Opposites Attract

In many languages, several words are often used interchangeably because they have identical or similar meanings: Fall and Autumn, dinner and supper, and smell and scent. But what about words that are mistakenly used interchangeably? At the Virginia Zoo, education is just one portion, or part, of our mission and we want to ensure that our Zoo fans know the difference between several words you may hear on Zoo grounds or read in our blogs.


To start off simple, you’re most likely familiar with the terms cold-blooded and warm-blooded. Is your elementary school science knowledge coming back? These two terms are less likely to be used interchangeably, but they are often misused and confused for the other. Cold-blooded refers to animals that cannot regulate their own body temperature, while warm-blooded animals can.

These animals, including fish, reptiles and amphibians, use outside sources of heat to warm up or cool down. When their environment is warm, they are warm and vice versa – when it is cold outside, the animals are cold. The sun, or heat lamps for animals under human care, are utilized to warm up a reptile’s or amphibian’s body temperature, and they can also burrow underground, take shelter in the shade or dip in a pool to cool off. Fish can help control their body temperature by swimming to the surface or diving to the bottom of the water.

Warm-blooded animals, like birds and mammals, can regulate their own body temperature. These animals can generate heat when the temperature is cooler by converting energy from food. When temperatures are hotter, warm-blooded animals sweat or pant to cool off, or they can also seek shelter or get wet.


While both apes and monkeys are primates, they are completely different and have some major differences between the two. Monkeys typically have long tails compared to apes and they can often use those tails as an extra arm when swinging on branches or to hold food items. Apes are bigger in size than monkeys and have larger brains.


There are various species of monkeys and apes at the Virginia Zoo. Our apes include the orangutans, siamangs and gibbons. Monkeys include the saki and titi monkeys. One animal often mistaken for a primate is the sloth, however these arboreal creatures are actually related to anteaters and armadillos!


These two words, that have to do with how animals reproduce, can be slightly complicated to decipher between. Viviparity, or to be viviparous, means a parent gives birth to live young that have developed internally. Oviparity, or to be oviparous, is the opposite and means that young are produced by means of eggs that are hatched after they have been laid by the parent. Humans and most mammals are viviparous. Some, not most, reptiles are oviparous, however there are many species of snakes, like many of our boa species ,that are actually viviparous. Some amphibians, including the caecilians you can find here at the Virginia Zoo, are also viviparous.


These two words are misused more times than we can count! Don’t worry though, we don’t mind explaining the difference between the two. A poisonous animal must be ingested or eaten in order to deposit toxins into its victim. Venomous applies to animals that bite, sting or inject their toxins, or venom.

Examples of poisonous species include fish and many frogs, which are usually brightly colored to deter any predators, however those hungry animals who don’t heed the frogs’ warnings, will soon regret eating the frog as the amphibian’s skin is toxic and will harm or even kill the attacker. Venomous species include the obvious, such as many species of snakes, but also include many insects and invertebrates such as spiders and even jellyfish.


Some species have multiple names – binturong and bearcat, stanley crane and blue crane and even the water moccasin, which is more formally known as the cottonmouth. There are also some species or animal identities that cannot be substituted for one another.

Turtles and tortoises. They’re reptiles with shells on their backs, but the two have their differences. First, all tortoises are considered turtles, but never the other way around. The two types can be distinguished by physical features and habitats. Turtles have more of a webbed foot, while tortoises have flat, stumpy feet. Turtles live in water most, if not all of the time, while tortoises dwell on land – although they enjoy the occasional dip or mud bath to cool off.

At the Virginia Zoo, we have many species of tortoises and turtles. Our radiated tortoises and Aldabra tortoises have drier exhibits, while turtles like our bog turtles, Roti Island snake-necked turtles and Alligator snapping turtle live in mostly aquatic exhibits.

Alligators and crocodiles are a little harder to distinguish by an untrained eye, but it is also important to note that both are considered crocodilians. Alligators have wider snouts, while crocodiles have slimmer noses. Crocodiles almost always have what is called a “toothy smile” which means even when their mouth is fully closed, some of their teeth are still showing. You can easily see the chompers of Shadie, the Zoo’s Siamese crocodile, in her exhibit in the World of Reptiles.

Oakley and Lily are the Zoo’s two female Plains bison, but don’t get their species mixed up with the buffalo. Geographic location is the main difference between bison and buffalo, with bison inhabiting North America and Europe while various species of buffalo hail from Africa and Asia.

Was that animal born or hatched? Would this frog kill a predator with its poison or venom? Does this crocodilian have teeth showing? We hope you’ve learned something new and can test your knowledge on your next visit to the Virginia Zoo.