Guarding the Nest

This update was written by herpetologist Lauren Augustine.

It’s that time of year, nesting has begun! In April, our Cuban crocodile Blanche built up a large mound nest. She constructed the nest by kicking up the mulch in the exhibit into a central location. This year she built her nest against the back wall of the exhibit under the heat emitter. In early May, we noticed Blanche was looking thinner—a sign that she could have laid eggs. It is sometimes difficult to assess body condition from our vantage point, so we needed to get a closer look. When we approached the fencing that divides the exhibits, Blanche charged. Even though there was a fence between us, with two large gallops, Blanche reoriented herself between the keepers and her nest. It was obvious, she had laid her eggs!

Next came the tricky part. The eggs needed to be removed from the nest. In preparation for this moment keepers had removed Blanche’s favorite food from her diet for a few weeks. She was still getting fed, but just not with rabbits. When we asked her to shift, Blanche refused, she was nest guarding, which is a normal crocodile behavior. But when she saw a rabbit, she just couldn't hold back. Blanch followed the rabbit into the shift area. As Blanch feasted, we safely entered the enclosure and measured the nest before we excavated it. It had 35 eggs inside!

Typically we remove the eggs to minimize Blanche’s nest-guarding behavior, and during the process we also deconstruct the nest. This year we tried something different and decided to leave the nest intact. We’re going to study Blanche’s nest-guarding behavior. If you come to the Reptile Discovery Center you can see Blanche displaying the behavior!