PacSci Perspectives

Feeding Space Plants To The Iguana

by | Apr 20, 2017

Getting ready for deep space exhibit with a space garden.

Getting ready for deep space exhibit with a space garden.

Since we started featuring Basil as our foster iguana, Pacific Science Center’s Animal Care team has had to adjust our thinking about feeding iguanas. While Iggy, our last iguana, was staying with us, feeding was easy: we chopped up fruits and veggies, offered her a salad, scratched her head and let her eat.

Basil has had a lot more trouble with the process. We knew the new iguana was eating something because we found occasional poop, but we rarely saw our new foster reptile eating and usually most of the food was left after each new offering. Of course, Basil is much smaller than Iggy so we expected some difference, but we needed to be sure that some eating was taking place.

Loose-leafed cabbage, lettuce, and tomatoes ready for deep space.

Loose-leafed cabbage, lettuce, and tomatoes ready for deep space.

Currently, our Horticulture Department is growing some loose-leafed cabbage in the Space Garden display of our Getting Ready for Deep Space exhibit. The display shows off some of the veggies that have been grown on the International Space Station. This cabbage was chosen by astronauts as being especially tasty in the challenging environment of a space station. These greens have a quick growth cycle. One day they are gorgeous and leafy. The next day they produce a stalk, and soon they are flowering and going to seed.

To avoid waste, we harvest them for the turtles and the iguana. We had been chopping the leaves up and mixing them into a salad for Basil. But while this made us feel good about our use of resources, Basil didn’t seem to notice that the salads were any fresher. The salads would still go nearly untouched from day to day.

Animal Caretaker Katie Malmberg prepares salads for our reptiles.

Animal Caretaker Katie Malmberg prepares salads for our reptiles.

Three-toed box turtle Rootie enjoys the salad made from space plants.

Three-toed box turtle Rootie enjoys the salad made from space plants.

Then Animal Caretaker Katie Malmberg had the great idea of putting a whole cabbage plant into the cage with Basil. The plant and container were much bigger than Basil. Since the plastic edges of the pot were slightly sharp, we slid the plant out and tied it onto the ledge where Basil usually hangs out. Katie and Living Exhibits Manager Sarah Moore were excited but cautious.

Basil the iguana enjoys a space salad, too.

Basil the iguana enjoys a space salad, too.

The response was amazing! Basil, who is usually shy of humans and afraid of the food dish, was visibly excited about the new plant. And by excited we mean hungry. Before the doors were closed, the little iguana tasted the leaves and seemed to really enjoy eating for the first time. Perhaps it was the visual cues of a frilly green plant verses chopped food? Perhaps it was the enrichment of eating something big, leafy and a little more work than pre-chopped veggies? We aren’t sure but we are very excited to have found something Basil (and astronauts) can be tempted to eat.

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