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The 7 kilogram American lobster in the rocky shore basin.
Photo: Claude Lafond

Unusual facts

A 7 kilogram lobster welcomed to the Gulf of St. Lawrence ecosystem

The news spread quickly through the media: a 7 kg lobster that was about to be sold at the Varennes IGA was “adopted” by the Montréal Biodôme, part of the Space for Life, in January 2013. The crustacean, an estimated 35 to 50 years old, is in good health. After spending a few days in an isolation tank, it was introduced into the rocky shore basin of the Gulf of St. Lawrence ecosystem on January 17, where it could more easily be admired by visitors. It stayed for two weeks, then was transferred into the main basin of the ecosystem, containing 2.5 million litres of seawater.

Biodôme Birth Book

Many animals are born at the Biodôme inside its five ecosystems. Reproduction in captivity is often a major issue for scientists, and conditions to facilitate reproduction can be difficult to create.

Certain endangered species that very rarely reproduce in captivity have given birth at the Biodôme despite all odds – a major achievement for the institution’s staff.

May 2012 – Rare birth of a lynx cub in the Laurentian Maple Forest

December 2010 – Many births took place at the Biodôme. Eight new arrivals: Seven penguin chicks in the Sub-Polar Regions ecosystem and a tiny Goeldi’s callimico monkey in the Tropical Rainforest.

November 2010 – Although fall had definitely come to Quebec, it was spring, and hatching time, in the Sub-Polar Regions – at least in the Sub-Antarctic Islands. Two penguin chicks (rockhopper penguin and macaroni penguin) saw the light of day.

Some noteworthy births

The remarkable birth of a lynx cub

In May 2012, the animal keepers at the Biodôme suspected that the six-year-old female lynx was pregnant, judging by her weight gain and her behaviour. Since she was looking for a dark, safe place to give birth, a wooden shelter was built over her rest area. The lynx cub was born during the night of May 26-27, in good health, while two other cubs died within just a few days. The surviving cub did very well, living in the Laurentian Maple Forest ecosystem until January 1, 2013, after which he was transferred to the Metro Toronto Zoo, according to the recommendations of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), designed to maintain genetic diversity among the Canada lynx population in North American institutions.

Birth of a Goeldi’s monkey, an endangered species

A Goeldi's monkey was born on the night of June 18 in the Tropical Forest ecosystem at the Montréal Biodôme. His mother began by encouraging him to explore his surroundings by pushing him to take a few steps by himself and even to leap from one branch to another. She still carried him around when he fed, even when he started to eat solid food like fruit, insects, spiders and small vertebrates.

Female Goeldi’s monkeys bear just one offspring at a time, once a year, following a gestation period of about 150 days. They always give birth during the night or very early in the morning. Infants weigh from 50 to 70 g at birth and live on the mother’s back for the first few weeks of life.

Goeldi's monkeys reach sexual maturity at about one year. They may stay in the family group after that age, however, to learn to raise their younger siblings and gain parenting experience that will come in useful when they have families of their own!

Goeldi’s monkeys, also called Goeldi’s marmosets or callimicos, are one of the endangered species covered by the recommendations of the Species Survival Program supervised by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The Biodôme is taking part in this conservation program, along with many other Canadian zoological institutions co-operating to ensure the survival of Goeldi’s monkeys and greater long-term genetic diversity.

The green aracari at the Biodôme: a late starter

The Biodôme’s family of green aracaris has been growing constantly since January 2008, thanks to a male so old that he is defying all paternity statistics.

Male green aracaris in captivity rarely reproduce after age 9. At the Biodôme, though, this little 13½-year-old toucan is still going strong!

In the fall of 2007, some of the animal keepers noticed that a green aracari that had arrived in 2001 was behaving like a male interested in starting a family: he was digging holes in trees and carrying wood chips around. After consulting an expert who keeps a genetic record of such crosses in North America, the Live Collections Department decided to introduce a young four and a half year old female into the Tropical Forest.

As soon as she arrived, the pair started exchanging food and looking for a nesting spot. Thanks to the same Biodôme animal keepers and with a bit of help from a carpenter at the Biodôme, a ready-made nest was attached to a hollow tree. The pair adopted the nest for their own and on January 11, 2008, after sixteen days of incubation, three chicks emerged. Two chicks hatched in another clutch in late August last year, as well.

Interestingly enough, the first chicks have never left the family nest, despite the fact that they are independent. Staff members observed the juveniles helping their parents maintain the nest and care for the second generation. The birds from the second clutch are now living in other zoological institutions.

Keeping an eye on the family

The Biodôme research team wanted to go even further by conducting a study to look more closely at this green aracari behaviour. The family members currently feed together and live in a group in another hollow tree designed for them.

The research team wants to find out whether the first generation will help train the new chicks. An infrared camera has been installed inside the nesting box to film the birds’ behaviour.

The videos will allow the team to confirm whether parental care is shared between the juveniles and the pair. If so, it means that the parents’ workload is lightened, while the juveniles gain experience in caring for young. Fewer than 4% of all bird species in the world co-operate in this way in the reproductive process.

The observations made at the Biodôme are a good indication of what could occur in the wild. Hence the value of conducting research projects in this environment, where it is easier to make observations and measurements and collect data. Given these birds’ reproduction rate in captivity, it seems clear that they appreciate life in the Biodôme’s Tropical Forest and the care provided by its staff.

Winter skate babies

After the eggs were laid in the cold salt water of the Biodôme’s St. Lawrence Marine ecosystem, they were collected by divers and placed in well-oxygenated incubation tanks, maintained at a temperature of 10°C. The eggs have been hatching after eight to eleven months of incubation. The young skates have been placed in a breeding tank behind the scenes at the Biodôme, and should normally remain there for at least one year before they are large enough to coexist with the other fish in the main basin.

Winter skates are bottom dwellers that live in the St. Lawrence Estuary, Gulf of St. Lawrence and North Atlantic, at depths of up to 996 metres and temperatures of -1 to 14°C. Skates, like sharks, are among the very few fish in which fertilization occurs internally by mating. The females then lay embryos protected by a chitin egg capsule, also called a “mermaid’s purse.” The embryos continue to develop inside the egg capsule for almost one year.

Very little is known about how these skates reproduce, or about the incubation and growth of their offspring, so any information collected by the Biodôme will be valuable.

A hybrid warbler at the Biodôme

A rare phenomenon occurred in summer 2000 in the Biodôme's Laurentian Maple Forest. A male warbler of one species reproduced with a female of a different species!

This phenomenon is called “hybridization.” In this case, the birds involved were a male black-and-white warbler and a female yellow-rumped warbler. This phenomenon, it should be noted, is fairly rare in the wild. The specific conditions at the Biodôme probably made it more likely. Nothing was done to encourage the hybridization, however, and the pair chose each other with no outside interference. The Laurentian Maple Forest seems to lend itself well to reproduction, as many chicks hatch there every year.

The 2000 hybrid (black-and-white warbler x yellow-rumped warbler) lived at the Biodôme until May 2009. It was actually the only scientific evidence of crossbreeding between these species — living proof of a genetic relationship between these two species of warblers. That is why the specimen is now at the Canadian Museum of Nature, in Ottawa.

The 2000 hybrid was recognizable because its plumage resembled that of a female black-and-white warbler, with the subtle difference that it had a touch of yellow on its rump (a characteristic inherited from its mother).

Another characteristic that made it stand out from all the other warblers was its song. A bird’s song is inherited, but is also affected by surrounding noises. This warbler developed a song all its own. Can you hear the repetitive rhythm? That is characteristic of the black-and-white warbler. Can you hear the clear, two-part song of the yellow-rumped warbler?

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