Answers from School Program Instructor Jane Marlow to questions by students from the Base Camp Discovery Mail Box.

What does a camel eat?

Camels are herbivores, meaning they are adapted to eat plants.  They are not picky eaters, eating many thorny, dry plants that other animals avoid. This makes them very well-suited for desert life, as food might be hard to find. They can also survive long periods without food by living off of the energy-rich fat stored in their humps.

How do scarlet macaws get around?

Like most birds, scarlet macaws can fly using specially-shaped feathers that cover their wings, called flight feathers. For their large size, macaws are skilled flyers and use flight to travel from tree to tree. Macaws are also excellent climbers. The four toes on each foot of a macaw are zygodactyl, meaning two of the toes point forward and two point back. This gives the parrot a strong grasp while climbing.  The macaw’s beak can also act like a third foot, hooking and holding onto branches as the macaw climbs.

How do giraffes grow?

Just like us, giraffes need energy to grow. Before baby giraffes (called calves) are even born, they have already done a lot of growing.  During the 15 months that a giraffe calf is inside its mother, it grows from the size of a single, tiny cell to the size of an adult human. Before it is born, the calf gets the energy it needs to grow directly from its mother’s body, but after birth, the calf will get energy from its mother’s milk. A giraffe grows very quickly when it is young, growing 9 inches in its first month of life! As the calf grows, its bones and muscles get bigger and stronger, and the two “horns” or ossicones on its head become stiffer as they change from soft cartilage to bone.  Calves begin eating plants at about 4 months of age, but they won’t be completely weaned off of milk until they are over a year old. After they are weaned, giraffes get energy for growth from the leaves, shoots, fruits, and flowers that they browse from trees and shrubs. Giraffes grow more slowly as they get older, and they eventually reach their full heights once they are about 15-18ft tall. The heads and necks of male giraffes never stop growing, adding about 2lbs of bone to their skulls each year.

How many animals are at your zoo?

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is home to more than 1,500 birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, representing more than 200 species. The zoo grounds also attract variety of native, wild animals, so keep your eyes peeled for the many wild bugs, birds, and other animals that visit the zoo.

Why do baby deer have spots on their backs?

Many baby deer (called fawns) are covered in a pattern of white or tan spots.  The spots help break up the fawn’s shape, allowing it to blend into its environment and hide from predators.  They also mimic the sun and shade pattern of the forest floor. Patterns of color that help an animal hide are known as camouflage. Many deer lose their spots once they reach adulthood, but some species of deer, like sika deer and fallow deer, never lose their spots.

Do alligators eat turtles?

American alligators can use their broad, powerful jaws to eat a wide variety of animals, including turtles.  The only other alligator species, the Chinese alligator, is also known to eat animals with tough shells, like snails, clams and crabs, so it is possible it may also eat turtles.  However, the slender-snouted crocodiles that live with turtles in the zoo’s Chimpanzee Forest have long, narrow jaws designed for catching fast, small animals like fish and frogs.  The turtles’ large, hard shells protect them from the thin jaws of the slender-snouted crocodiles.

Why do elephants have long trunks?

Elephants have big, heavy heads and short, thick necks, making it hard for an elephant to reach the ground with its mouth. An elephant’s trunk allows it to bring food to its mouth.  With its trunk, an elephant can not only gather food, but it can also suck up water and squirt it into its mouth for a drink or onto its back to cool down.  Because the trunk is actually an elephant’s nose, it can even act as a snorkel to help the elephant breath when it is swimming!

Why do giraffes have spots?

The blotchy patterns on the coats of giraffes certainly match the sun and shade patterns found within the patches of trees spread throughout the African savannah. Many animals have spots, blotches or stripes to help them to camouflage, or blend into their surroundings. These patterns break up the animal’s shape and enable it to fade into the background. Camouflage patterns make sense for vulnerable prey animals. However, giraffes are very large, powerful animals and healthy adults can usually fend off most predators with powerful kicks. Since this is the case, do adult giraffes need camouflage? Perhaps the blotchy patterns enable the adult giraffes to save energy by reducing the number of encounters with predators. Or, the blotches may allow young, and therefore vulnerable, giraffes to get “lost in the crowd” of a herd of giraffes.  Or, perhaps the patterns were useful for smaller ancestors of modern giraffes but no longer serve an important purpose for adult giraffes today.  As with the stripes on a zebra, scientists haven’t conclusively determined their exact purpose.

Why are flamingos pink?

Flamingos get their bright pink color from the carotenoids, or red pigments, in the food they eat. In the wild, flamingos prey on tiny shrimp that feed on algae containing carotenoids. Flamingos are grey in color until they reach adulthood, so the pink color may be a way for flamingos to tell juveniles from adults.

SOURCES:

The Behavior Guide to African Mammals by Richard Despard Estes (1992).

The Encyclopedia of Birds edited by Dr. Christopher M. Perrins and Dr. Alex L. A. Middleton (1985).

The Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians edited by Dr. Harold G. Cogger and Dr. Richard G. Zweifel (2003).

The Encyclopedia of Mammals edited by David MacDonald (2001).

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Animal Diversity Web http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/index.html.

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore’s website

http://www.marylandzoo.org

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