VIP Visitors from the Desert! At the Montréal Biodôme - October 6 to November 25 Only

    MONTREAL, Oct. 5 /CNW Telbec/ - This fall, from October 6 to November 25,
the Montréal Biodôme will be presenting an updated version of its immersion
semi-desert habitat, where visitors can discover such animal species as
prairie dogs, desert box turtles, common chuckwallas, desert spiny lizards,
gopher snakes, burrowing owls and greater roadrunners.
    To introduce visitors to these species, the Biodôme has created a
semi-desert "dryland" habitat and prepared some fascinating activities on the
animals' fabulous underground world. Young people in particular are bound to
be impressed by the interactive experience. Children can see the animals up
close, thanks to a special tunnel. Events include capsule presentations on how
animals adapt to their arid environment, the social organization of prairie
dogs, biodiversity and endangered species. The Biodôme has even arranged a
partnership with the Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity,
to help make visitors aware of the issues involved.
    Prairie dogs are small, playful and sociable diurnal mammals, about forty
centimetres long and weighing up to 1.4 kg. They are very active during the
day, digging, eating, grooming themselves, taking sand baths, stretching,
visiting neighbours and repairing their burrows. They feed mainly on plants
(grasses and roots) and sometimes insects. Prairie dogs are found in habitats
such as the Canadian prairies and semi-desert areas of the United States.
    Unfortunately, farmers and ranchers consider them a nuisance, since they
compete with cattle for food and cattle can trip and injure themselves in
prairie dog burrows, and so have resorted to poisoning them and flooding or
dynamiting their burrows. This has disrupted the ecosystem and led to
declining populations among other species, including coyotes, black-footed
ferrets, ferruginous hawks and burrowing owls.
    Desert box turtles can easily dig a hole in the ground or sometimes use
abandoned prairie dog burrows to find shade. When they feel threatened, they
can completely withdraw their head, legs and tail because they have a hinged
shell. This species is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
    Common chuckwallas are lizards active in daytime, basking in the sun in
the morning until their body temperature reaches about 38 degrees C. Then they
begin feeding. When threatened, a chuckwalla slips into a crevice and blows
itself up like a balloon, wedging itself in tightly.
    Blue spiny lizards are insectivorous, active in daytime and can be over
35 cm long when full grown. Only adult males have a bluish throat and sides.
They belong to the collared lizard family, and defend themselves by spreading
their scales to make them sharper. Like many lizards, when they rub their
thighs on the ground they secrete a waxy liquid to mark their territory.
    Gopher snakes usually hunt for prey in burrows. They feed on mice, rats
and other rodents, and sometimes eat birds and eggs. They often intimidate
their enemies by whistling loudly, and sometimes they also shake their tails,
making them easy to confuse with rattlesnakes.
    Burrowing owls are tiny long-legged owls that live in abandoned burrows,
which they "fix up" by adding grass, feathers and cow dung, probably to
control the temperature and humidity inside. In Canada, burrowing owl
populations have been decimated in British Columbia and Manitoba. The Canadian
population at present is estimated at fewer than 1,000 pairs, in Alberta and
Saskatchewan. The main culprits behind these declining populations are habitat
loss due to farming, and pesticides.
    Greater roadrunners, made famous by the cartoon character (beep! beep!),
are from 50 to 62 cm long and 25 to 30 cm tall - much smaller than a coyote,
in other words! Greater roadrunners are found mainly in the southern United
States. They are generally appreciated by their human neighbours because they
help to control rodent and insect populations. The main threat to the species
is urban sprawl and habitat destruction.
    From October 6 to November 25, visitors will have lots of fun learning
about these dryland denizens and their behaviour. At the same time they can
find out more about the problem of desertification and its impact around the

    Desert Flowers

    Quebec photographer Isabelle Côté enjoyed a fabulous journey through the
sandy plains of the Atacama Desert in mid to late 2005, precisely when the
flowering desert sprang to life under the blazing sun in Chile's third region.
There are some two hundred different species of flowers in the Chilean desert,
a number of them seriously endangered today. Visitors will be charmed by this
photo exhibition.

    Don't miss it!

For further information:

For further information: Media information: Nadine Fortin,
Communications Co-ordinator, (514) 868-3053,; Evelyne Girard, Communications Assistant,
(514) 868-3123,; Visual available on

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Ville de Montréal - Biodôme de Montréal

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