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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wonderfully Wild Wednesday: Hippo chomp

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Hippos can open their mouths up to 150 degrees wide! That’s handy for chomping on pumpkins.

Photo by Lori Veres/Woodland Park Zoo.
Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pumpkin Bash continues this weekend

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

A lemur guards its pumpkin while snacking. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren. 

At the annual Pumpkin Bash presented by Delta Dental/Washington Dental Service, there is pumpkin bashing, and also pumpkin smashing. There's pumpkin chomping and definitely some pumpkin stomping.

This pumpkin came pre-pecked for the penguins. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The fun continues this weekend with our final two days of the event, Sat. - Sun., Oct. 27 & 28. See how each animal tears into its Halloween treats and get some treats of your own with trick-or-treating for the little ones. Plus, one child 12 years and under in costume is admitted FREE with a paid adult during Pumpkin Bash.

A wolf delicately opens its jack-o-lantern. What happens next isn't so delicate. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
The pumpkins are part of the zoo’s excellent animal care program to help enrich the lives of the zoo’s animals, promote natural animal behavior, keep animals mentally and physically stimulated and engage zoo visitors. Pumpkin Bash has been going strong the last two weekends, and we've learned a few things about our animals along the way.

For instance, we learned that the instinct to dive face-first into a delicious treat is universal across all species.

We also learned that a snow leopard cub's efforts to pounce and tear at a pumpkin are as adorable as they are a sign of her developing predatory skills.

Put on your costumes and join the fun at this final weekend of Pumpkin Bash. See you there!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Where do silverspot butterflies lay their eggs?

Posted by: Alyse Kennamer, Zoo Corps intern

Oregon silverspot butterfly. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

This summer, I had the unforgettable opportunity to work with a threatened species, the Oregon silverspot butterfly. While I was working here, an amazing idea came to my head for a study that could help scientists better understand and protect this species. I wanted to observe a female butterfly, see where she lays her eggs, and how it’s done.

Observing butterfly behavior in the silverspot lab at the zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

It all started at the beginning of the summer when I joined the silverspot project as part of the zoo’s teen program, Zoo Corps. I joined Zoo Corps in my sophomore year of high school, and am now enrolled in my first year of college. In early spring, we got to pick from a list of about 10 areas we wanted to work in at the zoo. Working in the lab where the zoo rears silverspot caterpillars was my first choice. You would probably think it was weird, why would a teenager want to spend her summer picking violet leaves and washing dishes for caterpillars when she was surrounded by a bunch of different animals? But I knew it would be interesting, and something I would end up loving. I was right about that.

Butterfly eggs set up in jars in preparation to  overwinter at the zoo, protected from the elements. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

At the silverspot lab, it did indeed start with picking early blue violet leaves—the caterpillars’ sole source of food—and doing the dishes. But once I showed some initiative, I was able to do pupae processing, where we put the chrysalis into a triangular folded paper towel, and give it an individual number to send out to Oregon in an effort to rebuild the wild population. It was a lot of tedious work, but I knew I was saving a threatened species, and that was all that mattered.

Oregon coast habitat where Woodland Park Zoo has released silverspot butterflies. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

In Mid-August, the silverspot team, consisting of myself, my Zoo Corps partner Autumn Olson, zoo collection manager Erin Sullivan, and zookeepers Lorre Myers and Diane Abbey, went down to Oregon for a release trip. While we were there, we saw butterflies galore. They were everywhere, and it was just so amazing. We even saw them mating, something Erin told us she had never seen in the wild before. One of the volunteers from the Department of Fish and Wildlife asked the question, “Where do the silverspots lay their eggs?” and nobody knew the answer, because it hasn’t often been seen in the wild.

I flashed back to the beginning of summer when I was starting my focus, when Autumn and I were told by our supervisor that she wanted us to do a project revolving around the butterfly. So I turned to Autumn, and whispered my idea to observe a female butterfly in the lab to see where she would lay her eggs. She thought it was great. That night over dinner we also got encouragement for the idea from Diane and Lorre, and then we knew we’d just have to get it approved by Erin.

An Oregon silverspot butterfly takes to a bloom on the Oregon coast. Photo by Rachel Gray/Woodland Park Zoo.

After we got back from the release trip in Oregon, we talked to Erin about it. She told us that it was a good idea, and even she wanted to know the outcome. Since the silverspot is a threatened species, we had to go through a lot of different approvals, including from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The zoo receives butterflies into the lab in order to lay eggs, the basis for our conservation project, and each female has a target number of eggs we hope she will lay. On occasion there are some overachievers who lay more than the target number, and Fish and Wildlife gave me approval to use one of these overachieving butterflies for my project. The day we got the approval by Fish and Wildlife was the day I started set-up. Unfortunately, my focus partner Autumn couldn’t participate in the project because her school schedule wouldn’t allow it.

Enmeshed terrarium I created for the butterfly subjects of my study. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo/

So it became my project. I set up a 20 gallon terrarium, and put rocks at the bottom of it, and then I did about ten trips to horticulture and filled a bucket up with soil to put into the terrarium. I put five early blue violet leaves into the terrarium, along with two false dandelion plants. After I did that, I built an upper part to the terrarium out of PVC pipe, so that if she wanted to fly she could. I covered that with mesh and secured it. After the terrarium was set up, I put my first female butterfly, whom I named Willow, inside the terrarium. 

Writing down my observations at the lab. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Now that the project is set up, I come in about three times a week, to work around my school schedule, and I watch and observe her actions. I make sure she has enough sugar water, and enough water. I take pictures, and some videos, just hoping, and waiting for the moment she lays an egg. Willow recently died, but she did leave me with one egg, which she laid on a violet leaf. This went with my hypothesis, which was that I believed the butterfly would lay eggs on the violet leaves because that is what the caterpillars eat. I have put the next butterfly, named Adunca, into the terrarium, and am continuing to observe her, to see what she does, and if I can catch egg laying on video.

I hope this study will shed light on the egg-laying habits of this threatened species, knowledge that scientists can use to help protect habitat needed for silverspot reproduction.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wonderfully Wild Wednesday: Red panda is red

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

The “red” in the red panda’s name is easy to understand—the animal’s fiery colored coat serves as camouflage to blend with reddish-brown moss on trees.

Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

The “panda” part, well, despite the common bamboo diet, the red panda is more closely related to raccoons than it is to the giant panda.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Do the spider dance!

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Fall is here! Crispy leaves, football, presidential debates, pumpkin spice lattes and… spidies!

This orb weaver is decorating for fall! Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Spider webs appear everywhere; draped across your porch, athwart your front door, and if you happen to be tall, most likely dangling in your hair. Despite the unpleasantness of being greeted each morning with a silky web stuck to your face, orb weaver spiders are pretty incredible.

Dancing in the morning fog, an orb weaver constructs her web. Woodland Park Zoo archive photo.

There are more than 3,000 different species of orb weavers around the world, but the most common species in Western Washington is the cross spider (Araneus diadematus). These tiny architects are unbelievable weavers.

A female spider suns herself in the middle of her web. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Orb weavers construct their webs by first flinging themselves into the breeze. Attached to an anchor point, the spiders float through the air until they find a secure spot to dock. After the main line is attached, they drop a second line from the center, forming a “Y” shape. This is the foundation for the rest of the web.

You can see why the pattern on this cross spider earns its name.  Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The spiders then begin to weave radii along a spiral path with non-sticky silk. When they are done with the framework, the spiders will add a sticky, capture silk to the radii over the dry web. So, the only parts of the web that are sticky are on the radial web.

A dew-dropped beauty! Woodland Park Zoo archive photo.

So, how do the orb weavers escape getting caught up in their own web? First, orb weavers are careful to tip toe across their webs, they don’t slam into the sticky net like the other insects that become prey. Second, if they do make contact with the sticky portion of the web, they have secret tiny hairs on each leg called setae. The setae are short, bristly, and grow in irregular rows, so they easily pull away from any contact with the sticky adhesives. And last, researchers suspect that spiders actually coat their legs in an oily substance that repels their own glue, like being licked by a Teflon pan! (You can read more about that study here.)

Detailed view of a female cross spider’s legs, you can see the tiny setae hairs if you look close. Photo by a brave Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Orb weavers usually sit at the center of the vertical web, with their head facing down. They can feel the vibrations throughout the signal line, so if an insect lands in a far corner of the web, the spider knows right where to run first. Orb weavers can decipher the vibrations of a falling leaf from the vibration of a flying insect, so they don’t waste energy.

In this awesome photo, an orb weaver has caught a bee and is carefully wrapping it in a gossamer sack. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Once the spider gets the signal from its web, it will bite the unlucky target and wrap it in silk. Then the spider waits for the prey to die, vomits digestive fluid over it and… dinner is served! The treat is chewed with the chelicerae (jaws) and the liquefied meat is sucked into its mouth. Mmm, hungry yet?  Spiders repeat this manner until all but the inedible hard parts are left.

Sunlit webs reveal the intricate structure of the orb weaver’s trap. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Many orb weavers actually rebuild their webs daily. If rain or wind damages the web, the spiders will remodel.  At dusk, some orb weavers consume their web to conserve protein. They sleep for a bit, and then rebuild the web at daybreak. This is why web-to-the-face syndrome usually occurs in the morning.

This pretty little orb weaver has tucked itself into a flower petal for a nap. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Orb weavers are around all year, but we tend to forget about them until September, when they are large enough to lay eggs and spin larger webs. Most of these spiders will die in the winter, but their new eggs will hatch next spring.

The golden silk orb-weaver sits contently on her web in Bug World. Nephila madagascariensis is closely related to the common cross spiders here in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

At the zoo, our largest orb weaver is not one stretched across the paths. Housed in Bug World, the golden silk orb weaver, Nephila madagascariensis, can grow as big as your hand! Visitors often remark at the windowless exhibit, but don’t worry; she’s happy where she’s at!

This web is extremely dangerous and should only be approached by expert spider web wranglers. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Bring your spidey senses and see how many orb weavers you can spot on your next trip to the zoo… just don’t get too close!

Garden spider in Dash Point, WA. Photo by Don Ballantyne.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sloths on the flipside

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down...

Upside down sloth. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

OK, maybe the Fresh Prince wasn’t rapping about sloths, but considering they spend the vast majority of their day turned upside down, he sure could have been.

Snacking while upside down. Don’t try this at home. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Sloths eat, sleep, mate and even give birth upside down. If you were to hang upside down from your seat right now (use your imagination and spare yourself the pain of actually doing it, trust me), you’ll feel your head start to pound, gravity tugging at your hair, and honestly, I’m getting dizzy just writing about it.

But none of that happens for the upside-down kings of the rain forest, because sloths are specially adapted to live life from their unique point of view.

So how do sloths function upside down?

Looking good: Sloth fur defies gravity by inverting the typical hair growth pattern. Think about a four-legged terrestrial animal—say a bear. The bear’s hair has a part on the mid-back and the hair grows towards the belly. But for sloths, the part runs down the belly, and the hair grows from the belly towards the back, which not only works with gravity, but also makes it easy for rain to run right off, handy when you live in the rain forests of Central and South America.

Notice the direction the fur is growing, from the belly toward the back. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Taking care of business: There are a few things that sloths can’t do while upside down in the trees. They do come down to the forest floor to urinate and defecate. But they don’t otherwise spend time on the forest floor because their tree-adapted bodies aren’t designed for walking around. Surprisingly, though, they are good swimmers, allowing them to get around the forest in search of new food sources when they aren’t in the trees.

See the hooked claws of the two-toed sloth’s back feet. If you’re wondering why you are counting three toes in this picture of a two-toed sloth, it’s because the two-toed moniker refers to how many toes they have on their front feet. Both two- and three-toed sloths have three toes on the back feet. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Hang on tight: Sloths hang upside down even while sleeping, so they need to be locked in place securely or else the forest floor would be splattered with sleepy sloths every night. To this end, sloths have developed an incredibly tight grip, using their long, sturdy, curved claws to keep safely attached to trees at all hours.

The claws work through tendons so the sloth’s claw grip doesn’t require muscle power to hang on. This is all part of the sloth’s master plan to conserve energy and use as little muscle power as possible—hence the glacial pace at which they move, when they bother to move at all. In fact, sloths are so still they actually can have algae grow on their fur in the wild, which gives them a green tint. That works to their advantage, helping them blend into the leafy treetops of their rain forest canopy home.

Why are they so slow? Their diet is made up primarily of leaves, which is a calorie poor food that doesn't supply much energy and takes a long time to digest. Of course, staying still while slowly digesting low energy food also works to the sloth's advantage, since that incredible stillness helps it stay hidden from predators.

Who would have guessed that this face…

Hello. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

…is the face of a finely tuned, rain forest domination machine?

At Woodland Park Zoo, our two-toed sloths sure do spend a lot of time upside down even when interacting with their right-side up zookeepers (in fact, I couldn’t find a single sloth photo in our archives that was anything other than upside down).

A sloth emerges from a nesting box to check out what snacks the zookeeper has to offer. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo. 

We carefully maintain the light cycle for these nocturnal animals, giving them some darkness during the day to encourage the activity they’d otherwise save for nighttime. 16-year-old female Nentas and 14-year-old male Mocha are almost always seen up in the trees or nest boxes in their exhibit in the Adaptations building, next door to the zoo’s Komodo dragons. Come by to observe them, and if you’re like me, you’ll find it relaxing to be amidst their stillness.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wonderfully Wild Wednesday: Meerkat pileup

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Meerkat pileup!

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Meerkats are the most social of all the mongooses and spend much of their time playing and grooming to maintain their tight bonds.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Prince Charming

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications

If you’re on the hunt for Prince Charming, I’m giving a fair warning to stay clear of Woodland Park Zoo’s frog friends on exhibit. These frogs may seem like prince potential, but don’t be so quick to give them a kiss!

The frog collection in the Day Exhibit is rather unique and houses more than eight amphibian species. Of these amphibians, many are native to rain forest regions of the world. The hourglass tree frog, red-eyed tree frog and green-and-black poison dart frog are among many amphibians living in the wet forests of Central America.

Yellow hourglass tree frog. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

A little, colorful frog that leaps along the Costa Rican and Colombian wetlands is the yellow hourglass tree frog. Throughout the dry season, this little frog lives among the trees of the towering forest canopy. The cool, wet rain forests provide constant moisture for its skin to absorb until the dry season ends. With the rainy season come small ponds for the hourglass tree frog to inhabit. 

Yellow hourglass tree frog. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The hourglass tree frogs will mate once the rainy season begins, and the females will lay their eggs on shallow leaves hanging over the ponds. The eggs quickly develop into tadpoles, slide off the leaves into the water, and continue their growth into adulthood.

Much larger in size, but also native to the Central and South American forest canopy is the red-eyed tree frog. The bright, green body of the frog provides camouflage in the colorful rain forest landscape and shields it from lurking predators. Using its large webbed feet, the red-eyed tree frog hugs leaves for shelter and sleep. 

A red-eyed tree frog tucked in on a leaf. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The threat of a predator awakens it, revealing its piercingly red eyes to its hunter. Although its vibrant eyes may have predators thinking twice about dinner, the red-eyed tree frog is not poisonous at all. It’s simply a mechanism to startle and deter frog-hungry predators.

Red-eyed tree frog shows us how it got its name. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Though, the same cannot be said for the poison dart frog because this animal is highly toxic. The poison dart frog stands out among the rain forest foliage. In fact, its bright hues of greens, blues, yellows, blacks and gold signal to predators that this frog is a great danger. Some species are among the most toxic animals on the planet! Research indicates that the poison dart frogs’ toxicity comes from its diet of ants, mites and other small invertebrates. At the zoo, we feed our dart frogs fruit flies and small crickets, and as a result they do not excrete toxins and their skin is harmless.

Poison dart frog. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Despite its intriguing colors and features, the poison dart frog in the wild should be admired only from a distance. So, if you think this little frog fellow might be your hopeful Prince Charming, you can frog-get it!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cuteness justified

Posted by: Laura Lockard, Communications/Public Affairs

Come on. We know you do it. Cheat a little in the morning. Sneak in a little around lunch time. Get one more dose before you go home from work. It is worse than any addiction known to mankind… the cuteness craving. So strong it can take up an entire day if you aren’t careful. You nervously close your browser hiding the baby ocelot the minute someone walks by. Constantly dreading the inevitable question from your boss, “What have you been doing all day?”

Ocelot kitten born at Woodland Park Zoo in 2008. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Now you can answer, “Strengthening my concentration.” All that time sneaking quick peeks at baby zoo animals, bear cams and those awesome miniature Egyptian tortoises is now justified! We need those daily doses of cuteness and it might even be making us more focused, enabling our concentration.

Egyptian tortoises hatched at Woodland Park Zoo in 2011. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Researchers recently published a paper on how “cuteness” can contribute to behavioral carefulness in humans. Based on their research, highlighted in an article on Wired.com, humans are found to be highly attuned to the physical features that characterize their young, such as a large rounded forehead, large low-set eyes, and a small chin.

Gorilla Uzumma born at Woodland Park Zoo in 2007. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

These features which have been deemed “cute” were studied previously in how they encourage human nurturing behavior. Now scientists are taking that cute factor one step further and studying the direct connection to concentration. They found that a little dose of cute can reliably up your concentration right afterward.

Snow leopard cubs born at Woodland Park Zoo in 2012. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

What does all this mean? We can finally embrace our cute addictions! We no longer need to sneak quick peeks at the snow leopard cub photos. We don’t need to hide the tawny frogmouth link. And, we can finally put zoo animals on our screensavers and say, “Thank you Woodland Park Zoo, for contributing to my concentration today!”

Concentrate and enjoy…

You're welcome.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Stepping into the greenhouse at Woodland Park Zoo, I am hit with a hot, humid air that smells of fertilizer, earth and some wildly primal perfumes. In the farthest corner is a table smothered in a muddle of vines, twisting tendrils and mysterious red and pink flanked vessels. Welcome to the land of the endangered old world pitcher plants, Nepenthes.
A dangerous view for a curious insect, the vibrant red lip on this pitcher plant is both tempting and deadly.

I tracked down Woodland Park Zoo gardener and pitcher plant enthusiast, Justin Schroeder, who had a lot to say about these endangered carnivores.

Old world pitcher plants live in very remote areas, deep in the hillsides of tropical Asia. They prefer sunny ridges and slopes to thick jungles. Rain and high humidity are important elements of their environment as they like a permanently wet soil. Old world pitcher plants can grow epiphytically, atop other plants, trees or logs, and can climb to the tops of the highest canopies or make their space on the dark forest floor.

The pitchers are a modified part of the leaf. Not all the leaves have pitchers, but some of the leaf tips will balloon into a hollow, sealed pitcher. When the pitcher is mature, its top will pop open forming a lid. Then bristly ladders emerge along the front of the pitcher.

Pitcher plants often grow in acidic soil, between shallow leafy debris and gravely seeps, where a lot of the nutrients that would otherwise be available are swept away with the moving water. So what is a plant to eat?

Carnivorous, the tropical pitcher plants lure their dinner by offering their sweet nectar to unsuspecting prey. The pitchers themselves are an intricate trap, designed to digest enough insects to keep them well nourished. The different parts of the trap all work together to ensure that insects won’t escape.

Here you can see the ‘ladder’ that allows insects an easy route to the rim of the pitcher.

The entire plant is covered with nectar glands, but the nectar is thicker along the tendrils, the ladder, the peristome (lip), and under the lid. The lid itself acts as a little umbrella to stop rainwater from diluting the digestive juice deep inside the trap.

The pitchers vary greatly, even on the same plant. Some of the low hanging pitchers are short and squat, with more ladders for ants and crawling insects. The pitchers which climb up higher entangle themselves onto vines and are often more elegant and funnel shaped to lure winged insects.

The bright colors of the pitchers as well as the succulent nectar lure the insects, mostly ants and gnats to the underside of the lid. The nectar is a bit like a shot of tequila; some ants appear intoxicated after feeding for a while, spinning around in circles and falling from the lid into the deep pitcher.

The syrupy nectar attracts all sorts of insects and small mammals to the peristome (lip) of the plant.

Once inside the pitcher, insects have few options. The upper part of the pitcher’s waxy slope is nearly impossible to climb. The lower digestive zone is covered with hundreds of large glands that secrete a killer juice. The juice liquefies the soft parts of the prey right away. The enzymes can digest a fly in a few days, and then the glands reabsorb the soup. There is often a pile of insect corpses at the bottom of the trap, an exoskeleton graveyard. It sounds gruesome, but a plant has got to eat.

Each pitcher has a built in springboard that launches the punch-drunk insects onto a sort of slip and slide death trap. The insects then slide down this waxy-walled slope into the deepest part of the pitcher. Here you can see a pile of drowned gnats.
Thank goodness there aren’t giant pitcher plants…but wait, there are! The largest pitcher plants in the world, Nepenthes rajah, are able to capture animals as large as rats. Yikes and eww!

Many nepenthes host a rainbow of colors and are popular with florists.

Okay, so enough villainizing. Justin tells me these plants do have a sweet side. Many creatures have a loving relationship with Nepenthes, including people. Let’s count the ways…

  • They provide water for ant colonies during times of drought (sure, they may digest one or two in the process, but tit for tat.)
  • Golden ants actually raise their young in holes they drill into the tendrils of the N. bicalcurata. (Such a good babysitter!) 
  • Drummer ants claim pitcher plants for their own and beat their abdomens on the lids of the pitchers to scare off intruders. (Drummer ants are immune to the digestive juices, but it’s not clear why.) 
  • Red crab spiders attach themselves to the inside of the trap by a small thread and swing into the pitcher to snatch up flies and fish for mosquito larvae (literally fly-fishing). Even cooler, the crab spider will leap into the juice if it is threatened and actually pull itself out again on its safety web.
  • Humans have used the pitchers for carrying rainwater (even insect soup is refreshing in parts of the tropics!) 
  • People have used pitcher plants for numerous medicinal uses, including: eyewash, asthma reliever, painkiller during childbirth, skin burn, reducing fever, indigestion, heartburn, and dysentary 
  • The stems of some pitcher plants, N. ampullaria, were once used to bind fences and are thick as ropes 
  • Rice is even cooked in some of the larger pitchers. (Nothing like a little extra ant carcass in your rice!) 
  • This pitcher plant allows the woolly bat to roost in its leaves. While the bat sleeps securely in his pitcher plant nest, the plant traps the bat’s droppings and gains nutrients and fertilization. This plant might be a toilet for the bat, but the vital nutrients are well worth the price. 
  • A similar agreement exists between the treeshrew and the pitcher plant, Nepenthes lowii. The plant supplies sweet nectar at the rim of its lid where the treeshrew can easily lick off any excess sugar, and whenever the shrew needs to poop, the pitcher plant gets its own little treat.

There are about 80 species of tropical pitcher plants and most all of them hail from Borneo, although isolated populations are found as far off as Madagascar and New Caledonia. These plants are vulnerable due to their shrinking habitat and urban encroachment.
Justin says the pitcher plants at Woodland Park Zoo each catch about one hundred gnats every night! He waters these puppies daily and makes sure they have a nice fertilizer foliar spray to their leaves. Pitcher plants can live ten to twenty years, most of ours are about ten years old. Our collection of pitcher plants was donated to the zoo from the University of Washington Botany Greenhouse.

The greenhouse and horticulture bungalow, tucked away at the edge of the zoo, are significant players in supporting the daily operation of the zoo and our animals’ wellbeing. Understanding the flora and fauna of a landscape allows biologists and researchers to better protect both the endangered plants and animals of each biodiverse region.

On zoo grounds, you can find pitcher plants in the Tropical Rain Forest building and in Zoomazium. Happy gnat hunting!

All photos by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Works referenced: D’Amato, Peter. The Savage Garden: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1998. Print.