The Nashville Zoo’s herpetology team recently celebrated the six-month ‘birth’day of four Central American Giant Galliwasps.
The young reptiles hatched in August of 2016 and became the first hatchlings at the zoo in over ten years. Nashville Zoo is the only facility in the United States to have successfully bred this rare species.
The zoo’s female Galliwasp (pronounced “GALL-ee-wasp”) made a nest chamber underground to coil around her four eggs, to instinctually protect them from predators. Keepers report that she did not emerge from the chamber for food or water for more than two months.
According to the zoo, if the nesting chamber is disturbed in any way, the female will destroy the eggs to prevent predators from getting them. “This makes checking on the condition of the eggs extremely challenging,” said Herpetology Keeper Matt Martino. “Because we couldn’t risk checking on the female or the eggs, we patiently watched for any signs of life, either babies emerging from the nest or movement from the adult female. It was an exciting relief to see the hatchlings and mother start emerging after more than two months of waiting.”
This species is rarely seen in the wild and extremely uncommon in zoo collections. Captive breeding has proven to be extremely difficult for this species and successful breeding techniques are still being developed.
However, Nashville Zoo staff may have finally broken the code for reliably reproducing Central American Giant Galliwasps. The zoo’s herpetology team is continually learning and researching the best husbandry and breeding practices to increase zoo populations and is working towards conservation initiatives for several Galliwasp species facing extinction in the wild.
The Central American Giant Galliwasp (Diploglossus monotropis), also known as Escorpión Coral, is found in the humid Atlantic lowlands of southern Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and western Panama and both versants from Panama to Colombia and western Ecuador.
It is described as a secretive, diurnal, terrestrial species that is rarely encountered in the forest floor of lowland rainforest, and it is restricted to forests and lost from deforested areas, although it can persist in small strips of gallery forest left along rivers.
The IUCN Red List has the species classified as “Least Concern”. According to the IUCN: “Although not abundant it is also not uncommon. It appears to be experiencing at least localized declines, but due to the extent of its range a great deal of suitable forest habitat remains.”