Monday, November 25, 2013

A Special ThanksGIFing Message

On Thursday, November 28, whether your nature is to:

Wake up early to start the big meal in the kitchen

Or lounge and snack all day long,

Make new friends at the kids' table

Or fight with a sibling over the last drumstick,

Politely wait for your turn in the line

Or steal an extra nibble while someone’s not looking,

Pile on the veggies

Or dive right into dessert,

Stare at the door until your loved ones arrive

Or tend to eat and run,

Eat neatly with the proper silverware

Or stuff in that one last big bite,

The Tennessee Aquarium wishes you 

a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Keeper Spotlight: Bill Hughes

Keeper spotlight is a monthly series about the staff and volunteers that care for the plants and animals living at the Tennessee Aquarium. You can tweet your questions to us at @TNAquarium using the hashtag #QTheKeeper.

Name: Bill Hughes

Title: Senior Herpetologist

In charge of: Flooded Forest, Amazon, Zaire River, Color and Camouflage, Rain Forest Pond exhibits in Rivers of the World, Salamander exhibits in the Tennessee River Gallery, Aquarium turtle breeding areas and incubator/nursery room. Also oversees shipping of turtles and amphibians to and from other AZA-accredited institutions.

Turtles are often looked at as some of the slowest members of the animal kingdom so you might find it hard to believe that caring for them takes so much time and energy. Bill Hughes began working at the Aquarium in July 2004 and has had his hands full with one of the largest collections of turtles in the U.S. ever since. 

Raising Baby Turtles

A typical work day for Bill starts at 7:00 a.m. with a stop in to the Aquarium’s turtle nursery. Checking on tiny hatchlings and eggs in the incubator room can be a big job.  The baby turtles get fed a special diet and cleaned according to their needs three to four times per week.  If any eggs are hatching on that particular day Bill also takes steps to set up a space for the new turtle in the incubator room.

Turtle eggs in the Aquarium's incubator room

Wrangling Reptiles (and Amphibians)

Once the baby turtles are fed and happy, Bill heads down to feed the animals in his care within the Rivers of the World exhibit. Feeding all these animals can sometimes take more than one hour – and requires repeated trips back to check on their progress.   He feeds turtles in the Flooded Forest and the small Amazon exhibit. The caiman lizard in this Amazon exhibit also gets fed clams a couple of times per week.  Snakes in the second Amazon exhibit get fed thawed rodents every two to three weeks.  The dwarf crocodile in the Zaire exhibit gets fed thawed rodents when the snakes are fed.

Next, he checks and feeds the mossy frogs in the Color and Camouflage exhibit. This exhibit also gets misted every day and a complete water change is done weekly. He then examines and feeds the aquatic caecilians. Their tank gets a weekly water change as well. Bill continues on to the Salamander exhibits. Compared to the turtles, Salamanders are low maintenance and these tanks usually just need a bit of spot cleaning and an occasional water change. 

Bill Hughes watering a turtle tank

Turtle Matchmaking

Afterward, Bill heads up to work with turtles living in a special off-exhibit area often used to encourage breeding on the sixth level of the River Journey building.  Feeding these turtles is a quick process but cleaning them all can take up to five hours. During the spring and summer, he checks nest boxes daily.  Depending on the species of turtle, he places males and females together.  Special projects in this space like plumbing, trimming plants, scrubbing algae and changing lights also fall on to Bill’s to do list. 

Bill Hughes introducing a new animal to the Aquarium's quarantine room

Later, Bill spends his time caring for animals in the “Q room” which are going through a routine quarantine period before being placed on exhibit in the Aquarium.  Another special area in the Q room contains non-quarantine animals that need lower temperatures, such as black-breasted leaf turtles and hellbenders.  The temperature in the cold room varies from upper 60’s – low 70’s during the summer to mid 40’s during the winter.  This winter, several turtles from the area on level six will be cooled down in this space in order to facilitate breeding. The quarantine rooms also hold reptiles and amphibians that require medical care. 

You might think that taking care of so many creatures with such differing needs could be overwhelming but Bill says, “The best part of working in this field is that every day is different and there are always surprises and new problems to solve.”

A turtle being housed in the Aquarium's cold room.

Species Tracking and Conservation

In his spare time, Bill uses his extensive knowledge about turtle species as the studbook keeper and coordinator for three Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs – the Spiny Turtle, Arakan Forest Turtle and Four-eyed Turtle - and the studbook keeper for a fourth, the Keeled Box Turtle. (This means that he is in charge of documenting each individual animal of his assigned species living in zoo or aquarium care.)  He also serves on the Chelonian Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) steering committee and the AZA Institutional Data Management Advisory Group.  

Four-eyed turtle at the Tennessee Aquarium

While Bill says that he enjoys working with each species at the Aquarium, he is especially proud of the Aquarium’s success with breeding some of the threatened and endangered species like the spiny turtle and four-eyed turtle. Aquarium guests can see some of the juveniles on display in the Turtle Gallery.

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Win BIG in Our #FinsAndFamily Instagram Contest!

Step 1) Follow @tennesseeaquarium on Instagram!

Step 2) Share a photo of you and your group at the Tennessee Aquarium on Instagram and include the hashtag #FinsAndFamily. Photos of past trips, and from any year since the Aquarium opened, are acceptable - and encouraged!

The top five photos will be selected on December 3 and the public will vote for a winner to be announced on December 10!
Check out the entries on the contest Facebook tab. We may also share some of your entries from time to time on social media!

Helpful Tip: Have you previously posted your Aquarium photos to Instagram? Simply adding a new comment with #FinsAndFamily will enter them in the contest!

*Official Rules: No purchase necessary. Must be a U.S. citizen of age 18 or older to win. By submitting a photo to the #FinsAndFamily Instagram contest, the user grants to the Tennessee Aquarium full use of  the photo.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Five Haller’s Round Stingrays Born Behind the Scenes at the Tennessee Aquarium

Last week, aquarium keepers welcomed five baby Haller’s Round Stingrays to the world. These adorable little rays were born to a mother that recently arrived at the Aquarium. While going through a routine quarantine period, this stingray gave birth. The mother, and eight other adult stingrays acquired at the same time, will be put on display in the Stingray Bay touch tank once the quarantine period is complete. The babies will be cared for off-exhibit until they are large enough to be displayed.

The Haller’s Round Stingray, Urobatis halleri, is a common species of ray native to the coastal waters of the eastern Pacific. The species prefers sandy or muddy bottoms in shallow waters close to beaches. Round sting rays eat primarily benthic invertebrates – organisms that live in or on the sediment of the ocean floor - and small fish.  

Right now these babies measure about three inches (minus the tail). Mature adults can reach maximum disc sizes of slightly more than 12 inches.