Described for science in 1903, this species was imported by the Umlauff Pet Store in Hamburg, Germany in 1904, making it one of the earliest cichlids kept in aquariums. Despite being large, aggressive, and prone to dig up plants, it has always been popular in home aquariums, especially after it received its common name in honor of the famous World Heavyweight boxer (1895-1983). Actually found from Southern Mexico to Honduras, it was long mistakenly thought to be South American, and misidentified as Cichlasoma biocellatum.
Until 1975, when selling turtles less than four inches long was banned due to outbreaks of salmonella in children, “babies” of this species were sold by the millions every year, for a few cents. Most died due to ignorance of their care. Those that lived, soon outgrew their green color and “cuteness”, reaching more than ten inches. Many were turned loose, with the result that these turtles from the Midwestern US are now found on both coasts, as well as such countries as France, South Africa, and Japan, where they threaten biodiversity.
While “hourglass” is fairly descriptive of the pattern on the back, as with human fingerprints and zebra stripes, each frog has its own unique set of markings, unless, as is sometimes the case, it has no pattern at all. This species occupies a range of habitats from Mexico down into northern South America. Like its much larger relative, the Waxy monkey tree frog, it can lay its eggs above water, into which the tadpoles fall after they hatch. However, if there is little or no shade, it may lay its eggs in the water like most frogs. It is the only frog that can do both.
An enormously developed extension of its skull lends this lizard a resemblance to the “Alien” of horror movies. In contrast to other basilisks (which can run so quickly they can stay above the water surface) this tree-dwelling species is a “sit and wait predator”, staying very still, until large beetles, grasshoppers, and other insects, deceived by its unlizardlike appearance, come close enough to be grabbed in its jaws. Found in Southern Mexico and the rest of Central America, it is not often seen in zoos. It has reproduced at the DWA.
Found from Mexico to Paraguay, this is one of the most well-known snakes, and has been popular in zoos for well over a century. It is also common in private collections. While it has a reputation as a giant, it actually rarely reaches 14 feet, and has never been documented to reach 20 feet. In contrast to the much larger Anaconda, it is not dependent on water in its environment, though it swims quite well. A nocturnal animal, it is often motionless during zoo visiting hours.
Known as the Gua in Mexico, this huge-headed turtle is also found in Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala. A giant among the musk and mud turtle family, it can attain a shell length of 14 inches. Despite its superficial resemblance to snapping turtles, it is not related. Prized as food because of its size, it is considered near-threatened. It is not common in collections, but has bred repeatedly at the DWA.
This is the smallest of the four New World Crocodiles, usually reaching about ten feet. Described to science in 1850, it then “disappeared” until the 1920s, when it was determined to inhabit the Yucatan Peninsula and the Mexican Gulf Coast to the north of it. This is one of the first crocodilian species to be bred in US zoos, more than 40 years ago. Its very broad snout gives it an alligator-like appearance, but the tooth protruding from the shut lower jaw clearly identifies it as a crocodile.
This larger, more arboreal relative of the Gila monster is easily distinguished from it by being black and cream-colored, rather than black and pinkish-orange. Like the Gila monster, it is venomous, possessing glands in its lower jaw. It is not found in the US, but occurs in Mexico and Guatemala. It appears to feed almost entirely on eggs of birds and other reptiles. Prized as a zoo exhibit, it has been bred in several collections, including the DWA.
Found from northern Mexico to Central America, it was only separated by herpetologists from the South American Tropical Rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus) in 2004. Unlike its South American relative, but in common with most other rattlesnake species, its adult venom is primarily haemotoxin, rather than neurotoxin. It stands out among other Mexican Rattlesnakes for the twin stripes running from the back of its head down a portion of its body, and its unusually rough-looking scales. Rattlesnakes were revered by the Mayans and Aztecs.
There are a number of small Tropical American prehensile-tailed, tree-dwelling pit vipers, but many of them have small distributions and are very rare. This species is found all the way from southern Mexico well into South America and is one of the more likely tropical American vipers to be seen in captivity, where it breeds well. Its name comes from the pointy scales above its eyes. It is famous for its many color phases. Orange ones are especially popular in zoos.