Some new animals moved into the Education Centre at Flamingo Land this week. The new inhabitants will be making regular appearances at our daily Meet a Creature session and will also be used in school workshops. The latest arrivals are a black rat snake, giant thorny stick insects and Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
Black rat snakes are officially the longest snake found in North America, with a record length of 256.5cm. They are widely distributed, being found from New England south to Florida and west through eastern Texas and Nevada. They are very good at climbing and spend a lot of time up in trees.
Rat snakes are not venomous and will kill their prey by constricting. They will eat almost any animal that they can catch, including mice, voles, rats, frogs, lizards and chipmunks. In their natural habitat rat snakes hibernate during winter, often sharing a den with other snakes such as copperheads. Although they are mostly black, they do have white markings, particularly around their face.
Giant thorny stick insects come from the Philippines. Adults can grow up to 125mm, with females being significantly larger than males. They are very variable in colour, ranging from reddish brown to green-grey. They are excellent climbers but lack wings so cannot fly. Like any stick insect, they have amazing camouflage which helps keep them safe from predators. They are herbivores, feeding on a variety of plants. Stick insects have compound eyes and good vision. They are predominantly nocturnal.
Madagascar hissing cockroaches are one of the largest species of cockroach, reaching up to three inches long. As their name suggests, they come from the island of Madagascar, where they live in rotting logs. They are excellent climbers and can even climb straight up a sheet of glass. The hissing sound for which they are famous is produced by forcing air through the respiratory openings or spiracles on their abdomens.
They will hiss when disturbed, when trying to attract a female and when fighting. Both sexes will hiss when disturbed but only males will hiss when fighting or trying to attract a mate. Like 99% of all cockroaches, they are not pests and do not come into houses. They roam the forest floor at night, looking for fruit and plant material to eat.