Spring is a time of transformation and renewal. The brown grass is turning green, bare deciduous trees are sprouting leaves, and flowers are poking up out of the ground. People are trading winter coats for windbreakers or rain gear. Elk, bison and others are shedding winter coats, too. Birds that have been focused on making it through the winter are now focusing on nesting and laying eggs.
More transformations will follow. Eggs laid will, with luck, hatch out baby birds. Those baby birds will grow from small and basically helpless to bigger, beautiful feathered creatures. Remember the story of the ugly duckling? The grey little cygnet (baby swan), not really a duckling at all, becomes a beautiful white swan. At Lee Richardson Zoo you could have observed a similar change over the last year in our young flamingos as they turned from their grayish chick color to their pink adult plumage. Our young little blue herons hatched last year look more like cattle egrets right now but with time will turn the dusky blue of mature little blue herons.
Nature is full of amazing, often colorful changes. Some happen quickly and some take years. Tadpoles become frogs (or toads) through the process of metamorphosis. The tadpole that breathes through gills and has no legs develops into a four-legged, air-breathing (via lungs) frog or toad as the case may be. Cicadas spend years underground in a nymph stage of development. After a number of years, ranging from two to 17, they tunnel to the surface and make their way to a nearby tree, or other plant or vertical surface. While clinging there, they burst out of their shell to become the noisy, winged insect we're all so used to hearing on summer nights. The dry shell or exoskeleton that is left behind can often be found still attached to the tree. Some often incorrectly identify this as the remains of a locust. True locusts are part of the grasshopper family. Remember the caterpillars from last year? They spent the winter all cozy in their cocoon and are now wiggling out of those tight confines as butterflies or moths.
Not to be outdone by the plants, birds, amphibians and insects of the world, mammals go through changes also. As visitors to Lee Richardson Zoo can attest, young male lions don't start out with the marvelous mane we all associate with the king of the beasts. That comes with time. When chimpanzees are born they have pink faces and white hair tufts around their bottom. All that goes away as they mature. White-cheeked gibbons are born buff colored like their mother. During the first two years of their life they turn dark like their dad. Then several years later, if the gibbon is a female, it turns buff colored again.
The zoo goes through its own transformation this time of year. Be sure to come out and enjoy all the colors, the animals, the plants, and the hard work the keeper and maintenance staff has put in. It's enough to renew the most winter-worn spirit.
Visit our award-winning website at www.garden-city.org/zoo.