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A Toco Toucan, Artie, Joins Engagement Animals Behind the Scenes at Shedd Aquarium

Engagement Animals Like Artie Take Part in Surprise Up-Close Encounters with Guests

September 14, 2023

A toco toucan, the largest species of toucan, sits on a branch and turns his head to the side, his long beak on display.

Photo by: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Shedd Aquarium has welcomed a toco toucan (Ramphastos toco), also known as the giant toucan, which is the largest species in the toucan family. Artie, a five-year-old toucan, arrived at Shedd this year and has been spending time behind the scenes with animal care staff as he acclimates to his new home. In the coming weeks, guests may see him throughout the aquarium during their visits, with potential opportunities to come face-to-face with this spectacular bird.

Artie has an 18-centimeter-long beak, nearly the same length as his height, and weighs 1.5 pounds. These birds have distinctive coloring alongside their large beaks, making them uniquely recognizable: a mainly black body, white and yellow throat and chest, bright red and orange beak and striking blue eyes. The function of the toco toucan’s beak is still unknown, but some suggest that it plays a role in courtship or potentially, self-defense. The species is native to the Amazon River region, where they eat mainly fruit, insects, eggs and other birds’ nestlings.

Engagement animals like Artie have a special role at the aquarium. Despite residing behind the scenes, these animals spend part of their time roaming the aquarium with animal care staff to demonstrate their natural behaviors and traits to visiting guests. These up-close opportunities provide a close connection to nature and help support Shedd’s mission of sparking compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world. Artie’s presence enables conversations about how a bird can impact aquatic environments and play an invaluable role in ecosystem health – even those they may not be directly connected to.

Toco toucans play an essential role in their ecosystems by acting as seed dispersers, eating fruit and depositing their seeds via their excrement in new locations across the region. While they are not listed as endangered, they are impacted by deforestation in the area, as well as by the pet trade, as they are attractive to poachers for their bright colors and intelligence.

VISUALS: See below for a link to downloadable photos of Artie the toco toucan:

Photo Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez