Creature Feature: Uromastyx


Uromastyx maliensis

Reptiles Alive Name: “Mali”

Hissstory: Mali was donated to us by former RA staff person Jennifer Rafter in 1999.uromstyx8

RA Diet: Greens, vegetables, and zoo herbivore lizard food.

Natural Diet: Greens, grasses, flowers, seeds, and occasional insects.

Range: Northern Africa

Habitat: Rocky deserts.

Size: Can grow to 15 – 17 inches.

Lifespan: 20+ years

Reproduction: Females lay about 15 eggs that will hatch in 60-70 days.

Conservation Issues: Captive breeding has proven difficult for this lizard, most uromastyx in the pet trade are wild caught.  Many people still capture this lizard for food throughout its range.

Cool Facts: These lizards sleep in their burrows with their spiny tails closest to the opening.  If a predator gets too close, the Uromastyx will whip its spiny tail in defense.

Creature Feature – Spotted Salamander

Spotted Salamander

Ambystoma maculatum

Reptiles Alive Name:”Spot”spotted-salamander

Hissstory: Spot was donated to us by a nature center.

RA Diet: Spot eats earthworms, crickets, and meal worms.

Natural Diet: Adults eat worms, slugs, millipedes, termites, and other insects.  Larvae (tadpoles) eat aquatic insects including mosquito larva.

Range: Spotted salamanders are found in the eastern United States west to Texas and north to Canada.  They are native to the Washington DC area.

Habitat: Spotted salamanders live in hardwood forests where vernal pools form each year.

Size: They can grow to 4-7.75 inches, record length is 9.75 inches.

Lifespan: Spotted salamanders can live to 20 years.

Reproduction: Spotted salamanders emerge from hibernation in late winter and early spring.  They sometimes have to walk across snow to reach the vernal pools they breed in.   After mating in the water, the female salamanders lay egg masses of  consisting of around 100 eggs.  The eggs hatch depending on the temperature in the water.  Transformation (metamorphosis) takes places in 2 to 4 months.

Conservation: Acid rain can damage developing eggs, causing some populations to decline in certain areas.  Many salamanders are killed each year as they migrate over roadways in search of the vernal pools they were born in.  Spotted salamander populations in heavily urbanized areas have been mostly wiped out due to the destruction of the vernal pools they rely on for reproduction.

Cool Facts: Salamanders are an indicator species.  Amphibians need a clean and healthy habitat in order to survive.  Amphibians breathe through their skin, so toxins and pollution can easily kill them.  When salamanders disappear, it means something is wrong with the habitat they live in!   Salamanders can help scientists determine if an ecosystem is healthy or unhealthy.

Creature Feature – Amazon River Turtle

Amazon River Turtle

Podocnemis unifilis

Reptiles Alive Name: “Podocnemis”

Hissstory: Along with another Amazon river turtle, Podocnemis was imported from Bolivia to be kept as a pet.  The person no longer wanted the turtles, so he brought them both here in 2001.  We kept Podocnemis and placed the other turtle with another wildlife organization.


RA Diet: Podoc loves to devour greens, fruit, crickets, worms, & dry aquatic turtle food.

Natural Diet: Mostly plants and fruits, but will also eat insects, amphibians, fish and mollusks.

Range: Northern South America including the Amazon rain forest.

Habitat: Ponds, lakes, and rivers.

Size: Can grow to 15-27 inches and  weigh 5-14 pounds. Females are larger than males.

Lifespan: 50 + years.

Reproduction: Lay about 24 eggs in the riverbank. These turtles often lay eggs together in a communal nest. Eggs hatch in two months. Hatchlings are the size of a quarter.

Conservation Issues: CITES Appendix I: Endangered. Turtles and eggs are hunted for human consumption. Today armed guards protect many nesting sites.

Cool Facts: Amazon river turtles belong to a group known as the side-necked turtles, or, the Pleurodira. When frightened, they draw their head into their shell sideways.  Most turtle species, like the box turtle, belong to the Cryptodira – they go straight back into their shell.

Scientific Names for Elementary School Students

We had a great Question from Sujan at our After School Class last week.

“What is the name of the lizard we met in class?”

Well Sujan, the Sudan Plated Lizard has TWO names!

The lizard we met is named Gerrhosaurus major, or “Gary” for short.  Why such a long name?


All animals, rocks, plants, even types of clouds are given a special name called their “scientific name.”  This helps scientists put things in groups with things that are all alike.

For example:

Tree frogs that have sticky feet may be put in one group while frogs that have webbed feet and live in the water are put into another group.

They are grouped by the type of feet they have.

You can have fun doing an experiment in your own house!

Think of different ways you can group things in your house.  Some ideas may be.  Arranging things by color, size, or what it’s made of.

Choose a way to group things, then write down the different categories of groups.

Say you chose to group things by color.  Your categories will be different colors; red, blue, green, yellow..etc.

Then walk around your house and put objects in your house in its correct category.  (Yellow things go in the “Yellow” category.)  Write it down.

For extra fun, do this experiment with other people in your house.  Have them choose a different way to group things.  Compare your lists at the end!

You will find things that may be hard to put in one group.  (maybe it’s blue & yellow)  You can only put it inone, that means you have to decide!

It is lots of fun to be a scientist that classifies things!  They are called Taxonomists.