Irvine Nature Center is home to over 60 Animal Ambassadors who are with us as a result of injury, illness, or human intervention. Each animal has a story, and their stories help Irvine’s Naturalists and Educators teach both children and adults about the impact that human development can have on native animal species.
Although our Exhibit Hall is currently closed, we invite you to come and visit our raptors in the Robert L. Mardiney Aviary, tune into Irvine’s weekly Facebook lives on Thursday mornings at 10 a.m. to visit our other animal ambassadors or book a behind the scenes animal encounter with a naturalist.
Irvine's Barred Owl is an example of what can happen when humans interfere in the development of hatchlings -- she was taken from her nest as an owlet and hand-raised by a well-meaning human. Unfortunately, human care resulted in our barred owl never developing the skills necessary to be a wild owl. She was surrendered to Irvine in 2003 and has been with us ever since.
Two species of Vulture can be found throughout Maryland – Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures. They are distinguished by their differing head and foot colors. Black Vultures have a blackish/grey head and feet, while Turkey Vultures have a reddish head and feet. They are vital decomposers in the ecosystem and help clean up roadkill and other carrion. Irvine’s Black Vulture has a lot of learning to do! He is an imprint, meaning he was raised by people (who didn’t know better) and thus does not know how to be a vulture. He cannot be returned to the wild due to his lack of vulture-skills, so instead will learn how to be an ambassador for his species in our care.
Eastern Screech Owls are the smallest resident species of owl that can be found in Maryland. But they make up for the lack of size with the loudness of their call! Their “whinny”-like call can be heard echoing through the forest up to a mile away. Our Screech Owl unfortunately suffered a car accident where her eyeball exploded in the collision leaving her without sight in her left eye. This causes her to have very limited depth perception which deemed her non-releasable.
Eastern Screech Owl
Irvine’s Great Horned Owl was found after she had fallen from her nest as a hatchling. She was taken to a wildlife rehabilitator where she imprinted on this caregiver -- that is -- she bonded and identified with humans rather than identifying as an owl. Unable to be released into the wild, she now lives at Irvine. She loves to take showers in the rain and play with her favorite toy: a tennis ball.
Great Horned Owl
Irvine's Red Shouldered Hawk overcame life-threatening injuries sustained in a car accident in 2012. As a result, he is missing a wing and was not able to be released back into the wild. Despite everything he's been through, he's still a spunky guy! He loves to eat mice and play with his enrichment toys. He's learned to balance in spite of his missing wing and makes a great Animal Ambassador in our community.
Red Shouldered Hawk
Perhaps the most commonly seen bird of prey, Red Tailed Hawks can be found all over the United States. They are a larger raptor who often feed on rabbits and squirrels, but who will also make a meal out of an unprotected backyard chicken (hence their nickname – “chicken-hawk”). Red Tails are avid hunters and very persistent when chasing prey. Our two Red Tails, a male and a female, both sustained wing injuries from crashing into the underbrush in pursuit of prey when they were Falconry birds. After they recovered from their injuries, they were transferred to a breeding permit where they met each other and became a mated pair. When they didn’t produce viable young, they were transferred to us as education birds.
Red Tailed Hawks
Domesticated more than 3,000 years ago from their wild counterparts in South America, Guinea Pigs are extremely popular pets. Unfortunately, they also require a lot of social interaction with other Guinea Pigs, or their handler. Many people end up with only one Guinea Pig and then grow bored with them or unable to have time to socialize them. Hence why this little girl was surrendered to us. While not native, they share some commonalities with our native Groundhogs, which our Guinea Pig was happy to show guests up close and personal.
While you won’t find Sugar Gliders roaming around Maryland, they have a lot of similar characteristics as our Opossums and Maryland’s native Flying Squirrels. Sugar Gliders are native to Australia and are categorized as a marsupial with their pouch where they keep their young. This makes them more related to Opossums taxonomically, but visually they are near look-alikes of Flying Squirrels. Our male Sugar Glider was a previous breeding animal and was re-homed to us in his “retirement.” He is a favorite by many and loves to go on programs with the Naturalists in his little carrying pouch.
As North America’s only marsupial, Virginia Opossums are special mammals indeed! They play a vital roll in the ecosystem. Irvine’s older Opossum came to us after a good Samaritan found her being attacked by a cat. The attack left her with a broken tail, a broken tail, and a puncture wound into her sinuses below her eye. Due to her injuries and care in captivity, she was deemed non-releasable and has been pampered at Irvine since she was 6 months old. Our younger Opossum came to us after she was found with a smashed face in a housing development. The thought is that she was an unwelcome guest in someone’s trashcan, and she was beat away. After receiving surgery to attempt to fix her broken jaw, it was evident that the injury would prevent her from being able to eat correctly. She now lives with us and receives a specially prepared diet for her disability.
The Corn Snake is a North American species of rat snake that is found throughout the southeastern and central United States, and can be found frequently in corn fields where it preys on mice and other small rodents. Irvine's Corn Snakes were personal pets that were surrendered, and they spend much of their time burrowed in their enclosure.
Garter Snakes can be found throughout the United States and are one of the most common snakes you might find in your backyard. These thin snakes feast on diets of insects, amphibians, small fish, rodents, and small birds. Irvine's garter snake was surrendered to us by someone who had kept him as a pet. He is blind in one eye, which would make hunting in the wild an additional challenge.
Rat Snakes are Maryland’s most common species of snake. They can be found in many habitats and come in many color variations. Our Gray Rat Snake is another former pet that was surrendered to Irvine. He's nearly fifteen years old and enjoys spending his days curled around the tree branch in his enclosure.
Grey Rat Snake
Hognose Snakes are the “drama queens” of the snake world. When threatened, they will puff out their neck (imitating a Cobra), false strike, and, last but not least, play dead (by rolling over and sticking out their tongue!). Our Hognose was a previous pet and a generous donation to the collection.
King Snakes get their name due to the fact that they readily prey upon other snakes…even venomous ones. Our King Snake came to us after being a pet snake for a breeding project. They owner no longer needed her in his gene pool and offered her as a donation to Irvine.
Maryland’s official state reptile is the Diamondback Terrapin. Once nearly extinct, they have been making a comeback in recent years due to more regulations and protections. Irvine is home to four Terrapins, a female and three males. These turtles were part of a head start program to raise baby terrapins with the intention to release into the wild. Unfortunately, they were kept in human care for too long and could not be released. Instead they enjoy their time swimming in the massive tank in the exhibit hall at Irvine.
Eastern Box Turtles are a common native to our region and can be found in the woods, meadows, and most visibly – crossing the road. Their camouflage makes it difficult to find them among the leaves, rocks, and branches in their native habitat, but their slow movement makes it easy for them to end up needing help while crossing the road. All of Irvine's box turtles came to us after some sort of accident, either with predators or cars, or after being someone’s pet for longer than expected – they can live to be over 100 years old.
Eastern Box Turtles
Terrapene carolina carolina
Painted Turtles are a common aquatic turtle often seen basking on logs in streams and ponds. Irvine is home to many wild Painted Turtles in our wetlands, but we also have two inside the center. These two males came to us after their owner could no longer care for them. As brothers do, they started fighting, so they now live in separate enclosures where they happily chase Guppies as enrichment.
Eastern Painted Turtle
Mud Turtles spend most of their live buried in the mud and moving along slow-moving rivers or ponds. Irvine has two Mud Turtles; both of which were previous pets and unable to return to the wild. The Mud Turtle in the exhibit hall can often be found hiding in her cave.
Wood Turtles are a special sight considering they are one of Maryland’s endangered turtle species. They are also endemic to North America – meaning they can be found no where else in the world! Irvine is home to both a male and female Wood Turtle. The male has a missing front foot which prevents him from returning to the wild. The female has an injured back foot that also prevents her from being released.
Bullfrogs are THE Frog. They can grow extremely large, eat just about anything, and have become invasive in many parts of the world. Irvine’s two Bullfrogs hide most of the day underneath one of the rocks in their enclosure. They were also raised from tadpoles.
Green Frogs can be heard throughout the summer by their standard “banjo strum” call. Irvine is home to four Green Frogs that were either injured or previous pets. Look carefully as they enjoy hiding most of the day…if you can’t see them, then listen! The males often croak throughout the day.
Rana clamitans melanota
Grey Tree Frogs are one of the 9 species of tree frog in Maryland and one of the most common. They are easy to hear during summer nights, but difficult to spot since they enjoy hanging out high up in the trees. The three Grey Tree Frogs that live within the Nature Center can be hard to spot as they blend in well with their stony-walled enclosure. They came to Irvine as tadpoles and were raised in captivity their entire life.
Grey Tree Frogs
Similar to Leopard Frogs, Pickerel Frogs are a species of spotted frog. They differ from Leopard Frogs in that they have more rectangular spots, rather than rounded spots. Irvine’s Pickerel Frog was found on property with a missing back leg. This made him an easy target for predators, so instead he lives happily and safely indoors now.
Maryland is home to two species of “true” toads – American Toads and Fowler’s Toads. They can be distinguished by the number of warts in each of the dark spots along their backs – American’s have 1-2 warts, while Fowler’s have 3-4. Irvine is home to both a large female American Toad, who is missing her back leg and a male American Toad, who has a crushed back leg. We also have a small male Fowler’s Toad who was a previous pet and a hybrid American/Fowler’s Toad who can be distinguished from her large size and half and half warts down her back.
Anaxyrus americanus / Anaxyrus fowleri
While Rainbow Trout are not a native trout species to Maryland, they are one of the commonly stocked trout in Maryland’s rivers. Irvine is part of Trout Unlimited’s Trout in the Classroom program. Participants raise sterile, female Rainbow Trout from eggs which are then used to stock recreational fishing locations within the state.
Did you know that there are no species of Honeybees that are native to North America? The native species died out in the last ice age…though, the many subspecies of Honeybee that are both kept in colonies and feral hives, are now considered “naturalized” to America. While they do their fair share of pollinating (and provide us with tasty honey), it is actually the small native bee species that do the most pollination and are the most threatened due to pesticide use. Irvine is home to many native bees that thrive on the wildflowers in our meadows. We also manage a few colonies of Honeybees, one of which you can get an up-close look at in our observation hive.
There are over 100 species of snail that can be found in Maryland. Some snails assist with decomposition around the forest floor, while others thrive on algae and other organic material in ponds and streams, while others feast upon other mollusks in the bay and ocean! Our snail was collected from Irvine’s property and has become a favorite ambassador due to his lovely eye-stalks and willingness to “come out of his shell.”
Endemic to Madagascar, these cockroaches are nature’s garbagemen. They are decomposers where they feast on rotten leaf material and other organic matter. Irvine has two large colonies of “Hissers” that were bred from an initial colony from the National Aquarium. They are used as both educators, but also as a food source for our other animal ambassadors.
Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches
As the name suggest, this species of millipede is one of the largest that inhabits North America. They can often be found under logs in Irvine’s woods and the surrounding area. Our three captive Millipedes now exceeds 50, as two of our females decided to have babies unexpectedly! It has been an amazing experience to watch these tiny “worms” grow and develop.
North American Giant Millipedes
She may not be everyone’s favorite, but Irvine’s Rose Hair Tarantula is helping people overcome their arachnophobia little by little! Many native species of spiders are often to small, skittish, or difficult to care for in captivity, but this native-to-Chile arachnid is the most common and docile Tarantula in captivity. While big, they are relatively calm, easy to care for, and who couldn’t love those fluffy feets?! This girl came to us from a science teacher at a local school who had her as a classroom pet since 2013 until she was no longer able to care for her. She now is well on her way to educating thousands of guests to Irvine each year about the importance of spiders in the ecosystem.