Thursday, June 30, 2011

Happy Birthday Shivers! Gentoo Penguin Turns One Today.

 Shivers, the Tennessee Aquarium's first gentoo chick, turns one today. Keepers say her personality has changed a bit over the past year. Initially Shivers was rather feisty, but lately she has taken on a more friendly demeanor.
 Penguins grow quickly and Shivers was no exception. Looking back on her baby pictures it was hard to believe that she looked almost like an adult in roughly three months. But even six months later she would pester mom for a free feeding.
 Penguin chicks look so clumsy once they become "toddlers." Look at how big her feet looked in this photo in relation to the rest of her body. I guess this might be considered a picture of Shivers' "awkward" stage.
 Aviculturists like Loribeth Aldrich, spend a lot of extra hours caring for penguin chicks. The first few weeks are delicate times for penguins. In the wild there are additional challenges, such as avoiding predators like skuas. At the Aquarium, tiny birds only come face to face with their skilled keepers.
 Shivers was well-fed by her parents so aviculturists did not have to step in and supplement her diet. Shivers was placed in an acrylic bowl for regular weigh-ins to ensure she was gaining weight at a steady rate.
We'll have to wait until next year to see if any more baby penguins appear at the Tennessee Aquarium. But today, we'll sing a birthday song or two.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Baby Turtle Mania at the Tennessee Aquarium

 Spotted turtles, Clemmys guttata

 Yellow-blotched map turtles, Graptemys flavimaculata

 Red-headed Amazon River turtles, Podocnemis erythrocephala
 All photos by Bill Hughes, Tennessee Aquarium senior herpetologist
Tennessee Aquarium turtle keepers are in the middle of a baby boom right now. In the past week, four yellow-blotched map turtles, four red-headed Amazon River turtles and two spotted turtles have hatched. They are among this year’s bumper crop of shelled creatures that are listed as vulnerable, threatened or endangered.

This has been an amazing season at the Aquarium. Earlier this spring, a spiny turtle and a four-eyed turtle hatched, both of which are endangered species. “Our turtle breeding program has been successful in 41 of the 75 species we exhibit and we’re very proud of that,” said Dave Collins, the Aquarium’s curator of forests. “The techniques we’re developing are being shared with others who are working together to preserve turtles and ensure the most threatened species don’t go extinct.”

Senior herpetologist Bill Hughes isn’t shell-shocked by a nursery full of newborns, but he is pleasantly surprised by multiples of one species. “We’ve only had one other red-headed Amazon River turtle hatch before. That was in 2009,” Hughes said. “So to have multiples of this species from one clutch of eggs is pretty remarkable.”

Red-headed Amazon River turtles, Podocnemis erythrocephala, are called side-neck turtles because they cannot pull their heads into their shells. Instead, when threatened, these turtles tuck their heads to the side. Juveniles and adult males have a red head, but adult females tend to have brown heads. In the wild, red-headed Amazon River turtles are hunted for their meat and eggs. As a result, they are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN. These babies will be maintained off-exhibit, but adults can be viewed in the Amazon tank in the Rivers of the World gallery on Level 2.

Yellow-blotched map turtles, Graptemys flavimaculata, are listed as threatened by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The habitat of these turtles is affected by pollution and by the practice of removing log snags, which the turtles use for basking and refuge. According to IUCN, yellow-blotched map turtles also saw further population declines following hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Katrina in 2005. The new foursome will be kept off-exhibit until they get bigger, but Aquarium visitors can see hatchlings from previous years in the Turtle Gallery on Level2. There are also adults on exhibit in the Pascagoula tank in Discovery Hall.

Spotted turtles, Clemmys guttata, are native to eastern North America and occur from Canada south to Florida. According to IUCN estimates, spotted turtles have seen more than half of their wild population disappear in the past 25 years due to habitat loss. Where these turtles remain, additional population declines are occurring due to collection for pet trade. As a result, this species is currently listed as Endangered by IUCN. The new pair will be maintained off-exhibit. Juvenile spotted turtles can be seen in the Turtle Gallery on Level 2.

With more than 500 individuals in the Tennessee Aquarium’s diverse collection of turtles, herpetologists may have more babies on the way. “June is the peak month for turtle hatchlings,” said Hughes. “And even though this has already been a very successful breeding season, we are still watching a few eggs.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Walking Distance at the Tennessee Aquarium

We received a great question the other day. Someone wanted to know, "What is the total walking distance from beginning to end, top to bottom of the Aquarium?" Curious to know the answer, we asked Gene Dwyer, the Aquarium's visitor services manager, to measure the distance. Using a rolling tape measure similar to the one pictured below, Gene started measuring at the River Journey front entrance. He followed the visitor path through Seahorses and Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari and up to the Cove Forest. From there he followed the Aquarium's self-guided path through the River Journey building and across to Ocean Journey. Traveling through the Tropical Cove, Butterflies, Penguin's Rock, Gene wound his way through the rest of Ocean Journey to the exit where he came up with the final answer. Any guesses?
Gene measured a walking distance of 3,866 feet!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Weird Fish Found - Oooooh, or EWWWW!?

 Here's a fish story that will either make you say, "Oooh" or "EWWW!" A Middle Tennessee resident e-mailed this picture with a rather amusing story. "I live in Murfreesboro, TN and noticed my dog chomping on something in the yard. I took it away from him and found that it was this creepy fish head. Do you know how to get in touch with someone who may know what this thing is? I would have guessed some kind of catfish but to my knowledge they don't grow teeth like this. I'm really curious.Thanks! Erin"

Carol Haley, the Tennessee Aquarium's assistant curator of fishes, held her nose and made a quick ID of this aromatic discovery.  "Erin, It is definitely a catfish, and most likely a flathead catfish. Thanks for the photo, I have added to my collection of gnarly fish! - Carol Haley"

Mystery solved. By the way Erin, the next time you visit stop by the Nickajack Lake exhibit in the Aquarium's River Journey building. You'll be able to see a living example of what your dog brought home. Flatheads are pretty cool fish.

And stop by the gift shop on your way out. You might want to buy some "Reef Fresh Mints" for your pooch. They'll come in handy the next time your canine friend brings home a "creepy fish head."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Real-Time Weather information for Chattanooga

 With the summer travel season in full swing, we wanted to remind everyone that the Tennessee Aquarium has a weather station providing real-time weather conditions for downtown Chattanooga.
This includes a live webcam which provides a view of the Aquarium buildings and the main entrance to the Riverbend Festival.
While visitors to Chattanooga will appreciate access to this information, Tennessee Aquarium educators use this data in a much different way. Thanks to a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Aquarium educators will use climate data from this  tool in ocean literacy and watershed programs. 

Download the WeatherBug APP to have this information available on your mobile device.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Eurasian Eagle Owl Wows Tennessee Aquarium Visitors

 Free flight bird shows are some of the thrilling programs Tennessee Aquarium visitors may see at Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari. Yesterday a young visitor volunteered to sit on stage during a program with a Eurasian eagle owl.
 "Archimedes," one of the Eurasian eagle owls gets a ride on Cassie's hand, greeting guests with those beautiful eyes.
 At the far end of the gallery, Archimedes finds his perch overlooking the audience. Throughout the program visitors learn general owl facts and information specific to Eurasian eagle owls.
 Owls are known for silent flight. Archimedes has a wingspan of nearly six feet, yet he hardly makes a sound as he flies across Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari.
 What you will hear are the sounds of excited visitors as this amazing bird flies within inches of the guests.
Especially the young visitor who was ready to take a picture of his landing spot. She was totally unaware that this huge owl was going to come up from behind with a silent gust of air. Landing perfectly, Archimedes looks around at all of the smiling and laughing visitors and must think, "What's all the excitement about? I do this all the time." But how many people get to have an owl, especially one this large, swoop past them on cue?

Meet all of the cool creatures at Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari and learn how to improve backyard habitat where you live.