We love the animal ambassadors at the Dickinson County Nature Center! Here are some reasons why:

1. Pinki’s irridescent hair

Pink is the perfect color for Valentine’s Day, so Pinki the tarantula fits right in. She has irridescent pink hairs that were the reason her species was named Chilean rose-haired tarantula.

Those hairs are more than pretty though. They have a distinct purpose.

Hairs on the bottom of their abdomen — the stomach — are a defense weapon for them. The have sharp tips with little barbs that can only be seen under a microscope. When scared, the tarantula will use its back legs to kick off a cloud of hairs at its attacker.

2. Luna’s spines

A hedgehog’s spines might seem like most unappealing part of them, because they are poky and used as a defense mechanism against predators.

However, we love that we can tell Luna’s mood through the use of her spines. She is a pretty chill hedgehog and rarely uses the muscles attached to her spines to make them spiky and erect. Instead, when she feels safe with us, she relaxes her spines and lets us see her cute little face.

Learn more about spines in this video, featuring former hedgehog animal ambassador Honey.

3. Bindi’s twitchy nose

When people try to act like a cute little bunny, usually the first thing they do is twitch their nose. It’s adorable.

Rabbits actually have a purpose to twitching their noses — to smell. They have 100 million scent receptors in their noses, and twitching helps expose all of them.

Photo of an ornate box turtle

Teddy the ornate box turtle

4. Teddy’s personality

We usually call Teddy the ornate box turtle grumpy, but that is just because he’s an introvert — someone that gets energized being alone instead of in social situations. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Box turtles are solitary animals and do not interact with each other except when it is time to mate.

5. Annie’s breathing skills

Normally, turtles breathe oxygen just like humans, into their lungs. However, when surviving the winter underwater, they cannot breathe oxygen in the same way.

Instead, oxygen is absorbed from the water as it passes over parts of the body that are filled with blood vessels, including the skin, mouth and cloaca, or the hind end. That means that painted turtles, like Annie or her partner-in-crime Jeff, can hold their breath all winter when hibernating underwater.

Photo of Great Plains toad

Photo of Great Plains toad

6. Al & Wally’s chubby frames

Our two Great Plains toads are a little, well, toady. They have thick, chunky bodies that are just endearing.

7. Sy’s coloring

Sy the tiger salamander has neat coloring of yellow-green dots on a dark greenish-black background. However, not all salamanders look like him.

There are also tiger salamanders that have vertical yellow stripes running down the body, ones with golden blotches, and I’ve even seen some that look more green than yellow or black. Young tiger salamanders are olive green and get their adult markings a few weeks after hatching.

8. Capone’s biting wit

OK, snapping turtles aren’t actually witty, but they are bite-y!

A common snapping turtle has a bite strength of up to 656.81 newtons of force, although a typical bite is around 209 newtons. However, a human can also apply 1,300 newtons of force between the second molars.

Bites are severe because of the sharp beak that is designed to help tear meat apart.

9. Ada and Darling’s red ears

Red is another color that just screams Valentine’s Day, and Ada and Darling the red-eared sliders have red spots on their sides of their heads that helped them get their species name. The spots aren’t actually ears, though, just in a place where one would expect the ears to be.

Photo of a red-eared slider

The Dickinson County Nature Center has two red-eared slider animal ambassadors.

Baby hedgehogs lose their spines

Babies lose baby teeth, and so do baby animals — including baby hedgehogs, like the nature center’s animal ambassador Luna. However, hedgehogs also lose something else as they grow — their quills! Baby hedgehogs are born with spines, but at that time their skin is swollen and covers their spines so that they do not…

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Painted and snapping turtles survive winter underwater

We see many types of turtles roaming around northwest Iowa in the summertime, especially painted turtles and snapping turtles. But we don’t see any in the winter. Where do they all go? Painted turtles and snapping turtles spend their winters in lakes or ponds, living beneath the ice the forms. They survive because of a…

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were originally inspired by red-eared sliders

Red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta) are found throughout the United States, but that hasn’t always been the case. These aquatic turtles are natively found in the southeastern United States from Texas to Alabama north to southern Ohio and into Kansas. Their native watersheds may have even extended into Iowa. Red-eared sliders gained popularity in the…

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Pinki the tarantula molts

We came in to work to find Pinki the tarantula on her back in her desert aquarium. Like many people who see a tarantula in this position, our first thought was “Is she dead?” She wasn’t moving. Her legs were wide apart. She was on her back. She certainly appeared dead. However, even naturalists have…

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Tiger salamander fun facts

Sy the tiger salamander is huge. The Dickinson County Nature Center has two tiger salamander animal ambassadors, named Manny and Sy, and they are members of the largest land salamander species in North America. Tiger salamanders usually grow 7-13 inches long, but Sy is around 14 inches in length from head to tail. That’s one…

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Five facts that will make you like toads

Because frogs are brightly colored, they tend to be looked on with more awe than toads. However, American toads have some pretty neat attributes when you get to know them. They taste bad. American toads are covered in red and yellow wart-looking spots that actually contain glands that secrete poison. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt…

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Five facts you probably didn’t know about painted turtles

Annie and Jeff loved the Dickinson County Nature Center. But they’re not visitors. They don’t even work here. Actually, they live here! That’s because, even though they have human-like names, Annie and Jeff are the nature center’s painted turtles (Chrysemys picta.) Everyone loves checking out our painted turtles, so here are some fun facts about…

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How does a hedgehog roll up?

Pretty much every time that we pick up Honey the hedgehog, she rolls into a ball. Her pointy spines stand erect, and you can’t see any other part of her. (See a video of Honey the hedgehog here.) The reason that hedgehogs do this is the same reason that turtles will pull their appendages into…

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What does Teddy the Turtle eat?

Teddy — named after conservationist former President Theodore Roosevelt — is an ornate box turtle. That means he is an omnivore and will eat both plants and animals, just like humans! See naturalist Ashley Hansen feed Teddy and learn what his favorite foods are in this video! You can also see more Teddy videos on…

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