Friday 21 December 2018

Upper Elementary Ecology Class #3 MCBT

As usual the trip to MCBT was an exciting and much looked forward to event.  We met Anjana at the entrance at the start of our trip. The kids were given the basic rules of not reaching out or extending  hands into the enclosures, not to touch animals unless allowed, etc.

Mr. Sekhar who has worked there for over 30 years was our guide.  He informed us about how the MCBT came into being and that now they have over 16 species of crocodiles out of the 23 that are found all over the world.

We first got to see the Mexican giant musk turtle, then the Indian tent turtle (the shell resembles a tent), next the Travancore tortoise, and then the northern river  terrapin.  Sekhar Anna informed that the river Ganges turtle has a soft shell and is the biggest in India.

We next were amazed to see the two green anaconda snakes received from South America approximately 9 feet long.  We moved on to feast our eyes on the Gharial, Tomistoma or the Malaysia Crocodile, Salt water crocodile, Mugger or Marsh Crocodiles basking in the sun all this along with the knowledge bites flowing in from the PFC members. 

The children learnt about the Osteoderm which are bony structures below the Croc's skin which act as solar panels taking in the heat.  It was surprising to see the crocs lay still with their mouths open.  ahesh pointed out to the kids that the Croc's tongue is attached to the roof of its mouth, the reason they were unable to see the tongue, and that they let-off the heat through their mouths.  We were dazed to find out that the Croc on an average has 4000-5000 teeth in their whole life.  They lose teeth and get new ones all their life. 

The kids were educated on differentiating between a gharial, crocodile, and an alligator.  Our next Croc was the Morelet's crocodile where we saw the mound nest with the info  from Mahesh that Crocs have hole and mound nests.  The eggs hatch and the young ones make a pipping noise (replicated by Mahesh) and the mother then with her hind legs digs them out.

We next moved on to see the spectacled caiman from South America where an adult can grow up to 7 feet.  It was a visual delight to see the largest gharial at 17.68 feet.

Now it was time for the Show and Tell.  We saw the Star tortoise, going over the differences between the tortoise and turtles.  Anjana informed us that Start tortoises are called the fire fighters of the forest as they are omnivores and feed on decaying food as well as the dry leaves of the forest floor which prevents a forest fire from spreading.  The shells of the star tortoise are streamlined and the upper hard surface is called the Carapace and the bottom is the plastron.  We touched both these surfaces and felt the difference.  Anjana enlightened us on the fact that the male has a dented plastron.

Next in line was a dwarf Caiman where an adult can grow up to 3 feet long.  Anjana informed us that the osteoderm is found on the back of a crocodile but the dwarf Caiman has it even on its sides for protection.  Their undersurface was soft and smooth and is made of keratin, the same substance our hair and nails are made of.  She also informed that in some places crocodiles are farmed for their skin and meat.  They belong to the alligator family and their nostrils, eyes, head are in same line as they are ambush predators.  The ambush predators require reduced energy for hunting.  The nictitating membrane covers their eyes.  Also, they have pressure spots around their jaws.  The tail is in proportion to the body size for swimming.

Another unique feature of these crocodilians is the eye-shine.  They have a membrane in the retina called the tapetum which reflects light when light is shone on them and the eye-shine is helpful in population count at night.

Anjana then went on to tell the children about venom and poison.  Poison is ingested while venom enters the blood stream and is present in the venom glands and such creatures have fangs like snakes.  Non-venomous snakes have teeth. 

Snakes have displaced jaws and do not have eyelids.  They shed their skin and eye caps once in a month and it is made of keratin.  The green anaconda unlike other snakes has eggs in a pouch and then give birth to young ones.  With the show and tell done it was time for further walk down the MCBT enclosures.

We saw the fresh water crocodiles and we were updated as to when and how much the staff feed these crocodilians with fish and meat of around 5 to 7 kg every week for one reptile. We also saw the yacara caiman next.

We were enchanted to see the Aldabra giant tortoises from Africa.  Their life span is 150 to 200 years and the ones in MCBT were 22 years old is what Sekar Anna told us.  

We then moved to see the Water monitor lizard and then the iguana.  We learnt that the iguana has a third eye which senses shape to foresee aerial predators.  We saw the male had a beard, false eyes and folds of skin under the neck to store fat and use when no food is available.

We then went to see the komodo dragon, another magnificent lizard that has venom in its tongue and bites its prey and follows to eat them when they die.  They grow up to 9 feet and have a life span of 25 years. 

We then saw the reticulated python in its enclosure the longest snake which can group to 39 feet and that signaled the end of the tour of the MCBT.  It was time to head back to school with all this newfound knowledge and an experience of a lifetime.

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