Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day - Findin' O the Green

Happy St. Patty’s Day! - Here is a tribute to a few of the Aquarium’s animals that won’t get pinched today.
Perhaps the first animal we think of is the green treefrog. These gorgeous amphibians can be found in the River Journey building. You'll spot them quite easily in Discovery Hall. And this time of year you might even hear them near your home. In the natural world they may be a lot more difficult to see. So listening for the male's mating call may be your only clue that one or more are nearby.

- Green Sea Turtles get their name from the green color of their flesh and fat (due to a mostly vegetarian diet)
- One of the Aquarium’s encounter animals is a Green Aracari, though his feathers are so dark they sometimes appear black
- In the Aquarium’s living coral exhibit, you will find a giant green anemone, which gets is coloration from symbiotic algae that live in the lining of its gut. When exposed to sunlight this anemone “farms” some of its nutrition from the material created by this algae.
Coral reefs may be the least appreciated, yet most valuable ecosystems in the world. We're pretty lucky to have these amazing creatures. Learn about NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.
- Also in this exhibit lives some green leaf coral, which is a type of montipora or small polyp stony coral. The polyps are so small that they appear fuzzy, which is why it is sometimes referred to as velvet coral.
- The queen triggerfish can be a range of colors from a bright green to a deep blue or almost purple shade. Queen triggerfish often snack on sea urchins, carefully flipping them to reach the most vulnerable part of the urchin, the mouth which has no spines.
- The Leafy seadragon is of course a shade of green… its leaf-life appendages help it to blend in well within a kelp bed. Although its color looks bright on the Aquarium exhibit, its greenish coloration appears dull in its natural habitat though.

Want to learn more about these or other Aquarium animals? Many more critter facts can be found on our Animal Pages:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wildlife Sightings aboard Spring Break Cruises

The wildlife has been "WOW-ing" passengers aboard the Tennessee Aquarium River Gorge Explorer lately. Spring is in the air and apparently people aren't the only creatures who appreciate the pleasant weather. Aquarium naturalist John Dever forwarded these remarkable shots from yesterday's cruise. That's right, all of these sightings were in ONE DAY! This bald eagle seems happy to pose for pictures while passengers were observing the majestic bird from the topside observation deck.
Dever says this group of buffleheads was the first such sighting of these birds he can remember on a cruise. Looks like this family was out enjoying the sunshine.

And once again, the osprey family is busy building a nest for their next clutch of eggs. Last year the parents successfully raised four chicks, inspiring passengers every day throughout the spring and summer.

Typically one osprey can be observed in a tree near the nest site while the parent is tending to the nest or, later in the season, their chicks. Frequently guests are able to hear these awesome birds vocalizing. Listen to a sample of their calls on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Look closely at this shot and you'll understand why ospreys are sometimes referred to as "fish hawks." Looks like a lunch of largemouth bass is about to be served on this perch above the river.
Thanks to Nancy Miller from Woodlands, TX for sharing these great photos with everyone.
The Williams Island Family Adventure cruises run through April 17th.
Check out our complete cruise schedule to book your excursion into "Tennessee's Grand Canyon."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hyacinth Highway at the Tennessee Aquarium

Sometimes aviculturists at the Tennessee Aquarium use special construction skills. The other day Loribeth Aldrich and Amy Graves spent some time engineering a new hyacinth highway. About three or four times of year, they have to replace the grapevine that the macaws use as travel corridors. Apparently these parrots think their roads are rather tasty. "They will peel it, play with it and chew on it," said senior aviculturist Amy Graves. "They actually chewed through a piece that was one of their main routes from tree to tree. So we're replacing it with a nice solid pathway."

This new multi-lane "treeway" is more than just an expressway for commuting from perch to perch. The new grapevine is so completely different than what the birds are used to that it can be considered enrichment for them. "Now they have to learn the easiest way to get from place to place within the exhibit," said aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich. "There's also a lot more vine than we've had in here in awhile. They're going to have a lot of places to duck and climb that they didn't have before."

As with many transportation projects, materials are sometimes brought in from distant locations. In this case, the road bed came from Northeast Tennessee. "The vine comes from my in-laws property in Roane County," said Graves. "Whenever we go to visit them, I enroll my husband's help to collect a large amount of grape vine. We need to make sure that the property that the vine comes from does not have any chemical treatment on it or on the lawn adjacent to it."

Even though the hyacinths love to perform for visitors, they aren't exactly bold explorers. They tend to be Sunday drivers the first time they are introduced a new highway such as this. "They will sit on their perch and look at it at first, but once they begin to explore it they are going to love it," said Aldrich.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Free Trees at the Tennessee Aquarium

(Left to Right: Tennessee Aquarium lead horticulturist Christine Bock with volunteers Jane Corn and Margaret Davis pose in the Cove Forest exhibit with some of the trees to be given away.)

Packaged with planting instructions, black oak and American Plum seedlings await new homes in the lawns of Aquarium visitors.
500 seedlings will be given away in a Tennessee Aquarium Arbor Day tradition.

Tennessee Aquarium visitors looking to add a stately shade tree or flowering fruit tree to their lawn will receive a free seedling on Friday, March 4th. “These trees will make a wonderful addition to anyone’s yard,” said Aquarium lead horticulturist Christine Bock. “We have chosen two native species that should do well with minimal effort.”

Each year the City of Chattanooga celebrates Arbor Day on the first Friday in March. For the past six years, the Tennessee Aquarium has offered free trees to visitors to mark the occasion. This year, perhaps more than others, area residents may be seeking trees. “Unfortunately, many people lost beautiful trees to the damaging winds and tornadoes that rolled through on Monday,” said Bock. “These American Plum and Black Oak seedlings will turn out to be great trees in the years to come.”

The American Plum, Prunus Americana, grows to heights of 20 feet and features attractive white blooms for about two weeks in April. These blooms attract butterflies. “The plums the tree produces are relatively small,” said Bock. “They will attract birds and are quite tasty, especially when made into jelly.” Bock says if residents keep these seedlings watered during dry times the first year, they should become established rather quickly. In the wild, these plum trees are commonly found in thickets near streams.

The black oak, Quercus velutina, grows to heights of 80 feet with a darker trunk than most oaks. “Black oaks are not as common in this area as other oak trees,” said Bock. “But these majestic trees can be found on both Lookout Mountain and Signal Mountain”. The acorns these trees produce are an important food for a variety of animals including white-tailed deer, squirrels, blue jays and turkeys. Black oaks also provide shelter for a variety of animals including wood ducks and barred owls.

The Aquarium has 500 tree seedlings to give to visitors at the River Journey Gift Shop entrance beginning at 10:00 am on Friday, March 4th. They will be available on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Doctor, Diver, Dog Sledder

You are always greeted with a smile when you first meet Dr. Jim Bardoner. And frequently, his jovial nature and hearty laugh lift the spirits of those around him. In short, he's a great guy. The Tennessee Aquarium is fortunate that he's part of the volunteer dive program. As if diving with the sharks inside the Secret Reef exhibit wasn't enough adventure, Jim has been training for the Iditarod. Billed as "The Last Great Race on Earth," the Iditarod is a dogsled race that covers 1,150 miles of wilderness between Anchorage and Nome, Alaska. The terrain is both beautiful and rugged and the teams will cover the entire route in just 17 days. Let's put this in perspective. Nights are still pretty long here, and as this is being typed, the air temperature in Wasilla, Alaska is a mild 19 degrees above zero Fahrenheit at midday. So this is an amazing journey Jim will begin on Saturday, March 5th with his team of dogs.

According to the official Iditarod website, each musher like Jim will have to carry certain pieces of equipment: an arctic parka, a heavy sleeping bag, an ax, snowshoes, musher food, dog food and boots for each dog’s feet to protect against cutting ice and hard packed snow injuries. The mushers can work out the race details according to his or her chosen tactics. "Each one has a different strategy — some run in the daylight, some run at night. Each one has a different training schedule and his own ideas on dog care, dog stamina and his own personal ability."

Before heading to Atlanta to catch his flight to Alaska, Dr. B. shared a few thoughts with friends about this adventure via e-mail. "Everyone who has ever run this thing says it is a life changing experience, and they didn't even do it with God. I cannot imagine what it will be like for me or how I will be changed. I only know/believe God is in this for a greater purpose," Dr. Bardoner wrote.

"Please pray for my safety and success, but even more that through this life changing experience I and my family will draw much closer to God. I will be praying for all of you for the same thing."

Check out Jim's training blog to see how hard he's been working to make this incredible journey. You can follow Jim's progress by going to the Iditarod website. If you sign up for the insider you can follow his progress in real time with the GPS units that are attached to the sleds. Jim said, "That lets you know where I am, but not me."

Good luck Jim! We look forward to hearing about this race extraordinaire.