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animal ambassadors

The program animal collection is distinct from the large collection of animals on exhibit at the Virginia Zoo, which are not used in programs (with the exception of some of those in the Zoo Farm). A variety of animals, including a few domestic ones, appear in programs: small and medium-sized mammals, birds, snakes, lizards, turtles and tortoises, frogs, salamanders, and several kinds of land-dwelling invertebrates.

These program animals are commonly presented at Zoo camps and “snoozes” (overnight group programs), and in outreaches, school programs here at the Zoo, performances on the ZooLive! Stage, family programs, special events at the Zoo, and birthday parties. Certain program animals are presented in public areas of the Zoo adjacent to exhibits when weather conditions are amenable.

African Giant Millipede

Scientific Name: Archispirostreptus gigas

Found In: Subtropical rainforest floors in western Africa

Size: 4 to 12 inches long

Diet: Detrivore: Diet consists of dead and decaying organic matter such as dead logs, plants and leaves

Threat Level: Least concern

Facts: Although the name millipede means“thousand-feet”, the giant African millipede, which is the largest species, only has about 300 to 400 legs.

Argentine Black and White Tegu

Scientific Name: Tupinambis teguixin

Found In: Northern South America

Size: 2 – 3 feet long

Diet: Omnivore: insects, invertebrates, small mammals, reptiles and birds, fish and sometimes fruit.

Threat Level: Least concern

Facts: Tegus can use their strong tail as a whip to defend off predators.

Ball Python

Scientific Name: Python regius

Found In: Savanna grasslands and open forests in West and Central Africa

Size: 3 – 6 feet long

Diet: Carnivore: rodents

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: Along the upper jaw, several scales cup inward forming heat sensing pits that can sense infrared or body heat.

Bearded dragon

Scientific Name: Pogona vitticeps

Found In: desert to dry forests and scrublands in Eastern and central Australia

Size: 13 – 24 inches

Diet: Omnivore: plant material, insects, spiders, small invertebrates and some small mammals

Threat Level: Least concern, commonly found in the pet industry

Facts: The “beard” is an expandable throat pouch with spiky scales used to both ward off predators and attackers or for mating displays.

Blue and Gold Macaw

Scientific Name: Ara ararauna

Found In:

Size: 32 – 36 inches, weigh up to 2.7 pounds

Diet: Frugivore: seeds, nuts, fruits

Threat Level: Least concern, habitat degradation is affecting populations

Facts: Macaws have zygodactyl feet – two toes facing forward and two back – helping the birds to grasp onto and easily move around on branches.

Blue Tongue Skink

Scientific Name: Tiliqua sciniodes

Found In: Semi-desert, mixed woodland and scrublands of Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania

Size: Average 13 inches

Diet: Omnivore: Insects, other reptiles, plant material and fruit

Threat Level: Not assessed

Facts: Some scientists believe the blue tongue skink mimics the venomous Death Adder, which is also found in the lizard’s habitat.

Burmese python

Scientific Name: Python bivittatus

Found In: woodlands, grasslands, swamps, marshes, rocky foothills, river valleys and jungles from Pakistan to Indonesia

Size: average 15 – 20 feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds

Diet: Carnivore: birds and mammals

Threat Level: Vulnerable: factors contributing to declining populations include habitat loss, poaching for skins and capture for the pet trade

Facts: The Zoo’s burmese python is albino.

Cane toad

Scientific Name: Rhinella marina

Found In: forested areas with local water sources from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to the Central Amazon to southeastern Peru

Size: 5 – 9 inches long

Diet: Carnivore: ants, beetles, dragonflies, grasshoppers, crustaceans

Threat Level: Least concern

Facts: Cane toads are considered as an invasive species as they were once used for pest control and now outcompete many native amphibians since they have no natural immunity to the cane toad’s toxin that it secretes.

Cape porcupine

Scientific Name: Hystrix cristata

Found In: Hilly, rocky habitats in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and Italy.

Size: Grow up to 25 to 29 inches long and weigh from 10 to 25 pounds.

Diet: Root vegetables

Threat Level: There are no major threats to this species. Porcupines have benefited from agricultural development and their destructive feeding habitats have led to them being considered as a problem in some farming areas.

Facts: Cape porcupines are the largest rodent in Africa.

Chickens

Scientific Name: Variety of species

Found In: many locations globally

Size: varies

Diet: Omnivore: plant matter and mealworms

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: There are more chickens in the world than any other bird species.

Chinchilla

Scientific Name: Chinchilla lanigera

Found In: barren, arid areas in Western South America including the Andes Mountains in Chile and Argentina

Size: 12 – 21 inches long, weigh up to 1 – 2 pounds

Diet: Herbivore: seeds, leaves, roots and fruit

Threat Level: Endangered. Threats include hunting and trapping to use their fur for clothing

Facts: Chinchillas can live up to 20 years under human care.

Common Boa Constrictor

Scientific Name: boa constrictor

Found In: Mexico, Central America and South America

Size: can reach 5 – 12 feet in length

Diet: Carnivore: small mammals including birds and bats

Threat Level: Not assessed

Facts: They are non-venomous and instead kill their prey through constriction.

Common Degu

Scientific Name: Octodon degus

Found In: grasslands of central Chile

Size: 6 – 11 ounces

Diet: Herbivore: grasses, plant material, seeds

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: Degus sand bathe by marking an area of sand with urine and rolling around in it.

Domestic Rabbit

Scientific Name: Varies by species

Found In: everywhere except Antarctica and Madagascar

Size: 5 – 14 pounds, 14 -16 inches in length

Diet: Herbivore: leaves, grasses, bark, roots, fruit

Threat Level: Not assessed

Facts: Rabbits use the thumping of their back legs as an indication of agitation or territorial behavior.

Eastern Box Turtle

Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina

Found In: Deciduous or mixed forests, grasslands in the Eastern United States

Size: 4 – 6 inches in length

Diet: Omnivore – earthworms, snails, slugs, beetles, caterpillars, grasses, fallen fruit, berries, mushrooms, flowers and carrion

Threat Level: Vulnerable

Facts: Box turtles earned their name from their unique ability to fully hide inside the shell, boxing themselves in from predators.

Eclectus Parrot

Scientific Name: Eclectus roratus

Found In: Rainforests in Australia, Solomon Islands, New Guinea and Moluccas

Size: 15 – 19 inches long

Diet: Herbivore: fruits, nuts, seeds and flowers

Threat Level: Vulnerable: Habitat destruction and capture for the illegal wildlife trade are threats to this species.

Facts: This species is sexually dimorphic, meaning males and females look different; males are a vibrant, emerald green with red and blue underwings and an orange beak and females are bright red with dark purple under their wings and a black beak.

Egyptian Goose

Scientific Name: Alopochen aegyptiaca

Found In: Sub-Saharan Africa countries as well as Northern African countries including Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, and Zimbabwe

Size: Grows up to 2.1 – 2.4 inches in length and weighs 2.4 – 8.8 pounds.

Diet: Predominantly of vegetable matter such as the seeds, leaves and stems of grasses and other plants, crop shoots(e.g. maize and wheat), potato tubers, algae and aquatic weeds  as well as animal matter (worms, locusts and termites)

Threat Level: Least Concern – The species is persecuted by shooting and poisoning in parts of its range as well as being hunted for sport.

Facts: This species is largely sedentary over much of its range, although it may make seasonal nomadic or dispersive movements related to water availability.

Emperor Scorpion

Scientific Name: Pandinus imperator

Found In: hot and humid forests in West African countries such as Nigeria, Togo, Sierra Leone, Ghana and the Congo region

Size: up to 8 inches

Diet: Carnivore: insects and other arthropods, occasionally small vertebrates

Threat Level: Not assessed

Facts: Emperor scorpions give birth to live young, which are born white and will darken as their exoskeleton hardens.

Eurasian Eagle Owl

Scientific Name: Bubo bubo

Found In: Coniferous forests, grasslands, mountainous regions and deserts in Europe, the Middle East, Russia, China and Japan

Size: 2.5 feet, up to 6 pounds

Diet: Carnivore: mice, rabbits, voles, other birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: This species looks very similar to the Great Horned Owl, but has a larger body and distinctive orange eyes.

Green Winged Macaw

Scientific Name: Ara chloropterus

Found In: Tropical rainforests, savannas, mangroves in northern and central South America

Size: 26 – 37 inches, 2.75 – 3.75 pounds

Diet: nuts, fruits, berries, seeds and some vegetable material

Threat Level: Least Concern, however this species is under pressure from deforestation and the pet trade

Facts: Under human care, macaws will mimic human vocalizations.

hedgehog walking on pink frisbee with second hedgehog walking on shredded paper

Hedgehog (African Pygmy)

Scientific Name: Atelerix albiventris

Found In: Forests and grasslands in Southern Africa

Size: 7 – 9 inches

Diet: Omnivore: spiders and insects, plant matter and small vertebrates.

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: Hedgehogs have a natural immunity to the venom of certain animals and have been known to eat scorpions.

Hognose Snake (Madagascar)

Scientific Name: Leioheterodon madagascariensis

Found In: Mixed grasslands, dry and tropical forests of Madagascar and nearby islands

Size: Can reach 5 – 6 feet in length

Diet: Carnivore: small mammals, lizards, amphibians, birds and eggs

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: This species is opistoglyphous, meaning its fangs are in the back of the mouth. They have mild venom, which is not dangerous to humans.

Legless Lizard

Scientific Name: Ophisaurus apodus

Found In: dry areas in southeastern Europe into southwestern Asia

Size: average 2- 3 feet in length

Diet: Carnivore: insects such as grasshoppers and beetles, small mammals and bird eggs

Threat Level: Not assessed

Facts: Although they look like snakes, they are distinguishable from snakes by their ears and eyelids. These lizards do have very tiny legs, measuring about 2mm long, which aren’t usable.

Leopard Gecko

Scientific Name: Eublepharis macularius

Found In: dry and semi-dry deserts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, northwest India and Pakistan

Size: 8 – 10 inches

Diet: Carnivore: scorpions, centipedes, spiders and beetles

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: Leopard geckos rarely communicate with sound, but instead communicate with body language such as tongue flicking and tail wagging.

Leopard Tortoise

Scientific Name: Stigmochelys pardalis

Found In: shrubland and grasslands in sub-Saharan Africa

Size: 16 – 28 inches long

Diet: Herbivore: grasses, leaves, berries, flowers including prickly pear.

Threat Level: Least concern

Facts: Retracting their head and feet into their shells often results in a hissing sound which is likely caused by the squeezing of the air from the lungs and around the limbs.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroach

Scientific Name: Gromphadorhina portentosa

Found In: Madagascar/Forest floor of tropical lowland forests

Size: Adults average 2 to 4 inches in length

Diet: Detritivore. Diet consists of decaying plant matter and animal carcasses

Threat Level: Not yet evaluated

Facts: Females lay an egg sack consisting of 15 to 40 cockroach nymphs which is then sucked up inside of her until the nymphs hatch, giving the appearance of live birth

Meller’s Chameleon

Scientific Name: Trioceros melleri

Found In: Malawi, Mozambique, & United Republic of Tanzania

Size: These chameleons grow up to 24 inches and weigh up to 10-18 oz.

Diet: Carnivore: Primarily eats invertebrates, but adults can eat small lizards and hatchling birds.

Threat Level: Least Concern – There is no urgent threat from habitat deformation. However, thousands of animals are exported annually for the pet trade and eventually local populations may not be able to tolerate these export levels.

Facts: Chameleons have a long muscular tongue that can extend farther than the entire length of their body at incredible speeds to reach insects.

Mexican red-knee tarantula

Scientific Name: Brachypelma smithi

Found In: Desert and scrubland habitats in Mexico

Size: Body spans up to 2.5 inches, with a leg span of up to 4 inches

Diet: Tarantulas prey on insects and small animals. They carve burrows into the soil from which they ambush passing prey.

Threat Level: Near threatened – Over-collecting by the pet trade has severely reduced this species in the wild

Facts: Tarantulas must molt (shed their skin) in order to grow. They can also regrow a lost leg during a molt. Fangs are shed with the skin.

Ornate Horned Frog

Scientific Name: Ceratophys ornata

Found In: tropical mountain rainforests in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil

Size: males – 4.5 inches, females – 6.5 inches

Diet: Carnivore: insects, rodents, lizards and other frogs

Threat Level: Near threatened: agricultural development, water pollution and soil pollution are threats

Facts: These frogs often jump at an attacker; this combined with its large, gaping mouth, gives it the nickname “Pacman frog”.

Pancake Tortoise (African)

Scientific Name: Malacochersus tornieri

Found In: Kenya and United Republic of Tanzania.

Size: Its shell can grow up to 7 inches in length.

Diet: Herbivore: There diet primarily consists of dry grasses and vegetation

Threat Level: Critically endangered – The greatest threats facing the pancake tortoise is overexploitation for the live exotic animal trade.

Facts: Another common name for the pancake tortoise is the softshell tortoise.

Prehensile-tailed Porcupine

Scientific Name: Coendou prehensilis

Found In: forests in northern Colombia, eastern Bolivia, northern Argentina and eastern Paraguay

Size: 4 – 11 pounds

Diet: Herbivore: bark, buds, fruits, roots, stems, leaves, blossoms, un-ripened seeds, corn and bananas

Threat Level: Least Concern, threat of deforestation is increasing

Facts: These porcupines spend 85 percent of their time in trees. Their prehensile tail acts as an extra appendage to help hold onto branches.

Prehensile-Tailed Skink (Monkey-tailed skink)

Scientific Name: Corucia zebrata

Found In: Solomon Islands/Tropical Rainforests

Size: Adults can reach 32 inches in length

Diet: Herbivore. Diet consists of leaves, flowers, fruit, and shoots.

Threat Level: Not Evaluated. Deforestation for logging is the major threat to this species. Its small range and low birth rate make it vulnerable to rapid population decline.

Facts: Adult skinks have been known to “adopt” orphaned young skinks into their groups.

Radiated Tortoise

Scientific Name: Astrochelys radiata

Found In: Madagascar

Size: Female tortoises range in carapace length from approximately 9.5 – 14 inches and males ranged in from 11 – 16 inches.

Diet: Herbivore: Feed predominantly on grasses and in some areas on the alien invasive Opuntia; On occasion they are also known to ingest animal matter

Threat Level: Critically Endangered – Threats to the tortoise’s survival include collection for the illegal pet trade and habitat loss, including deforestation for use as agricultural land, the grazing of livestock, and the burning of wood for charcoal.

Facts: Historically this species has been quite abundant, often being found along roadways and has served as symbol of Madagascar’s south.

Red-tailed Hawk

Scientific Name: Buteo iamaicensis

Found In: United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America

Size: 17 – 26 inches

Diet: Carnivore: primarily small rodents, occasionally rabbits, other birds and reptiles

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: Females and males are similar in appearance, but males are 25 percent smaller.

Rhinoceros Snake

Scientific Name: Rhynchophis boulengeri

Found In: subtropical rainforests in northern Vietnam and southern China

Size: averages 39 – 47 inches, up to 59 inches

Diet: Carnivore: small vertebrates such as mice

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: The rhino snake gets its name from the scale-covered protuberance on the tip of its snout, however the purpose of it is unknown.

Rose Hair Tarantula (Chilean)

Scientific Name: Grammostola rosea

Found In: Found exclusively in Chile, South America

Size: 5 inch leg span as adults

Diet: Carnivore: bite their prey such as insects, athropods and small mammals, inject venom that liquefies the prey’s insides, then suck the liquid out

Threat Level: Not assessed

Facts: They are equipped with urticating hairs on their abdomen that can can be released. These hairs can cause irritation of the nose and eyes of a potential threat.

Screaming Hairy Armadillo

Scientific Name: Chaetophractus vellerosus

Found In: Argentina, Plurinational States of Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay

Size: The male armadillo has a length of 12.9 to 15.7 inches and a weight of 19.2 to 46.9 ounces. The female armadillo measures between 10.4 and 16.5 inches and a weight of 9.1 to 39.7 ounces.

Diet: Their diet is mainly composed of beetles, butterfly larvae, plant matter and small vertebrates.

Threat Level: Least Concern – This animal is heavily hunted for its meat and carapace (including for charangos, a musical instrument, and matracas).

Facts: During the cold season, Screaming Hairy Armadillos are mainly active at noon and the early afternoon, while in warm seasons their activity period shifts to the afternoon and night.

Screech Owl (Eastern)

Scientific Name: Otus asio

Found In: eastern North America

Size: 8 – 10 inches

Diet: Carnivore: insects like moths and katydids, crayfish, earthworms, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals like mice and bats, small birds

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: Eastern Screech Owls are not migratory.

Tawny Frogmouth

Scientific Name: Podargus strigoides

Found In: Forests, scrubland, eucalyptus and acacia woodlands in Australia and Tasmania

Size: 8 – 21 inches, up to 1.5 pounds

Diet: Insectivore

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: When disturbed, they stiffen their body to simulate a branch. This behavior is called stumping.

Tenrec

Scientific Name: Echinops telfairi

Found In: subtropical or tropical dry forests, dry savanna, shrubland and lowland grasslands in Madagascar

Size: 5 – 7 inches

Diet: Omnivore: insects and vegetable matter, occasionally small vertebrates

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: Tenrecs are closely related to elephants, aardvarks, manatees and hyraxes.

Three-banded Armadillo

Scientific Name: Tolypeutes tricinctus

Found In: Grasslands in South America

Size: 8 – 10.75 inches

Diet: Insectivore: ants and termites

Threat Level: Near Threatened: threats include habitat destruction and hunting for food

Facts: Three-banded armadillos are the only species that can roll into a ball for protection from predators.

Tiger Salamander

Scientific Name: Ambystoma tigrinum

Found In: Forests, grasslands and marshy areas in North and Central America from southeastern Alaska to the edge of the Mexican Plateau.

Size: 6 – 13 inches

Diet: Carnivore: worms, snails, slugs and insects

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: The tiger salamander is the largest land-dwelling salamander in North America.

Toco Toucan

Scientific Name: Ramphastos toco

Found In: woodlands, savannas and dry-semi open areas in Argentina, Peru, French Guiana, Bolivia, Paraguay, Suriname and Brazil

Size: average 24 inches

Diet: Frugivore: mainly eat fruits, but opportunistically eat various types of insects and eggs of other birds

Threat Level: Least Concern, the pet trade is a threat

Facts: This species is the largest of the toucans, and has the biggest beak in regard to body size of any bird species.

Two-Toed Sloth

Scientific Name: Choloepus didactylus, Choloepus hoffmanni

Found In: Central and South America/Tropical moist lowland and montane forest

Size: Adults average 18 to 33 inches in length and 9 to 19 pounds in weight

Diet: Herbivore. Diet in their native habitat consists of primarily berries, leaves, small twigs, and fruits; although, they have been known to eat insects or small prey on occasion.

Threat Level: Least Concern. Sloths face increasing pressure due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Facts: Sloths are made to live upside down and are physically incapable of walking; they crawl when on the ground, but are good swimmers.

Virtual Program with an Opossum and Zoo Keeper

Virginia Opossum

Scientific Name: Didelphis virginiana

Found In: Central and North America from Costa Rica to southern Canada

Size: 4 – 13 pounds, 13 – 22 inches

Diet: Omnivore: vertebrates, invertebrates, plant material, fruits, grains and carrion

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: They are marsupials, or a mammal whose young develop and nurse in a pouch on the outside of the body.

Vinegaroon (Whip Scorpion)

Scientific Name: Mastigoproctus giganteus

Found In: humid, moist areas in the southern and southwestern United States and Mexico

Size: 4 – 6 inches

Diet: Carnivore: insects, millipedes, scorpions and terrestrial isopods

Threat Level: Not assessed

Facts: As a defense mechanism, vinegaroons can spray a vinegar-like substance from a gland at the end of their body by the base of the tail.

White’s Tree Frog

Scientific Name: Litoria caerulea

Found In: moist forested and seasonally dry or wet areas in Australia and southern New Guinea

Size: 3 – 4.5. inches

Diet: Omnivore: moths, locusts, roaches, small frogs and small mammals that can fit in their mouth

Threat Level: Least Concern

Facts: During the dry season, they cover themselves in a cocoon of sloughed skin and mucus and burrow to keep moist.

Wood Turtle

Scientific Name: Glyptemys insculpta

Found In: eastern Canada and the northeastern United States near moving water sources often in woods, swamps or grassy areas

Size: 6 – 10 inches

Diet: Omnivore: leaves, flowers, fruits, fungi, slugs, snails, worms and insects

Threat Level: Endangered: threats include habitat destruction, collection for the illegal pet trade and increased mortality from road kills

Facts: Among turtles, this species is considered intelligent. A study determined individuals of this species have the learning capacity of rats.

Yellow-footed Tortoise

Scientific Name: Chelonoidis denticulata

Found In: tropical evergreen and deciduous rainforests in South America

Size: Adults average 8 – 12 inches up to 18 inches in length

Diet: Omnivore: leaves, vines, roots, bark, fruits, flowers, fungi, insects, snails and carrion

Threat Level: Vulnerable, hunting is a major threat to this species

Facts: This species is the largest found on the mainland of South America.

AND MANY MORE!