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Scuttle over to Belfast Zoo to check out their new creepy-crawlies

Date: 11 Jul 2019

death's head cockroach

The zoo has unveiled five new species of invertebrate to ‘bug out’ about, including the Brazilian salmon pink bird-eating spider, Honduran curly haired tarantula, emperor scorpion, giant African millipede and death’s head cockroach.

The new additions will be housed in the recently renovated reptile and amphibian house. The Honduran curly haired tarantula and the giant African millipede will become part of the zoo’s popular education service. The education service aims to inspire future generations to discover the world around us with interactive and discussion-led education. The education service have their own unique animal team, which can be held and touched in meet the animal workshops. With recent expansion, the educational animal team includes an African pygmy hedgehog, royal python, leopard gecko, bearded dragon, giant African land snails, Whites tree frog stick insects and our latest additions the Honduran curly haired tarantula and giant African millipede.

Zoo manager, Alyn Cairns, said, “Conservation is one of our primary zoo aims, we sought to expand our invertebrate collection to include several new species. Recent investment in our reptile and amphibian house highlights our commitment to both the European Associations of Zoos and Aquaria regional collection plans for reptiles and the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria world conservation strategy.”  

The Brazilian salmon pink bird-eating spider is the third largest tarantula in the world, with their legs alone reaching up to 25cm in length. As the name suggests, you would expect the spider to be a bright pink colour, but it is in fact dark brown with pink patches on it. It survives on a carnivorous diet, not only eating birds, but also mice and insects. A spider has eight eyes, but their sight is poor and they are only able to distinguish between light and dark. Unlike other spiders, the tarantula does not spin webs, instead catching their prey by pouncing. The Brazilian salmon pink bird-eating spider is not an aggressive spider, but if annoyed and backed into a corner they can bite, their bite is painful and contains a venom which can cause cramps and pains.

The Honduran curly haired tarantula has a plump, dark brown body, which is covered in golden hairs, giving it a bronze sheen. The hairs on its body are sensitive and pick up vibrations within the air, making the tarantula aware of its surroundings. Tarantulas are nocturnal animals, as well as being solitary; they are also docile creatures and rarely bite. Throughout its life a tarantula will molt its exoskeleton. After a molt the skin is very delicate and soft, and if a tarantula has lost a leg it can regenerate a new one with its next molt.

The emperor scorpion from western Africa is one of the largest scorpion species in the world, growing up to 20 centimetres in length, with the female being larger than the male. Scorpions are nocturnal and timid by nature, if they get frightened they will flee rather than fight. However, if a scorpion is cornered, they will turn and become defensive and strike out. The venom in a scorpion is mild and is only used for defensive purposes. Scorpions will glow under an ultraviolet light because of a substance in the hyaline layer, which is found in their hard exoskeleton.

The giant African millipede is the largest of its species. The body length of this millipede can go up to 40 centimetres with a circumference of near 8 centimetres. According to fossils, millipedes were the first animals to colonize land. In Africa, they are known as shongololos, which means to roll up. This is because they defend themselves by rolling up into a ball and secreting a foul fluid from their pores. The word millipede means one thousand feet; however their body is divided into 30 – 40 segments each with 4 legs and they can have a maximum 400 legs in total. A millipede will use every part of its body to smell and taste. As a result of their poor eyesight they are nocturnal. Millipedes also communicate with each other through touch.

The death’s head cockroach lives up to its name with a black skull-like marking on its dorsal plate and jet black wings which resemble a cloak. Their wings are mostly for show as they cannot fly, nor can they climb smooth surfaces. They are flat which makes it easier to hide from predators. This species is not aggressive but will give off a mild odour if frightened. They are quick to move and they detect movement in the air through their legs and antennae. The death’s head cockroach has an enormous appetite and can eat half their body weight in one sitting.

You can scurry down to the reptile and amphibian house from 10am until 6pm (last admission 5pm) daily during summer.