Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Amazing Amphibians Exhibit at the Toledo Zoo

One final entry from my Zoo Road Trip to Michigan and back.

Ohio has an abundance of excellent zoos.

One of the hightlights of my trip was the wonderful Toledo Zoo, and the experience was made all the more memorable by
an e-friend of mine who works there and gave me a personal tour of the exhibit.

I'm supposed to meet my e-maginary friend here. I wondered. Which one is he?
Seems like a nice guy, though a bit wooden.

The Toledo zoo was one of the only two zoos on my trip that had a separate amphibian and reptile exhibit (the other was Detroit); most often they are lumped together, to the detriment of the amphibians.

The zoo itself is beautiful, with many old buildings being restored and new ones constructed with reclaimed materials (as my tour guide informed me). Buildings are also being repurposed; the carnivore house changed was changed into to a restaurant. They did a really nice job.

It was very nice of my friend to take time from the endless duties of his job to tour me around the exhibit, spending almost an hour (lucky for me, as that is my upper limit for acting normal around a stranger. Probably lucky for him as well. Did I fool you?).

Entrance to the "Amazing Amphibians" exhibit.

We met in the lobby of the "Amazing Amphibian" building, which was all of that and more. I would say "house" but they shared the building with the Bug exhibit and the employee cafe...hey, what does that mean? They don't have to go far for their roaches, or vice-versa?

The Amazing Amphibians exhibit was really top-notch. What more could you want? A star-studded line-up of Andrias, Cryptobranchus, Mudpuppius...as well as the staples, the tiger salamander and the marbled salamander.

They had a lit display in there that had all kinds of neat amphibian info.

Let's start with the jewels of the collection: A. japonicus, fresh from the nail salon.
Nearby, the Hellbender.

The snot otter (aka hellbender) in the above picture has a certain resemblance to my ferret Dipsy...can you see it?


This mild-mannered entry way display is also a secret door! Though not so secret anymore.

A brightly colored mud salamander (Pseudotriton montanus diastictus), kept behind the secret door.
Closely related salamanders can eat a salamander as big as itself!

Aneides aeneus: The first time I ever saw one of these face to face.

One big feather in the cap of the Toledo Zoo is the breeding success of the Northern Slimy Salamanders. He showed me those as well.

The Woodland Salamanders Exhibit

Where's Waldo?

Having someone show me around was like getting a tour behind the scenes of Santa's Toy Factory. It got even better when he opened the case of the Woodland Salamander exhibit (a big whoosh of refrigerated air emerging) and started pointng out all the salamanders in the display that were visible in the nooks and crannies of the rock wall. Here was a variety of sals, I'd never seen before in real life either.


My tour guide was very proud of the Kihansi Spray Toads, and rightfully so. At first I didn't know what they were, except that "if you go to the Toledo Zoo, don't miss the Kihansi Spray Toads!" in an email from another of my weird salamander-loving friends. Here's a very brief summary from Wikipedia: "The Kihansi Spray Toad, Nectophrynoides asperginis, is a dwarf toad, with adults reaching no more than three quarters of an inch long. It was discovered in 1996. It was found only in spray zone around the Kihansi and Mhalala waterfalls in the southern Udzungwa Mountains in Tanzania. It is listed as a critical endangered species due to a restricted range, habitat loss and a declining population. The Toledo Zoo and the Bronx Zoo are two places where the Kihansi Spray Toad is on display"
(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kihansi_Spray_Toad ).

The habitat loss is due to a hydroelectric plant that was built into the falls, reducing the spray to such an extent that this microhabitat was no longer viable for the toads. Originally the Detroit zoo had great success breeding the toads and had given the Toledo zoo some of its extra spray frogs, and then Detroit's were wiped out by a disease, that the Toledo frogs escaped.
If I have any of the facts wrong, it's completely the fault of my short attention span, and not my friend's explanation.

There were many other kinds of frogs at the zoo--there were glass frogs, and more that I can't remember, except that I was amazed by the variety. My friend sure knew a lot about frogs. In his obvious enthusiasm, he told me lots and lots of stuff about them. Finally I got worried and had to say, "Listen, Buddy, I have to ask you somehting, and please don't be offended, but...(in a small and querulous voice)...do you like frogs better than salamanders?...(and suddenly emboldened)...weigh your words carefully. Remember, I'm a moderator on the salamander forum and I have the power to BAN YOU FOR LIFE!"
He paused for a short moment. "Uhhhh..Nnnnno,...I don't," he assured me. And then, "Salamanders Rule, Frogs drool," he added, for good measure.

Thus ended my tour. We exchanged some pleasantries, and also spent some time extolling the virtues of various seminal salamander textbooks. I think my friend was a bit relieved, I don't know if he could have stood to hear me say one more time, "It's so CUTE!"

I wandered through the public area of the exhibit some more.

Snips and snails and mudpuppies' tails: that's what amphibian exhibits are made of!

Caecilians...Are these things from Italy?

The Giant Waxy Monkey Treefrog (Phyllomedusa bicolor)

With the bulk of the budget going to spray toads, the zoo is forced to use flattened road kill as a "filler" exhibit (Suriname Toad, Pipa pipa).

The stuff of nightmares. Madagascar roaches. The bug room was right next to the Amphibian exhibit, which is where I went next.
More bugs than you could shake a stick at, which is what I would have been doing if they had been loose!

There was so much input I processed it slowly during the next few days.
That night in my motel, I was remembering the day as I half listened to the TV. You know I had herps on the brain when I misheard a commercial for the medical management of "Reptile Dysfunction."

There are Andrias (Japanese Giant Salamander) at the Detroit zoo, but the tank had sprung a leak and it was off exhibit (though they can be viewed on a remote camera). I heard a lot of praise of the amphibian center there, but you know what? The hellbender was hiding, and the mudpuppy was also off display. Though the house (Detroit) itself was awesome, the selection was rather slim.
The Toledo amphibian exhibit was way bigger and better, in the opinion of this total amateur. Sorry, National Amphibian Conservation Center, but you've been outdone.


Drew said...

I grew up in Northwest Ohio and have been to the Toledo Zoo dozens of times as a kid and at lest a dozen as an adult... It really is an amazing zoo. Small enough to easily cover in a day and see everything with amazing habitats that let you get very close to the animals and it is a great value for anyone to visit... In college I visited the 'world-renound" San Diego Zoo and was not impressed... same animals seen from afar, huge zoo too big to comfortably see in a day, and costs at least 4 times as much as the Toledo Zoo... I really do consider the Toledo Zoo one of the best in America easily...

Drew said...

Oh... and when I was a really little kid in the 80's I remeber when the Carnivore Cafe was the actual Lion/Tiger enclosure... I was terrified to be so close to them with their roars echoing though the concrete walls and high ceilings of the building... although it was a terribly inhospitable place for the animals to be trapped in very small concrete floor cages with metal bars... thankfully they cot moved into the savannah and cheetah canyons and the zoo did a fantastic job renovating that facility into the cafeteria it is today... it is fun to have lunch in a lion cage that I remember from my childhood. Sadly I live in Phoenix today but still remember the Toledo Zoo quite fondly...