Spotting small creatures
Published: Dec 19, 2017Some animals at Paignton Zoo are easier to spot than others - that's why visitors turn to Cathy for help...
It has a bright red head, blue body and legs and bold black markings, so it should be easy to find, right? But not when “it” is a blessed poison frog. As with the other poison dart frogs, its bright colours serve to warn predators of the toxins in its skin (although frogs raised in zoos are not toxic as the toxicity comes from their diet in the wild). These stunning creatures come in a wide range of colours, from yellow or orange to brilliant green or blue, or combinations of colours with large spots or stripes.
So why so difficult to spot? Well, even the largest of the Zoo’s collection of poison dart frogs only grow to 5 or 6cm long, whilst others will never exceed 2cm in length and juveniles are smaller still. Add to this the fact that their enclosures are full of lush vegetation to mimic the tropical habitat in their native Central and South America and it is easy to see why the frogs can be overlooked.
I have been volunteering at Paignton Zoo for two years, and part of my role as a Visitor Experience Guide is to help visitors find these, and other, elusive animals. I may not be able to locate an animal immediately (unless it is one I found earlier), but I can tell visitors if it is large or small, and perhaps where it is likely to be. Some species spend most of their time on the ground, others are more likely to be hiding in the vegetation and some are so well-camouflaged that they can hide in plain sight – like the Suriname toad, which looks like a large, flattened pebble at the bottom of the water.
Apart from the fact that I get to spend the day watching the animals, the reward for me is the huge smile, or look of amazement, on someone’s face when I manage to point out one of our incredible amphibians or reptiles. Or the enthusiasm of a child who, after finally spotting one frog, goes on to find many more and show them to me, and then asks questions about them. Because that is another part of the role.
I am there to answer questions about individual species and to pass on information about the conservation efforts of the Trust, both in the UK and abroad. But education is a two-way thing. I learn a huge amount from the keepers, the education department and my fellow volunteers. I do my best to pass that on to our visitors, but most weeks I meet people (sometimes quite young children) who know far more than I do. Their enthusiasm is contagious and their knowledge of and interest in the natural world amazes me.
Cathy Oetegenn, Visitor Experience Guide volunteer