New in the Zoo

Dolly and Debbie
Zoo Update with Denise Verret
July 31, 2019
mandrill baby

The new mandrill baby is the second for mother Juliette and the third offspring for father Jabari. She can be found with her parents in the Africa section of the Zoo. Photo by Tad Motoyama

Vision in the natural world is as diverse as the creatures in it. The range of visible light that humans can see is less than one percent of the whole electromagnetic spectrum, which includes gamma rays, radio waves, x-rays, infrared, and ultraviolet light. Other animals see broader or different ranges of light wavelengths. Rattlesnakes and other pit vipers have special receptors that enable them to detect infrared—the body heat of their prey. Many birds and insects are able to sense ultraviolet light.

We humans have excellent daytime vision and are able to perceive a rich array of colors. Like other primates as well as birds, we have receptors in our eyes that enable us to see red. (To animals who can’t see red, it appears as brownish-gray.) While many plants produce blue hues, very few animals and no vertebrates (animals with spines) do.

Pigment creates color by absorbing all but specific wavelengths of light. A red shirt looks red to us because the dyed fabric is reflecting only the red light and absorbing all the rest. Structural color is produced by refracting or bending light so that only a particular wavelength remains. The surface is colorless but covered with finely formed structures composed of collagen (the protein that makes your skin smooth and elastic) or keratin (the substance that makes up your hair and fingernails) that bend the light that strikes it. Peacock feathers are actually pigmented brown, but their surfaces bend light like a prism, resulting in the dazzling array of colors that we perceive. Pigment and structural color can work together, too. Green animals such as tree pythons or emerald boas and parrots actually produce a yellow pigment but have blue-refracting color structures on their scales and feathers that combine to produce green!

Peacock feathers

Peacock feathers are brown with surfaces that refract light into brilliant colors, including blue. Five peacocks roam freely on Zoo grounds. Photo by Jamie Pham

Boelen’s python

The rainbow effect that shimmers on the Boelen’s python is caused by scales that refract light similar to the way a prism works. You can find this beautiful snake in the LAIR. Photo by Tad Motoyama

red-lored Amazon parrot

The vibrant green of the red-lored Amazon parrot’s feathers is the result of yellow pigment and feather structures that refract blue wavelengths of light. Photo by Jamie Pham

white-cheeked turaco

Turacos (like this white-cheeked turaco) are the only birds that are truly green thanks to a copper pigment they produce called turacoverdin. The Zoo is home to a pair of these African birds. Photo by Tad Motoyama

Other animals that exhibit this blue color phenomenon include the Baja blue rock lizard, mimic poison dart frogs, the blue-billed curassow, and the blue-throated macaw—all of these species are residents at the Zoo and produced babies in June!

A female mandrill was born on June 13. These Old World monkeys are native to parts of Nigeria, southern Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo. Adult mandrills develop strikingly colorful faces and posteriors, particularly the males. Though some of the markings appear blue, there is in fact no blue pigment in their skin. Like other primates, they have only brown, red, and yellow pigments. The blue is caused by an optical illusion. Fibers of collagen (a type of protein) in their skin are so orderly in structure, that they reflect a single wavelength of light: blue. If those fibers are spread apart, the blue fades.

Baja blue rock lizards

Baby Baja blue rock lizards don’t acquire their blue coloration until they mature. Photo by Ian Recchio

Mimic poison frog

Mimic poison frogs are so named because of the varied patterns that they display, which can include but are not limited to, striped, spotted, and banded. You can find several species of poison dart frogs in the Rainforest of the Americas. Photo by Jamie Pham

Blue-billed curassows

Blue-billed curassows are critically endangered. You can find a pair of these distant cousins of chickens in the South America section of the Zoo. Photo by Tad Motoyama

blue-throated macaw

Two blue-throated macaw chicks hatched in June. With this species, the young remain in the nest box under their parents care for about three months. The new babies are with their parents in the off-exhibit Avian Conservation Center. Photo by Jamie Pham

A bongo and a gerenuk were also born in June. The bongo is with the parents in their habitat in the Zoo’s Africa section, and the gerenuk will spend some time in the nursery hoofstock yard before joining the herd on exhibit, also in the Africa section of the Zoo.


Bongos are a type of forest antelope. Photo by Tad Motoyama

A group of vampire crabs were born. These tiny crustaceans have an unusual reproductive cycle in that the babies do not go through a larval phase. With many crab species, the eggs hatch into free-swimming larvae called zoea that molt several times before reaching their adult form and venturing onto land. Vampire crabs go through their early developmental stages inside the eggs and hatch out as miniscule crabs that are almost impossible to see with the unaided eye.

Vampire crab

Vampire crabs are freshwater crustaceans found from India through Southeast Asia to the Solomon Islands and Hawaii. You can see them in the LAIR. Photo by Jamie Pham

The single male yellow-billed magpie in the Winnick Family Children’s Zoo now has two female companions. This is one of the few bird species that is truly endemic to California and is found in open oak woodlands, primarily in the Central Valley, the southern Coast Ranges, and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Hopefully this group will also produce offspring.

Two California condors in need of medical attention arrived in June. One was treated and returned to the wild on July 11; sadly, the other succumbed to lead toxicity despite the best efforts of Animal Care and Animal Health staff.

A female Ross’s turaco arrived from the Denver Zoo and a male South American bushmaster transferred from Fort Worth Zoo in Texas. The L.A. Zoo is one of the few zoos that exhibits the South American bushmaster and, significantly, that has successfully bred this species, which is part of a managed breeding program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Yellow-billed magpie

Yellow-billed magpies are found only in California, though not in the L.A. basin. Photo by Jamie Pham


Bushmasters can be found in the LAIR. Photo by Ian Recchio

Two female tamanduas (a type of South American anteater) arrived last year and have become popular members of the animal ambassador team. A male arrived in June, and, after he has had some time to settle into his new home in the Winnick Family Children’s Zoo, it’s hoped that he will breed with the females.


There are only two species of tamandua, northern (Tamandua mexicana) and southern (Tamandua tetradactyla). The L.A. Zoo is home to the latter. Photo by Jamie Pham

Learn more about structural color:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Bird Academy

The Journal of Experimental Biology

National Geographic: First blue feathers found on a fossilized bird


In the July issue of ZOOSCAPE, the IUCN status for crested capuchins was incorrect. The article stated that they are "currently not endangered thanks to their wide distribution." They are in fact listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.