Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Keeper Spotlight: Peter Larson

A monthly series about the staff and volunteers that care for all of the animals living at the Tennessee Aquarium. You can tweet your questions to us at @TNAquarium using the hashtag #QTheKeeper. 

Name: Peter Larson

Title: Aquarist II

In charge of: Invertebrates in the Quarantine Room, Jellies Living Art (upside down jellies and moon jellies) and Boneless Beauties, breeding cuttlefish, training new octopi and culturing coral.

Peter Larson began working as a husbandry volunteer at the Tennessee Aquarium in 2005 just after the Ocean Journey building opened.  By 2007, he was a full time aquarist. 

An average work day for Peter begins a little after 7:00 am, harvesting the day's food for the Jellies Living Art exhibit. (This process involves collecting brine shrimp from a special system, refilling salt water in that tank and adding new brine shrimp eggs for the next day’s food supply.) Next he drops into Boneless Beauties. As soon as the exhibit lights come on, Peter checks the tank systems in his care, and performs any needed maintenance like scrubbing or vacuuming a tank.   

Peter Larson vacuuming the upside down jelly tank

After that, Peter heads to the live coral exhibit – which has been in his care from the beginning.  He logged several hours plumbing it together and constructing the rock work with the help of several fellow aquarists. Now maintaining the tank is part of his daily routine. Peter says that this particular tank can seem like a lot of work but, “spending a little time on it each day saves a lot of work later and the life forms within stay healthier.”

Check out Peter in our YouTube video about the live coral exhibit:

At about 10 am, Pete makes his way down to the Quarantine room.  He manages several marine systems within the “Q room” - most of which house animals that will eventually end up in Boneless Beauties after a routine quarantine period.  Other tanks contain some of Peter’s special projects such as basket stars, young cuttlefish, and food for both. You can visit the “Q room” and see some of the creatures Peter cares for behind the scenes on the Aquarium’s River Journey Backstage Pass tour. 

The rest of Peter’s day is typically spent performing any needed maintenance on back up tanks, feeding animals in his care and helping other aquarists when time permits.  He also enjoys doing maintenance dives in exhibits and giving the occasional dive show.   

Got a question for Peter? Tweet it to us at @TNAquarium with  hashtag #QTheKeeper. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

(More) Baby Turtle News: Endangered Keeled Box Turtle Hatches at the Tennessee Aquarium

Photo credit: Bill Hughes

This past Sunday, a Keeled Box Turtle (Cuora mouhotii) hatched at the Tennessee Aquarium.   The egg was the only viable one of a clutch of seven laid in July.  "The egg began hatching last Thursday, October 10th and the baby had fully emerged by the 13th.  The incubation time was 92 days at 82 degrees Fahrenheit," said Herpetologist Bill Hughes.  The baby weighs 0.41 oz (11.7 grams) and has a carapace length of 1.75 inches (4.45 cm). This is the second time this species has reproduced at the Aquarium. The first hatchling arrived in October of last year.

Keeled box turtles get their common names from the three raised ridges, or “keels” running the length of their shells. The edge of the shell has a number of sharp spikes near the tail. Their rugged appearance doesn’t match a tender start. This species tends to lay rather fragile eggs that are often crushed by the parents. 

Photo credit: Bill Hughes

This species is native to China, India, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam. Like many other Southeast Asian turtles, keeled box turtles have been over-collected in the wild for food and the pet trade and are classified as Endangered by the IUCN. Several conservation organizations are working to protect the remaining wild populations from illegal trade, while zoos and aquariums are working toward increasing assurance populations in human care. This assures that the species does not go extinct if these animals disappear in the wild. Currently the U.S. population of keeled box turtles at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums is less than 20 animals.

Photo credit: Bill Hughes

The Tennessee Aquarium has one of the largest turtle collections on public display with more than 500 individuals representing 75 species.  The hatchling and its parents are maintained off-exhibit but there are two other Keeled Box Turtles on exhibit in the Aquarium’s turtle gallery.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Seven Alligator Snapping Turtles Hatch at the Tennessee Aquarium

Seven alligator snapping turtles recently hatched at the Aquarium. Each hatched within the last few weeks and are generally about two inches in length (not including the tail). 

Their parents are our large male snapping turtle and the larger of the two female snapping turtles, from our Delta Swamp exhibit.

Senior Herpetologist Bill Hughes said, “The turtles hatched between the 5th and 13th of September from a clutch of seventeen eggs laid in early June.  The incubation time ranged from 89-97 days at 82 degrees.”

Two of the seven offspring have very light coloration.  “These may be hypomelanistic and it will be interesting to see how they appear once they grow older,” said Hughes.

It could take more than a decade for these turtles to reach maturity and grow to the size of their parents. The hatchlings are currently on a diet of food pellets, but they will become carnivorous as adults. In the wild, alligator snapping turtles often eat freshwater mollusks, fish, other turtles and carrion.

Did you know that baby turtles have “belly buttons”? Even though they hatch from eggs they still get their nutrients through a process similar to an umbilical cord before they hatch.

Got questions about our newest hatchlings? Tweet them to us @TNAquarium

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Top 7 Reasons for a Fall Visit to the Tennessee Aquarium

1) Splashes of Fall Color

Fall washes over our area with beautiful views of colorful leaves and clear autumn skies. What better way to catch the splendor of the season than from the Tennessee River aboard the River Gorge Explorer? Our “Awesome Autumn Fall Cruises” begin October 15th and run through November 10th.

Want to see ALL of “Tennessee’s Grand Canyon?” We will offer two “River GORGEous” Fall Cruises departing on Saturday, November 2nd traveling through the entire 26 mile Tennessee River Gorge during peak color. You can take a commemorative look at the site of Historic Hale's Bar Lock and Dam - the first dam ever built on the Tennessee River - and explore the site's engineering legacy and tales of its haunting 100 years to the day after its construction.

Earlier in the season, you’ll scan the skies and riverbanks for hawks, eagles, osprey and vultures while soaking in the first colors appearing in the "Tennessee's Grand Canyon."  The “Hawk Watch” Wildlife and Color Cruise departs at 10 am on Saturday, October 12.

2) (More) Penguin Pandemonium

Our  new gentoo chicks are getting ready to enter the water and officially join our colony on Penguins’ Rock. In the next few months, keepers will find out the sex of each chick and the naming contest will begin.

While young penguins are getting ready to explore the exhibit on their own, our adult penguins are entering molting season. Each bird will lose old feathers and grow new ones in a process that occurs after breeding and nesting season. During this time, the birds will appear extra fluffy and discarded feathers can often be seen all around the exhibit. It’s a pretty odd sight.

3) A Whole Month of Animal ODDities

Speaking of odd things, Aquarium animals with strange and interesting characteristics or behaviors will be highlighted this fall during ODDtober. During the month of October, a special schedule of animal encounters and shows will take place throughout the day. Get up close with a legless lizard, learn how butterflies taste with their feet, meet a giant marine toad and more!

4) Trick-or-Treat: Pirate Style

Arrgh Mateys! Join the Aquarium crew for AquaScarium VI – our annual safe, but spirited Halloween party. This year’s theme is “Pirates of the Aquarium”. Dueling pirates and costumed SCUBA divers will welcome guests to both Aquarium buildings brimming with fun activities for “bouys” and “gulls” alike! Come in costume (check out our Pinterest board for DIY inspiration) and set out on a trick-or-treat scavenger hunt. Boogie with a buccaneer, learn how to talk like a pirate, and more. Bring your camera and your favorite trick-or-treat bag! 

5) Sesquicentennial Celebration

Chattanooga is rich in Civil War history, landmarks and legend. In addition to the hues of autumn, this fall will be a particularly great time to cruise the Gorge as Tennessee officially commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Battles for Chattanooga. Four special cruises, spanning September through November will mark such historical events as the Browns Ferry Raid and Sherman’s crossing of the Tennessee River at Chickamauga Creek.

From September 30 to October 30, the Gold Pass includes a guided tour of the Aquarium plaza with a Tennessee Aquarium naturalist. Also known as Ross’ Landing, this linear park reflects the unique history and culture of Chattanooga. Known as Ross’s Landing, this site has been the temporal center of early European exploration, Cherokee heritage, Civil War strategy and the rise of railroads and industry. (A guided tour of both aquarium buildings and a river cruise are also included in the Gold Pass.)

6. New Season - New Art

Outside isn’t the only place to see new colors arriving this fall. Two new art installations in the Jellies: Living Art gallery are sure to please art and ocean lovers alike. A new set of glass sculptures by Stephen Rolfe Powell and a mixed media display of metal mesh and crushed glass by Lanny Bergner celebrate the beauty and wonder of undersea life. Surrounded by live jellyfish tanks, this exhbit continues to be a sight that is not to be missed.

7. An Unlikely IMAX Adventure

The Rocky Mountain Express 2D rolls into IMAX on October 4. This movie propels audiences on a steam train journey through the breathtaking vistas of the Canadian Rockies and relates the epic adventure of building the nation’s first transcontinental railway.

The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1885 ranks among the greatest engineering feats in history, The project drew on the labor and expertise of thousands from around the world, including a young American railway Superintendent named William Corneleus Van Horn. Spanning thousands of miles and some of the world’s greatest natural barriers, this grand transcontinental project, and its wandering ribbon of steel, drew together far flung communities isolated in the wilderness, shaped a new nation and changed the face of the North American continent forever.