Monday, January 31, 2011

Seahorse Dads Give Birth To Stampede Of Babies

Seahorses are fascinating creatures for a variety of reasons, but one fact stands out among the rest - seahorse dads give live birth. And unlike many other animals, these proud pappas give new meaning to multiple births. Forget Octo-mom, seahorse dads are parental super heroes. Check out this cell phone video taken recently by Carol Haley, the Tennessee Aquarium's assistant curator of fishes.

You can't really predict when these guys are going to release their young, so it's hard to get a better camera in place when this happens. Even so, it's pretty amazing.

These baby lined seahorses are tiny, so we placed a toothbrush in the shot to give everyone a sense of scale.
These little guys have been stirring up a huge amount of interest, so here's an update from aquarist Elaine Robinson.
In the video, you’ll notice the babies racing away from dad towards the surface. There’s a reason for that according to Robinson. “When they are born, Hippocampus erectus fry swim quickly to the surface of the water to gulp air for the primary phase of swim bladder inflation,” said Robinson. “Lined seahorses tend to be pelagic, drifting near the surface of the water, in search of their prey.”

In the wild, breeding season for this species usually lasts from March until October, but the Tennessee Aquarium usually has H. erectus being born throughout the year. “They are capable of brood sizes of several hundred,” said Robinson. “But we usually only see numbers between 50 and 100 at the Tennessee aquarium. The number usually depends on the size, experience and health of the parents. Male seahorses are able to breed again within days of giving birth. We usually have H. erectus born about once every few weeks, but more often during the official breeding season.”

Once the juvenile seahorses reach maturity, the Tennessee Aquarium uses them to re-stock exhibits or donate them to other AZA-accredited institutions. “Most recently, we donated some to The Nashville Zoo and The Memphis Zoo,” said Robinson.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cabin Fever, Sugar Cookies and a Charismatic Turtle

It's always fun to hear how a visit to the Tennessee Aquarium can capture the imagination and inspire individuals to view nature in a different light. "Oscar," one of the Aquarium's green sea turtles, is a prime example of an animal that many people connect with in a special way.

We get a lot of questions about Oscar. He came to the Tennessee Aquarium from the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet, Florida. This little turtle was in trouble when he was found on May 1st, 2003. He was missing his tail, right rear flipper and about a third of his left rear flipper. The wound on the right rear flipper was most likely an old injury, because it had already healed. He also had a deep cut from a boat propeller that slashed deeply into the top of his shell and into the bottom of his shell. When he was discovered, Oscar was covered with stringy, green hair algae from head to toe making him look like the Sesame Street character Oscar the Grouch.

After being nursed back to health in Florida, Oscar was brought to live at the Tennessee Aquarium in 2005 where he has more room to move about and grow. As with many turtles that have been hit by a boat, Oscar has buoyancy control issues. But as you'll learn in this video Oscar, and the Aquarium's other green sea turtle Stewie, get plenty of expert care and are quite at home with the other reef creatures they live with.

The recent winter weather has given some people reasons to visit the Aquarium's Ocean Journey building for a tropical retreat away from the snow and ice. Others, turned cabin fever into cabin fun while recalling a recent Aquarium visit.
Such is the case with Joel. On a recent visit with his parents, he learned about many of the Aquarium creatures, including Oscar. Joel's mother describes the lasting impression their visit:
"My son is a sympathetic soul and was touched by Oscar's story and it didn't hurt that he heard it from the diver in the tank! When we went to look for a souvenir, we found a turtle shaped cookie cutter. When I was taking the cookies off the cookie sheet, I accidentally tore the back feet off the cookie, but we decided that one would be Oscar. We had a great time decorating the cookies and shared the cookies plus stories from the aquarium with our neighbor friend. I also have lots of pictures of my son running to the next exhibit because he was so excited to see all the animals plus a picture of him shielding a butterfly from the fans keeping them in the exhibit because he didn't want it to have to work too hard to stay on the flower. Like I said, he's a sympathetic soul!" - Iris, Bremen, GA

Thanks for sharing your story and picture with us. We hope you'll visit again soon!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Penguin Seen Outside the Tennessee Aquarium

Some people have wondered if a march of the penguins would be possible on the Tennessee Aquarium Plaza while downtown Chattanooga resembles Antarctica.

Although it’s true that gentoo and macaronis prefer snow and cold, Aquarium aviculturists say there are two big reasons why a snow day outside Penguins’ Rock would not be a good idea. “There are definite quarantine issues,” said senior aviculturist Amy Graves. “We work very hard to ensure that no harmful fungus or bacteria gets into the exhibit, so we could never allow our cold-climate penguins to venture outside.”

The second reason a snow day outside would be a no-no has to do with containment. “Penguins are incredibly fast, especially on slippery surfaces,” said Graves. “They’re feet are made for snow and ice and ours are not.”

Penguin keepers also say that while gentoos could brave the frigid temperatures forecast in the upcoming days, macaronis prefer it a bit warmer. “Our macaronis would have a difficult time adjusting to extended periods of time in the single digits or teens,” said Graves.

So to put a smile on the faces of those who have asked about a penguin snow day, Aquarium staffers sculpted a penguin out of snow. Named Shivers after the youngest gentoo, this bird with yellow beak and happy feet stands outside the Ocean Journey building. Already, it has proven to be a new photo-op location for Aquarium visitors.

Shivers the snow penguin may be around through Friday as Chattanooga’s high temperature is not expected to get above freezing before then.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Warm Up Inside - Tennessee Aquarium is open.

The Tennessee Aquarium is open today. After a day spent shoveling snow, it was nice to be surrounded by tropical warmth and bright color inside Ocean Journey.
For many people, driving will remain hazardous for quite awhile if the weather turns out as forecast. For others, life is slowly returning to normal.
If you happen to venture to the Aquarium for a photo safari today, or in the coming days, here's a tip. If your camera lens gets cold, you may experience a foggy lens. This is especially true in the warm and humid Butterfly Garden. To counter this, simply walk back to the entrance to the exhibit and hold your camera up to the blowers by the door. Usually the lens will warm and the fog will dissipate in a couple of minutes. This also helps you avoid scratching the lens or damaging the lens coating.

These brightly colored tropical fish were a welcome change to the blanket of white outside the Aquarium.
(Click this photo to see the full-sized image of the maroon clown fish. The detail reveals the scales on this gorgeous fish.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Aquarium Closed Monday 1/10/2011

Due to the heavy snow in the Chattanooga area, the Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX 3D Theater will be closed today. We will reopen tomorrow. Photos by Andree Herbert

Friday, January 7, 2011

Penguin Named - New Way To Meet Penguins

Tennessee Aquarium aviculturists have selected “Shivers” as the name for the youngest female gentoo at Penguins’ Rock. And visitors might get to meet Shivers or several of her penguin pals while special penguin encounter programs are offered during January and February.

This penguin has recently undergone a bit of a personality change according to keepers.“Normally when we would enter the exhibit to clean or feed, Shivers would keep her distance or jump into the water,” said aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich. “Now greets us with a bow and a hiss, which is a typical gentoo greeting. That’s usually followed by a gentle nibble on the hand.” Senior aviculturist Amy Graves says this is a pleasant change in disposition. “Shivers is much more curious about people now and more willing to take food by hand,” said Graves. “It’s a nice change.”

More than 800 names were submitted at the Aquarium and online during the contest. The avalanche of votes included fun word play based on the parents’ names. Berry was suggested as in Blue, Berry and Biscuit. Bliss, a spinoff of Blue and Biscuit was also among names such as Penny, Pearl, and Piper. Because of her athletic ability and swimming skills, Michelle Phelps was suggested as a tribute to the Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps. Among the celebrity names suggested were Lady Gaga and Ariel, after the star of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

In the end, aviculturists settled on Shivers, which was the name suggested by Mary Ann Jamison of Bristol, TN. Jamison will enjoy a 2011 Chattanooga Prize package which includes overnight accommodations at the Chattanooga Marriot at the Convention Center and a family four pack of tickets to the Tennessee Aquarium, IMAX 3D Theater, River Gorge Explorer and Creative Discovery Museum.

Aquarium guests may be pleased to learn that Shivers is also turning out to be a bit of an explorer. “All of a sudden she enjoys running into the backup area to look at everything and take in the sights,” said Aldrich. That may mean visitors will get to meet Shivers up close.
The Tennessee Aquarium is offering a limited number of trips behind the scenes at Penguins’ Rock. An Aquarium aviculturist will begin each 30 minute experience by leading visitors to a private observation deck. While viewing the birds from above, guests will be able to quiz the expert about caring for these charismatic animals and individual penguin personalities. Next, visitors will get up close and personal when the keeper door opens. It might be Shivers or Nipper waddling through the keeper door to greet excited guests. But it could be Biscuit, Blue, Pepper or Shamrock greeting guests and posing for cameras.
Two penguin encounters will be offered per day at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays from January 8th through February 26th. Each session is limited to six people, ages 5 and up. Cost is $15.00 per person in addition to Aquarium admission unless you're a member. For the animals’ safety, visitors will not be able to touch the birds. Behind-the-scenes tickets can be purchased at the Aquarium ticketing center or in advance at

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Boa Chooses Unusual New Hangout

A red-tailed boa in the Amazon River exhibit has been turning heads lately. For some unknown reason, this large snake has decided to stand up straight in the corner of the exhibit. This is a little bit bizarre. In its native habitat in Central and South America, red-tailed boas spend most of their time on land, although they will take to the trees for a meal. But they typically avoid spending lengthy periods of time in the water. But this one does.
It is giving Tennessee Aquarium visitors a great opportunity to view the striking patterns on this large snake's body.

You can see why these animal's are commonly referred to as red-tailed boas.
This large snake lives in the Aquarium's Amazon exhibit, which is located inside the Rivers of the World gallery.
Aquarium herpetologists do not have a scientific explanation for this behavior. It's possible that this particular creature may be preparing for a shed. By soaking its skin, it may be attempting to make that process a little easier. Look for this remarkable snake in the River Journey building.

According to the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species, CITES, all boa constrictors are threatened in their native habitat. True red-tailed boa constrictors are endangered.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bald Eagle Sightings in the Gorge

Tennessee Aquarium naturalist John Dever captured these bald eagle images on a recent "Critter Cruise" aboard the River Gorge Explorer. Not only did passengers see four different individuals on this one cruise, they got a great view of an immature bald eagle with one of its parents.
Here's John's description of the sightings. "We were out on a Critter Cruise, which was the first cruise of the day. At about 1:45pm, after already having stopped to observe two other bald eagles, I spotted the immature eagle flying across the river to a tree. It joined what we can safely say is its parent/adult. As I was shooting a photo of these eagles, a pileated woodpecker flew directly over the boat."

According to Dever, it did not appear that the younger eagle was being fed even though the picture gives the impression that it was begging for some food.
While we can't guarantee sightings like this, winter is a great time to spot bald eagles in the Tennessee River Gorge.
Go here to check the cruise schedule and purchase tickets: