Friday, November 26, 2010

You Can't Gift Wrap a Penguin

You can’t gift-wrap a penguin, but you CAN give family and friends the gift of a year’s worth of fun visiting thousands of amazing animals from around the world.

Aquarium memberships help families reconnect and have fun with unlimited visits. The Tennessee Aquarium’s online gift shop makes holiday gift-giving fun and easy. For those wishing to give an experience, give someone a day out to the Aquarium, IMAX or Tennessee River Gorge Explorer with Tennessee Aquarium gift certificates.

Animal lovers will enjoy some of the fun items in the Aquarium's online gift shop:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

George Bartnik, the Aquarium's education programs manager, shares this seasonal riddle:

Q: What do you get when you measure the ratio of a jack-o-lantern’s circumference to its diameter?

A: Pumpkin pi

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! The Tennessee Aquarium will be closed for the holiday today, but re-open tomorrow so everyone can enjoy a Tropical Holiday Adventure. See you then!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Feast fit for the Beasts at the Tennessee Aquarium

Thanksgiving isn’t the only day for our animals to enjoy haute cuisine. Volunteer chefs help serve up a daily feast fit for a king snake, queen angelfish, octopus, shark, and alligator - in fact, all of the animals that call the Tennessee Aquarium home.

Superior animal husbandry calls for daily monitoring and careful menu planning to achieve the most nutritious and enriching diet for every creature. The husbandry department and volunteer chefs spend long hours preparing diets for the animals in each exhibit.

Over 22 tons of restaurant quality seafood is consumed at our facility each year, not to mention the substantial poundage of fruits, vegetables, mice, worms and other food supplements.

Think you’ve had quite a chore shopping for your Thanksgiving feast? Here’s a partial look at the Aquarium’s annual grocery list:

832,000 meal worms for birds
5,616 heads of romaine lettuce for turtles and fish
5,184 pounds of squid for sharks, green moray eels and other fish
40,000 crickets for frogs, salamanders and newts
10,800 pounds of capelin fish for penguins
3,000 night crawlers for turtles and amphibians
2,000 pounds of shrimp for cuttlefish
681 pounds of grapes for macaws
1,056 oranges for butterflies
4,697 mice and rats for reptiles
200 pounds of macadamia nuts for macaws

We’re thankful for all of our volunteers who help prepare food and feed our animals throughout the year.

Want to learn more about animal care and help feed some of the Aquarium’s animals? Add a Backstage Pass to your next visit and go behind-the-scenes:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bald Eagle Sightings in the Gorge

Photos taken by River Gorge Explorer deckhand Ron Smith.
Tennessee Aquarium naturalist John Dever had a great time aboard the River Gorge Explorer recently. Passengers were treated to excellent bald eagle viewing on Sunday.
Here's some of the information John shared with everyone aboard that cruise: "This pair of bald eagles has been nesting in the area for about five years now. The nest has been a successful one with one to two chicks raised each of the past three summers. They are one of around 140 nesting pairs across the state where they are supported by the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers in the eastern and western parts of the state. Because of the overuse of DDT, Tennessee recorded no nesting pairs between 1961 and 1983. Their recovery and reintroduction is a great conservation story in Tennessee."
Thanks for the update and pictures John!

Monday, November 15, 2010

American Trails Symposium in Chattanooga

There is something therapeutic about hiking. Whether you lace up your boots for a group outing with friends or enjoy a walk in the woods alone, time spent out in nature is good for the mind and body. I have enjoyed briskly stepping out along a trail in the pre-dawn darkness with a headlamp to light the way. Or returning in the same fashion after watching the sun setting over the Tennessee River Gorge. Sometimes in sweltering heat, other times in the cool air of spring or fall and occasionally in the sharp cold after a snowfall hoping to be the first boot prints on the trail. We're fortunate to live in an area that offers trails for all levels of hiker. Some can take you to scenic waterfalls, others lead to the solitude many yearn for.

Chattanooga is the site for the 20th American Trails National Symposium November 14th to 17th. The Symposium is billed as an opportunity to network with the nationwide trails community and learn state of the art trail planning, development, and management techniques.

For complete program details go to:
The public is invited to hear Dayton Duncan, the writer and co-producer of National Parks : America’s Best Idea. Dayton has been involved for many years with the work of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. He will address the National Trails Conference on Wednesday Nov 17th at the closing luncheon from 12:15 – 2:00: “Celebrating our Public Lands : A Legacy for our Future. “

Learn more about Dayton Duncan and register for this event at:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The doctor will see you now.

Inside the waiting room.
"The doctor will see you now."

No sucker for being good. Penguins prefer a smelt treat after seeing the doctor.
It's time for the Tennessee Aquarium's penguins to get their semi-annual physicals. This process is occurring in two separate groups to make the process easier on the birds and the keepers. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld once observed, when you go to see the doctor, you go from the big waiting room to the little waiting room. Same thing at "Penguins' Rock." Several of the macaroni penguins and the Aquarium's youngest gentoo waddled off exhibit and into a backup room to wait for veterinarian Dr. Chris Keller. One at a time they were brought into the "smaller waiting room" to be weighed, closely examined and have a blood sample taken. "We draw blood twice a year for general physiological parameters," said Dr. Keller. "Which means how they're doing inside. Also, we want to make sure they aren't harboring a certain fungal disease that penguins are susceptible to, making sure these guys are good and healthy as they have always been."
Throughout the year, Dr. Keller makes routine check-ups on the penguins - especially when they are molting, laying eggs and raising chicks. This most recent exam was exciting, because the blood test from the juvenile gentoo chick will yield some news. "We send the blood sample to a lab to look for the male or female chromosomes," said Dr. Keller. "Within a matter of weeks we should know the gender."
Last year, aviculturists were leaning toward the macaroni chick being a male. Dr. Keller thought it was a female. When the blood test came back, it was a female and a naming contest crowned the feisty little bird "Pepper."
This year, there's a split forecast. Senior aviculturist Amy Graves and assistant curator of forests Kevin Calhoon think the gentoo is a female. Aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich and Dr. Keller believes it's a male.
What do you think? We'll soon find out!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Heron and the Kingfisher

Fall color is now past peak, although there is still some autumn hues decorating the mountains along the River Gorge Explorer's route within the Tennessee River Gorge. Naturalist John Dever says birdwatching has been excellent recently with increased sightings of two native species. "Reservoir levels are low right now and with the increased bank exposure, we're seeing a lot of great blue heron and belted kingfisher activity. This duo provides an interesting contrast along the shoreline areas. Tall and angular with a five-foot wingspan and razor sharp bill, the Heron intently waits in the shallows for prey to swim into the strike zone before taking flight in slow measured transitions. The kingfisher, on the other hand, is atomic energy personified. Typically perched on a snag just a few feet above the surface and rarely flying more than twenty feet above the water, the kingfisher flies with a dipping, frantic flight path and a call which could be described as a "racket." In flight the kingfisher can change direction on a dime and hit the water with complete abandon, headfirst...smack; often taking a fish that seems a little too large to swallow. No problem.

While the heron nests in the loftiest of trees in large colonial groups on our river islands, the kingfisher actually digs a tunnel into the bank and hollows out a comfy hole filled with fish bones.

So check em out!"

Friday, November 5, 2010

AscenDance descends on Chattanooga.

The AscenDance Project thrilled the crowd that gathered in Coolidge Park during the RiverRocks Festival in October. A tremendous amount of strength and precision goes into every performance, and that's evident to anyone who has seen them on television, or especially in person.
AscenDance Project performing at RiverRocks Festival in Chattanooga's Coolidge Park. Photo courtesy of Tom and Pat Cory Photography. Performers shown: Isabel von Rittberg--bottom, Martha Hazel--upper left, Ryan Gaunt--upper right.

Ryan Gaunt, of the AscenDance Project, horsing around in the Tennessee Aquarium's Seahorse Gallery pop-up tank.
Ryan and Isabel had some time after their performance to enjoy all that Chattanooga has to offer. Here's what Ryan had to share with everyone after their visit to the Tennessee Aquarium:
"Isabel and I were recently in Chattanooga for a performance at the 1st annual River Rocks Festival. Having grown up in North Carolina, I was excited about heading back to the Southeast for large deciduous forests, humidity, sandstone climbing and some good southern hospitality. While there, we were invited to take a tour of the aquarium. We had been told about the penguin exhibit, but weren’t prepared for what was housed in the two buildings with glass pyramidal tops. Before you head up the escalators of the first building, “the River Journey,” first head downstairs for the special exhibit, which on this occasion, was of seahorse/sea dragons. I was blown away. The seahorses were awesome, but I had never seen a sea dragon before, and the leafy and weedy sea dragon quickly became my favorite creatures and I hadn’t even begun the full tour yet. What lay in store for us on the rest of the tour throughout the two buildings was an amazing experience and chance to see life that teems in a world that few people get to see in nature. Interactive exhibits, a butterfly garden, and aquariums that kids (and dexterous adults) can crawl into the middle of all provide a memorable experience. With the additional options of an IMAX 3D theater and River Gorge exploration, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is a must do for a whole day or even just a quick visit." - Ryan Gaunt, AscenDance Project, Berkeley, Ca.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Weird Aquatic Creatures in the Tennessee River?

The Tennessee Aquarium recently received this e-mail concerning the odd mass that appeared to be attempting to overtake their lake home's deck. "Can anyone tell me what this is? It was attached to a ladder on my deck. I live on the Tennessee River."

Dr. Anna George, the director of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, explains that this is not just one "creature from the deep," it is a bunch of "creatures from the deep." Here is her reply: "I received your web inquiry about the photo. Believe it or not, that’s actually a colony of invertebrate animals in the group Bryozoa (also called moss animals). Each of those “bubbles” is made up of small animals that live together. Though they aren’t very attractive, they actually help clean water quality while they filter out their food."

For more information on bryozoans, see:

Sometimes bizarre-looking creatures turn out to be beneficial.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Drought Impacts Conservation Work

Barrens Topminnow Rescue October 19, 2010:
As you can see in the picture above, this year’s drought has been pretty devastating. On Tuesday, Oct. 19, biologists from the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute rescued roughly 750 Barrens topminnows from a nearly dry spring. We are currently holding them at the Aquarium's Animal Care Facility until the spring has a chance to return to the normal water level. Which may take some time given the slim chances for meaningful rain in the near future.

The picture below is what the spring normally looks like. It is a night and day comparison.

This unique fish is limited to 22 small spring seeps across 3 counties in east-central Tennessee. The Barrens topminnow has become threatened by introductions of invasive mosquitofish, which out-compete and harass juvenile topminnows.
Learn more about this conservation effort to save this endangered species by watching this video:

We are working with the following organizations to propagate juvenile fishes for recovery efforts. Aquarist Matt Hamilton leads the propagation effort for the Tennessee Aquarium and TNACI. Other partners include:

Conservation Fisheries, Inc.
Tennessee Technological University
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Monday, November 1, 2010

Blue Skies, Cooler Weather and Fall Fun

Does anyone else find it hard to believe that November is already here? It's beginning to feel a bit more like fall with cooler temperatures forecast for the Chattanooga area by the upcoming weekend.

Fall color is at peak right now, but naturalist John Dever estimates foliage and wildlife viewing should continue to be strong for another couple of weeks. Here's his fall color update from aboard the Tennessee Aquarium River Gorge Explorer.

"There is still a whole lot of green out there, leaves are still turning and probably still over 50% attached. In the sky we are seeing plenty of hawks, vultures and increased presence of our local Bald Eagles at Brown's Ferry. Overall it was a great week with sunny and clear skies, moderate winds and temperature and great daytime looks at the moon."

If you haven't been out this year, make plans today to enjoy nature from aboard the Explorer.