Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day Birthday Celebrated at the Tennessee Aquarium

Happy birthday to Jerrod Conley of Chickamauga, GA. According to his mother, this is his 3rd and 12th birthday. "We've been Tennessee Aquarium members for two years now, but we've never been on the Backstage Pass before," said Mrs. Conley. "Jarrod wanted to come to the Aquarium and go behind the scenes, so we took the day off today to do it."
Jerrod had a great day visiting all of the animals and exhibits. At the end of the Backstage Pass tour he got to meet a mossy frog and a White's treefrog, shown above. His favorites Leap Day creatures? "The frogs were awesome, but the penguins were my favorite," said Jerrod. He also said that having a having an official birthday once every four years isn't a problem. "You get used to it after awhile."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Polar Bears and Penguins Together in Chattanooga Soon

International Polar Bear Day is February 27th, a day when these amazing marine mammals are celebrated to raise awareness about how their Arctic home is changing.

 Although most people assume both polar regions are the same, the Arctic is a very different place than the Antarctic. Here are some quick points to help everyone separate the two:
The Arctic:
  • Think North Pole 
  • Arctic Ocean is ringed by land masses
  • Home to Polar Bears
The Antarctic:
  • Think South Pole
  • Southern Ocean completely surrounds the continent of Antarctica
  • Home to Penguins
Polar bears inhabit five different nations: the United States (Alaska), Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway. All 17 species of penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere.

So polar bears and penguins aren't found together in nature. It's understandable that many people think the two species live in the same regions. There have been plenty of cartoons, movies and commercials that have fed this belief for a long time. Most recently a Coca-Cola commercial showed penguins with polar bears. Cute spot, but it adds to the confusion that these creatures are neighbors.
Tennessee Aquarium visitors will have the opportunity to take a virtual trip from Pole to Pole beginning April 20th. They will be able to come face to face with gentoo and macaroni penguins at the Aquarium. By that time both species will have nests built and could possibly even have a few eggs. The penguins will receive the 'magic rocks' needed to build nests at the end of March.
Then visitors can head over to the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater to see "To The Arctic 3D." This film is a spectacular giant screen adventure that follows a mother polar bear and her two cubs. Audiences will also be thrilled with amazing scenes of walruses, herds of caribou, the Greenland ice shark and even colorful corals beneath the Arctic ice.

It will be an exciting spring in Chattanooga as the nights in the Antarctic get longer while the "Midnight Sun" returns to the Arctic.

Polar Bear Fun Facts:

- The polar bear is a marine mammal. Its scientific name is Ursus maritimus, meaning “sea bear.” It is also the world’s largest land-based carnivore.

- Polar bears are so well adapted that they are more likely to overheat than to suffer from cold. They have two layers of insulating fur, and their small ears and tails help prevent heat loss.

- They are strong swimmers and have blubber up to 4 inches thick, for buoyancy as well as warmth. Their large feet act as paddles and also help spread their weight for walking on ice.

- They have curved, non-retractable claws, and bumps on the pads of their feet called papillae so they don’t slip while walking or running on ice. The claws also help hold on to prey.

- Adult males can grow to 10 feet long and 1,500 lbs. During breeding season, they fight fiercely for a mate. Females are much smaller, reaching 8 feet and 550 lbs.

- You can sometimes tell male polar bears from female by the hair on the males’ front legs. Once mature, males tend to have much longer hair on their forelimbs.

- Females usually bear two cubs. Single cubs and triplets also occur depending on the health and condition of the mother. Cubs stay with their moms for up to 2.5 years.

- Polar bears are born blind and toothless in a den built by their mother. They spend a few months in the den, growing rapidly from their mother’s rich milk.

- A mother polar bear stays with her cubs for about 2.5 years. After they leave the den, the protective mom leads them to the sea ice to teach them how to hunt and survive.

- Adult polar bears are, for the most part, solitary animals. They have large home ranges, or territories. When they do gather, there is a distinct social order dictated by size and age.
- Polar bears walk at about three to four miles per hour. Females with small cubs slow their speed to one and a half to 2 and a half miles per hour.

- Polar bears expend more than twice the energy of most other mammals when walking or running—probably because their bodies are so bulky.

- Polar bears can run as fast as 25 miles per hour—but only for short distances. Younger, leaner bears are the best runners. They can cover two kilometers without stopping. Older, larger bears quickly overheat.

- Polar bears have been clocked swimming as fast as 6 miles per hour. The longest documented single swim by a polar bear was 426 miles. The trip took nine days through waters that were 2-6 degrees Celsius!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Otters Celebrate 7th Birthday Today at the Tennessee Aquarium

Pete and Delmar, the Tennessee Aquarium’s North American river otters, arrived at the Aquarium in 2005. They were almost 7 ½ months old at the time, and Today, February 20th, the otters turn 7 YEARS old!

Seven years old would be fairly old for a river otter in the wild, as they’ll typically live to be about 10 years old. However, in an Aquarium setting the otters get restaurant quality food and excellent health care. And they don't have to worry about predators. As a result, their life span should be considerably longer. Pete and Delmar have been going strong since we received them from the Pittsburg Zoo and Aquarium and we expect them to live into their teens.
Since our wily weasels are so active, they have a daily schedule that ensures they get multiple feedings (have to support that high metabolism!), training, and enrichment.  In the picture above, these visitors learn about an enrichment activity as part of the Tennessee Aquarium's Backstage Pass Tour.
Pete and Delmar begin the day with a morning fish feeding in which smelt or capelin is spread over their beach and in their water for them to find.  Later in the morning comes training, in which the otters work on behaviors that allow keepers to monitor their health. Both otters will show both the tops and bottoms of their feet, get on a scale, shift in and out of their behind-the-scenes area, and hold their nose to a target stick. Both are extremely intelligent, and we never know who will excel more at a given task. For example, Delmar will show us his teeth on cue, while Pete will not. However, keepers are currently working to teach the otters to stand on their back legs on cue, and Pete seems to be progressing in this task faster than Delmar.
 In the afternoon, the otters get enrichment. At first glance, this may look like an ordinary playtime, but there’s always a purpose behind it. Enrichment bringsout natural behaviors in our otters, allows them to make a choice, or improves their environment. There are lots of fun ways to do this: otter have toys they must maneuver to in order to compete for food; they are given shaved ice “snow” in which treats are buried; they can dig and make a mess with pine straw offered just for enrichment; and they can clean their teeth and enjoy a treat at the same time with frozen fish pops.  Delmar in particular tends to be the more dominant otter at enrichment time, often trying new enrichment items before Pete is willing.
 Visitors enjoy watching the playful otters at any time, but they are especially fun to watch during enrichment activities.
 Like any birthday party, the otters seem to enjoy this "pinata" full of fish and clams.

River Otter Fun Facts:
·      -   Pete is the bigger otter. He’s taller when standing on his back legs, and has a patch of pale fur on his chest. -- Delmar is shorter and darker.
·       -   When given frozen treats, the otters love to hide them from one another in rock crevices and up behind the wall on their rock beach.
·        -  Our otters will NOT share food, but typically get along well in other regards.
·       -   The otters have tried smelt, capelin, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. They’ve never met a fish they didn’t like.
-  Delmar in particular loves to dig in pine straw, carry it around and make a mess with it. 

Text by otter keeper Courtney Lewis. Photos by Meredith Lewallen.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Endangered Turtle Hatchling at the Tennessee Aquarium

Tennessee Aquarium herpetologists are pleased to announce a new arrival.

A spiny turtle, Heosemys spinosa, hatched over the weekend from a single egg that was incubated at 82 degrees for about 105 days. According to Tennessee Aquarium senior herpetologist Bill Hughes, this tiny turtle is a big success story for a species on the brink of extinction in the wild. "Captive breeding of this species is still an uncommon event, with only three other U.S. zoos having success," Hughes said.  "However, we have worked carefully with these animals and have had 13 spiny turtles to hatch at the Aquarium since 2007."

These turtles get their common name from the spikes surrounding the edge of their shells. Spiny turtles are also sometimes called cog-wheel turtles because of their jagged appearance which is most pronounced when first hatched. According to Hughes, the saw-blade carapace edge becomes rather smooth as these turtles age.

This latest hatchling is only about 5 cm long and weighs 37 grams - these measurements are similar to that of our other newly-hatched spiny turtles.

The parents are maintained off-exhibit, but Aquarium guests can view an older baby spiny turtle in the Turtle Gallery, located on level 2 of the River Journey building.

The Tennessee Aquarium is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Spiny turtles, like many other threatened or endangered species, are part of a cooperative management program in progress among AZA institutions. Hughes maintains the records for this species management plan.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has listed this species as Critically Endangered in Indonesia, and Endangered in other parts of its range. Over-collecting these animals in the wild has led to the demise of these rather amazing turtles.

Hatchlings like this one, and others in this special management program, represent the last hope if this species vanishes in the wild. So each rare turtle hatchling is worth celebrating.

(Photography by Bill Hughes)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Baby Pipefish at the Tennessee Aquarium

 The Tennessee Aquarium recently received a shipment of wild-caught alligator pipefish. Among this batch of 10 pipefish were two pregnant males, one of which delivered a few babies upon arrival. In the picture above, you can see an adult alligator pipefish in the right-hand side of the picture. In the upper left-hand side, is an acrylic "nursery" for the baby pipefish.

 These little creatures are an active group. They swim around and siphon up the tiny rotifers that Aquarists provide them for food. They are fed three times each day.
 Right now, most of the babies are only about two centimeters in length.
 That's only about as long as their father's snout!
Their tiny eyes look almost comical atop such slender snouts. And according to assistant curator of fishes Carol Haley, the strange-looking, elongated bodies help them avoid predators. "These close relatives of seahorses resemble a string bean in appearance," said Haley. "This helps them camouflage themselves where they live, in sea grass beds and sargassum mats."
In the wild, alligator pipefish, Signathoides biaculeatus, are found throughout the Indo-Pacific ocean. Tennessee Aquarium guests can see adult alligator pipefish in the Philippine Reef Edge exhibit in the seahorse gallery.
Female pipefish lay between 60 and 200 eggs on the abdomen of the male and he develops a thin membrane around them.  His abdomen becomes soft and spongy allowing the eggs to receive nutrients from him.
Babies hatch after about 3 weeks and are little over a centimeter in length. 
This species grows rapidly with males attaining a length of close to a foot and females being slightly smaller.
They have a prehensile tail like a seahorse that they use to hitch onto just about anything around them, including each other. They'll hang out in a backup area at the Aquarium until they are big enough to be placed on exhibit.

Play the Seymore Seahorse's Habitat Safari Game:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog Day Forecast by Chattanooga Chuck

Chattanooga Chuck, the Tennessee Aquarium's groundhog, searched for, but did not find his shadow today. So it looks like an early spring for the Tennessee Valley.

In a wonderful world of groundhogs, Chuck does not stand alone however. Read how his Storm Team of Animal Forecasters helped with his 2012 prediction.

Chattanooga Chuck's Groundhog Day 2012 Forecast from the Tennessee Aquarium

Predicting weather is easy, or so it would seem.
If you have all of the tools and a great weather team.

So through the Aquarium buildings I wandered about,
stopping by the Cove Forest to see Brooke Trout.

Folklore says fish feed like crazy, acting slightly deranged,
whenever storms approach and the barometer's changed.

"I don't have time to chat, I'm sorry to say,"
Brooke said as she jumped and then swam away.

Could a change in the weather be the big reason,
Brooke wouldn't discuss the upcoming season?

Terry Treefrog was seen singing with a bunch of his friends.
That means wetter weather ahead - or so the folklore portends.

Hoping for sunshine, I sought an amphibian exemption.
It's Leap perhaps this chorus is a deception.

To get a weather leg up, I searched a little wider.
And quickly met up with my old pal the spider.

Harry Tarantula is part thermometer and an eight-legged anemometer.
He can sense air currents and humidity, just like a hygrometer.

He explained his forecast as he scurried away,
Folklore states, "More rain is coming when I crawl by day."

Larry Lobster seemed happy when I stopped by his tank.
Consulting crustaceans are helpful, if I can be frank.

He said, “The seawater is swell,” as he raised up his claws,
"And if you don't believe me, why don't you go ask Jaws."

I knew he was kidding with his snappy remark,
so I moved along to check with Sandie the Shark.

She mentioned to me with a big, toothy smile,
"I wouldn't forecast snowflakes here for quite awhile."

I headed back to my stump with all this advice,
other friends were around to sort through it twice.

Helping me forecast in Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari,
are creatures like lizards, parrots and a green aracari.

Even with my Storm Team of Forecasting Friends,
I felt something missing right at the end.

I realized what was gone when I looked below.
My mirror image was absent - No shadow!

So with a couple of brief exceptions, it's more of the same thing,
Repeated rounds of wet weather and feeling like spring!

Visit the Tennessee Aquarium to meet Chattanooga Chuck’s Storm Team of Animal Friends.

College students can take advantage of a special half-price offer throughout February.
“College Days” discount details available at: