in its jaws and pulverize the heaviest bones”. The jaguar hunts wild animals weighing up to 300 kilograms (660 lb) in dense jungle, and its short and sturdy physique is thus an adaptation to its prey and environment.
The base coat of the jaguar is generally a tawny yellow, but can range to reddish-brown and black. The cat is covered in rosettes for camouflage in its jungle habitat. The spots vary over individual coats and between individual Jaguars: rosettes may include one or several dots, and the shape of the dots varies. The spots on the head and neck are generally solid, as are those on the tail, where they may merge to form a band. The underbelly, throat and outer surface of the legs and lower flanks are white.
A condition known as melanism occurs in the species. The melanistic form is less common than the spotted form (it occurs at about six percent of the population), of jaguars and is the result of a dominant allele. Jaguars with melanism appear entirely black, although their spots are still visible on close examination. Melanistic Jaguars are informally known as black panthers, but do not form a separate species. Rare albino individuals, sometimes called white panthers, also occur among jaguars, as with the other big cats.
While the jaguar closely resembles the leopard, it is sturdier and heavier, and the two animals can be distinguished by their rosettes: the rosettes on a jaguar's coat are larger, fewer in number, usually darker, and have thicker lines and small spots in the middle that the leopard lacks. Jaguars also have rounder heads and shorter, stockier limbs compared to leopards.
Jaguars can be seen on exhibit in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
The Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) is the largest canid of South America, resembling a large fox with reddish fur.
This mammal is found in open and semi-open habitats, especially grasslands with scattered bushes and trees, in south, central-west and south-eastern Brazil (Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Goiás, São Paulo, Federal District and recently Rio Grande do Sul), Paraguay, northern Argentina, Bolivia east and north of the Andes, and far south-eastern Peru (Pampas del Heath only). It is very rare in Uruguay. IUCN lists it as near threatened, while it is considered vulnerable by the Brazilian government (IBAMA). It is the only species in the genus Chrysocyon. It is locally known as aguará guazú (meaning “large fox”) in the Guarani language, as "lobo guará" in Portuguese and as "lobo de crin" in Spanish (Also called "borochi" in the Bolivian eastern lowlands and can be seen in the Santa Cruz de la Sierra zoo).
The Maned Wolf has often been described as "a Red Fox on stilts" owing to its similar coloration and overall appearance, though it is much larger than a Red Fox and belongs to a different genus. The adult animal stands almost 1 m (3.3 ft) tall at the shoulder, and weighs 20 to 25 kg (44 to 55 lb). The maned wolf is the tallest of the wild canids. The long legs are probably an adaptation to the tall grasslands of its native habitat. Fur of the Maned Wolf may be reddish brown to golden orange on the sides with long, black legs and a distinctive black mane. The coat is further marked with a whitish tuft at the tip of the tail and a white "bib" beneath the throat. The mane is erectile, and is typically used to enlarge the wolf's profile when threatened or when displaying aggression.
The maned wolf is also known for its distinctive odor, which has earned it the nickname "Skunk Wolf."
The Maned Wolf exhibit is located in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
The Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), also known as the Dwarf Leopard, McKenney's Wildcat, Jaguatirica (in Brazil), Jaguarete (in Paraguay and Argentina), Tigrillo (in Ecuador and Colombia), Cunaguaro (in Venezuela), or Manigordo (in Costa Rica and Panama) is a wild cat distributed over South and Central America and Mexico, but has been reported as far north as Texas and in Trinidad, in the Caribbean. North of Mexico, it is found regularly only in the extreme southern part of Texas, although there are rare sightings in Southern Arizona.
The Ocelot is similar in appearance to a domestic cat. Its fur resembles that of a Clouded Leopard or Jaguar and was once regarded as particularly valuable. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Ocelots were once killed for their fur. The feline was classified a "vulnerable" endangered species from 1972 until 1996, but is now rated "least concern" by the 2008 IUCN Red List.
The Ocelot ranges from 68 to 100 centimeters (27 to 39 in) in length, plus 26 to 45 centimeters (10 to 18 in) tail length, and typically weighs 8 to 10 kilograms (18 to 22 lb), although much larger individuals have occasionally been recorded, making it the largest of the generally dainty Leopardus wild cat genus. It has sleek fur, rounded ears and relatively large front paws. While similar in appearance to the Oncilla and Margay, which inhabit the same region, the Ocelot is larger.
It has the lowest resting body temperature of any feline.
The coat pattern of ocelots is relatively variable, being anything from cream to reddish-brown in color, or sometimes grey, and marked with black spots and rosettes. In many individuals, some of the spots, especially on the back, blend together to form irregular stripes or bands. The fur is short, and pale or white beneath. There are also single white spots, called ocelli, on the backs of the ears, and there are two black lines on either side of the face. It has a black-banded tail.
The Ocelot is mostly nocturnal and very territorial. It will fight fiercely, sometimes to the death, in territorial disputes. In addition, the cat marks its territory with especially pungent urine. Like most felines, it is solitary, usually meeting only to mate. However, during the day it rests in trees or other dense foliage, and will occasionally share its spot with another Ocelot of the same sex. Males occupy territories of 3.5 to 46 square kilometers (1.4 to 18 sq mi), while females occupy smaller, non-overlapping territories of 0.8 to 15 square kilometers (0.31 to 5.8 sq mi). Territories are marked by urine spraying and by leaving feces in prominent locations, sometimes favoring particular latrine sites.
Ocelots hunt over a range of 18 km2 (7 sq mi), taking mostly small mammals (deer, various rodents), reptiles and amphibians (lizards, turtles and frogs), crab, birds and fish. Almost all of the prey that the Ocelot hunts is far smaller than itself, with rodents, rabbits, and opposums forming the largest part of the diet. Studies suggest that it follows and finds prey via odor trails, but the Ocelot also has very good vision, including night vision.
The Ocelot is distributed over South and Central America and Mexico, but has been reported as far north as Texas and in Trinidad, in the Caribbean. Countries in this range are: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Nicaragua, Suriname, United States and Venezuela. It's likely extinct in Uruguay.
The Ocelot once inhabited chaparral thickets of the Gulf Coast of south and eastern Texas, and could be found in Arizona, Louisiana, and Arkansas. In the United States, it now ranges only in several small areas of dense thicket in South Texas and is rarely sighted in Arizona. On November 7, 2009, an ocelot was photographed in the mountains of Cochise County, Arizona. This is the first such verifiable evidence of the feline's presence in the state.
The Ocelot's continued presence in the U.S. is questionable, as a result largely of the introduction of dogs, being shot by ranchers, the loss of habitat, and the introduction of highways. Young male Ocelots are frequently killed by cars during their search for a territory. The feline was classified a "vulnerable" endangered species from 1972 till 1996, but is now rated "least concern" by the 2008 IUCN Red List.
Ocelots only inhabit areas with relatively dense vegetation cover, although they may occasionally hunt in more open areas at night. They are found in tropical forest, thorn forest, mangrove swamps and savanna, at elevations ranging up to 1,200 meters (3,900 ft).
The ocelot can be seen on exhibit in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
The Pythonidae, commonly known simply as pythons, from the Greek word python-πυθων, are a family of non-venomous snakes found in Africa, Asia and Australia. Among its members are some of the largest snakes in the world. Eight genera and 26 species are currently recognized.
Most members of this family are ambush predators, in that they typically remain motionless in a camouflaged position and then strike suddenly at passing prey. They will generally not attack humans unless startled or provoked, although females protecting their eggs can be aggressive. Large adult specimens can kill people. Unsuspecting children can and have been preyed upon and swallowed whole after being suffocated. Reports of attacks on human beings were once more common in South and Southeast Asia, but are now quite rare.
Prey is killed by a process known as constriction; after an animal has been grasped to restrain it, a number of coils are hastily wrapped around it. Then, by applying and maintaining sufficient pressure to prevent it from inhaling, the prey eventually succumbs due to asphyxiation. It has recently been suggested that the pressures produced during constriction cause cardiac arrest by interfering with blood flow, but this hypothesis has not yet been confirmed.
Larger specimens usually eat animals about the size of a house cat, but larger food items are not unknown: some large Asian species have been known to take down adult deer, and the African rock python, Python sebae, has been known to eat gazelle. Prey is swallowed whole, and may take anywhere from several days or even weeks to fully digest.
Contrary to popular belief, even the larger species, such as the reticulated python, P. reticulatus, do not crush their prey to death; in fact, prey is not even noticeably deformed before it is swallowed. The speed with which the coils are applied is impressive and the force they exert may be significant, but death is caused by suffocation, with the victim not being able to move its ribs to breathe while it is being constricted.
The Blood Python is located in the Reptile House in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
The Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber) is a species of ibis that inhabits tropical South America and also Trinidad and Tobago. It is the national bird of Trinidad and is featured on the Trinidad and Tobago coat of arms along with Tobago's national bird, the Rufous-vented Chachalaca.
The Sloth Bear (Ursus ursinus = Melursus ursinus), also known as the Labiated Bear, is an arboreal, nocturnal and insectivorous species of bear restricted to the Indian subcontinent. Originally, naturalists considered the sloth bear to be a species of sloth rather than a true bear. Because of this, the species has been renamed numerous times. After a sloth bear was taken to Europe for the first time in 1790, it was given the binomial name Bradypus pentadactylus, as well as the conventional names of "five fingered sloth", "sloth bear" and "ursine sloth". Meyer named the genus "melursus", while Fischer called it "chondrorychus". Shaw called it "Bradypus ursinus", while M. Blainville called it Ursus labiatus while Tiedemann called it Ursus longirostris.
Sloth bears are distinguished from Asian black bears by their lankier builds, longer, shaggier coat, pale muzzle and white claws. Sloth bear muzzles are thick and long, with small jaws and bulbous snouts with wide nostrils. They have long lower lips which can be stretched over the outer edge of the nose, and lack upper incisors, thus allowing them to suck up large numbers of insects. The premolars and molars are smaller than in other bears, as they do not chew as much vegetation. In adults, the teeth are usually in poor condition, due to the amount of dirt they suck up and chew when feeding on insects. The back of the palate is long and broad, as is typical in other ant-eating mammals. The paws are disproportionately large, and have highly developed, sickle shaped blunt claws which measure 4 inches in length. Their toe pads are connected by a hairless web. They have the longest tail in the bear family, which can grow to 6–7 inches. Their back legs are not very strong, though they are knee-jointed, and allow the sloth bear to assume almost any position. The ears are very large and floppy. Sloth bear fur is completely black (rusty for some specimens), save for a whitish Y or V shaped mark on the chest. This feature is sometimes absent, particularly in Sri Lankan specimens. This feature, which is also present in Asian black bears and sun bears, is thought to serve as a threat display, as all three species are sympatric with tigers. The coat is long, shaggy and unkempt, and is particularly heavy behind the neck and between the shoulders, forming a mane which can be 30 cm long. The belly and underlegs are almost bare. Adult sloth bears usually weigh 220 lbs, though they can reach up to 300 lbs. They are 2.3 feet high at the shoulder, and have a body length of 5–6 feet. Females are smaller than males, and have more fur between the shoulders.
Bengal tigers will occasionally prey on sloth bears. Tigers usually give sloth bears a wide berth, though some specimens may become habitual bear killers and it is not uncommon to find sloth bear fur in tiger scats. Tigers typically hunt sloth bears by waiting for them to feed on ant-hills, then creep behind them and seize them by the back of their necks and force them to the ground with their weight. One tiger was reported to simply break its victim's back with its paw, then wait for the paralyzed bear to exhaust itself trying to escape before going in for the kill. When confronted by tigers face to face, sloth bears will charge at them, crying loudly. A young, or already satiated tiger will usually retreat from an assertive sloth bear, as the bear's claws can inflict serious wounds. Sloth bears may scavenge on tiger kills. As tigers are known to mimic the calls of sambar deer to attract them, sloth bears react fearfully even to the sounds made by deer themselves. Indian leopards can also be a threat, as they are able to follow sloth bears up trees. Sloth bears will occasionally chase leopards from their kills.
Sloth bears are sympatric with Asiatic Black Bears in Northern India, and the two species, along with the sun bear, co-exist in some of the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. They are also found together in Assam, Manipur and Mizoram, in the hills south of the Brahmaputra river, the only places occupied by all three bear species. The three species do not act aggressively toward each other.
Dhole packs may attack sloth bears, though they are not a usual prey item. When attacking sloth bears, dholes will try to prevent the bear from retreating in caves.
Asian elephants apparently do not tolerate sloth bears in their vicinity. The reason for this is unknown, as individual elephants known to maintain their composure near tigers have been reported to charge bears. Indian rhinoceros have a similar intolerance for sloth bears, and will charge at them.
The Sloth Bear is located in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
Spider monkeys of the genus Ateles are New World monkeys in the subfamily Atelinae, family Atelidae. Like other atelines, they are found in tropical forests of Central and South America, from southern Mexico to Brazil. The genus contains seven species including the critically endangered Black-headed Spider Monkey and Brown Spider Monkey.
The disproportionately long limbs and long prehensile tail makes them one of the largest New World monkeys and gives rise to their common name. Spider monkeys live in the upper layers of the rainforest and forage in the high canopy, from 25 to 30 m (82 to 98 ft). They primarily eat fruits, but will also occasionally consume leaves, flowers, and insects. Due to their large size, spider monkeys require large tracts of moist evergreen forests and prefer undisturbed primary rainforest. They are social animals and live in bands of up to 35 individuals but will split up to forage during the day.
Recent meta-analyses on primate cognition studies indicated that spider monkeys were the most intelligent New World monkeys. They can produce a wide range of sounds and will 'bark' when threatened, other vocalizations include a whinny similar to a horse and prolonged screams.
They are an important food source due to their large size and are widely hunted by local human populations; they are also threatened by habitat destruction due to logging and land clearing. Spider monkeys are susceptible to malaria and are used in laboratory studies of the disease. The population trend for spider monkeys is decreasing; the IUCN Red List lists one species as vulnerable, four species as endangered and two species as critically endangered.
Spider monkeys are among the largest New World monkeys; Black-headed Spider Monkeys, the largest spider monkey, have an average weight of 10.8 kg (24 lb) for males and 9.66 kg (21.3 lb) for females. Disproportionately long, spindly limbs inspired the spider monkey's common name. Their deftly prehensile tails, which may be up to 89 cm (35 in) long, have very flexible, hairless tips and skin grooves similar to fingerprints. This adaptation to the spider monkey's strictly arboreal lifestyle serves as a fifth hand. When the monkey walks, its arms practically drag on the ground. Unlike many monkeys, they do not use their arms for balance when walking, instead relying on their tail. The hands are long, narrow and hook like, and have no thumbs. The fingers are elongated and recurved.
The hair is coarse, ranging in color from ruddy gold to brown and black; the hands and feet are usually black. Heads are small with hairless faces. The nostrils are very far apart, which is a distinguishing feature of spider monkeys.
Spider monkeys are highly agile, and they are said to be second only to the gibbons in this respect.
The diet of spider monkeys consists of about 90% fruits and nuts. They can live for long periods on only one or two kinds of fruits and nuts. They eat the fruits of many big forest trees, and because they swallow fruits whole, the seeds are eventually excreted and fertilized by the feces. Studies show the diet of spider monkeys changes their reproductive, social, and physical behavioral patterns. Most feeding happens from dawn to 10 am. Afterward, the adults rest while the young play. Through the rest of the day they may feed infrequently until around 10 pm. If food is low they may eat insects, bark and honey.
Spider monkeys have a unique way of getting food: a lead female is responsible for feeding. If she cannot find enough food for the group, it splits into smaller groups to find food easier. The traveling groups have four to nine animals. Each group is closely associated with its territory. If the group is big, it spreads out.
The spider monkey can be seen on Monkey Island located in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
The squirrel monkeys are the New World monkeys of the genus Saimiri. They are the only genus in the subfamily Saimirinae.
Squirrel monkeys live in the tropical forests of Central and South America in the canopy layer. Most species have parapatric or allopatric ranges in the Amazon, while S. oerstedii is found disjunctly in Costa Rica and Panama.
Squirrel monkey fur is short and close, colored olive at the shoulders and yellowish orange on its back and extremities. Their throat and the ears are white and their mouths are black. The upper part of their head is hairy. This black-and-white face gives them the name "death's head monkey" in several Germanic languages (e.g., German Totenkopfaffen, Swedish dödskalleapor, Dutch doodshoofdaapjes) and Slovenian (smrtoglavka).
Squirrel monkeys grow to 25 to 35 cm, plus a 35 to 42 cm tail. Male squirrel monkeys weigh 750 to 1100 g. Females weigh 500 to 750 g. Remarkably, the brain mass to body mass ratio for squirrel monkeys is 1:17, which gives them the largest brain, proportionately, of all the primates. Humans have a 1:35 ratio.
Female squirrel monkeys have a pseudo-penis that they use to display dominance over smaller monkeys, in much the same way the male squirrel monkeys display their dominance.
Like most of their New World monkey relatives, squirrel monkeys are diurnal and arboreal. Unlike the other New World monkeys, their tail is not used for climbing, but as a kind of "balancing pole" and also as a tool. Their movements in the branches can be very rapid.
They live together in multi-male/multi-female groups with up to 500 members. These large groups can, however occasionally break into smaller troops. They have a number of vocal calls, including warning sounds to protect themselves from large falcons, which are a natural threat to them. Their small body size also makes them susceptible to predators such as snakes and felids. For marking territory, squirrel monkeys rub their tail and their skin with their own urine.
Squirrel monkeys are omnivores, eating primarily fruits and insects. Occasionally they also eat seeds, leaves, flowers, buds, nuts, eggs and small vertebrates.
The mating of the squirrel monkeys is subject to seasonal influences. Females give birth to young during the rainy season, after a 150- to 170-day gestation. The mothers exclusively care for the young. Saimiri oerstedti are weaned by 4 months of age, while S. boliviensis are not fully weaned until 18 months old. Female squirrel monkeys reach sexual maturity at age 3 years, while males take until age 5. They live to about 15 years old in the wild, about 20 years in captivity.
The Common Squirrel Monkey S. sciureus is captured for the pet trade and for medical research but it is not threatened. Two squirrel monkey species are threatened: S. oerstedti and S. vanzolinii are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
Color vision in squirrel monkeys has been extensively studied as a stand-in for human ailments. In humans, two genes for color vision are found on the X chromosome. Typically, one gene (OPN1LW) produces a pigment that is most sensitive to the 564 nm wavelength, while the other gene (OPN1MW) produces pigment most sensitive to 534 nm. In squirrel monkeys, there is only one gene on the X chromosome but it exists in three varieties: one is most sensitive to 538 nm, one to 551 nm, and one to 561 nm. Since males have only one X chromosome, they are dichromatic, although with different sensitivites. Females, on the other hand, have two X chromosomes, so some of them can have copies of two different alleles. The three alleles seem to be equally common, leading to one-third of females being dichromatic while two-thirds are trichromatic. Recently, gene therapy has given the human OPN1LW gene to adult male squirrel monkeys, producing behavior consistent with trichromatic color vision.
Squirrel Monkeys can be seen in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
Toucans, Toucantes, and Aracaris are birds of the family, Ramphastidae, of near passerine birds from the neotropics (i.e. Southern Mexico, Central, South American, and Caribbean region). The family is most closely related to the American barbets. They are brightly marked and have large, colorful bills. The family includes five genera and about forty different species. The name of this bird group is derived from Tupi tucana, via Portuguese.
Toucans range in size from the Lettered Aracari (Pteroglossus inscriptus), at 130 g (4.6 oz) and 29 cm (11.5 inches), to the Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco), at 680 g (1.5 lb) and 63 cm (29 inches). Their bodies are short (of comparable size to a crow's) and compact. The tail is rounded and varies in length, from half the length to the whole length of the body. The neck is short and thick. The wings are small, as they are forest-dwelling birds who only need to travel short distances, and are often of about the same span as the bill-tip-to-tail-tip measurements of the bird.
The legs of a toucan are strong and rather short. Their toes are arranged in pairs with the first and fourth toes turned backward. The majority of toucans do not show any sexual dimorphism in their coloration, the genus Selenidera being the most notable exception to this rule (hence their common name, "dichromatic toucanets"). However, the bills of female toucans are usually shorter, deeper and sometimes straighter, giving more of a "blocky" impression compared to male bills. The feathers in the genus containing the largest toucans are generally black, with touches of white, yellow, and scarlet. The underparts of the araçaris (smaller toucans) are yellow, crossed by one or more black or red bands. The toucanets have mostly green plumage with blue markings.
The colorful, giant bill, which in some large species measure more than half the length of the body, is the hallmark of toucans. Despite its size it is very light, being composed of bone struts filled with spongy tissue of keratin between them. The bill has forward-facing serrations resembling teeth, which historically led naturalists to believe that toucans captured fish and were primarily carnivorous; today it is known that they eat mostly fruit. Researchers have discovered that the large bill of the toucan is a highly efficient thermoregulation system, though its size may still be advantageous in other ways. It does aid in their feeding behavior (as they sit in one spot and reach for all fruit in range, thereby reducing energy expenditure), and it has also been theorised that the bill may intimidate smaller birds, so that the toucan may plunder nests undisturbed. Also, the beak allows the bird to reach deep into treeholes to access food unavailable to other birds, and also to depredate suspended nests built by smaller birds. However, as there is no sexual dimorphism in coloration it is unlikely to be a sexual signal.
A toucan's tongue is long (up to 14–5 cm, or 6 inches), narrow, grey, and singularly frayed on each side, adding to its sensitivity as an organ of taste.
A structural complex probably unique to toucans involves the modification of several tail vertebrae. The rear three vertebrae are fused and attached to the spine by a ball and socket joint. Because of this, toucans may snap their tail forwards until it touches the head. This is the posture in which they sleep, often appearing simply as a ball of feathers, with the tip of the tail sticking out over the head.
Toucans are arboreal and typically lay 2–4 white eggs in their nests. They make their nests in tree hollows and holes excavated by other animals such as woodpeckers — the toucan bill has very limited use as an excavation tool. When the eggs hatch, the young emerge completely naked, without any down. Toucans are resident breeders and do not migrate. Toucans are usually found in pairs or small flocks. They sometimes fence with their bills and wrestle, which scientists hypothesize they do to establish dominance hierarchies.
Toucans are primarily frugivorous (fruit eating), but are opportunistically omnivorous and will take prey such as insects and small lizards. Captive toucans have been reported to actively hunt insects in their cages, and it is possible to keep toucans on an insect-only diet. They also plunder nests of smaller birds, taking eggs and nestlings. This probably provides a crucial addition of protein to their diet. However, in their range, toucans are the dominant frugivores, and as such play an extremely important ecological role as vectors for seed dispersal of fruiting trees. Often when eating small fruits, toucans will throw their heads back and allow the fruit to roll into their throats before swallowing.
View the Toco Toucans daily in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
Turtles are reptiles of the order Testudines (the crown group of the superorder Chelonia), characterized by a special bony or cartilaginous shell developed from their ribs that acts as a shield. "Turtle" may either refer to the Testudines as a whole, or to particular Testudines which make up a form taxon that is not monophyletic—see also sea turtle, terrapin, tortoise, and the discussion below.
The order Testudines includes both extant (living) and extinct species. The earliest known turtles date from 215 million years ago, making turtles one of the oldest reptile groups and a more ancient group than lizards, snakes and Crocodiles. Of the many species alive today some are highly endangered.
Like other reptiles, turtles are ectotherms—varying their internal temperature according to the ambient environment, commonly called cold-blooded. However, leatherback sea turtles have noticeably higher body temperature than surrounding water because of their high metabolic rate.
Like other amniotes (reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and mammals), they breathe air and do not lay eggs underwater, although many species live in or around water. The largest turtles are aquatic.
Neck folding - Turtles are divided into two groups, according to how they evolved a solution to the problem of withdrawing their necks into their shells (something the ancestral Proganochelys could not do): the Cryptodira, which can draw their necks in while contracting it under their spine; and the Pleurodira, which contract their necks to the side.
Head - Most turtles that spend most of their life on land have their eyes looking down at objects in front of them. Some aquatic turtles, such as snapping turtles and soft-shelled turtles, have eyes closer to the top of the head. These species of turtles can hide from predators in shallow water where they lie entirely submerged except for their eyes and nostrils. Sea turtles possess glands near their eyes that produce salty tears that rid their body of excess salt taken in from the water they drink.
Turtles are thought to have exceptional night vision due to the unusually large number of rod cells in their retinas. Turtles have color vision with a wealth of cone subtypes with sensitivities ranging from the near ultraviolet (UV) to red. Some land turtles have very poor pursuit movement abilities, which are normally reserved for predators that hunt quick moving prey, but carnivorous turtles are able to move their heads quickly to snap.
Turtles have a rigid beak. Turtles use their jaws to cut and chew food. Instead of teeth, the upper and lower jaws of the turtle are covered by horny ridges. Carnivorous turtles usually have knife-sharp ridges for slicing through their prey. Herbivorous turtles have serrated-edged ridges that help them cut through tough plants. Turtles use their tongues to swallow food, but they cannot, unlike most reptiles, stick out their tongues to catch food.
Shell - The upper shell of the turtle is called the carapace. The lower shell that encases the belly is called the plastron. The carapace and plastron are joined together on the turtle's sides by bony structures called bridges. The inner layer of a turtle's shell is made up of about 60 bones that include portions of the backbone and the ribs, meaning the turtle cannot crawl out of its shell. In most turtles, the outer layer of the shell is covered by horny scales called scutes that are part of its outer skin, or epidermis. Scutes are made up of a fibrous protein called keratin that also makes up the scales of other reptiles. These scutes overlap the seams between the shell bones and add strength to the shell. Some turtles do not have horny scutes. For example, the Leatherback turtle and the soft-shelled turtles have shells covered with leathery skin instead.
The rigid shell means turtles cannot breathe as other reptiles do, by changing the volume of their chest cavity via expansion and contraction of the ribs. Instead, turtles breathe in two ways. First, they employ buccal pumping, pulling air into their mouth then pushing it into the lungs via oscillations of the floor of the throat. Secondly, by contracting the abdominal muscles that cover the posterior opening of the shell, the internal volume of the shell increases, drawing air into the lungs, allowing these muscles to function in much the same way as the mammalian diaphragm.
The shape of the shell gives helpful clues to how the turtle lives. Most tortoises have a large dome-shaped shell that makes it difficult for predators to crush the shell between their jaws. One of the few exceptions is the African pancake tortoise, which has a flat, flexible shell that allows it to hide in rock crevices. Most aquatic turtles have flat, streamlined shells which aid in swimming and diving. American snapping turtles and musk turtles have small, cross-shaped plastrons that give them more efficient leg movement for walking along the bottom of ponds and streams.
The color of a turtle's shell may vary. Shells are commonly colored brown, black, or olive green. In some species, shells may have red, orange, yellow, or grey markings and these markings are often spots, lines, or irregular blotches. One of the most colorful turtles is the eastern painted turtle which includes a yellow plastron and a black or olive shell with red markings around the rim.
Tortoises, being land-based, have rather heavy shells. In contrast, aquatic and soft-shelled turtles have lighter shells that help them avoid sinking in water and swim faster with more agility. These lighter shells have large spaces called fontanelles between the shell bones. The shells of leatherback turtles are extremely light because they lack scutes and contain many fontanelles.
Skin and molting - As mentioned above, the outer layer of the shell is part of the skin; each scute (or plate) on the shell corresponds to a single modified scale. The remainder of the skin is composed of skin with much smaller scales, similar to the skin of other reptiles. Turtles do not molt their skins all at once, as snakes do, but continuously, in small pieces. When kept in aquaria, small sheets of dead skin can be seen in the water (often appearing to be a thin piece of plastic) having been sloughed off when the animal deliberately rubs itself against a piece of wood or stone. Tortoises also shed skin, but a lot of dead skin is allowed to accumulate into thick knobs and plates that provide protection to parts of the body outside the shell.
By counting the rings formed by the stack of smaller, older scutes on top of the larger, newer ones, it is possible to estimate the age of a turtle, if one knows how many scutes are produced in a year. This method is not very accurate, partly because growth rate is not constant, but also because some of the scutes eventually fall away from the shell.
Limbs - Terrestrial tortoises have short, sturdy feet. Tortoises are famous for moving slowly, in part because of their heavy, cumbersome shell, which restricts stride length.
The amphibious turtles normally have limbs similar to those of tortoises, except the feet are webbed and often have long claws. These turtles swim using all four feet in a way similar to the dog paddle, with the feet on the left and right side of the body alternately providing thrust. Large turtles tend to swim less than smaller ones, and the very big species, such as alligator snapping turtles, hardly swim at all, preferring to simply walk along the bottom of the river or lake. As well as webbed feet, turtles have very long claws, used to help them clamber onto riverbanks and floating logs, upon which they like to bask. Male turtles tend to have particularly long claws, and these appear to be used to stimulate the female while mating. While most turtles have webbed feet, some, such as the pig-nosed turtle, have true flippers, with the digits being fused into paddles and the claws being relatively small. These species swim in the same way as sea turtles (see below).
Sea turtles are almost entirely aquatic and have flippers instead of feet. Sea turtles fly through the water, using the up-and-down motion of the front flippers to generate thrust; the back feet are not used for propulsion, but may be used as rudders for steering. Compared with freshwater turtles, sea turtles have very limited mobility on land, and apart from the dash from the nest to the sea as hatchlings, male sea turtles normally never leave the sea. Females must come back onto land to lay eggs. They move very slowly and laboriously, dragging themselves forwards with their flippers.
Turtles can be seen at several locations at the Montgomery Zoo; including the Flight Avaiary in the South American realm, the lake front property, the Asian Koi Fish pond near the Train Depot and the assorted moats and water features located throughout the Zoo.