Even though lions and tigers and bears are ferocious, few animals can strike fear at the mere mention of their name like those represented in the Zoo’s HerpAquarium. As home to some 100 species of creepies and crawlies from around the world, the HerpAquarium is a great place to get your scare on.
I Want to Lap Your Blood
The fangs, the glowing red eyes, the bony wings, and more than a century of myths and legends—what’s not spine-tingling about coming face to face with a Vampire bat? Well, first of all, they’re tiny. The average male weighs about 25 grams while females are slightly bigger at around 30 grams. Their bite may sting, but the bite from a single bat is usually not deadly, unless that bat is a carrier of rabies. Although they may not turn into handsome, sparkly heartthrobs when the sun goes down, Vampire bats are nocturnal and do, in fact, drink blood.
The Zoo’s colony of Vampire bats will consume six gallons of cow’s blood each month. Contrary to popular belief, Vampire bats don’t actually suck blood—they lap it up similar to the way a cat or dog laps up water. A bat can feed off a single wound for about 30 minutes because of an anticoagulant found in their saliva, which keeps the blood from clotting. At the Zoo, the bats are fed twice a day andthe blood, collected from a butcher’s shop in Bardstown, is treated with special chemicals to keep it from coagulating. The Vampire bat exhibit opened at the HerpAquarium in 2006 with seven males. Today, the Zoo has a total of 37 Vampire bats and has had 14 births. Unlike their movie counterparts, Vampire bats are quite social, and you’ll often see them “hanging out” with a buddy.
The Eyes Have It
What has a fat hairy body, eight legs, and up to eight eyes? If you answered tarantula and then threw your copy of Trunkline down on the ground with a scream, you’re not alone. Arachnophobia, or fear of spiders, may affect as much as 6 percent of the world’s population. Surprisingly, the venom from a tarantula’s bite is less potent than a bee’s sting. With a diet of insects and small lizards, these nocturnal hunters use appendages called pedipalps tograb their prey and quickly use their fangs to inject the venom. Once the victim is rendered helpless, the tarantula secretes an enzyme into the prey’s body so that the tarantula can suck it through its mouth. After a large meal, a tarantula can go a month without eating.
While their quest for a midnight meal might sound vicious, these arachnids are actually quite docile. In fact, the Meta-Zoo Education Center uses them for public outreach programs! The HerpAquarium also has a few species on exhibit, including the red-legged, purple bloom, and Mexican red knee tarantula.In the wild, some species of tarantulas are located in southern U.S. states, including Texas and Oklahoma, but most live south of the border in Mexico and Central and South America. Females generally outlive males, with the male life span averaging between 10 and 12 years compared to nearly double that for females. But then, the female tarantula is known to eat her mate, which could explain the difference in life expectancy.
It’s a Monster!
Actually, the Gila monster is a lizard— but as the name implies, a lizard with a monstrous reputation. Named for the Gila (pronounced Hee-la) River in Arizona, it is native to the southwest U.S. and northern Mexico and is one of only two venomous lizards on Earth.
Characterized by short, stumpy legs and a beaded orange and black body, an adult Gila monster can range in length from 18 to 21 inches and weighs 1.5 to 3 pounds. The Gila monster doesn’t have particularly good eyesight and is not very fast. Instead, it sneaks up on its prey and bites it before it can get away using its grooved teeth to hold on and to inject its venom into the prey. In the wild, Gilas eat birds’ eggs and nestlings, rodents, frogs, lizards, insects, centipedes and worms. The large, thick tail of a Gila monster stores fat, allowing it to survive without food for long periods of time.