Talk With a Trainer: WildFlight Senior Bird & Mammal Trainer Andrea


Senior Trainer Andrea poses with Zeppo, the Aquarium’s Green-Winged Macaw. The two redheads were fast friends.

Andrea was just 6 years old when her grandpa took her to see a presentation in London about orca whales; the length of the show was the length of time it took to capture the young girl’s heart – hook, line, and sinker. 

Ever since that fateful excursion, Andrea knew that working with animals would be a large part of her future. Now in her early thirties and holding a bachelor’s degree in Marine Sciences from the University of Maine and a master’s degree  in Marine Fishery Sciences from Scotland’s University of Aberdeen (not to mention studying abroad in Australia), she’s been a dolphin trainer at a marine park in Turkey, worked with cetaceans in Curacao, and also done animal work in Germany and Austria.

Still not impressed?

“I also train dogs and wolves on the side,” Andrea mentions with a smile.

Additionally, she teaches behavioral courses online at the Animal Behavior Institute. “I just love teaching – specifically animal psychology and emotions – it’s fun and absolutely fascinating.”

Andrea decided to pay Texas an extended visit after her world travels for the opportunity to work with raptors, namely the owls and hawks that call the Aquarium home. It’s Andrea’s first time working with the birds of prey, helping to round out her career goal of working with as wide a variety of animal species as possible. Andy2

Part of being an animal trainer at the Aquarium is training animals to learn and then execute behaviors.  The very technical science requires patience, determination, and a deep understanding of animal psychology and emotions. According to Andrea, building trust with raptors can often be a strenuous endeavor.


Here, Andrea “asks” a behavior of Zeppo – and he answers by successfully displaying his plumage.

“It’s definitely different than say, working with a parrot. A parrot will show you affection and build a relationship with you,” she explains, “Oftentimes raptors are a bit wilder. They will learn and then do behaviors, but there’s an evident difference in temperaments.” 

And there’s not much more rewarding than seeing a taught behavior learned and then performed by an animal, Andrea says. For example, having an animal volunteer or present a certain part of its body for veterinary technicians to perform a blood draw is a great accomplishment, making the task easier and less stressful on both the animals and humans involved.

Teaching WildFlight star Sonora, a white-nosed coati, to rope climb upside-down was a proud training moment for Andrea.

“I had to get her used to the rope first, then we worked on her climbing at a low level. Next we hung it higher and I taught her to lift herself up and attach her paws (coati’s ankles rotate 180 degrees, making them excellent climbers) and she did great,” Andrea explained.

 The trainer said down the road she’d love to work as a behavioral curator and help to train trainers.

“I love teaching, whether that’s teaching animals or educating others about animals,” she said.

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Andrea positively encourages and rewards Zeppo’s great behavior by feeding him part of his daily diet.

And for the youngsters out there inspired by Andrea and wanting to work in her profession: she advocates being extremely dedicated in school, especially in the sciences.

“Getting internships and volunteering is crucial – get experience wherever and however you can,” she says, “The field of animal husbandry is very competitive, so any edge you have, be it working at PetSmart or volunteering at a local animal shelter or wildlife refuge, it all counts.”

Come visit Andrea at our daily WildFlight presentations at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and see her in action!

Amazing Animal Adaptations


Amazing Animal Adaptations

From feathers to fur, camouflage to resource conservation, human or animal – we all must adapt to survive.  It just so happens that animals have a multitude of amazing ways to do so.  

Adaptations are genetic mutations that help organisms survive in the wild. Due to the helpful nature of the mutation, it gets passed down from one generation to the next. As more and more organisms inherit the mutation, the mutation becomes just a normal aspect of the species. At that point, the mutation has evolved into an adaptation.

An adaptation can be structural, meaning it’s a physical part of the organism, or an adaptation can also be behavioral, affecting the way an organism acts.


Being cute is actually NOT an adaptation for the porcupinefish.

In the freckled porcupinefish’s case, being cute is not an actual adaptation – but its impressive inflating sure is. 


The defense mechanism is a physical adaptation cultivated in order to deter predators from attacking. If threatened, porcupinefish (similar to puffer fish and burr fish) will gulp water or air and  then inflate their extremely flexible stomachs, in many cases doubling their size, thus reducing the range of potential predators to those with much bigger mouths.


Note the spikes on its body.

The process of puffing, however, is extremely stressful to the animal. If this ever occurs to one of our fish here at the Aquarium, we take note and monitor the animal until it returns to its normal size. 

A second defense mechanism is provided by the fish’s sharp spines, which radiate outward when the fish is inflated. Other marine creatures that have adapted inflation as a means of defense include the swell shark, a carpet shark that dwells in Pacific waters off the coast of California.

Another amazing animal adaptation you can see in action at the Aquarium is the hair on our North American River Otters.

If you’ve come to see them lately, you might’ve wondered how Merlin and his new female companion could possibly swim when the degrees are dipping into the 40s – it’s all thanks to that thick, sleek coat of fur.

Merlin shake

Merlin’s fur makes him look pretty majestic and also keeps him warm in chilly temps.

The river otter is almost impervious to cold because of an outer coat of coarse guard hairs, plus a dense undercoat that helps to waterproof the animal by trapping a layer of air against the otter’s skin. 

So, we have great defensive deterrents, an environmental adaptation – what about nutritional necessities? Enter: birds.  

Just as in the case of sharp teeth, large, strong beaks are often an adaptation used to help an animal eat. However, big – often sharp – beaks can be a feature of both carnivores and herbivores.

 If you’ve visited our Eagle Pass exhibit, you’ve gotten a glimpse of Mortimer, our Turkey Vulture. Morty’s sharp, hooked beak is ideally designed for tearing flesh from the carrion she feeds on.


You’ve never seen a parrot enjoy a walnut as much as Zeppo does.


Zeppo shows just how easily his strong beak can break into a walnut’s hard shell.

 Similarly, the sizeable beak of the macaw has been adapted to help it crack open large, tough-shelled nuts. Our Green-Winged Macaw Zeppo and Military Macaw Kogi excel at (and thoroughly enjoy) cracking open the thick shells of Brazil nuts and walnuts and chowing down on the meaty insides. 

 Defensive mechanisms, insulating fur, enhanced beaks – and we’re barely even scratching the surface of animal adaptations!  Delve deeper into the world of adaptations – not to mention exaptations, speciation, coadaptation, mimicry, and more here:


The remnants of Zeppo’s easily cracked walnut shell.

 Come visit our Aquarium’s amazing, adaptive animals to learn more about them firsthand!