Meet the Animals in SMRH

Now that you’ve had one week to get adjusted to our new and exciting location in Regenstein Small Mammal Reptile House, it’s time to introduce you to the animals that live there! It’s one of my favorite locations for LEAP because there are SO MANY new critters to meet! The Small Mammal Reptile House is home to a wide range of animals from all over the world. When you enter the building, you can either go right, to visit the cool and colorful reptiles, or left, to check out the small and charming mammals.

Going left puts you in the reptile gallery, surrounded by things that slither, slide, climb, camouflage, and are covered in scales. Some animals you’ll spot here include a gecko, green tree python, a color changing chameleon, Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes, as well as several other amazing snake species. A few of these animals are difficult to spot by design—evolving over time to blend into their surroundings in order to hide safely away or sneak up on their prey. You may also notice that many of the animals on this side of the building live alone, but they’re not lonely! Most reptiles (with few exceptions) are solitary animals; they prefer to face the world without a companion, only coming together to breed.  Some neat things to look for and think about while you explore:

  • Can you spot the snake with the triangle shaped head? Many snakes are long and narrow, but can you find the snake whose head is large and shaped like a triangle? Look carefully, he blends into his exhibit!
  • Check out the tail of the black tree monitor! This lizard can us its tail like an extra appendage, grasping tree branches and using it to climb which we call “prehensile!”
  • Ever see a chameleon change color? The Meller’s chameleon can change the way its skin looks depending on its environment! What color will it be when you look?

We encourage you to spend time observing all the reptiles (and a few amphibians, too!) on this side of the building. As always, we love to look with you and hear about your discoveries!

If you walk into the building and go left, you’ll enter the mammal gallery. Being the small mammal building, you’ll find that all the mammals here are much smaller than you and your toddler, too! Contrary to reptiles, most mammals are social animals, preferring to live in a group that eats, sleeps, works, and plays together. On this side of the building, you’ll encounter armadillos, lion headed tamarins, dwarf mongoose, naked mole rats, and two types of fruit bats. At first look, the naked mole rats, nestled in tunnels below the mongoose, may look like the babies of their upstairs neighbors, but they’re actually two totally different species! Both groups are fascinating to watch and usually a favorite of our youngest zoo visitors.

Continue walking and you’ll emerge from the dark into the brightly, naturally lit area we call the ecosystem. Here you’ll get to visit Asian small-clawed otters, caiman, dwarf crocodiles, tortoises, two-toed sloths (and baby!), Patagonian cavy, ants, and more! Phew! Did I mention there’s a lot to see in our new location?

You may have noticed it’s a bit warm in this part of the building. This space is designed to feel like you are walking through these animals’ natural habitat and they like it warm! Just as they would in the wild, some animals share their space with other species—the sloths cohabitate with cotton top tamarins while Prevost’s squirrels scurry above the heads of our otter pair. Drier spaces are home to red tortoises, a fennec fox, and a bizarre looking relative of the guinea pig—a Patagonian cavy! As you check out the different stations, try to look out for a few neat animals too!

  • There are five dwarf crocodiles in their exhibit. Can you spot them all?
  • Every wondered why Minnie, the fennec fox, has such big ears? Not only does she have excellent hearing, her ears help her stay cool in the dry desert heat!
  • As you have a blast at the art station, glance over at the Patagonian cavy. They can often be spotted munching on their breakfast while we’re in the building. What do you think they like to eat?

One of our favorite things about the Small Mammal Reptile House is the chance to meet animals up close. Not only are the exhibits designed to get a good look at animals in their habitats, but we also have Program Animals that visit with us. During LEAP you’ll meet a Kenyan sand boa, an armadillo, and a turtle. Every day at 11:00am, you can meet another animal in our Program Room. Will it be a blue-tongued skink? Or a ball python? You’ll have to stop by to find out!

Meeting animals up close is a very special experience, for both you and the animal! There are a few things to keep in mind when meeting these animals and we’re here to help your meeting be a memorable one.



Inside voices, please!

During this time you’ll meet animals much smaller than you. They’ll have tiny feet, tiny noses, and tiny ears. It’s helpful to know that our normal voices can feel very loud to those tiny ears. Staying quiet will help the animal feel comfortable and welcome!

1-2-3 Rule

Touching an animal is one of the most exciting parts of meeting an animal up close. All of the Program animals are comfortable being held by certified staff and touched by guests. You may notice the animals getting wiggly while being held. If this happens, staff members know to give the animal some time to settle. We are well-versed in animal body language, so we’ll never ask you to touch an animal that is feeling stressed! When touching, we recommend keeping the “1-2-3 Rule” in mind: 1 person at a time, 2 fingers only, 3 strokes. This helps the animal feel at ease in larger groups of people. Adults, it’s especially helpful to guide tiny toddler hands.

Sanitize those hands!

After you finish meeting an animal, we will give you squirt of hand sanitizer. This helps keep both us and the animals healthy.

Ask questions!

We love chatting about animals! Whenever we meet an animal, please do not hesitate to ask questions. How old is this skink? What do sand boas eat? Has the armadillo ever rolled into a ball? We love sharing our knowledge and hope you leave the meeting with some new facts to share!

We’re so glad we can share these animal experiences with you. It’s our hope that these meetings create memorable experiences for you and your family members.

We hope you enjoy the entire LEAP experience this fall. From getting dirty in the sensory bin to reading a story beneath a sleeping sloth, there is so much to see and explore! We’re so happy you’re here to learn and play with us!

--Nicole Filippone & Emily Van Laan