Animal Keeper (Grades 3-6)
When Hazel Davies goes to work, she is greeted by curious snakes and tortoises that mistake her green sneakers for snacks. Davies manages the animals that star in exhibitions at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
The museum exhibits feature a colorful cast of creatures, from blue butterflies and red frogs to a green iguana nicknamed "Iggy." Museum visitors enjoy these live-action attractions. But it takes more than a cute face or bright colors for an animal to earn a spot at the museum.
Davies and other staff members choose animals that can bring important concepts to life. One exhibition that includes live organisms is The Butterfly Conservatory. This exhibition explores the importance of butterflies in the web of life and highlights threats the insects are facing around the world.
To create the exhibition, Davies brought hundreds of live butterflies to the museum and released them into an enclosed area. People can walk through the conservatory while free-flying butterflies flutter around and even land directly on the visitors. The museum staff hopes that this up-close experience helps people gain an appreciation for these important insects.
Once the museum decides on the animals to feature, Davies finds breeders who raise the animals. That's important because the museum wants to minimize the collection of wild animals.
When the animals arrive at the museum, staff members work around the clock to care for them. In the exhibition, Frogs: A Chorus of Colors, there were roughly 200 amphibians that needed to be fed. In the wild, the frogs catch live insects to snack on. So each morning, Davies delivered live fruit flies, crickets, and wax worms to the frogs' enclosure.
But this wriggling snack wasn't exactly the same meal that some of the frogs would get in their natural habitats. The exhibit included 67 dart poison frogs. These frogs can release a toxic chemical from their skin. Dart poison frogs get their poisons by eating certain insects that contain the toxic chemicals. By not feeding the frogs these insects, Davies kept them from producing poison. "They got everything they needed from what we fed them," says Davies. "But it's safer to handle them when they're not poisonous."
Fun on the Job
For Davies, being able to work closely with the animals is a lot of fun-even when they get a little too close.
That happened once as she fed leaf-tailed geckos at the museum. These lizards cling to trees with gripping toe pads. As she dropped crickets in the cage, a gecko leapt up and landed on her face. "I thought it was asleep," said Davies. "After that, I was more aware of where it was every time I opened the cage."