Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Otter?

No, no... the North American River Otter may not be the Easter Bunny but it is fuzzy and cute. Located just about anywhere where there is an abundance of food and easy access to water such as near rivers and lakes, these dark brown, thickly furred creatures live in freshwater habitats including marshes and swamps. Though they are tolerant to many environments such as cold and warm climates and higher elevations, they tend to dislike pollution and will move to another cleaner area if large amounts of human trash and waste begin to overrun their home.

Sea otters build dens under logs and in river banks and even burrow dens where other animals once lived. These dens have underwater tunnels that lead to nests
made from leaves, moss, grass and hair.

Known as excellent swimmers, these guys have clawed feet that are completely webbed, suitable for swimming underwater as they hunt for food, usually fish, crabs, amphibians and sometimes aquatic plants. Because otters move just as easily on land and in water, they usually eat small birds as well. This also comes in handy when they themselves are the prey, enabling them to dive into a nearby river or lake when being pursued. River otters can stay underwater for as long as eight minutes and can be seen playing games with each other in and out of the water.

Though the North American River Otter can be seen around this area, they have been virtually wiped out in some areas of the mid-west and eastern parts of the United States.

So, the next time you're here visiting the Tennessee Aquarium, stop by the Cove Forest and visit our two friendly otters. They may not hide Easter eggs and give away chocolate candy, but they do bring the gift of laughter as you're entertained by their curious and playful antics.

Friday, March 14, 2008

It's not easy being green.

Kermit the Frog is well-known for singing, "It's not easy being green." As we know, it's not easy being green, blue or yellow-banded either. In fact, a rainbow of gorgeous amphibians are quickly fading into extinction. You have a chance to get up close to awesome looking frogs like the blue poison dart frog (shown above) to cool looking salamanders and newts at the Tennessee Aquarium. 2008 has been designated, "The Year of the Frog" by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to raise awareness to the global crisis that is facing amphibians. Kermit has not been singing the blues though. In fact he joined AZA leaders on Capitol Hill recently to urge members of Congress to do all they can to help save disappearing amphibians. See him in action lobbying for his fellow frogs

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I See Red

Ah, love is in the air. Perhaps it’s the beautiful, bright, red feathers or its mysterious, jet black mask, (Westley from the Princess Bride, anyone?) but there’s something about seeing a cardinal that makes people go “Oooohhh…pretty bird.” Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Cardinalis cardinalis, the Redbird, the Virginia nightingale…or most commonly called: the Northern Cardinal.

The mating season for the cardinal doesn’t begin until spring. It won’t be long before we begin to hear its romantic song. Beginning in April and lasting until September, the cardinal mating season or “courtship” is not unlike our own human courting ritual: dating. As human males generally do, the male cardinal generally attempts to show off for the females. By swelling his throat, spreading his tail and wings and swaying his bright red body from side to side, the male emits a very loud and shrill mating call – a series of beautiful melodies that can be heard repeatedly until the female he so desires is wooed. Of course, as we all know in the human world, it is ultimately up to the female to choose her mate. Usually, she chooses based on the male cardinal’s ornamentation. The female, though you’d think, does not display the same brilliant red color as the males but rather a grayish brown plumage streaked with hints of dull red. The color of the male’s feathers and beak as well as the size of its black mask are definite signs that the female has found herself the love of her life.

Once the courtship is over, the mating begins. The male usually involves the female in a ritual called “mate feeding” in which the male will feed his lover a cornucopia of tidbits such as seeds, berries, insects and other treats. As he feeds her, the two birds touch beaks as if they were passionately kissing to symbolize their love. This goes on until the female lays eggs, usually three to four at a time, which is called a brood. Cardinals will usually produce up to four broods a year.

And like the noble Westley defending his true love Buttercup in the Princess Bride, the male cardinal, with his black mask and pointy beak (I guess that would be his sword?) valiantly defends his mating territory. There are times when the male is so aggressive he will even attack his own reflection in a nearby mirror.

Cardinals are among the few species of birds that often mate for life. Once they mate, they spend the rest of their days singing beautiful songs with each other and living happily ever after.