Welcome to the HMNS Animal Alcove: Where the wild things are

You’ve seen the animals on display in our African and Texas wildlife exhibits. While realistic, none of these mounts actually slither, wiggle or do much of anything, really.

But HMNS has a live animal collection that much of the public never even sees. These animals are not on display, but used to educate at our outreach programs. Outreach programs like Wildlife on Wheels (WOW) give students a unique and hands-on opportunity to learn the basics of animal life.

I was fortunate enough to take a tour of the Animal Alcove that houses more than 40 of the animals used in the outreach programs. Right when you walk into the room, you feel like you have stepped into a completely different environment. In fact, this is exactly what the staff in charge of these animals is shooting for.

My first thought was, “Does the Museum have any snakes?” Absolutely we do! The Museum houses both venomous and nonvenomous snakes ranging from a rattlesnake to a bald python. One of the newest snake residents at the museum is a rainbow boa. This particular boa is a female, and she is known to the staff as being a bit of a diva — which is her right, considering how pretty she is.

The Museum also has an in-house baby American alligator. The alligators that come through the Museum do not stay here long. The Museum has a foster program through Brazos Bend State Park and houses these alligators until they begin to mature and then they send them back out into their natural habitats.

Even though the snakes and reptiles were the first animals I asked about, they were not the first animals that caught my eye: that would be two green-cheeked conures. These two little guys are very beautiful to look at and they are also very charismatic. But be careful! These little guys draw you in with their charm and pretty feathers and then reward you with a little bite on the finger. They are a good example of the look-but-don’t-touch rule.

However, they are not the only birds that call the museum home. There are also two ring-necked doves. These love to be petted and held and will even make little laughing sounds for visitors.

Moving away from scales and feathers, let’s talk about the furry friends here at the museum. There are several adorable mammals here that can make you smile. There is a short-tailed opossum, two ferrets, and two degus, in addition to a sweet black rabbit.

The degus were my personal favorites. Degus are rodents, but they are more closely related to chinchillas and guinea pigs than they are to rats and mice. These two will greet you at the door of their cage begging for treats and will even crawl out onto your hand for some petting and loving. Then when they have had enough attention, they are happy climbing onto their exercise wheel for a little cardio.

In contrast to that were the two ferrets on the other side of the room. Both of these laid-back fellows were fast asleep in either a hammock or the corner of their cage.

All of these animals were very interesting, but I am one who picks favorites. My favorite member of the live animal collection at the museum is the axolotl.

I know, you’re thinking, “What on earth is that?!”

An axolotl is a salamander that is closely related to the tiger salamander (which you can also find at the Museum). What is so interesting about the axolotl is that it resembles a tadpole more than it does a full grown salamander.

Even though you may not have heard of an axolotl, you might already have an idea of what it looks like. Toothless, the black dragon from the movie How to Train Your Dragon, was modeled after an axolotl! If you look below, you can see the striking resemblance:

Meet our Axolotl!

Our first Friday Feeding Frenzy in photos: Join us at the Butterfly Center every Friday this summer!

Last Friday we launched our new summer program aimed at getting patrons involved in some of our behind-the-scenes, day-to-day maintenance of the Cockrell Butterfly Center: the Friday Feeding Frenzy!

Every Friday this summer, the Butterfly Center staff will feed their live animal collection in the view of our patrons, allowing you guys to learn a little bit more about how these creatures keep themselves fit and fierce.

Friday Feeding Frenzy at the Cockrell Butterfly Center

Green tree pythons like the ones that live in the Butterfly Center are equipped with heat sensors that enable them to sense their prey. Like their counterpart in the Americas, the emerald tree boa, the python constricts its prey.

Friday Feeding Frenzy at the Cockrell Butterfly Center

Our pythons are fed frozen mice (to kill any harmful germs and bacteria) that are warmed up to resemble live prey. The python above was captured just after he struck.

Friday Feeding Frenzy at the Cockrell Butterfly Center

A young crowd gathers to examine the millipede and centipedes that live in the Butterfly Center. While millipedes are harmless, the Vietnamese centipede is an aggressive, predatory arthropod that packs a powerful sting.

Friday Feeding Frenzy at the Cockrell Butterfly Center

Although its name would imply that it has 100 legs, this centipede actually has far fewer. Still, it is fast, voracious and will eat anything smaller than itself — including small lizards and mammals.

Friday Feeding Frenzy at the Cockrell Butterfly Center

Above, a praying mantis rather brutally devours a live cricket.

It’s a pretty fabulous buggy buffet. And best of all, it’s totally FREE! All you need is a ticket for entrance to the Cockrell Butterfly Center. For more information, including a full schedule of feeding times, click here.