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  • Writer's pictureFrank DiGiovanni

Meow? Woof? Grunt? Hiss?

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Before we get into this week's blog post, I want to say that when we offer our holiday workshops, we occasionally get to topics such as "Zany Zoology", like the upcoming holiday workshop! Based on animals, this workshop introduces the students to many of the animals that call SMLI home. To learn more, and see if there's open availability (because this topic is VERY popular) please check out this link.

Okay, let’s get serious for a minute or two. Okay, maybe not THAT serious, but let’s talk “pets”. Over the course of a few posts, we’re going to introduce you do the various animals here at the Science Museum of Long Island and hopefully provide you with some insight into the incredible animals that call SMLI home.

Right now, there’s probably a pet someplace in your home. Around the globe, there are an estimated 600 million house cats, an estimated 470 million dogs, roughly 14 million reptiles and close to 250 million birds!

Dragoon, one of SMLI's two Bearded Dragons. Courtesy of author

But let’s start with the Bearded Dragons here at the Science Museum. This is a picture of Dragoon, the Bearded Dragon (Gonzo lives here as well, and they look pretty much the same). Known scientifically as Pogona vitticeps, the Central Bearded Dragon is an omnivorous reptile native to Australia. When found in the wild, they enjoy more of a savannah-type of environment; warm, arid areas, scrublands/ shrublands[1] and even subtropical woodlands. In captivity or the wild, a warm habitat is crucial for these cold-blooded critters. Dragoon here exhibits the typical “morph” or color of the reptile group affectionately known as “beardies” that are bread for the pet trade. This color morph is mostly due to the fact that in the 1960s, Australia banned the export of wild bearded dragons!

Social with people (especially if raised from a young dragon), these reptiles can live over 10 years with the proper care, eating bugs, vegetables and fruit as part of their diet. They’re even known to nom on leaves or small lizards or rodents!! Adult beardies are also territorial, and the males will fight for food, territory and mates. To try to intimidate a rival, or when feeling threatened, bearded dragons will raise their chin, open their mouth and puff their beards up, making themselves look bigger, if really angry they’ll even hiss! If they're feeling up to it and they see their owner/ caregiver wave, these reptiles are known to "wave" back. While there are many reasons why they do this, they are too many reasons to list. So if you want to know, please check out the article our friends at Reptile Direct have on the topic.

Sadly, in the time between writing this post and its publication, this next animal passed away. We honor him to be a source of information about the interesting species that he represented.

Our next animal’s gotten a large public image and persona due to a popular video game and theatrical movie. And while he looks nothing like the blue titular character, the next animal is Charlie, the African pygmy hedgehog. Scientifically known as Atelerix albiventris or four-toed hedgehog, Charlie exhibits the typical color patterning, but different color morphs do exist. A. albiventris is one of seven species of these short-legged, short-tailed, long-nosed with four toes per foot (he doesn’t have a “big toe” like humans do), this adorable little guy is native to central African countries where grasslands or open woodlands are prominent. It is no longer legal to export them from Africa, there is a healthy breading stock here in the United States to service the pet trade. And in some countries, certain species of hedgehog are illegal to own as a pet! They are considered omnivorous but are mostly insectivorous; Charlie LOVES mealworms and superworms (look them up if you want to go “Eeeew!”) but will occasionally chow down on some leafy greens.

Charlie, SMLI's former African Pygmy Hedgehog after a bath. Image courtesy of author

Solitary and nocturnal by nature, hedgehogs will generally travel a few miles during their nightly adventures in foraging. To help Charlie with his need to walk, he has a Charlie-size wheel where he’s known to spend many an hour getting in his daily step count. While humans use the various languages around the world, hedgehogs are known to use hisses, snorts, and a quiet twittering-type sound. When attacked, they can even scream loudly (thankfully Charlie never made this noise during his time with us), which brings me to one of their most well-known defense mechanisms. Hedgehogs have a large muscle running the length of their back, they contract this muscle causing the spines on their backs to stand on edge, looking like an angry pin cushion. Further still, they tuck their heads into their belly, revealing a ball full of spikes with no seeming way to get to a soft spot. With a roughly 5-year lifespan in captivity, hedgehogs are a pet you’ll have for even longer if given the utmost care and dedication.

Hedgehogs do have an unusual habit when they come into contact with a smell or taste they don’t know. This process is called “self-anointing”. When an animal discovers a unique taste or scent it creates a frothy saliva which it proceeds to spread across its body in a series of remarkable contortions. The exact reason for this behavior is unknown. It is most likely related to either reproduction and mate selection or self-defense.[2]

It is with that, we say "thank you" and Rest in Peace Charlie. You gave the many students who you met an interest in a pet they probably had never have seen. You were silly and a great ambassador of your species.

Remember that if you and your family are considering a pet of any kind, to do your research. Find reputable breeders, talk to a veterinarian or people who have experience with the type of animal you’re curious to bring into your life. Not all of the characteristics described here are seen by ALL animals of the species; like humans, each animal is a unique individual.

Next time we’ll get a little fluffier so stay tuned!

[1] [2]

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