Oct 07
A Pumpkin by Any Other Name …

By Nina Evans

Pumpkins are everywhere at this time of year. We love to carve them, decorate with them, smash them and especially eat them! Besides the traditional pumpkin pie, you will find oodles of other pumpkin-flavored delights, like pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pasta, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin latte, pumpkin beer — the list goes on. But what are you actually getting in all these pumpkin-y edibles?

The distinctions between pumpkins, squash and even gourds are not absolutely clear. They are all members of the same plant family, Cucurbitaceae, and can all be called cucurbits. A large portion of what we call "pumpkin" comes from the three species of that family.

Cucurbita pepo contains many of the plants that produce the typical round, orange carving varieties of pumpkins, as well as some you can eat. C. maxima provides us with many edible squashes and the giant pumpkins. You'll find longer, tan-skinned, orange-fleshed fruit in C. moscheta — more like what you might think of as squash, rather than pumpkin. But this is the species that provides most of the canned pumpkin you buy at the grocery.

If you've ever tried to make a pie or other pumpkin food from the type of pumpkin grown for carving, you were surely disappointed! The flesh of such pumpkins is thin and not really tasty. You'll have much better luck with pumpkins grown specifically for pies, which are smaller and denser than carving pumpkins. Even then, some say these are still not the best for making your favorite pumpkin dish, being somewhat stringy and not very sweet.

You might do better using a good quality canned pumpkin for tasty and reliable results, or grow a C. moscheta variety like Dickenson pumpkin, acclaimed for making delicious pies.

So is it pumpkin, squash or some other cucurbit that is the main ingredient in the myriad of pumpkin foods that surround us? Maybe it doesn't matter so very much. What is really important is how it tastes!

Sep 10
From the Forest Floor

Furthering the Indianapolis Zoo's Reforestation Project in Borneo​


Spending the day with orangutans may be nothing new for Dr. Rob Shumaker, the Indianapolis Zoo's Supervising VP of Conservation, Science and Education. And yet, being surrounded by the sounds of southeast Asia's rainforest isn't quite routine.

Recently, Dr. Rob traveled to Borneo to further the Zoo's role in a reforestation project in Kutai National Park.

After flying into Balikpapan, Dr. Rob headed to the seaport city of Bontang to meet with park officials alongside Dr. Anne Russon, who leads the Kutai Orangutan Project and has studied orangutans for more than 30 years.

Joining the group was Pak Erly, director of the national park, who assisted with verifying research and approving reforestation work that will take place over the next five years, an encouraging confirmation for long-term science and conservation efforts.

Into the Forest

But it wasn't all business inside buildings.

Anne's project has expanded to include both the Mentoko – which means "on the river" – and Prevab field sites within the national park, so Dr. Rob and the team explored the forest and even had the chance to observe a young male orangutan in the canopy.

In addition to supporting field sites, the Indianapolis Zoo is protecting habitat throughout Kutai National Park.

Just a decade ago, the national park was largely considered a conservation wasteland, after forest had been destroyed from fires and human development, making the habitat unsuitable for populations of orangutans.

Now, areas throughout the park are becoming conservation priorities to ensure a bright future for these red-haired great apes.

Locations like Bukit Senara – Senara Hill – are once again becoming covered in green, yet still are not a prime path for orangutans to travel through the forest. Why? While the area looks lush, the pioneer species that have regrown there are not usable for apes' needs. However, these plants provide the perfect amount of shade for new seedlings to be planted and protected from the sun's rays.

Seeds of Change

As the Zoo's reforestation project advances, it will focus first on a 50-hectare section of the park, equivalent to a little more than 120 acres.

Collaboration and care are already leading to evidence of conservation successes. In 2013, Dr. Rob visited the national park and planted a seedling – a picture you may recognize from inside the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center. Take a look at how much growth has taken place in the course of two years!

If you'd like to help support the Zoo's Kutai project you can donate at one of the Center's interactive kiosks. Plus, learn more about the reforestation project on the Conservation Initiatives page of IndianapolisZoo.com.

Aug 18
The Ins and Outs of Houseplants

Because of the Midwest's cold winter weather, tropicals, succulents and other plants that don't survive in our freezing temperatures are commonly grown as houseplants. Here at the Indianapolis Zoo you will find many such heat-loving plants inside the Deserts Dome and the Hilbert Conservatory.

During the summer, we love to move those "indoor" plants outdoors into the White River Garden's DeHaan Tiergarten. Philodendrons, ferns, bromeliads and succulents are commonly found both inside and out. One you are likely to see in the Garden as well as the Zoo is Alocasia calidora, a type of elephant ear plant. You'll find the largest one inside the Hilbert Conservatory, where it has a home in the middle of our goldfish-stocked stream. Because it stays put there and isn't confined to a pot, it has leaves up to four feet long!

Growing quite nicely both inside and out is the Congo Rojo philodendron. It is a shrub-like philodendron with dark red to reddish green leaves. You'll find a beautiful display of them with lantanas, petunias and dahlias in the raised planters right outside the Conservatory.

Non-hardy succulents (plants with thick, fleshy leaves) are great indoors year round or outdoors in the summer. There are so many varieties with gorgeous leaves and remarkable flowers! Some of the Garden's most prominent succulents greet you at the door: the striped agaves in the concrete urns out front of the entrance. You can find more succulents in the Raised Garden in the Polly Horton Hix Design Gardens, as well as in pots inside the Hilbert Conservatory.

Always cool looking in the Conservatory are the staghorn ferns (Platycerium sp.) hanging high up on the mezzanine. They are epiphytes, plants that get most of their water and nutrients from the air and rain. We decided to try putting some outside this year in the ground in the Shade Garden. They add great contrasting form and texture to the plantings there.

Lots of people have been amazed (maybe you've been one of them?) to see fruiting pineapple plants in the Garden this summer. Pineapple (Ananas comosus) is a bromeliad, another type of plant that needs little or no soil. We've put some in the ground, though, in the Symmetry and Oasis Gardens, and they have been turning heads all season!

So don't be shy about taking your houseplants outside for the summer. If you don't have a greenhouse or room for them inside your house when the temperatures drop, find a friend who does have space, or, as a last resort, treat them like annual plants and add them to your compost pile.  These indoor plants will make your outdoor garden out-standing!

Aug 17
Stop Here for REAL Food

Our commitment to conservation includes the food we serve our guests. We are honored to have received REAL Certification for Café on the Commons and our Farm to Table salad cart this year.

The United States Healthful Food Council developed the Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership (REAL) certification to help consumers identify restaurants committed to healthy food and environmental responsibility. The Zoo and our partner Centerplate are the first in Indiana to receive this national mark of excellence. We're also the first zoo in the country to be certified!

What practices earned us this honor? "Health and sustainability play a role in our food preparation from start to finish," says Joe Hsu, the Zoo's executive chef. "We serve local products, humanely raised meat and seasonal produce whenever possible. Our staff crafts all stocks, dressings and sauces from scratch, giving us control over their flavor and nutrition. We even grow some herbs and vegetables right here on Zoo grounds!"

Here's a recipe we're actually will be using as part of new fall salad entrée at the café:

Fall Spice Couscous & Quinoa Salad

(Serves 6-8)

1 pkg 10 oz Israeli couscous (or orzo pasta)

1 pkg 10 oz red or white quinoa

1 ea large sweet potato, peeled, 1/4 in diced, roasted w/ extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper to taste

1 cup Craisins

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup celery, ¼-inch dice

1/4 cup pumpkin seed, toasted

1 tbsp. ground cumin

1 oz mint, finely chopped

1 oz cilantro, finely chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

*Option: Add grilled chicken and shredded parmesan cheese


1. Cook both couscous and quinoa according to the package.  After done cooking, set aside and let cool in fridge for approximately 15 minutes.

2. Roast sweet potato(peeled, 1/4 in diced, coated with EVOO, salt and pepper to taste) in oven at 350 degree for 20 minutes, after cooking, set aside and let it cool in fridge for approximately 15 minutes.

3. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, mix well and serve.

*Option: Add grilled chicken and shredded parmesan cheese if you'd like to make a full entrée out of it.

Aug 05
Growing Up as a Sea Lion Pup

Watching our young animals grow up healthy and happy is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences at the Indianapolis Zoo. That’s especially true with rescued animals that receive a new home as well as new opportunities that would not have otherwise been possible

In December 2013, the Indianapolis Zoo welcomed two California sea lion pups, named Holly and Joy. Both pups made the trip from California to Indianapolis after their situations left them unable to survive in the wild. Like all of our animals here, these amazing marine mammals are wonderful ambassadors, educating guests about the struggles their species face in the wild.

Joy’s mother was receiving treatment for a condition called Red Tide at the Marine Mammal Center in Santa Barbara, Calif. when she gave birth. The condition occurs when marine mammals eat toxic algae which makes them lethargic and disoriented, so Joy’s mother could not properly care for her new pup. The staff at the rescue center took over caring for and raising Joy, but this meant she would not learn proper skills necessary to survive on her own.

Meanwhile, Holly was found stranded on a beach in Malibu and rehabilitated at the Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, Calif. During this time, the staff noticed Holly was not eating regularly and displayed behavioral issues and vision problems.

In both cases, the rescue staff ultimately felt the pups’ challenges would prevent them from competing successfully if they were released back into the wild.   So instead, the Zoo gladly provided them a new home in Indianapolis​.

Since their arrival, Zookeepers say these pups have adjusted extremely well to their new home and enjoy learning new things from the other sea lions and their trainers. At 2 years old, Holly and Joy are just like little kids; they are playful and fun, but are still developing their manners. Our trainers work with Holly and Joy, along with all of our marine mammals, multiple times a day to practice and teach different behaviors.

Similar to the training keepers conduct with many of the Zoo’s other animals, when the sea lions perform a behavior correctly, they are rewarded with food. These sessions also offer an opportunity for the trainers to make sure the animals are healthy. While the sea lions perform a behavior, the trainers also check their flippers and teeth, how they walk and swim, and keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. All the sea lions enjoy working with their trainers, but Joy loves this time so much that she often becomes upset when her sessions end.

When they’re not learning new behaviors during training sessions, Holly and Joy get to show their playful sides. Whenever trainers dive in to clean the tank, the pups are there and ready for some fun. The mischievous little ones will try to play with the diving gear, and Joy will often steal the trainers’ brushes and masks!

Out of the two, Holly has the more dominant personality. During her time here, Holly has become very attached to Hide, one of our older females, and treats her like a new mother. The two have formed a special bond and are usually always together.

Joy is easy going and a little more playful than Holly. Guests will often see her sucking on her tail or chasing dragon flies around on the surface of the water. As a result of being raised by humans, Joy especially likes spending time with people, so if you’re viewing the exhibit from underwater you may get a greeting from her! However, Joy is still a little wary of other sea lions, like Diego, one of our adult males who is very interested in becoming her friend.

Holly and Joy are still recognizably smaller than our other sea lions, so keep watch for the playful pups during our seasonal sea lion chats and see how much our pups have learned in just two short years!

Jul 28
How to Train Your Tiger

​Teaching new behaviors is rewarding for keepers and animals

When guests attend any of the seasonal animal presentations or keeper chats offered at the Indianapolis Zoo, it's easy to see the trustful relationship that exists between animals and their zookeepers.

That mutual respect is established and reinforced during these daily training sessions. And whether an animal is born here at the Zoo or comes from another facility, sessions with new arrivals begin as soon as possible.

In her five years as part of the Zoo's animal care staff, Senior Keeper Jill Burbank has offered countless training sessions with animals in the Forests area. The learning process is stimulating for both the animals and the keepers. It also helps staff ensure the animals' wellness by allowing them to inspect hard-to-see areas like the underbelly or inside the mouth. Over time, animals also learn to participate in basic procedures like blood draws and weight checks.

The length of training sessions depends on each individual animal. When working with tigers, Burbank likes to keep the sessions brief.

"During a typical tiger day, I spend about 45 minutes to an hour training the tigers. Tigers are cats, so they have short attention spans. This is not one 45 minute session. Sessions are typically about 5 minutes long to make sure they stay positive and you keep the tigers' attention. I do multiple 5 minute sessions a day."

Recently, Burbank has enjoyed working with three new furry faces in the Tiger Forest.

The newest area arrivals are 2-year-old brothers Luka and Maxim. The pair of endangered Amur tigers came to Indianapolis in mid-January from the Peoria Zoo as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan program that helps maintain a healthy and diverse population of animals in human care.

Burbank said the tiger siblings arrived in Indianapolis with some past training experience, which was helpful. Both big cats knew how to respond to a target pole, stand on their hind legs and stand on a scale to allow keepers to record their weights.

Working with Zoya, the youngest member of the Tiger Forest, has also been a lot of fun for Burbank. The feisty cub was born to mom Andrea on July 10, 2014, and keepers began training her about five weeks later when she began eating meat.

"She has done fantastic," Burbank said of Zoya. "She is very eager to learn new behaviors."

The complexity of the behavior generally determines how long it takes for animals to learn, Burbank said. So far, Zoya has mastered some of the basics, like how to sit, respond to a target poll, lay down, stand on her hind legs and growl. Other, more challenging behaviors are still a work in progress.

Don't forget to check the seasonal keeper chats schedule during your next Zoo visit to see the training in action.

Jul 20
In defense of the Stella De Oro

By Mike Stockman

Sometimes, you see, gardeners can be quite snobby. We want everything to be perfect. When a plant doesn't perform well, we say it's wimpy, brand it a bad performer or poorly adapted for our soil conditions. On the other hand we sometimes scoff at very hardy, aggressive plants and tear them out of our garden — we wage war against them and label them as overly aggressive or invasive. Grumbling as we pick saplings and volunteers out of our flower beds, we long for that perfect plant to grace our gardens. We hope to someday find the perfect perennial!

If only we could find a plant that blooms all summer long, is well behaved and has a beautifully structured flower. We want something that can thrive in all zones reliably, produce dramatic blossoms and be bomb proof at the same time. If only this super plant existed and was impervious to city pollution, thrived in hot tortured environments of parking lots, resisted road salt and tolerated poor soil conditions. Surely gardeners all over the world would fall instantly in love with such a plant. Or maybe not.

I proclaim the Day lily Hemerocallis (lily) to fit the bill of the perfect perennial! It explodes into bloom year after year. It follows us around everywhere we go, like an annoying puppy under foot begging for our attention. This is the plant you jog by every morning that blooms like a golden star all along the Indy cultural trail and numerous urban green spaces all over the city! 

The Stella De Oro day lily is right at the top of the list. It is a dwarf variety, a prolific bloomer that is adapted to ALL zones in the US and is the most popular lily in the world! I was shocked to learn this wonderful hybrid was developed in 1975. It seems so recent in history that it makes me wonder what people planted in parking lots before 1975.

I am not alone in my admiration of this incredible plant; it has won multiple very prestigious horticulture awards and is sometimes referred to as the world's perfect perennial. Did I mention that it's fragrant and deer resistant?  Despite this long list of attributes and all of its glamorous awards, you might find that in certain circles, gardeners "In the Know" turn their noses up at the Stella De Oro and many of the commonly used day lilies. "Overly used and far too common" we proclaim as we continue our search for that "perfect perennial."

Jul 16
Gray and White and Pink All Over

When we think pink here at the Indianapolis Zoo, we think flamingos. And on June 26, 2015, at only 94.5 grams, a little chick pecked its way into the world — the very first Caribbean flamingo hatched from an egg laid at the Zoo!

Although we won't know if our newest chick is a boy or girl for a bit longer, it is growing quickly and keepers are excited for guests to meet it in upcoming months.

These famously bright pink birds are native to the Caribbean and Galapagos regions and get their color from eating shrimp. But don't worry, when our feathered flamboyance (yes, that's what a group of flamingos is called!) makes room for new additions you can still tell chicks apart from the rest. Born with white-gray plumage, flamingo chicks don't become fully pink until 9 months old and then reach full plumage by age 4.

Flamingo Chicks Mingle Their Way into the Flock

It's not the first time keepers have watched downy fluff covered chicks grow to fabulously feathered adolescents.

Our three chicks from 2014's summer just recently celebrated their first birthdays and throughout the past year have had a great time getting acquainted with their fellow flamingo family.

While it's important for chicks to become familiar with their flock, adults can sometimes be curious explorers so keepers made sure to pay special attention to them. As the chicks grew and became stronger, they were able to venture out into the flamingo yard by themselves to get exercise and explore. Each day, the chicks gained more and more independence and soon, they became fully integrated with their flamboyance.

Despite being a year old, the three chicks are still recognizable with a few gray feathers on their body and slightly higher squawks.

Once the chicks were integrated into the group, keepers worked on having them join in the popular Flamingo Mingle. Getting the chicks ready for the daily chat was a gradual process, but as a flock species they quickly learned to follow the adults, and could soon be seen stepping in buckets of water, instinctually stirring up food to the top of the water and dipping their beaks for tasty treats like mysis shrimp and krill.

Make sure to check out the Flamingo Mingle offered seasonally as one of our many animal keeper chats next time you're at the Zoo and you might just catch an up-close and personal glimpse of our chicks!

And special thanks to our friends at Hendricks Regional Health for presenting Zoo Babies!

Jul 14
Indianapolis Zoo Leaps into Action to Save Indiana’s Crawfish Frog

Indiana's waterways recently connected guests to the ocean here at the Indianapolis Zoo. Inside the Oceans building this spring, visitors had the chance to experience local conservation in action.

The crawfish frog is endangered in Indiana, so researchers from Indiana State University and Indiana University School of Medicine in partnership with Indiana's Department of Natural Resources carefully collected egg masses from nearby waterways. Zoo staff cared for the tadpoles as they grew, with the purpose of reinforcing, or releasing these late-stage tadpoles back into their original habitat once they grew a set of back legs.

Why Grow Frogs?

The crawfish frog lives most of its life in crayfish burrows, but comes out into southern Indiana's wetlands to breed. As this habitat gets smaller and rarer, crawfish frog tadpoles are easily spotted and picked off by predators in the tiny patches of remaining marsh. By caring for tadpoles here at the Zoo, we can protect them when they are the most vulnerable and release them when they are strong and mobile.

Together We Can Save the Crawfish Frog!

The Indianapolis Zoo and these incredible partners are all working together to save the crawfish frog—but we can't do it without your help! You can:

  • Protect and help restore Indiana wetland habitat when it is threatened.

  • Get involved with an amphibian group like the Association of Zoos and Aquarium's FrogWatch USA or the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program (NAAMP). Listen for the call of the crawfish frog about an hour after sunset. If you hear it, report the presence of crawfish frogs to the DNR!

  • Keep wetlands clean by eliminating pesticide use in your yard, keeping soap or other chemicals out of storm drains or even cleaning up trash from local waterways.

Jul 11
Saving Sea Ice

Celebrating Sea Ice of the Artic Brings Awareness to Environmental Impact

Summertime. We think of warm rays of sunshine and water lapping the coastline. But every year, the second Saturday in July shines a spotlight on quite the opposite — ice.

Arctic Sea Ice Day was created by Polar Bears International as a way to highlight sea ice losses and how individual actions can make an immense impact.

"Most of us think that the Arctic sea ice is some faraway environment with which we have little connection. Yet, our daily activities — in Indiana and elsewhere across the country — impact the welfare of that habitat," said Steve Amstrup, 2012 Indianapolis Prize winner and Chief Scientist of Polar Bears International.

Arctic sea ice, which forms as ocean water freezes, grows and melts, is as important to the Arctic ecosystem as the soil is in a forest.

Known as Earth's refrigerator, sea ice helps cool the planet by reflecting the sun's radiation back into space. But when there is less ice, the open water absorbs heat, contributing to a rise in temperatures around the world.

Records show evidence that sea ice has continued to decline in the past 100 years, reducing more than 11 percent each decade since satellite records began in 1979. Scientists even describe this as a new era of sea ice, with less multi-year ice (ice that remains year-round) and rather an increase in thinner, seasonal ice across parts of the Arctic.

A Polar Patriot and Animals in Indianapolis

Amstrup's work has earned him worldwide recognition, and he is regarded as the most important and influential scientist working on polar bear conservation. From leading the researchers who prepared reports that would become the basis for listing polar bears as a threatened species to examining whether greenhouse gas mitigation could improve the animals' future outlook, Amstrup's dedication to the cause over the course of more than three decades earned him the Indianapolis Prize in 2012.

And while Amstrup's passion focuses on the famed white bears, his research is key for the future of many species, from the smallest organisms at the base of the food chain to seals, walrus and more that rely on sea ice to find food and live on.

While this Arctic landscape may change the fate of many animals, there are still happy stories to tell.

One of the Pacific walrus thriving at the Indianapolis Zoo is Pakak, aptly named for "one who gets into everything." Pakak's incredible journey began when he was stranded off the coast of Alaska when he was only 4-6 weeks old and would not have survived on his own. Rescuers from the Alaska SeaLife Center were able to step in and care for him until the Zoo was chosen as his new home.

Dedicated individuals are working to rescue and rehabilitate animals, conservation heroes and scientists continue to research habitat and behavior, and families are joining in the effort from their home to create a bright future for not only the incredible animals of the Arctic but all the amazing creatures we share this planet with.

And that's pretty cool.

Saving Sea Ice Starts With Us

"It used to be that when we had a conservation challenge we could build a fence around an area or hire guards to fight off poachers. Having done so we could go home and sleep comfortably. But we cannot build a fence to protect the sea ice from rising temperatures," Amstrup said. "Fighting sea ice loss, and the temperature rise that is causing it, requires all of us to change how we live, how we transport ourselves and ultimately where we get our energy."

According to Amstrup, preserving sea ice now can head off even worse problems in the future. And you can help make that difference for that future.

Did you know you can take action to save sea ice by "cooling" your grocery cart through local, sustainable items? Strive to buy locally grown items to reduce food miles and organically grown foods to reduce emissions caused by fertilizers. Even eating less meat plays a role due to the methane that is produced by livestock and the amount of water, land and feed needed. Additionally, supporting farmers' markets in your area and purchasing only what you and your family will eat helps to reduce waste and creates a healthier overall environment.

"Sea ice loss is driven by the warming of the world, brought about by burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and other poor land uses, as well as the unsustainable choices we all make at the market," Amstrup said "Those 'life choices' affect every species about which we care. … When people realize that we are all in this — with the rest of life on earth — the reasons for changing how we move about, live and eat will be easier to see and more compelling."

Steve Amstrup photo courtesy of Polar Bears International. Pakak photo courtesy of Carla Knapp.

1 - 10Next

 ‭(Hidden)‬ Blog Tools