Going Batty on International Bat Appreciation Day

By Tessa Giannini, Animal Care Professional 

There are over 1,300 species of bats in the world which means there is an amazing variety in how they live, eat, and reproduce. The vast majority of bats are immensely beneficial to humans by providing free pest control from insects, pollinating and/or dispersing seeds for over 300 plants! At ZooTampa we have two species of bats: African straw colored fruit bats and Malayan Flying foxes.

Here are my top batty facts:

African straw colored fruit bats:

  1. They have the largest mammal migration of any species in the world and the furthest migration of any African mammal.
  2. The females will undergo delayed implantation which basically means after breeding in April/May the fertilized egg doesn’t implant in the bats uterus until several months later to coincide with increased food sources found during migration in October. The pup is then born February/March of the following year.
  3. They are the second largest bat species in Africa, after the hammer head bat.
  4. They get their name, “straw colored,” from the ring of golden yellow fur around their necks.
  5. They have a wingspan of 2-2.5 feet wide.

Malayan Flying foxes:

  1. They are one of the largest species of bats in the world, with a wingspan of 5-6 feet wide!
  2. Although they are large and may look intimidating, these bats eat only fruit, nectar, and flowers. They provide important ecosystem services by pollinating or dispersing the seeds of many different plant species.
  3. They do not use echolocation to find their food, but instead rely on their excellent vision and sense of smell.
  4. This species often makes a variety of vocalizations to communicate with one another.
  5. Malayan flying foxes are considered Near Threatened by the IUCN, although in certain parts of their range they are Vulnerable. Much of this has to do with humans and clearing of the bats native habitat and food sources.

The more you know:

  1. Insect eating bats can eat up to 1200 mosquito sized insects in just one hour!
  2. There are 41 different species of bats in the United States, and of these nearly half are either endangered or threatened.
  3. One of the largest threats to bats is white-nose syndrome (a disease that affects hibernating bats and is caused by a fungus).
  4. The smallest bat in the world (and also the world’s smallest mammal) lives in Thailand and is called a bumble bee bat. It is only as big as a thumbnail and weighs less than a penny.
  5. The Florida Bonneted Bat is Florida’s largest bat species, but it is also Florida’s most endangered bat.
  6. Pups are often 1/3 of moms size, this is equivalent to human mothers giving birth to 40 pound babies!

All bats are protected species and it is illegal to kill them. If you find bats in your home you can hire a pest control company to humanely exclude the bats.

In Florida exclusion may not take place between April 16-August 14 because this is prime “maternity season.” Moms leave their babies while they hunt for food and if an exclusion device is put up while the babies are too young to fend for themselves, they could starve without their mother. Florida Bonneted bats breed year round, so make sure the bat species is properly identified before putting up an exclusion device. If you find a bat that needs help call a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility to help out.

You can visit our bats during your next visit in Wallaroo!

A Letter from the CEO

Dear Zoo friends,

After extensive renovations to the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center, ZooTampa at Lowry Park is proud to again support the rescue and rehabilitation of manatees, one of Florida’s most iconic species. The Critical Care Center’s renovations included a complex energy efficient filtration system that supports the Zoo’s ability to provide life-saving support for severely injured and sickened manatees.

Under the guidance of lead manatee veterinarian, Dr. Lauren Smith, our veterinary and animal care staff are continuing our work to provide advanced, specialized medical treatment and rehabilitation for manatees that are orphaned or hurt, entangled in fishing line or suffering from cold stress. The first four manatee patients to use the renovated filtration and life-support systems were recently transported to the Zoo for continued care after being involved in boat strikes and rescued from Florida’s west coast.

We are committed to wildlife conservation both globally and locally. The Zoo's upgraded Manatee Critical Care Center is just the first phase of an ambitious plan to increase our capacity to care for a variety of threatened native Florida species. This is part of our long-term vision to protect and preserve Florida wildlife, and to inspire a greater public connection to, and responsibility for, the wildlife that call Florida home.

As we care for these and other rescued manatees, we invite you to visit ZooTampa to meet and observe these graceful, slow moving “sea cows” as they recover and rehabilitate. Once they are healthy, it’s our goal that they return to their native Florida waters.

Thanks to your generosity and continued support, ZooTampa at Lowry Park saved hundreds of manatees in the wild for nearly three decades. We are proud to continue our tradition of providing life-saving care to this treasured Florida species once again.

See you at the Zoo!


Joe Couceiro

President & CEO

Have a Green National Battery Day!

Energize your day! Today, February 18th, is National Battery Day and in celebration we’d like to share some tips on how to recycle your old batteries. Did you know that only 10 to 12 percent of the 70 million pounds of batteries sold yearly in North America are recycled?

What should you do with those dead batteries just laying around?

For lithium-ion and other rechargeable household batteries:

  1. Prepare your batteries: place each battery in its own clear plastic bag before placing it in a storage container. Avoid taping the terminals, but make sure the terminals don’t touch during transport.
  2. Bring your ID and individually-bagged batteries to your local disposal site.
    1. For those of us in the Hillsborough County area, we have four options (listed here: https://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/property-owners-and-renters/trash-and-recycling/discarding-batteries)

For single-use batteries (such as AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-volt), the best option is to recycle them through Call2Recycle’s battery recycling kits as most local locations don’t accept these. For information on this, visit: https://www.call2recycle.org/store/.

An even better option is to use rechargeable batteries. Nearly one in five dry-cell batteries (like those single-use batteries listed above) purchased in the United States is rechargeable. Each rechargeable battery may substitute for hundreds of single-use batteries.

When it comes to battery recycling, channel that pink bunny we all know and love and just keep going, and goi- well, you know the rest!

Oh deer, it’s a blue duiker!

By Amanda Wright, Animal Care Professional

Oh Deer - well not quite! This Bambi look-a-like is actually a blue duiker and not related to a deer at all!

Duikers are African antelopes, and blue duikers are the smallest of all duiker species. The main difference between deer and antelopes involves the protrusions on their head. While deer have branched antlers that are shed and regrown annually, antelopes such as the blue duiker have non-branched, permanent horns.

Blue duikers stick to forest environments where they can use the trees and vegetation to easily hide from predators. In fact, the word “duiker” is derived from the Afrikaans word meaning “diver”. This name is suitable because as a defense mechanism, duikers dive into vegetation whenever they feel threatened.

Here at ZooTampa, you can find blue duikers in the Hornbill Aviary, which is located in the Africa section of the Zoo. If you look closely, you might even see a smaller duiker running around. Your eyes are not deceiving you. Emerald, our female blue duiker, recently had a calf! Blue duiker calves are very precocial, and can run within 20 minutes of being born! They spend their first few weeks hunkering down in safe spots, but as they get older, they also become more playful and inquisitive. Soon, you will be able to see this little calf running, jumping, and chasing after mom as she explores the world around her.

Deer or not, there’s no denying how cute these little antelopes are! Next time you’re at ZooTampa, be sure to swing by the Hornbill Aviary and see if you can spot our elusive blue duiker family.

Birdy Spotlight: Emu

Written By Animal Care Professional Amanda Wright

What do you see in your mind’s eye when you think of a bird? Maybe you picture a majestic eagle swooping through the sky, or a delicate wren flitting soundlessly through the trees? Perhaps you see a colorful parrot, or maybe even a vulture making lazy circles high up in the air. You probably didn’t picture an animal bigger than you, with powerful legs, big stomping feet, and the inability to fly… but this is exactly the kind of bird that we are going to celebrate this month.

As the Year of the Bird begins to wind down, let’s take a few minutes to appreciate the awesome adaptations of ratites! No, we’re not talking about rodents – ratites are a group of flightless birds that include ostriches, cassowaries, rheas, kiwis, and the star of this blog: emus! The word ratite stems from a Latin word meaning “raft”, and has to do with their flat, raft-like breastbone, which is different from the breastbone of flighted birds in that it lacks a “keel”.  A keel is an extension of the breastbone to which birds’ wing muscles can attach, allowing them to fly. Ratites don’t have this important skeletal component, which makes them unable to fly, but they have adapted to life on the ground quite well!

Here’s what makes emus are so special:

  1. Emus love water and believe it or not, they can swim! Emus are also the only birds in the world to have calf muscles. They are powerful runners and in a sprint, they can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour! These legs aren’t just for running, emus can deliver a powerful kick to defend themselves when necessary.
  2. Their feathers are just as unique as their legs! Emus have amazing feathers that look nothing like a typical bird feather. Emu feathers grow in pairs – each feather is actually split into two equally sized parts. Their feathers aren’t rigid either, they are actually quite soft and “droopy”. These feathers are black at the tips, which helps absorb sunlight and keep heat away from their bodies.
  3. Emus also make great dads! Once a female lays her large, dark green eggs, the male takes full responsibility for taking care of them. He will incubate them for as long as it takes for them to hatch (usually around 8 weeks) and during this time he will not leave them – not even to eat or drink! While incubating eggs, male emus can lose up to one third of their body weight. The only time he will stand up is to turn the eggs to make sure that they are evenly incubated.

Our very own emu, Elaine, can be seen in Wallaroo here at ZooTampa. If you’re lucky, you might even catch her taking a shower under her favorite sprinkler! Next time you visit, say hello to Elaine and see if you can recognize some of her adaptations in person!

Green Tips from the Green Team

Helpful Tips on America Recycles Day

‘Tis the season! Holiday cheer, delicious food, connecting with loved ones and…recycling? November 15th is probably not a holiday you’ll see marked on your calendar; however, it is an incredibly important holiday to the Zoo, Tampa Bay, and beyond. It’s America Recycles Day, a Keep America Beautiful initiative!

Here’s how YOU can help make the world more sustainable through a few easy changes:

  1. Learn what items are accepted by your curbside pickup - not all of them are! (#1-7 plastics typically are accepted.)
  2. Make sure you rinse any recyclables, so you don’t contaminate the bunch.
  3. Have a bin in every room to avoid being “too lazy” to recycle!
  4. Call your local electronic stores to see if they will recycle your old unusable items.
  5. Recycle water! For example, you can pour the water left over from cooking pasta directly into a flower bed.
  6. Join an America Recycles Day Celebration! There is one as close as Sarasota County.

Don’t stop there! If you’re already a recycling pro, consider going further and add these sustainable actions to your daily routine:

  1. Choose to reuse items like water bottles, mugs, bags and straws.
  2. Begin composting at home. Organic waste is the second largest component found in landfills!
  3. Repurpose items that you would normally throw away or recycle; for example, glass jars can become excellent storage containers.
  4. Shop in bulk and avoid food pre-packaged in plastic bags.

From all of us on ZooTampa’s Green Team, Happy America Recycles Day!

Building a Pack with Seven New Puppies

Written by: Animal Care Professional Ashley Gaia, Africa Team

Last year, ZooTampa at Lowry Park welcomed an exciting new species called the African painted dog. A male and female pair, Hatari and Layla, came to us from Zoo Miami in hopes that they would begin growing a family of their own. On October 1st, our hopes were met with the addition of seven beautiful, squirmy puppies. There are several reasons why these puppies are so special!

African painted dogs (Lycaon pictus) are genetically unique in the world of canids. One of the features that sets them apart from other canids is their feet, they have four toes per paw instead of five! They also have specially adapted carnassial teeth that help slice meat and bone more efficiently.  All painted dogs have big round ears, a dark muzzle, and white tipped tails. The rest of the coat is mottled in splotches of ebony, white, and golden tans. Every dog has a unique pattern, just as unique as our finger prints!

Painted dog society is complex and cooperative. Packs range from around 6-12 individuals, however packs of 30-50 have been documented. Each pack has an alpha male and female, chosen by the pack for their ability to lead versus their size. The painted dog is one of the greatest predators in Africa. Working as a team, the pack brings down their prey, quickly fill their bellies and rush back to their dens. There, they will regurgitate some meat to feed any puppies or dogs that need extra care.

Currently, our own painted dog family is excelling at parenthood. Hatari quickly mastered his role of staying close to the den to be a literal “watch dog” while Layla is devoting all of her time into raising, and wrangling, their puppies inside their den. For the last month, animal care staff has been heavily feeding Hatari so he can supply food to his growing family. At this time, Layla is allowing the puppies to begin to explore the habitat little by little. The puppies are rapidly learning the rules of fair play, tumbling together and pouncing on sticks and leaves. When Layla sees the pups getting too excitable, she ushers them back into the den to calm down and nap. It won’t be long until the whole family is out exploring the habitat in full and playing together!

The birth of these puppies is critical, as African painted dogs are an endangered species. Threats such as habitat fragmentation, car strikes, diseases from domestic dogs, and illegal snares have diminished this species to around 6,000-7,000 individuals. Here at ZooTampa, we work closely with organizations in Africa that are fighting for the survival of wild painted dogs. We sell recycled snare wire sculptures in our gift shop, with the proceeds going to saving this incredible species. To learn more, join us at the painted dog habitat every day at 10:45am for our keeper chat, and help us on our mission to preserve and protect wildlife!

The Puerto Rican Crested Toad: Working together to save a tiny toad

By Lee Ann Rottman, VP of Conservation

The Puerto Rican crested toad, Peltophryne lemur,is the only toad species native to Puerto Rico. The species once flourished on the island, but is now listed as Critically Endangered due to habitat loss and marine toads preying on their tadpoles. The crested toad is now listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as Critically Endangered.

ZooTampa is a proud partner of the Puerto Rican Species Survival Plan (SSP) which includes 20 organizations working together to save this important species. The Zoo’s Herpetology team works to selectively breed pairs of crested toads.  This is a tedious process with many intricate steps.

What does the process look like?

  1. Exams: In early September, before breeding season, our crested toads received physical exams by our veterinarian, Dr. Nico Maldonado. Weights and x-rays were taken, as well as samples for parasitology. These exams are important to ensure the toads are healthy and fit for breeding.

2. Cooling period: Researchers discovered that cooling air temperature is nature’s way of signaling the toads to prepare for breeding. ZooTampa simulates this by slowly dropping the room temperature from 80 °F to 66°F. This was maintained for roughly four weeks and then slowly raised back to normal.

3. Breeding time: After the cooling period, in mid-October, the male and female pairs were introduced to each other in rain chambers for breeding. Wild crested toads will congregate in ponds after heavy rains and the males will call for females to join them. Our herpetologists, actually play a sound track of crested toad mating calls to help get our toads in mood.  Think of it like a little Barry White for the toads.

4. Egg release/fertilization: If all goes as planned, the female toad will release her eggs and the male will fertilize them as she releases them. If the toads don’t naturally breed, our herpetologists can inject a hormone to help promote the release of both eggs and semen.

5. Release: The tadpoles will be released into ponds in Puerto Rico, which are monitored by field staff as they morph into toadlets and disperse. To date, through the combined efforts of the Puerto Rican crested Species Survival Plan, more than 400,000 tadpoles have been reintroduced back into the wild.

This year at ZooTampa, two of our toad pairs produced clutches of fertilized eggs. Within 24 hours the fertilized eggs began to hatch into tadpoles.  Staff will continue feed and care for the tadpole until they’re ready to be sent to Puerto Rico for release.

You can help too! By purchasing a Zoo ticket, you are helping us care for Zoo animals and save species on the brink of extinction, like the Puerto Rican crested toad.

Florida Pine Snake

The Florida pine snake is native to the Southeastern United States, but primarily found in Florida. As they require sandy soil for burrowing, this species can be found in oak woodlands, scrub, pine forests, fields and even in gopher tortoise burrows.

The Florida pine snake is nonvenomous and has a light body with brown splotches.  Their diet usually consists of small mammals, other snakes, and bird eggs. Unlike other snakes, the Florida pine snake has ridged scales and are rough in texture. Be careful - you won’t want to disturb these snakes! When disturbed, the Florida pine snake will inflate and rear the front of its body off the ground while hissing very loudly.

This species is currently listed as threatened in the state of Florida due to habitat loss. Pine tree farms, the citrus industry, real estate development and road construction are all threats to this species and their population.

Get up close to our Florida pine snake ambassador Piney during an animal mingle!

An Insider’s Guide to Creatures of the Night!

Creatures of the Night returns with more scares and spooky frights at ZooTampa at Lowry Park! The Zoo will once again transform into an eerie and immersive Halloween adventurewith bigger and better events for ghouls and goblins of all ages. On Fridays and Saturdays from October 4-26, the Zoo stays open late and animals lurk in the night until 10 p.m. with a wide-range of Halloween-themed activities sure to have everyone howling at the moon. Check out these spook-tacular tips to make a tremendous night of fun!

1. No horror or gore, just fun frights!

This event is family friendly, there are no gory creatures just spooks and startles for all. Creatures of the Night does not include haunted houses but will debut a new scare zone experience and some of last year’s eerie, frightful favorites will return. Older kids, pre-teens and adults will have the chance to encounter two all-new scare zones:

  1. "Twisted Tail Trail"  - the tale is familiar and known to all; three little pigs, a wolf and a girl in a hood frolicking in the woods. What happens when two tales intertwine and something strange begins to unfold?  Immerse yourself in a fight between good and evil as the tale takes an unexpected twist!
  2. "Rising Waters" - A forgotten Florida coastal town was swallowed whole by a mysterious, relentless storm.  Experience an array of eerie encounters as the rising and falling waters reveal more about the long-lost inhabitants, good and bad, that are exposed as the flooding recedes.


2. Don't worry - it's not too scary!

There’s a special sanctuary set aside for little “boos” and “ghouls” when Wallaroo Station transforms into “Pumpkin Palooza” - a festive fall harvest complete with a pumpkin patch, scarecrows, friendly farm animals and more.


3. Dress up with us!

Children (11 and under) are invited to arrive in their most spooktacular attire, animal costumes are encouraged as well!

*For the comfort and safety and security of all guests, adults (ages 12 and up) may not wear masks, wigs, face paint or costumes of any kind. Toy weapons are prohibited.


4. Get ready to feast with the beasts.

A foodie favorite, “Monster Beast Burger” returns with a twist this year, bigger and spicier than last year!  This burger is stacked with breakfast, lunch, and dinner favorites.


5. Can't miss dishes!

You won’t want to miss this year’s ssscary delicious treats! A returning favorite “Tombscone” – yummy black ice scream and all-new this year, fried chicken & waffles topped off honey cinnamon butter.   For those who want a refreshing drink, we have a variety of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde approved cocktails - both alcoholic and non-alcoholic! Beer, wine, devilish cocktails and Coca-Cola products will be available throughout the Zoo.

Member treat - receive discounts on food and merchandise! 

6. The animals come alive at night!

As the sun goes down, get a glimpse into the nighttime habits of animal residents and discover which nocturnal creatures are most active. Find animal mingles and chats throughout the park.

7. Stay until the bewitching hour of 10pm!

The entire night is a scary, good time! As the night progresses, things become a little bit spookier.


8. Enroll at Pigpimple’s!

Enjoy a Halloween themed animal show, “Pigpimple’s School of Mystery and Mayhem,” featuring our famous brand ambassadors. Join apprentice wizards and learn a spell or two!

9. ARRRG you ready for pirate storytelling?

Help steer a pirate ship and join headless pirates in Haunted Key West and listen to tales of pirates! There are multiple shows every night!


10. Freaky Fridays!

The fun lasts all weekend, but arrive to the Zoo early on Friday’s for optimal parking, shorter lines and minimal crowd. Become your own insider and experience all the Halloween adventures we have to offer before anyone else! “Pay for a Day” ticket holders can also experience Creatures of the Night for FREE on Friday nights!

11. Ditch the broomstick, Uber or carpool instead!

Parking for this event is free but may fill up fast, we recommend carpooling and checking our Twitter account (@zootampa) for parking updates! Or save time by having your Uber or Lyft driver drop you off at the Zoo School drop-off point, located at the entrance on North Blvd. Members - preferred parking ends at 4pm, so arrive early! Be on the lookout for Zoo staff assistance.

12. Walk like an Egyptian!

She's back!  Meet history’s most alluring queen, Cleopatra at Scarab Point! Explore her tomb alongside playful mummies and beware of Anubis as he guards her tomb.


13. Visit once or visit as much as you'd like through the end of 2020!

You can purchase a single day after 4 PM event ticket and have a wild night for a great price! Or, purchase a Pay For A Day, Rest of Year Free ticket and come back through the end of 2020 as much as you'd like for FREE (note that certain restrictions apply to event nights*). Or, purchase an Annual Membership and your whole family can visit through the end of 2020 with no blockout dates. Plus you'll get discounts on dining, retail, Signature Encounters and get access to free preferred parking.  Make your selection below!

*Saturday 10/19 & 10/26 are blockout dates. In order to attend Creatures of the Night on these evenings, Pay-For-A-Day ticket holders must pay an additional $10  per person. However, this only applies to repeat visits, so the PFAD ticket may be purchased and used for the first time on either of these  dates.  See a representative at the ticket window or call (813) 935-8552 for more information on ticket options.