By Jillian Petrina and Jordan Hubrich
Fall is beginning to settle. Leaves are turning, the days are getting shorter, and there is an ever-growing touch of “spooky” in the atmosphere. Soon it will be Halloween, and many of us will don a disguise and shift into the character of some ghoul, goblin, ghost, or spectacular superhero — even if only for one night. But did you know that animals wear disguises too? Unlike our Halloween-inspired dress-up, however, their coverings, coats, and colors are physical adaptations that help them survive in the wild and are often worn year-round. See if you can spot some of these animals in disguise when you visit this HallZOOween:
African Painted Dog: Begin your search in Africa and seek out the multi-colored coats of the African painted dogs. A mix of brown, black, white, and yellow — their fur serves as excellent camouflage in the deserts and grasslands they inhabit. Even here at the Cincinnati Zoo it can be difficult to spot them napping against the sun-dappled, sand-toned rock of their enclosure. The African painted dog may appear similar to your dog at home, but don’t be fooled by their adorable overlarge ears. They are hypercarnivorous and eat more than 70% meat in their diet which means these animals must be skilled hunters. With close-knit social structures, they use the power of teamwork to take down medium-sized animals like gazelle and ensure that the whole pack gets to eat.
Red Panda: Next, make your way to the bamboo forest in the heart of the Zoo for a peek at the red panda- if you can find them, that is. A rusty red coat helps conceal these critters in fir trees with branches that are often covered in reddish-brown moss and white lichens. They sport thick tails with alternating red and buff (yellowish-brown) rings as well as masks. These “masks” take on the shape of tear marks and are most likely there to keep the sun out of their eyes. If you look closely, you may be able to find our newest mischievous bandit, our two-month old red panda, Mimi.
Ring-tailed Lemurs: Lookout for these lemurs huddled together on a branch or moving about their habitat with tails raised like flags. Like the red panda, they wear ringed tails and masks. Each tail has exactly 13 alternating black and white bands and, when lifted, this can help the lemurs stick together as they move through the forest. Their masks involve a black nose and black eye patches that make their amber eyes stand out. This is useful because lemurs communicate with one another using facial expressions. Practice your different faces with friends. Can you communicate like a lemur?
Vampire Bats: Creatures of the night – or, more officially put, nocturnal – vampire bats are well-suited to dark spaces. They tuck in, or roost, in caves with deep fissures, old wells, mine shafts, and abandoned buildings. As you venture into Night Hunters, see if you can spot these masters of stealth. Their grayish-brown coats help cloak them in the darkest hours of night and they are incredibly skilled at sneaking. They’ve been known to feed on their prey for as long as 30 minutes without the prey noticing. No need to worry about these stealthy crawlers sneaking up on humans for a snack, these bats prefer their natural prey like cows. Next time you’re sucking down food, see how quiet you can drain your meal. Are you silent like the vampire bats?
Tiger: One final challenge as you proceed into Cat Canyon: the Malayan tiger. Despite being the largest cats in the world (along with lions) these silent stalkers are quite stealthy as well. Their padded paws help them move quietly and their striped coats provide perfect camouflage in their forest habitat. You’re likely to find our biggest and most playful tiger, Batari, engaging in enrichment activities that are designed to promote and stimulate her natural behaviors. Clever Izzy is usually demonstrating her stalking behavior by pacing her habitat with confidence.
These animals are all great candidates for best costume award, but the coolest thing is that each of these animals’ coverings suit the environment they inhabit. Unfortunately, however, many of these species are affected by habitat loss/fragmentation. While we may not have direct contact with some of these habitats, it is still important to consider the ways our actions affect the lives and ecosystems of endangered species like these. So, as we move further into fall, consider steps you can take to help.
- Buy candy and other sweet treats that are made with sustainably-sourced ingredients
- Shop local for your pumpkins and support nearby farmers
- Opt for a pillowcase or reusable bag to haul your stash around.
- Stay away from costumes made from plastic or vinyl that could contain harmful chemicals
- Repurpose old costumes into something new or trade with a friend
- Reuse last year’s decorations or make your own from things you have around the house!