Some Animals Eat “Weird” Food

December 13, 2010 at 3:34 pm Leave a comment

I often get the question “What do you feed the animals?” That question is quite loaded, because there’s more than just food preparation required for some of the animals. In their natural habitats, animals can eat many varieties of foods. Some of them have specific food requirements (like carnivores eat meat, herbivores eat plants), but others are opportunistic in their food consumption (like scavengers eat whatever they come across). In captivity, their diets can be stricter, as animal keepers can’t always hunt down the specific foods their animals would have in the wild.

Many of our lizards eat a variety of produce, from collard greens to squash to kiwi fruit. The local farmer’s market often has a nice selection of exotic foods our animals might find in the wild. More challenging to find, many of our animals also eat meat. We can purchase things like seafood and chicken from the local grocery store, but they don’t usually keep insects and rodents in stock for consumption. Instead, rodents for our snakes, lizards and turtles are ordered from companies that specialize in ‘feeder rodents’ for pets. One reason we rely on rodent suppliers is they control the health of the rodents and insure they’re not infected with bacteria that could harm the animals eating them, or the handlers feeding them. We could set out humane traps and attempt to catch the rodents we need, but many mammals in nature tend to carry germs from their habitats and other chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers that people use to treat crops and lawns. These chemicals and germs can be very harmful to animals. Our rodent-eaters are fed pre-frozen mice and rats that have been thawed and warmed. Some prefer to ‘grab’ their rodents from a branch or under a log, but others prefer their food to move. To reinforce their hunting habits, our keepers use a long set of tongs to hold the rodents and move them around to entice the snakes.Once they’ve grabbed the food, our snakes are left to eat and digest before they can join us for animal encounters. Due to the strength of our snakes, keepers must be extra-careful to keep themselves and the snakes safe during feedings. Some of the snakes are moved to separate enclosures during feeding times for safety.

Some of our animals like the lesser tenrec, geckos and tarantula eat mostly insects. The insects we maintain include crickets and mealworms. Much like the hazards of wild-caught rodents, insects can carry harmful pathogens and commercial chemicals, so our live insects are ordered from companies that specialize in farming insects for animal consumption. Our insect eaters are also hunters, so we sometimes leave the insects in their enclosures to hunt, or feed them with tongs to insure each animal is getting ample food. The variety of insects we maintain is not as broad as our animals would find in natural habitats, so we also supplement their diets with vitamins (either fed to their food, or added to their food). These vitamins may be powder form, or prepared diets that provide extra nutrients absent in the food we can easily provide.

All animals have to eat something. Though many of them prefer rodents and insects over pizza and burgers, animals eat foods that keep them healthy. Some animals chooses fruits and veggies like people do, others prefer hunting animals we might consider pests.

Lynn Anders, Animal Care Coordinator


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At Fernbank Museum, there’s much more than dinosaurs and giant-screen films. Even with our website, e-newsletters, Facebook pages and Twitter updates, there’s still a lot we’d like to share with you. This blog is an opportunity for the people that keep Fernbank running and constantly expanding, to share stories from their point of view. We hope you’ll enjoy these first-hand, behind-the-scenes glimpses of what goes into keeping a world-class natural history museum running. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback on these stories, to hear your personal experiences and hear any suggestions for topics. Happy reading!

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