10/16/14

Fall is Here!

Fall has arrived in New England and with it comes cool, crisp days, pumpkin-flavored everything and the leaves changing from green to vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. At the Aquarium, we take the tradition of looking at fall foliage in a whole new, watery direction!

Leaves of a different sort
What's a good place to start looking at fall foliage in the exhibit space? Take a look at the leafy seadragons! The leafy extensions on their body help them camouflage into their environment, and their exhibit! By moving slowly within the gently swaying seaweed, these animals seamlessly blend in to their surroundings. (For another take on camouflage, check out this post on countershading!)

A tree with leaves? Nope—a scarlet psolus feeding!

In other parts of the Aquarium, bright fall colors are on display. Oranges, rusty reds, vibrant yellows all work together to create a seasonal tableau that signals, for many, the favorite New England season. So where to look for these amazing colors?

Orange and red sea anemones peek out at the tide pool

Want to see some orange on display? There are lots of animals to choose from. Take a look at the sea anemones in the Edge of the Sea tidepool touch tank. These jelly relatives range in color from browns to reds in New England, but the ones on exhibit here are bright orange. (The springy green variety is found in our Northern Waters gallery. Check out the video here...wait for it...)

Another favorite orange resident is the rare orange colored lobster in our Isle of Shoals exhibit. While lobsters can change their color depending on their diet, this lobster's color is due to genetics. This makes it pretty rare specimen: it's estimated that 1 out of 30 million lobsters are this color! Rare or not, it's the perfect coloration for the fall!

Orange-colored shell for the fall? Check!

Is yellow more your color? Not to worry. Look no further than our salt marsh exhibit. Having been replanted with live vegetation from a local salt marsh just recently, the grasses and other plants are in full bloom. Mustard yellow flowers are at the front of the space, giving the exhibit a fall season feel.

New England salt marsh colors

Not to be limited to the colder climates, the tropics have its share of yellow inhabitants. Vibrant yellow tanks can be found tropical Pacific Reef exhibit. Tangs do come in many different colors and patterns. This diversity helps them blend into their coral reef home.

Vibrant yellows from the tropics

And while these animals highlight predominantly one fall color, we have animals on exhibit that manage to combine these fall colors into amazing displays, much like the woods of New England. The Asian arowana, located in the Ancient Fishes exhibit, demonstrates this perfectly! Large scales on their body fade from brown to orange to gold. And while it only has two main colors, the bi-colored goatfish in the West Wing brings some yellow and red to the party.

Fall colors on every scale
Bi-colored goatfish is ready for the season

So if you finding yourself craving some fall foliage and are looking for the colors of fall, you can certainly head to the woods of New England. Want to stay a closer to Boston? Come and visit the New England Aquarium and take in the many colors of the season. You can even wear your comfy sweater.

Blackbelly Rose Fish doing some leaf peeping?

9/11/14

Countershading Camouflage!

Many people are familiar with the “tuxedo” coloration of our African penguins. The white belly and black backs are distinctive and well known. But ever wonder why they have this coloration? Believe it or not, it’s a form of camouflage called countershading. And it's not just for penguins—many aquatic animals have this special coloration.

Formal dress is always in style in the penguin exhibit



Countershading refers to an animal as having dark coloration on the upper side of the body and a lighter color on the underside. If a predator swims above a prey item, like a penguin, and looks down, the dark back coloration blends in with the shadows or the dark ocean bottom. On the flip side, if a predator is underneath and looks up, the white or light colored underside of the prey blends in to the lighter colored sky/top of the water.

You can find examples of countershading throughout the Aquarium. And it’s not just for prey items—countershading works for predators too! Just as it allows prey animals to hide, predators take advantage of their countershading and become stealthy, blending into their surroundings. Take a close look at our sharks and their stingray cousins—lots of countershading examples here! Our leopard whiptail stingray even adds some fashionable spots, some disruptive camouflage, to the mix.

Blacknose shark cruising in the Giant Ocean Tank

Dark leopard spots add to the effect-very fashionable!

Want to take a nap undisturbed? Not a problem if you are a green turtle. The mottled color on their carapace blends in to their coral reef surroundings, while their light colored plastron protects from predators below while they are swimming. Even Myrtle can camouflage into the reef! Can you find her in her favorite napping spot?

Even Myrtle is countershaded!

The turtle version of hide-and-go-seek!

Green anacondas may grow to be over 25 feet long, but they still use countershading! When small, dark olive spots help juveniles blend in with tree bark and light belly spots blend in with the dappled sunlight and leaves. Once they move into their aquatic homes, anacondas benefit from this coloration as well. Dark backs blend in with dark riverbeds and light colors blend in with sunlight from surface of the water.

Olive and yellow spots-a perfect outfit for an anaconda

Countershading isn’t just for animals with backbones-some of our cephalopods are countershaded. Check out the nautilus and the cuttlefish in the Tropical Gallery! Nautiluses have dark stripes on the top curve of their shell to blend in with the dark ocean bottom. And while cuttlefish can instantly change their color to blend in with their surroundings, they often are countershaded to avoid predators!

Stripes on the nautilus shells help to blend in

Cuttlefish with some crazy countershading camouflage

Countershading—it’s not just for penguins! So next time you visit the Aquarium, take a closer look around you. See how many animals you can see with countershading-if you can find them. Happy looking!

8/18/14

A Most Unusual Lobster Larva

Recently Allison Langone, a summer intern with the New England Aquarium lobster lab, stumbled upon a very unique lobster larvae. Check out this newly-hatched conjoined twin!

Conjoined lobster larvae

The conjoined larvae seems to be conjoined on its back side only. Each “twin” has a full set of legs, which is four pairs of walking legs and a pair of claws. It looks like even more than the usual because larvae have extra appendages off their legs. It has two separate beating hearts. The intestinal tracts seem to function—you can see food in the right larva's intestine—though they seem to share stomachs (lobsters have 2 stomachs). These animals also share a set of eyes.



Interestingly, the larva seems to swim fine. In its holding tank, it swam around a bit before heading down to the bottom. Even with special care, an animal like this is never expected to live long. This animal died after a week or so.

This unique lobster hatched in the Aquarium's research lobster hatchery—the last year-round U.S. production facility for American lobsters. Our researchers are on the forefront of American lobster aquaculture research, investigating new and improved methods for raising lobsters in captive environments. Our scientists are investigating nutritional requirements and pigmentation in captive-reared American lobsters. They are also collaborating with fishermen and scientists to develop a greater understanding of Lobster Shell Disease.

A juvenile lobster in the nursery in a lovely shade of orange

Learn more about lobsters and their many shades of shell:



Now that you're all experts, come see traditional lobsters—with eight walking legs and a pair of power claws (one crusher and one pincer)! Plan a visit to the Aquarium! The Northern Waters gallery features several handsome adults scurrying around their cold-water exhibit. Look for wee juveniles in the lobster nursery at the Blue Planet Action Center. They're just tiny versions of the adults—complete with the unexpected colors!

8/14/14

The ins and outs of lobster molting

You can find American lobsters (Homarus americanus) on exhibit at the Aquarium every day. From the tiny juveniles in the Blue Planet Action Center to the heavy-weights carving out territories in the chilly habitat of the Northern Waters Gallery. Plan a visit today to see New England's favorite crustacean. 

Here's a story of a lobster rite of growing up—molting—brought to you by guest blogger and volunteer Daire Gaj.

What do you do if you're a lobster and you're growing too big for your shell? Climb out of your shell and grow a new one! That's what one of our lobsters behind the scenes did a couple of weeks ago.

Scroll through these pictures to see how molting happens!





















A lobster will undergo many molts in the process of growing up. It's not often that we get to see a lobster molt, though Anita Kim caught it on video back in 2009.

Anita, manager of the Aquarium lobster lab, has watched hundreds of lobsters grow up. She says that lobsters will molt most frequently when they are young, approximately once every two weeks. As they grow older, their growth slows and they may molt once a month. The oldest lobsters will molt once every few years. How long can they continue? Anita says their natural lifespan is unknown. With a tree, you can measure its age by counting the rings in its trunk; with a fish you can count the rings in its ear bones, but lobsters offer no visible indicator of age. It's possible they may be able to reach a hundred years or more.

Lobsters have an advantage when it comes to longevity, because they can regenerate body parts when they molt. “It's like getting a fresh start,” Anita says. This lobster was in the process of regrowing lost claws when it molted. You can see one of its partially grown claws in this photo from early in the process.

The highlighted version shows where the tiny regrown claw was

Sadly this lobster is now clawless again. It appears the molt did not go perfectly, and the lobster had to leave its claws inside the exoskeleton. Anita says it will happen from time to time that lobsters eject their claws while molting. “The claws are typically the difficult part,” she says, picking up a model of a lobster, and pointing to the complicated joints in the feeding claws. So imagine trying to take off a pair of tight-fitting gloves, both at the same time.

The good news is that it will have plenty of time to grow its claws again. While its brothers and sisters in the open ocean are using their claws to break open mollusks, this lobster will be getting chopped shrimp delivered via room service in its home behind the scenes.   

And if you think that's cool, you might be interested in this video of a juvenile lobster molting behind the scenes in our lobster research lab!

Juvenile lobster in the nursery

See lobsters like this juvenile at the Aquarium's lobster nursery! Imagine how many molts are ahead of this little guy. Plan a visit today.

8/5/14

Feeding Time: Shark and Ray Touch Tank

How do you feed a shark or a stingray? Very carefully! That’s a joke that we hear (and tell) a lot at the Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank. And while it might be a joke, feeding our animals is something we take very seriously at the Aquarium!

Everyone looks forward to breakfast!

The topic of feeding (and eating!) comes up a lot throughout the Aquarium. It makes sense—eating is one of those universal things that all of us organisms need to do. With over 100 animals in the touch tank, visitors often are curious to learn how we feed so many animals in one place.

The first question many people ask is what do we feed the animals in the exhibit. Fortunately, all of the different species of sharks and rays eat the same types of food. So what’s on the menu? Mealtime usually includes squid, small fish, clams and shrimp. The diet is prepared first thing in the morning and then fed to the exhibit throughout the day.

Breakfast!

As feeding time arrives, food is simply scattered on the sandy bottom of the exhibit. Both sharks and rays will cruise over the sand, picking up pieces of food as they go. To ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get something to eat, the exhibit has food added to it a couple of times a day. But the animals never know when it’s coming—we change the times slightly each day to keep them guessing!

Making sure everyone gets something to eat

Food sinking to the bottom

As the food sinks to the bottom, animals come from all over the exhibit to the two main sandy areas. Even those animals that usually hide during the day, including the sharks, will come out for a snack! In a flurry of fins, tails, and mouths, the food is gone in no time!





With a keen sense of smell, these animals can locate their prey easily. And as their mouths are located on, or near, the bottom of their body, scooping up food from sand is no problem. Both the rays and sharks will eat when they are hungry, so it's possible that every animal might not eat at each meal. But with feedings happening throughout the day, everyone has the opportunity to find a yummy snack when they want one.

A white-spotted bamboo shark and her squid snack!

Perhaps next time you visit the Aquarium, you might just be in time to see the shark and stingray touch tank exhibit animals get something to eat. Consider buying your tickets online and printing them at home so you can zip in the door when you arrive. Here's where to start planning your next visit!

And in case you're hungry for a snack of your own, head over to the New England Aquarium's website for environmentally friendly seafood options and seafood recipes. Bon appetit!