By: Jordan Hubrich and Josh Harris
The kind of treats typically associated with Halloween often involve sugar, chocolate, and candy. But many of the animals at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden have a different idea of a tasty treat. Pumpkins, blood popsicles, rotting carcasses, decaying vegetables—they may be better at this season than we are. And not only do they have some interesting treats to suit the season, they’re also full of some cool and creepy tactics and adaptations—or, more fittingly, tricks—that help them survive.
Come on down to the visit the zoo this HallZooween and see if you are tricked by these cryptic creatures.
Black-footed Cat: These felines may look adorable and fuzzy, and while they are among the smallest species of wild cat, they are also one of the most successful hunters out in the wild. They can capture more prey in a single night than a leopard does in six months! Black-footed cats are nocturnal hunters with powerful night vision and fantastic hearing. Not only that, but because of their small size, they disappear easily into the tall grasses to better stalk their prey. Their predation success is estimated to be about 60 percent, which is the highest hunting success rate of all cat species. In comparison, lions catch their prey only around 20-25 percent of the time. Their go-to snack: small mammals and birds. Look for these ferocious predators on the prowl in Night Hunters. Or, to learn more about how the Cincinnati Zoo is involved in conserving this small cat species, click here.
Alligator Snapping Turtle: Weighing in at over 200 pounds, the alligator snapping turtle is the largest fresh-water turtle around as well as an animal that truly tricks their treat! Along with impressive camouflage, these turtles have another way of catching their prey by surprise. By wriggling a worm-like appendage back and forth on their tongue, they lure unsuspecting fish right into their range before they strike. Capable of holding their breath for up to 50 minutes at a time, these snapping turtles can lie in wait for long periods. They stay submerged and motionless for so long that algae even starts to grow on their shells. But don’t get too comfortable with their sedentary lifestyle because they still have powerful jaws and a bite force of a thousand pounds! See if you can spot our alligator snapping turtle in Manatee Springs.
Honduran Milk Snake: While some animals’ trickery helps them find their food, a good costume can also help animals avoid being a savory snack. In the wild, bright colors often act as a warning signal that indicate to predators that an animal is poisonous or venomous, something known as aposematic coloration. The Honduran milk snake is bright red with stripes, just like the deadly coral snake that it shares its habitat with. However, though the pattern of the milk snake is striking, these snakes are actually non-venomous! This mimicry is a powerful defense that helps them trick potential predators—like birds of prey—into avoiding them for fear of their secretly harmless bite.
Orchid Mantis: A combination of lovely and eerie, the orchid mantis is yet another trickster for our list. With shapes and colors that look almost exactly like an orchid flower, female orchid mantises have the perfect disguise to deceive their preferred prey of pollinating insects. But while females have more conspicuous coloring and tend to be larger—a trait that allows them to take down bigger bugs, such as bees—males have evolved differently: they are smaller and their colors duller. This allows them to better camouflage and stay hidden from predators so that they can stay alive long enough to mate. You can find our orchid mantises at their home in the World of the Insect.
Aye-Aye: Last, but not least: is this final friend an owl? A rodent? A bat? While they rely on adaptations akin to all of these animals, they aren’t a close relative to any of them! The odd aye-aye is a member of the lemur family and the world’s largest nocturnal primate. They have a myriad of traits and tactics that help them get to their main treat: insect larvae. They tap their long, skeletal middle fingers along tree branches and cup their large ears forward to listen for echoes that indicate the hollow space of an insect tunnel. Once a tunnel is found, they tear into the branch using their ever-growing incisors—a trait typically associated with rodents—and then they extract larvae with those long fingers. Aye-ayes are thought to be the only primate to search for their food using echolocation which is pretty cool! Take a trek down into jungle trails and search for these percussive foragers ambling along the branches of their habitat.
So come visit the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden for a chance to see these terrific tricksters and many more awesome animals! And as you dive into your own tasty treats this fall season, consider the ways you can do so sustainably to help protect healthy habitats for their wild counterparts. Check out this candy guide to learn more.