Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Babies with Bite – Piranha Hatchlings Are a First at the Tennessee Aquarium

Earlier this year, Aquarist Brad Thompson made a unique discovery. While checking the Red Piranha pop-up tank in the Aquarium’s Ranger Rick gallery, he noticed some tiny, wiggly specks gathered around the water’s surface.

Baby Piranhas at around two days old

“It was very surprising to find baby piranhas in the tank,” Thompson said. “But I was able to quickly gather them up and place them in a separate tank behind the scenes to keep them safe. This is the first time we have raised piranhas at the Aquarium.” A special nursery for the babies was set up within a smaller container, called a pal pen. This tank floated inside a larger system which provided the babies with clean water.

Baby piranhas at a few days old inside a special behind-the-scenes container

At their tiniest stage, the baby Piranhas began a diet of Mysid Shrimp and were later introduced to bloodworms and shrimp as they grew.

They developed quickly and soon took on more of a recognizable piranha-like shape.

Later came the coloring similar to the adults.

In May, the young piranhas were sent to Wonders of Wildlife in Springfield, MO. We are happy to share our success with other institutions.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tennessee Aquarium Announces First Penguin Chick of 2014

The Tennessee Aquarium's first penguin chick of 2014 at two days old

There’s a fluffy new face in the Tennessee Aquarium’s Penguins’ Rock exhibit. Aviculturists welcomed the new chick to the colony in June. The proud parents, “Chaos” and “Merlin,” stay busy snuggling their baby in the nest and seem to enjoy showing it off to everyone.

“Both parents have very laid back personalities, which is helpful when we need to do weight checks and clean the nest,” said senior aviculturist Amy Graves. “They’re also a great parental team. Merlin serves as protector and Chaos does a great job feeding.”

Chaos certainly keeps busy since this tiny bird has a giant appetite. Aquarium guests can have fun eavesdropping on this family. A microphone inside the exhibit picks up the chick’s vocalizations whenever it begs to be fed, which seems to be almost constantly lately. The sounds of the colony are audible throughout Penguins’ Rock. But, mom responds to the begging and appears to be keeping pace. Her baby consistently weighs in at the high end of the healthy range during veterinary exams. “Baby penguins should experience rapid growth,” said Graves. “We track each chick’s progress through frequent weigh-ins and compare the results to the ranges we know are considered healthy. Since this penguin is staying pretty pudgy, it’s clear that the parents are doing a great job with feeding.”

Macaroni chick at 16 days old

The Aquarium’s penguin experts hope this “big mac” sets a good example for the chicks that follow it. Both in demeanor and rapid growth.

Last year aviculturists had their hands full supplementing feedings for a couple of chicks up to five times each day when sluggish weight gains indicated the parents were not delivering enough nutrition on their own.

Aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich says even though the chick is very vocal, it seems to have inherited its parent’s demeanor. “He’s pretty laid-back and easygoing,” said Aldrich. “The chick doesn’t mind being handled during exams or being photographed.”

Photo with Aviculturists Amy Graves and Loribeth Aldrich

This is quite a switch from “Pepper,” another Macaroni who was also the Aquarium’s very first baby penguin hatchling in 2009. “She was a feisty bird almost from the day she hatched,” said Aldrich.

Earlier this year, Pepper and ten other penguins that were reared at the Aquarium were moved to other institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. They will have the opportunity to have offspring of their own while bolstering the overall genetic diversity of the Macaroni and Gentoo population in human care. This transfer also affords the Aquarium’s colony more flipper room during the breeding season.

This new Macaroni penguin is the first for the 2014 season and it’s possible that aviculturists will remain very busy this season with additional chicks.

Visitors can see the new chick inside an acrylic “playpen” on the right-hand side of the exhibit. It will remain inside this protective barrier for several more weeks before it will be allowed to roam outside the nest. “Penguins need their waterproof swim feathers before they are ready to go out on their own,” said Graves. “Right now, the chick is still dependent on mom and dad, but they seem to like that just fine.”

New macaroni chick with parents Chaos (L) and Merlin (R)

The chick’s gender will be determined during a blood test later this year. At that time, a Facebook contest is planned to find the perfect name for him or her.

Guests who may want a “bird’s eye” view during nesting season, can choose to add the Ocean Journey Backstage Pass to their regular Aquarium admission. This behind-the-scenes experience allows guests into one of the “Keepers Only” areas to see the nesting penguins, eggs and at least one plump little penguin.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Security Camera Catches Penguin Thief

Nipper, a male Gentoo penguin, is noted by Aquarium experts as Penguins' Rock's most enthusiastic nest builder. Sometimes, even before the nesting rocks are placed on exhibit each nesting season, he will begin "building" with ice cubes from feeding buckets.

Nipper with this year's nest
So Nipper wasted no time getting to work when this year's rocks were delivered by our penguin caretakers. While his neighbor Hercules (a male Gentoo) was distracted by interactions with Shamrock (a female Gentoo), Nipper was nabbing nesting rocks as his mate Flower watched his back.

Egg update: Since this was filmed, Nipper and Flower have laid an egg. The current total egg count stands at 6.* With more potential penguin parents still pairing up and building nests, the season is still off to great start!

*Keep in mind, each penguin egg has a long journey ahead of it. Lots of factors can impact the chances of hatching and newborn chicks face even more challenges. Again, keep your flippers crossed for a new group of healthy chicks later this summer!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Party on the River: Frequently Asked Questions During the Riverbend Festival

Photo via Chattanooga CVB

Is the Aquarium open during Riverbend? 

Yes! The Aquarium is open 363 days a year* with regular hours – 10 am to 7:30 pm. The last admittance to the Aquarium’s buildings is at 6 pm each day. There is no change in hours of operation during the Riverbend Festival. (*The Aquarium IS closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day each year.)

Where can I park to visit the Aquarium?

The Aquarium’s parking lot is open and can be accessed by turning left on Aquarium Way from Broad Street. (Then turn right into our gated lot, which is halfway between Broad Street and Chestnut Street.)

Do I need a Riverbend wristband to enter the Aquarium?

No. Only Aquarium tickets are needed to enter the Aquarium during Riverbend. You can get yours online, at the Aquarium’s ticketing center or the IMAX 3D Theater. Tickets are good for entry into both Aquarium buildings.

Is the Aquarium crowded during the week of Riverbend?

The week of Riverbend is a great time to visit the Aquarium. We do not typically experience a high volume of visitors during the morning and early afternoon. Since the festival gates don’t open until 5 pm each day, the earlier you arrive, the more time you will have to explore before festival-goers start arriving downtown.

Is there anything special happening at the Aquarium during Riverbend?

Yes. As part of the Bend Unplugged series, Playing on the Planet will perform between the Aquarium buildings on Saturday, June 7 from 2:30 to 3:30 pm. They will perform that night at Riverbend starting at 5:45 pm.

What if I am coming to Chattanooga to visit the Aquarium but am interested in checking out the Riverbend Festival while I’m there?

One-night wristbands are available at the Riverbend entry gates for $26. If you are in town for more than one night, weekly admission is also available. You can get more information on the festival website.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Nesting Season Going Swimmingly on Penguins’ Rock

Seven otters are making a big splash in the Aquarium’s new River Otters Falls exhibit, located atop the River Journey building. Meanwhile there’s plenty of excitement in Ocean Journey as well. Five pairs of penguins spent the month of May building nests and laying eggs. Our aviculturists are currently monitoring the progress of six eggs. Right now, the count is split down the middle with three eggs from each species.

Macaroni penguins typically lay two eggs, but the first one is almost always smaller and quickly discarded by the parents. One scientific explanation for this behavior is that the first egg may serve to distract predators, giving the second egg a better chance at survival.

In contrast, Gentoo penguins may lay up to two viable eggs each year. With a couple of Gentoo pairs still building nests, there’s a chance for more eggs this season.

As much fun as egg watching is this time of year, we are always careful to remember that, “You never count your penguins before they hatch.” Inexperienced parents can be rough on eggs (and chicks) and sometimes they get damaged or neglected for unknown reasons. Our experts want the birds to develop their parental skills. Therefore, aviculturists carefully monitor each pair and their eggs. If all goes well, there may be some baby penguins to enjoy watching.

In the meantime, we look forward to keeping you updated throughout the season. You can also watch the penguins’ activity in real time with our Penguin Rock Cam.

Keep your flippers crossed for new chicks this summer!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Top 5 Reasons to Kick Off Summer in Downtown Chattanooga

Memorial Day weekend traditionally kicks off the summer travel season. Here are five reasons to make Downtown Chattanooga a part of your summer plans. With new attractions, great dining options and more to explore, there’s something for everyone in downtown.

1) All New River Otter Falls

North American River Otters are furry, feisty and fun to watch. Even though these charismatic creatures are a native Southeastern species, they aren't easy to spot in the wild. But otter fans can come face-to- furry-face with their favorite mammals at River Otter Falls inside the Tennessee Aquarium’s Cove Forest. 

A romp of agile otters have a spacious new home to enjoy. It’s designed to bring out the best in their natural behaviors. You’ll see them scampering up and down multi-tiered landscape which features a lengthy stream, waterfalls and cascades. You’ll be fascinated by their climbing abilities and athleticism underwater.

The otters will explore their habitat in various groups each day, so you might see two, three or four otters at any one time playfully tussling with one another.

2) Galapagos 3D: Nature’s Wonderland – Narrated by Jeff Corwin

In the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, there is a paradise unlike any other: the Galapagos. Among these remote volcanic islands, life has played out over millions of years in relative isolation. The result is a wonderland of nature, with a remarkable collection of plants and charismatic animals that have all adapted to this unique environment. Meet giant half-ton tortoises and marine iguanas that spit sea-salt. Dance with the tropical albatrosses and hunt fishes with the colorful blue-footed boobies. Swim with tiny penguins thousands of miles away from their natural habitats. This is a story of discovery, of survival against the odds, and of nature's ingenuity, all brought to life in stunning 3D.

3) High Point Climbing and Fitness 

Tennessee Aquarium otters trying out the outdoor climbing wall at High Point Climbing and Fitness
Opened in late 2013, High Point Climbing And Fitness is a one of the nation’s most unique climbing facilities, offering climbing inside and outside. 

The outdoor climbing walls feature climbing on transparent climbing material that is like nothing else. There are lead, top rope, and auto-belay walls, as well as a 15 meter speed climbing wall. 

Inside, there are climbing areas for everyone. From beginner walls to  top roping room, leading climbing pit, and two boulder areas. There is even a campus, moon, and adjustable wall. 

4) The Wizard of Oz at the Creative Discovery Museum

We’re off to see The Wizard at the Creative Discovery Museum this summer.  The Museum hosts the first-ever licensed traveling educational exhibit based on the beloved movie classic. The Wizard of Oz exhibit is set to open on Saturday, May 24, 2014.

Visit Professor Marvel’s Wagon and create your own tornado in Dorothy’s bedroom. Explore Munchkin houses and meet Dorothy’s friends the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man. Enter The Emerald City and create a “Horse of a Different Color,” play at the kaleidoscope and prism stations, but “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Next, climb the mountain to the Wicked Witch’s Castle to capture the Wicked Witch’s broom from Winged Monkeys. Finally, click your heels three times while reciting, “There’s no place like home,” as guests depart the Land of Oz.

5) Local Markets on Saturday and Sunday 

This year marks the opening of the 5th season for the Chattanooga River Market.  Held on the beautiful riverfront downtown at the Tennessee Aquarium Plaza, this market is a weekly showcase of the talented artists and craftsmen in our area. Visitors to the Saturday Market will find handmade jewelry, locally designed and made children’s apparel, pottery, photography, woodworks, soaps, glasswork, artisan bath products and more. Check out the live music schedule here.

On Sundays, the Chattanooga Market at the First Tennessee Pavilion features farm fresh produce, meats, cheeses and artisan foods, as well as, local arts & crafts such as photography, canvas art, sculpture, jewelry, soaps and many other handmade products.  Patrons enjoy weekly themed events such as the popular Beast Feast BBQ, Chattanooga Oktoberfest and theCast Iron Cook-off.

Local food trucks and eateries offer the cultural flavors of the South on the patio every week for lunch and refreshments. 

The Chattanooga Market is held Sundays, April 27-Nov. 23, from 11am-4pm at the First Tennessee Pavilion. This year, a Wednesday market was added to the weekly schedule at the pavilion.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Light Bulb Moment: Bright Ideas for Going Green

Recently, 42 light fixtures that previously illuminated the 618,000 gallon Secret Reef tank in Ocean Journey were replaced with 28 more energy efficient lamps. Members and frequent visitors may have noticed an improvement in visibility and color inside the exhibit.

New lighting above the Secret Reef tank

But these new fixtures did more than enhance the view – they’re helping to save a lot of energy. The previous lighting system totaled 21,600 watts while the new one provides a much better visitor experience with only 3,300 watts. Not only will the new system save energy, it will also zap an impressive $9,429 a year from the Aquarium’s energy bill – paying for itself in less than two years’ time!

This is a practical solution that you can use in your own home. Did you know that switching to more energy efficient household lighting can save up to 75% of the energy used by incandescent bulbs? Even turning off the light when you leave a room for more than 20 seconds can make a big impact.

These energy savings are great for your wallet, but even better for the wildlife in our area and all over the world. Saving energy leads to saving resources, like water and other valuable habitat space where many Aquarium animals would call home in the wild.

Want to know other ways you can join us in going green today and every day?

Conserve and Reuse Water

Whenever possible, we re-filter and reuse water in our exhibits. In Ocean Journey we reclaim 16,000 gallons of water per week! We have also installed waterless or low-flow urinals in two restrooms. 

Did you know that the River Gorge Explorer also monitors water quality along the Tennessee River? Check it out.

At home: Keep a bucket in the shower and reuse the water collected to water house plants. You can also collect larger amounts of water outside with a rain barrel. (Make your own barrel at our next rain barrel workshop.) Install low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets in your house to reduce the amount of water that you use in the bathroom and kitchen.

Recycle Right

We recycle paper, cardboard, glass, #1-#7 plastics, batteries, aluminum, empty aerosol cans, loose metal jar lids and steel bottle caps, electronics, wood pallets, shredded documents, toner cartridges, old carpeting, old staff uniforms, old brochures and used ticket stubs. We take metal to a salvage yard. We responsibly dispose of lamps with mercury content, light fixture ballasts, used oils, antifreeze and oil and gas filter cartridges.

A tank in the Tennessee River gallery safely showcases the effects of trash in our waterways.

At home: Find out about recycling programs in your area. Make our resources last longer by recycling everything you can: plastic, cardboard, paper, aluminum, batteries, and cell phones. Extra points for composting! Give some nutrition to your soil by composting fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds.

Rethink Transportation

Thousands of our visitors come in groups and arrive by school bus or motor coach. In past years, hundreds of buses would idle for more than 30 minutes while waiting for passengers to re-board. Today, thanks to a partnership with the United Motor Coach Association, signage encourages drivers to limit idling to no more than five minutes, which improves air quality and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A sign outside the Aquarium asks buses and motor coaches to limit idle time.

At home: Can you bike to work? Walk to a popular lunch spot? Challenge yourself to cut your transportation costs in half by carpooling, walking, biking, and using public transportation. Talk to your co-workers and friends from school to find a way to share rides. If you can add your errands to the same trip, you’ll be extra efficient. If you’re driving, check your tire inflation. You can increase your gas mileage by up to 3 percent if you keep your tires properly inflated.

Thanks for doing your part this Earth Day! You can get even more great tips from the Green Practices page on our website!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Keeper Spotlight – Otter Edition: Courtney Lewis and Jennifer Wawra

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.

River Otter Falls officially opens inside the Tennessee Aquarium’s Cove Forest on May 2nd. With just two weeks until the grand opening, this month’s special Keeper Spotlight “otter” be a good one! Our two otter keepers, Courtney Lewis and Jennifer Wawra, have learned to move quickly. It’s a big job caring for seven high-energy otters, but Courtney and Jennifer were able to take a little time to answer some questions about what it’s like keeping up with these feisty fur balls.

What is your favorite thing about working with river otters?

CL: Training, especially in that moment when I see the information “click” and know that the otter truly understands the new behavior.

(Courtney Lewis leading training in the backup area of the original exhibit)
JW: I absolutely love to go in to the backup area in the morning and wake them up and bring in breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal and they sure get excited when a keeper first walks into backup each morning! Training the otters is another large part of my day and one of the best parts of my job here at the Aquarium.

What are some of the things you are training the otters to do?

CL: We’re teaching them behaviors that will help us care for them in their habitat. A lot of it has to do with rewarding them for doing things like standing in the same spot – which allows us to examine or weigh them, or running out onto the exhibit which helps us rotate the groups that explore their habitat throughout the day. The training is all done by practice and positive reinforcement.

JW: Specifically, we’re working on stationing, shifting, targeting, teeth/paw presentation, scale training, standing (for visual confirmation that the animal is healthy), and holding (staying still in a particular spot for a second). 

(Jennifer Wawra and Delmar take a quick photo during training inside the original exhibit)

As an otter keeper, what are you most looking forward to about the new exhibit?

JW: River Otter Falls is a dynamic new exhibit which appeals to our otters in many ways.There are a total of five waterfalls, three different pools, three digging areas, a den and a slide. There is also a ton of land area to run, logs to shimmy across, stumps and rocks to climb to keep our otters actively engaged in their environment. You name it, we’ve got it. We have put so much thought into designing our otters’ new home. We paid close attention to every detail to provide an enriching environment for our otters. They can play in the water, dig in sand or mulch, climb up and down the rocks….this new home allows a lot of choices of how they want to spend their day. I cannot wait to see guests watching our otters enjoy their new home.

What do you think visitors will enjoy most about River Otter Falls?

CL: River Otter Falls is very dynamic for two reasons: its size and how we will present various combinations of otters at one time. I think guests will have fun seeing that. Some of the most fun I’ve had so far has been seeing how the different groups of otters interact with one another once they’re in the exhibit. 

Do you work with any other Aquarium animals?

CL: I started caring for animals at the Aquarium first as a herpetology volunteer while I was working as a gallery associate. Now, alongside otters, I take care of reptiles and amphibians in the Cove Forest, Discovery Hall, and half of the Rivers of the World gallery. I also occasionally get to do Ranger Rick programs with tarantulas, which I love!

JW: I work with a lot of the snakes here at the Aquarium, most of which are housed in keeper areas. I also work with a variety of our turtles. I am currently working on training our large female alligator in Delta Country, as well as caring for the smaller gator and all three alligator snapping turtles. I also help out at Penguins’ Rock every now and then. Occasionally I get to work in the Ranger Rick Gallery providing guests with up close and personal one-on-one animal encounters. I feel blessed beyond words to work with such incredible animals and an unbelievably educated staff. 

Got a question for Courtney and/or Jennifer? Tweet it to us at @TNAquarium with  hashtag #QTheKeeper. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Amazing Baby Horseshoe Crab Beats the Odds!

Aquarists were shocked to find a young Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus) in the Stingray Bay touch tank this week. It was removed and placed in a small tank in the quarantine room.

Many facilities regularly breed these animals. So, why were aquarists so surprised to discover this quarter-sized crab?

To begin, our male crab (who could often be seen hitching a ride on the back end of the carapace of one of the female crabs, waiting to fertilize eggs) passed away several months ago. Apparently, before we lost him he fertilized some eggs.

The female crab can lay 15,000-65,000 eggs at a time. Horseshoe Crab eggs are extremely small and would be vulnerable to predation by every single animal in the tank. Some would also get pulled into the strong flow of the exhibit’s 420 gallon-per-minute filtration system.

If by chance some eggs did not get eaten or filtered out, they could hatch. At this point the young animals are still in a very tiny larval stage, swimming for five to seven days. Any larval Horseshoe Crabs would remain very vulnerable to being gobbled up by other animals in the touch tank and would still be prone to being caught in the filtration system.  They would also struggle to find food that would be small enough to eat.

And yet, one tiny crab managed to overcome these odds.

After the larval stage, the baby Horseshoe Crab settled to the bottom and began growing and looking like a miniature version of the adults. At this point it was less likely to be eaten by the smaller fish in the tank, but it would appear more and more like a snack for a stingray or shark. Our tiny crab would also have the same issue of finding food small enough to eat.

And yet, this tiny crab avoided predators and a strong filtration system, scrounged up enough food to be nourished and grew.

The fact that this little crab survived long enough to attain the size of a quarter in an exhibit packed with its natural predators is nothing short of mind boggling!

You can watch a quick video of the little horseshoe crab in a Q room tank below:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ChattaNessie? Loch Ness Monster-Like Creature Spotted in the Tennessee River

Today, a passenger aboard the Tennessee Aquarium’s River Gorge Explorer captured a shot of a long, dark figure as it breached the water’s surface. The photo was taken during the boat’s Williams Island Family Adventure Cruise. A preliminary examination of the photo led experts to conclude that the creature likely measures close to 20 feet long and five feet wide.

Loch Ness Monster-like creature on the Tennessee River (April 1, 2014)

“There are only so many freshwater creatures that even come close to that size,” said Tennessee Aquarium Naturalist John Dever. No dorsal fins or sting ray barbs were detected (ruling out any wayward bull sharks, giant freshwater rays or even the area’s legendary catfish).

Dever, who was on board during the trip, says current weather conditions are ideal for sighting wildlife in the Gorge, although no one expected to see anything quite like this. “We tend to see Bald Eagles, Osprey, Deer and Turkeys this time of the year,” Dever said. “But April 1st does tend to be a peak date for more unusual sightings on the Tennessee River.”

Loch Ness Monster-like creature under Market Street Bridge (circa 1920)

It is unclear if this creature is related to the infamous “Nessie” from Scotland’s Loch Ness – or perhaps a closely related American species on a spring migration through the Scenic City.

A quick archival investigation, with assistance from Picnooga, brought up an old photo of the Market Street bridge in which a smaller, younger version of the same monster is slightly visible.

The Tennessee Aquarium is inviting the public to share any theories or knowledge about this, or other river monster sightings, across their favorite social networks using the hashtag #ChattaNessie.

The Williams Island Family Adventure Cruise runs daily through April 17. While bird, turtle and other wildlife sightings are common, an appearance by Nessie or any other aquatic monster is not guaranteed.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Keeper Spotlight: Jennifer Taylor

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: Jennifer Taylor

Title: Entomologist

In charge of: The Tennessee Aquarium’s Butterfly Garden

You might say that Jennifer Taylor was bitten by the entomology “bug” in college. She became interested in the subject during a basic class about the study of insects and eventually decided to focus her studies on this fascinating field.

Fast forward to 2005 when she became the resident entomologist overseeing the Butterfly Garden atop the Aquarium’s newly constructed Ocean Journey building. Now she cares for dozens of butterfly species in a carefully maintained habitat that also includes some birds and reptiles.
Jennifer Taylor inspecting the chrysalis case

Each morning, Jennifer’s first task is to check the chrysalis case for butterflies that have emerged over night. The new butterflies are collected in a screen cage to be released throughout the day into the garden. The case is also cleaned and disinfected weekly.

Jennifer Taylor showing off a Blue Morpho butterfly

Next on her to do list is feeding all the butterflies in the garden. This involves both cleaning out the old fruit from feeding plates and adding new fruit where needed. Different species enjoy sucking juices from the fruit and/or sampling nectar and leaves from plants growing in the garden.

Butterfly feeding plate

But other inhabitants need to be fed as well. The Aquarium’s Butterfly Garden is home to two special bird species: a Palawan Peacock Pheasant and a Crested Wood Partridge. These birds are given a mix of fruit, seeds and specially formulated bird food. Several geckos also make their homes within the garden. Although they are rarely seen by visitors or staff, a special gecko diet blend is left out for these reclusive reptiles.

Gecko from the Butterfly Garden

At any given time there are around 1,000 butterflies living in the garden. Many guests wonder where they all of them come from. Each week, a new shipment of pupae is received at the Aquarium. Each viable pupa is sorted and pinned inside the chrysalis case where it can safely grow until it’s time for the butterfly inside to emerge. Each species’ pupa is different in color, shape and size. Another part of Jennifer’s job is recording the outcome of each individual pupa and reporting back to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) annually.

Pupae sorting tray

Though she spends her day surrounded by numerous exotic species, Jennifer says that the best part of her job is “talking to visitors who are interested in butterflies.” She often invites those who spend time in the garden to help with butterfly releases. Releases are also a scheduled activity for visitors during our Keeper Kids programs.

You can listen to Jennifer talk more about the Aquarium’s Butterfly Garden, watch butterfly releases and see the pupae pinning process in this video:

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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Keeper Spotlight: Amanda Pippin

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: Amanda Pippin

Title: Animal Trainer & Presenter II

In charge of: Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari encounter animals

Amanda began working in the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater gift shop in April 2003 never dreaming she would soon be handling hairy tarantulas and spiny hedgehogs while delivering animal facts to guests from all over the world. But three years later she transitioned to the Aquarium’s education department, first as an Education Gallery Associate and eventually earning her current role as Animal Trainer and Presenter in 2009. Pippin says, “I've always wanted to work with animals since as far back as I can remember. What's great is that I work with a wide variety of small animals.”

Daily Routine

An average work day for Amanda begins around 7:30 AM. The Aquarium has around 115 animals that participate in education programs. Amanda is trained to take care of all of these amazing creatures, from a 14-pound Virginia Opossum to a tiny Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. Amanda takes great pride in being part of a team that “does it all.” Each morning all the birds and mammals are weighed to make sure that each is at a healthy size. Their weights also determine how much food they will receive for the day. 

After each weigh-in, it’s time for cleaning homes. Enclosures get special “maid service” each morning and are spot-checked throughout the day. 

Enrichment activities are also very important for the animals. These exercises help keep the animals stimulated both physically and mentally. New toys are added, or old favorites are spruced up for the critters to enjoy. The enrichment items could be anything from wooden blocks that the parrots love to chew on, to a cardboard box stuffed with newspaper for the groundhog, to a portion of a brick for the snakes to rub against when shedding.

The reptiles, amphibians, and terrestrial invertebrates don't require as much care as the warm-blooded animals. Due to slower metabolic rates, some of the cold-blooded animals are only fed two or three times a week. In fact, some of the snakes are only offered a meal every 10 days. Think of how much money you'd save on groceries every year if you only had to eat three times a month! However, Pippin says it's still important that these animals are looked in on and accounted for each day. That includes providing fresh water and bedding.

The first animal encounter occurs in Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari at 10:30 am and these educational programs continue through 3:30 pm. Amanda often delivers these shows throughout the day. Animals are rotated frequently in the program schedule which gives them a nice balance of being “on-stage” and off. 

The Aquarium offers bird shows six times each day. Pippin says, “I really enjoy going out and interacting with guests, especially if I can make someone smile or laugh! Most importantly, though, I want to educate guests about the animals that share this world with us.”

After programs are over for the day, Amanda does another round of checks on the animals in her care. Evening diets are served and water bowls are refreshed. Work areas are tidied up and data is recorded.

Animal Training

Delivering programs is just part of the routine. Pippin also spends a lot of her time at work training animals who appear in the Aquarium’s daily Ranger Rick and bird shows. All of the behaviors guests enjoy in these shows are natural behaviors brought out using positive reinforcement techniques, much like you would use to reward desired behavior in a cat or dog. So, when trainers see an animal perform a behavior they would like to encourage, the animal is rewarded. By rewarding good behavior, it's more likely that the behavior will increase.  “Therefore you won't see a bird riding a bicycle on a high-wire in our shows. We want to everyone to better understand these animals, so we try to showcase their natural talents,” says Pippin.

Watch Amanda giving the hyancinth macaws a “shower”, an important enrichment activity for the birds.

When asked about the steps to take for a career in animal training, Amanda’s best advice is to get as much experience as possible. You can volunteer or complete an internship at a zoological facility. A four-year college degree is also beneficial – Pippin’s is in Anthropology. She also recommends practicing with family pets. She says, “It took me over 10 years to be where I am today, and I'm still learning how to be a better trainer and keeper.”

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

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Five Crazy Animal Mating Facts (in Honor of Valentine’s Day)

1. A male seahorse becomes “pregnant” and gives birth after a female passes her eggs to him for fertilization.

Watch a seahorse birth in the video below!

2. You can tell the sex of an octopus by looking at its arms. Males have one arm without suction cups. (Can you tell if the octopus in the Vine below is a girl or boy?)


3. Rising global temperatures could cause alligators to produce more male eggs per nest. 

4. Special lighting at Penguins’ Rock simulates the changing lengths of daylight  that our penguins would experience throughout the year in nature. This helps to trigger courtship behavior. At the appropriate time each spring, our keepers introduce rocks to the exhibit. As soon as they do, the penguins get to work building their nests (and breeding).

Watch this process in the video below:

5. Female sea turtles return each year to the beach where they hatched to lay their own eggs. 

The Tennessee Aquarium has two (male) sea turtles – Stewie (shown below) and Oscar, a rescued turtle with a special swimming style and story.

Want to learn more about animal courtships or have a question you’ve always wanted to ask when visiting the Aquarium? Join us for Uncensored: Tennessee Aquarium After HoursThe evening festivities will include a wacky costume photo booth (bring your smartphone), animal presentations by aquarium educators, games and chances to win silly prizes. Our UNCENSORED event is a social experience to be held in the River Journey lobby and Seahorse Gallery. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Chattanooga Chuck Makes Groundhog Day Prediction for 2014

This Groundhog Day is pretty unique,
with the big game on tv, and snow this past week!

What’s a groundhog to do when his time comes around,
and it all hangs on whether his shadow is found?

Should we all keep our boots on, or reach for our sandals?
These are questions this furry forecaster can handle.

But a matchup between Broncos and Seahawks is stranger.
Predicting a winner put my own record in danger.

Mess up on both means I’d go “Oh-Fer,”
and I’d be humbled like a silly old gopher.

So first I reached out to my friend Peanut the possum.
His football game picks are always quite awesome.

He shared some of his wisdom and to him I’m in debt,
for adding “seasonal sports analyst” to my skill set.

After Peanut, I visited the rest of my weather team,
to decide if warmer weather is coming, or only a dream.

First to the brook trout, which legend will say
all refuse to bait when a storm’s on the way.

Next with the screech owl, I sat for a spell.
He hoots extra loud before rain, folklore tells.

I stopped by the frogs to have a short listen.
When winter warms up, their croaks often quicken.

But February 2nd is called Groundhog Day
So I’ll have to go by what my own instincts say.

My Super Bowl pick goes out to Denver.
This Tennessee native hopes Peyton will deliver.

And speaking of deliveries, what will Mother Nature send? 
I see something that looks like my friend.

YIKES! It’s my shadow and you know what that means.
Six more weeks of chill before things get warm and green.

Groundhog Day fun for kids! Download some folklore forecaster game pages before visiting the Tennessee Aquarium during February.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

7 Animal Weather Forecasters Who Get Overshadowed on Groundhog Day

The legend of Groundhog Day claims that these furry forecasters – like our very own Chattanooga Chuck, above - have the power to predict the arrival of spring by simply looking for their shadow on February 2.  But actually, several other animals are found in folklore to have weather forecasting abilities (but obviously not-so- great press agents).

1. Frogs

An old Zuni Indian proverb states that frogs croak louder and longer right before heavy rain. (Can you guess which species of frog is making the sound in the video above?)

2.     Fish 

Brook trout at the Tennessee Aquarium

Some folklore says that fish are more likely to jump and eat flies right before rain. However, other legends say that they are more likely to head for deeper waters, seeming less active.

3.   Sea Urchins

Pencil urchin in Seahorses gallery

It is said that sea urchins bury themselves in mud or sand before a storm.

4.    Sharks

Sandbar shark

Sharks and other ocean-dwelling fish are believed to swim out further to sea when stormy weather is approaching.

5.    Butterflies
Tennessee Aquarium Butterfly Garden

The early appearance of butterflies is said to indicate fine weather. No butterflies or bees in a flowerbed can mean bad weather.

6.     Eels

Marbled eel in River Giants exhibit

Freshwater eels can become more active right before rain. (However, their saltwater cousins are more likely to live in deeper water and don’t feel the barometric pressure change as easily.)

7.      Birds

Yellow breasted chat

Birds flying high signal clear skies while lower flying fowl means a storm could be looming.

Don't be the last to know on Groundhog Day, follow @ChattNoogaChuck on Twitter for an up to the minute news on his 2014 forecast.