Catch up with the latest news at LRZ with articles, press releases, and other fun updates

written and created by Zoo Staff.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee Richardson Zoo is temporarily closing to the public effective 5 pm April 1, 2020 until further notice.


Our staff will continue to provide quality care for the zoo residents during this time. Please stay in touch via our website and Facebook page.

We are celebrating a special birthday this week.  Wilbur,

our western hognose snake, is turning 12 years old.

Wilbur is one of our ambassador animals and lives in our

Kansas Habitats in the Finnup Center for Conservation

Education.  Western hognose snakes are found in

Southwest Kansas and are a vital part of the local


Western hognose snakes are squat, heavy-bodied snake

reaching a maximum length of 3 feet (90 cm), but 2 feet

(60 cm) is more typical. Most noticeable on the western

hognose snake is the sharply upturned, pointed snout.

Dark blotches extend down the pale brown or yellowish

back from behind the head to the tail, with two rows of

smaller, alternating blotches on the sides. The belly is

heavily pigmented, with solid black pigmentation

underneath the tail. Western hognose snakes can live up

to 18 years old in human care.

The western hognose snake ranges from south-central

Canada, south to southeast Arizona, New Mexico, and

Texas, southward into Mexico.  This snake prefers

scrubby, flat prairie areas with loose, sandy soil suitable

for burrowing.

The western hognose snake uses its upturned snout to burrow through the earth in search of toads, its principal food. Other items eaten include frogs, lizards, mice, birds, snakes, and reptile eggs. Not dangerous to man, the western hognose snake uses slightly toxic saliva to help subdue its prey. The venom flows down enlarged rear teeth. As many as 39 eggs are laid in the early summer, hatching in as little as 50 days.

The western hognose snake has one of the most elaborate bluff behaviors in the snake world. When threatened, the snake flattens the skin on its neck, giving it a hooded appearance. It then takes a huge breath, inflating its body dramatically, and releases the air with a loud hissing noise. The snake may strike at the intruder, but the mouth usually remains closed. (It is difficult to get a hognose snake to bite in self-defense.) Occasionally, if the snake is not left alone, it will go into convulsion-like motions, turning over on its back, thrashing its head from side to side, and pretending to die. During this death feign, the mouth is open, and the tongue sticks limply out. The snake may even bleed from the mouth or the anal opening and expel feces, although this behavior is most often found in the eastern hognose of the southeastern United States. When the snake is picked up, it is limp. If it is turned belly down, it quickly flips over. After a few minutes, the snake lifts its head and, if it perceives no threat, quickly slithers away.


Happy birthday to Wilbur!

Happy Birthday Wilbur!

By Max Lakes, Deputy Director

Social Distancing According to Animals

By Julianne Werts -  Education Specialist

We have been hearing a lot in the news about social distancing recently. To reduce the spread of COVID-19, it is recommended to stay at least 6 feet away from others and avoid going to public areas with lots of people to help keep everyone safe. This is abnormal behavior for some people. In general, we are a social species. We like to be around others, so this distancing can be difficult for some of us. However, some animals would find this distancing much easier than others!


Take the Amur leopard, for example. They are considered a solitary animal, meaning that most of their life is spent alone. They do not live in large groups. Usually, if leopards are spending time together it is because they are looking for a mate. Or it is a mother with her cubs before they are old enough to survive on their own. Leopards would be excellent at social distancing!


Another species that would do very well during social distancing is the black rhino. Another solitary species, wild rhinos roam  the savannah or dry forests of Africa searching for food and water. They might run into another individual every once in a while, but they do not travel in large herds. Here at the Zoo, we have two black rhinos that live in the same area, but you might notice they do not spend all of their time together. It is common to see them in separate parts of their habitat, allowing them space for their natural solitary behavior.


There are also some animals that would be terrible at social distancing. Alpacas are a great example of this. They live in herds, sharing food, water, and sleeping spaces with many other individuals at once. They rely on larger groups to keep an eye out for predators as they graze. They tend to follow each other very closely, which would make social distancing very difficult!


If you are someone who relates more to the alpaca and is missing being around other people, we are here to help! Check in to the Lee Richardson Zoo’s Facebook page for some videos with the animals that call the Zoo home. If you have school-age children, we will be posting some educational programs that would normally be delivered in their classrooms that you can check out.

We are still open to the public if you would like to visit as well. Pour indoor facilities are closed, but you can still walk around outside and see many of the animals. Just remember: be like a leopard and space yourself out from others, not an alpaca!

Champion Trees

By Emily Sexson - Conservation Education Manager

If you close your eyes and imagine a southwest Kansas landscape, many things may

come to mind that are representative of our shortgrass prairie natural ecosystem. 

Gorgeous sunsets with a flat horizon dotted with windmills and cattle.  Amber

waves of grain blowing in the wind as western meadowlarks sing their lovely song. 

And yet, typically, at least for me anyway, trees are rarely part of the picture. 

Sure, traveling from here to there, you may spot a cluster of old cottonwoods, but

for the most part in southwest Kansas, outside of cities, trees are not the norm. 

When compared to the fields surrounding Garden City, trees are in abundance here

at the Lee Richardson Zoo.  In fact, some may be surprised to discover that the zoo

is home to a few State Champion Trees.  The Kansas Forest Service partners with

American Forests to determine State and National Champion Trees. Nominations

are judged on a point system established by the American Forests National Register

of Big Trees.  Total points are equal to the tree’s circumference in inches, plus height

in feet plus the crown spread in feet divided by four.  Crown spread is a measurement

in feet from the tip of the branch farthest from the opposite side of the tree; then,

the same measurement is made at a right angle to the first.  The two measurements

are averaged.  

Champion Trees are those that grow where their environmental conditions are

favorable, and they can grow larger and taller than the average of their species

regardless of their age.  On the West Lawn of the zoo (where the gazebo and picnic

shelters are located), you can find a southwestern white pine tree that has earned

147 points and became a champion in 2018.  Near the entry of the zoo, guests can

visit a champion Chinese lacebark elm measuring over 62 feet tall and a near 10-foot

circumference.  Look for signs on or near the tree to denote its championship. 

Around 150 State Champion Trees are dotted across Kansas and a few Champion

Trees in the northeastern portion of our state are also listed as National Champions.

Only about 10% of Kansas is forested.  The United States Department of Agriculture

estimates that Kansas has more than five million acres of trees totaling approximately 838,000,000 trees! The Kansas Forest Service recognizes several types of forested ecosystems, including rural forests, windbreaks, and shelterbelts.  However, Champion Trees can show up just about anywhere, including southwest Kansas zoos! 


No matter where they grow, trees have provided our world with shelter, food, medicine, and tools since their existence.  Trees help create oxygen and clean carbon dioxide out of the air; they prevent soil erosion as well as provide habitat resources for wildlife.  From our national forests to our own backyards, trees provide a valuable service to our world.  For more information on champion trees, how to spot, how to nominate, or how to grow your own, visit the zoo or stop by the Kansas Forest Service’s website at www.kansasforests.org

All About Butterflies

Butterflies play a vital role in agriculture and in the continued survival of wild places.  They fill the important role of a pollinator as do bees, bats, and moths.  While they dine on the nectar of a wildflower, they are also pollinating the flower (leaving behind pollen picked up at another flower and picking up more pollen to carry on to another).  Such pollination leads to the production of seeds, which later may become new plants.  Caterpillars (larval butterflies) provide an essential food source for songbird chicks.  Butterflies also serve as an indicator species, the “canary in the coal mine,” for our ecosystem.  It’s a signal that something in the ecosystem isn’t right if butterflies are having trouble.  Beyond those essential roles, watching a butterfly flutter by can bring a smile to your face, and that’s often invaluable.


Butterflies are an insect that primarily flies during the day. Their wingspan can range from ½ inch (western pygmy blue) to 11 inches (Goliath birdwing).   A butterfly’s lifecycle consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.  The adult life stage can last a week or a year, depending on the species.  Butterflies have been around for more than 50 million years.  There are more than 20,000 types worldwide.  Many butterflies migrate over a long distance, including the monarch butterfly, which migrates about 2500-3000 miles from Mexico to the northern United States and southern Canada.  Forty types of butterflies are found in Kansas, including hackberry emperor butterflies, American lady butterflies, cloudless Sulphur butterflies, American copper butterflies, and monarch butterflies. 


Butterflies are often confused with moths.  Both belong to the order Lepidoptera and share some characteristics, but there are several differences too.  Generally, moths are active at night, while butterflies are active during the day (there are some exceptions to this).  Moths keep their wings flattened against their bodies or spread out in a “jet plane” position when at rest.  Butterflies usually close their wings by folding them back when resting.  Butterflies are generally more colorful, and their antennae are long and thin.  Moths, on the other hand, have shorter feathery antennae.  Moth cocoons are wrapped in silk coverings while butterfly chrysalises are smooth and hard (no silk).


Butterflies and other pollinators, including honeybees,

are facing a problem. At least part of the problem is a

lack of habitat.  As people have developed the land,

the plants many of the pollinators count on are

disappearing.  The monarch butterfly provides a

perfect example.  The population of monarch

butterflies has drastically dropped by approximately

90% since the 1990s.  While adult monarch butterflies

feed on the nectar of many flowers, they need specific

types of milkweed if their species is to survive. 

Milkweed plants are where monarchs lay their eggs. 

It is also the exclusive food for the monarch caterpillar

(the larval stage of the monarch butterfly).  Milkweed

contains a toxin that prevents most animals from

eating it, but monarch butterflies are immune to it. 

By eating the milkweed, they end up tasting terrible to

many potential predators.  Hence, the milkweed not

only sustains the baby but also protects the adults. 

Without milkweed, the monarch butterfly population

continues to decline.


Spring is just days away and offers a great chance to give pollinators a helping hand as we consider what to plant in our yards.  Consider adding nectar-rich wildflowers to your landscape to support your favorite butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, or other pollinators.  If you already have such plants in your yard, consider adding some host plants like milkweed if your goal is to have a complete butterfly environment.  Showy milkweed and whorled milkweed are two of the milkweed plants recommended for our region.  Milkweed comes in different colors, a range of tolerances for shade and preferences for dry or wet soil.  It’s also helpful to provide a shallow source of clean water for the butterflies.   


Several local or online garden suppliers, as well as organizations supporting butterfly conservation (Monarch Butterfly Garden, Save Our Monarchs Foundation, etc..), offer milkweed plants and seeds for sale.  If you’re looking for more information on monarch butterflies, check out the Xerces Society, Monarch Watch, and National Wildlife Federation.

By Kristi Newland, Director

312 E Finnup Drive

Garden City, KS 67846

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