The Chilean rose tarantula will give you the chills, not because of her eight long legs (and two more short front legs, called pedipalps, that she uses for holding prey) but because of her urticating hairs. They even sound itchy. Many tarantula species have these short, stiff structures on the abdomen. When a spider is disturbed or threatened, it will flick a shower of these prickly projectiles at the source of its agitation, aiming for the eyes. The hairs have the texture of fiberglass insulation, and while they won’t cause blindness, they are painfully irritating.
Of course, tarantulas can deliver a venomous bite, too, but the Chilean roses are docile and easily handled. Don’t pass up a chance to meet one in person during an animal encounter in Amazon Rising.
Built low to the ground, the short-leggedy blue-tongued skink has a shocking defense mechanism—that big, blue tongue. The flash of bright blue, against a gaping pink mouth, often startles predators. If that doesn’t work, the skink continues the show, hissing and inflating its body to look larger. The broad-jawed lizard can also apply its powerful bite force—used to crush snail shells—in defense. Once it chomps down, it has a habit of not letting go. This is a big lizard, too, growing as large as 20 inches and 3 to 4 pounds. But for all their bluster under duress, blue tongues are shy and retiring, and the two males who take turns in Shedd’s animal encounters are sweet-tempered.
Slithery sisters Jasmine and Ivy are no-leggedy green tree pythons who never bump into anything at night. At least not unintentionally. Green tree pythons are nocturnal ambush hunters in the rainforests of Indonesia and northeastern Australia. Gripping a tree branch with a coil of her sleek, slender body, a hungry green tree python hangs in a tight S-curve waiting for a rodent to scurry along the ground. The snake’s heat-sensing pits in her lips give her a three-dimensional infrared image, complete with heat gradients, of mammalian activity on the forest floor, allowing her to zero in on prey in complete darkness. Still hanging from the tree limb, the snake strikes, constricts and suffocates her prey, then swallows it headfirst and whole.
Jasmine and Ivy dine on commercially raised feeder animals, including small rodents, that arrive at Shedd frozen, and, at mealtime, are thawed and then warmed under a heat lamp before being served from the end of tongs. So the only bump in the night would be the conspicuous but soundless one moving through a snake digestive tract.
Want some up-close-and-personal wildlife thrills and chills—at a party? Spend the evening or the whole night among the animals in Shedd’s galleries during our Spooky Seas family Halloween celebration, Friday, Oct. 28. You never know what leggedy beastie you might bump into.
Posted by Karen Furnweger, web editor