Scaly Animal Ambassadors

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It is easy to see how Floyd and his kind were named blue-tongued skinks!

Part of being an educator at the San Diego Zoo is connecting wildlife to our guests by using animals as a way to trigger interest and concern, especially for children who just love to get close to an animal they’ve never seen before. As a part of the Zoo’s Education Department, I take care of some pretty neat animals that are ambassadors for their species.

Our group of reptile ambassadors is seen by thousands of children a year through school assemblies, animal presentations, sleepovers, and summer, spring, and winter camps. Probably our most famous ambassador is Floyd, the blue-tongued skink. He has been around for quite some time and has the most amazing temperament—always a gentleman and very tolerant of small hands petting him. And personally, he is my favorite to take care of!

Another favorite is Monty, a ball python. Very eager to be handled and always popular with children, one of the best things about Monty is he helps take away the image many people have that snakes are slimy creatures when in fact snakes are smooth and have a special feel all their own. All of the snakes I take care of have a different feel to their scales.

An educator shows off the beautiful colors on Tex.

Tex, a Mexican milk snake, is getting older and doesn’t come out as much; when he does, children love to see his beautiful red, yellow, and black bands. A new addition to our ambassador group has been an albino Nelson’s milk snake. He is more of a pinkish color and even has red eyes. His name is Peppermint Pat and is still getting used to coming out for children, as he is very friendly but also very squirmy!

We have two Australian womas named Mickie and Nooroo (see post Wonderful Womas). One of my favorite things about them is their coloring. At first they look pale green, but as you bring them into the light they seem to have a metallic sheen with a greenish, purple haze. These snakes have a very small head for their body, but they can eat full-grown mice.

A Zoo camper meets Manja, a Madagascar ground boa.

Manja is our biggest snake; this Madagascar ground boa constrictor is a handful for two adults. When we first take him out of his enclosure, he is still waking up and getting used to being outside. But soon he is wiggling everywhere and really makes us work for a smooth animal presentation.

Last but not least is Spot, a spotted salamander who is our only amphibian ambassador. He’s a slimy guy that makes kids, and even adults, giggle when they touch him. He is dark gray with yellow spots and has a good appetite for earthworms and crickets!

These animals are fantastic ambassadors for our zoo. The best part of my job is when I can make a child fall in love with an animal he or she may have never heard of before but now cares deeply about and never wants to hear of them on the Endangered Species List. So keep an eye out for our amazing group of reptiles that work overtime for the San Diego Zoo.

Anastasia Horning is an educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Yun Zi Redecorates.