4/8/16

Baby Seahorses: Seven-Month Check In

It takes about 9 months for baby lined seahorses to grow to full size. So as you can see, these seahorses born this past September are already well on their way to adulthood. Several weeks ago they graduated to adult food — mysid shrimp — and a few are large enough to go into the larger tank!

Finally, a few of the largest seahorses made it into the large exhibit
across from the electric eel on Level 3!

Let's take a walk down memory lane to see how these amazing creatures have grown over the past few months! Here's a collection of pictures of the baby seahorses, starting with newborn pictures from last September.

September (squeee!): Newborn seahorses float around their small exhibit around the corner from their parents 
October: Still free floating but getting bigger
December: Their tails are stronger and grabbing onto the habitat added to their exhibit
Early January: Coloration getting much darker
Late January: Starting to look like tiny adults!

March: The seahorses started eating frozen mysid shrimp and grew by leaps and bounds.
They were just weeks away from joining the adults!

April: A few of the babies were added to the large exhibit finally! You can tell the young ones from the adults
in the exhibit because the youngsters are smaller, obviously, and they are much lighter in color.

Watching the babies grow has been an absolute treat this winter. Be sure to come visit to see these youngsters before they're all grown up!

For comparison, here's an adult lined seahorse. 

If you liked this post, here a couple more posts you might enjoy:

3/17/16

Hoppin' Happenings: Poison Dart Frogs!

Animals have different ways of protecting themselves in the wild. Some are masters of camouflage, blending in with their surroundings until they are practically invisible. There are some animals, however, that advertise their presence with bright patterns or colors…just like our poison dart frogs!

I see you!
Located on the third floor of the Aquarium, our Poison Dart Frog exhibit has four different species of brightly-colored amphibians. Seen hopping around or sticking to the glass, the species showcased are found throughout the rain forests and humid lowlands of South America, including places like Brazil, French Guiana, Venezuela, and Colombia. To make it seem like home, the exhibit has live plants, “rains” and has a constantly running water feature to keep it nice and humid.

Home Sweet Exhibit
Among the green vegetation of the exhibit, it’s easy to pick out the vibrant yellow, cobalt blue, lime green and deep black patterns that these species wear so well. But why the bright colors? Animals that stand out from their environment are often warning other animals that messing with them will end in bad news! These brightly colored or patterned animals may be venomous (like lionfish), have a foul odor (like skunks) or be poisonous to eat. As you might guess by their common name, poison dart frogs have a toxin on their skin that makes them non-palatable to other animals.

How many frogs do you see?
So where does that toxin come from? The frogs don’t create their own toxin but rather gather it from the food that they eat. In the wild, the frogs would eat various insects that have the toxin. The more insects they eat, the more toxin the frogs bioaccumulate and transfer to their skin. And while the Aquarium’s frogs continue to have the same bright colors as their wild counterparts, the frogs here aren’t actually poisonous!


Instead of insects they would eat in the wild, we grow fruit fries for the frogs to eat. Yup, the same fruit flies that bother the overripe bananas you left on the kitchen counter. The flies have none of the toxin so thus the frogs can’t accumulate it. And thank goodness! Different species have different toxins of varying levels of potency, with many of the toxins causing such symptoms as general pain, cramping, partial paralysis, heart complications or even death!

Fruit flies for lunch
These toxins and symptoms may seem extreme, but important research is being done to see how they work! Scientists have made synthetic versions that show promise as painkillers, muscle relaxants and heart stimulants. So there are lots to learn from these species! It’s important to keep their environment healthy and preserve these animals for future generations. In the meantime, spread the word about these amazing amphibians. March 20th is World Frog Day according to some calendars, so it's the perfect time to hop over to the Aquarium to see these petite purveyors of potent pigments

Beautiful blues

3/16/16

A crab for the cuttlefish

A beautiful broadclub cuttlefish is currently stalking our cuttlefish exhibit. It is fed an assortment of seafoods, including live crabs now and then. Recently a staff member had their phone recording video during afternoon snack. Take a look at this cool behind-the-scenes video!


[Check out our Behind-the-Scenes Tours if you want another perspective on our exhibits—like this one.] 

While it takes about a half-hour to eat a fish, it may take the cuttlefish more than an hour to devour the crab because of its crusty exoskeleton. The aquarist usually find only the carapace and a few legs after the meal.

The way cuttlefish capture their prey is pretty fascinating to watch, too, but it happens so fast! We actually have some spectacular slow-motion footage that shows exactly how a cuttlefish (a common cuttlefish, in this case) nabs its meal. Watch how this cunning cephalopod captures its food with two retractable tentacles, then pulling it into the grasp of eight waiting suction cupped arms.



This footage was taken by photographer Keith Ellenbogen at 500 frames per second, about 17 times slower than it occurs to the naked eye. A typical video camera records at about 30 frames per second.

The broadclub cuttlefish noshing on its crab snack

With your new appreciation for cuttlefish, look for these invertebrates in their Level 1 exhibit here at the Aquarium. Whether they're changing color or hunting, they never cease to amaze! And if you're interested in behind-the-scenes perspectives like in the video on this post, check out our Behind-the-Scenes Tours!

2/26/16

How to Train Your Dragon...Fish

Did you know you can train a fish? It’s true! Like our marine mammals, many fish at the Aquarium have been trained to target, touching a body part, like their snout, to a particular object. Targeting helps lead animals to where we want or orientate them to a specific area. For fish, a lot of targeting behaviors center around feeding. And one of these well-trained fish lives on the Aquarium’s second floor!
Asian arowana

The Asian arowana, aka dragonfish, is a beautiful red and gold-colored fish located in our Ancient Fishes exhibit. With lots of animals in this exhibit, it’s important to know that everyone has a chance to eat. Fortunately, our arowana has a “fin up” on the competition — he’s target trained! Having traveled from the Toledo Zoo many years ago, it’s an old pro at this behavior by now. By associating one particular object with food, the arowana will swim over and get something to eat when it spots that object.

Behind the scenes view

To start the feeding process, a large blue and white circle is lowered and hung off the side of the exhibit. This highly contrasted color combination helps the arowana see it against the background of the exhibit. Once the target is located by the arowana, it knows that it’s time to eat. The fish will swim over to the target, touch its snout to the circle (or at least get close), and then is quickly rewarded with a shrimp or small fish.

Feeding target
Just as the arowana learned how to target, there are some others that have figured it out! It’s not the only fish that swims over when the target goes in the water.  A couple of exhibit-mates, including a lung fish, can be seen hanging around trying to steal a morsel. But the aquarists are careful to try and feed only the arowana with this target, ensuring that gets its particular food selection.

Right behavior, wrong fish species

This type of feeding might seem like a lot of work for one fish. However, it’s really important for the overall health of the exhibit. It ensures that the arowana gets enough food specifically for it and allows the aquarist to get a good close at how it’s doing. Target feeding also helps alleviate competition during feedings. The arowana is a fast fishy predator, while some other fish on exhibit are a bit slower. By feeding the fish in this way, arowana only associates the target with food. No target = no food for the arowana and let’s the other animals have a chance to eat. It’s such a successful feeding strategy that we do this with other animals at the Aquarium, including sea turtles and different fish species in the Giant Ocean Tank!

Feeding and getting footage is tricky!

To see the target feeding from a visitor’s point of view, check out the video below! You’ll be able to see the arowana swim up to the blue circle. Once it swims close, Jeremy, one of our head aquarists, quickly lowers in a fish or shrimp and then it’s snack time! Next time you come in to visit, check out the Ancient Fishes exhibit and our extraordinary Asian arowana.  If you see a blue circle in the exhibit, it may mean lunch isn’t too far behind.

2/1/16

Lunchtime with the Shorebirds

The shorebirds exhibit at the Aquarium is a quiet, sunny oasis for the rescued birds that live there. Watching them bop up and down the exhibit's shoreline, listening to them cheep and squawk, is also a treat for visitors.

The shorebirds get the corner office with a view of Boston Harbor.

But mealtime might make some folks squirm.


This day, our aquarists fed the birds a tasty buffet of beetle larvae, served up in trays and distributed discretely around the exhibit. The trays keep the larvae from wriggling into the sand and pebbles in the exhibit. The fish-eating birds — the common terns and black skimmer — also dine on frozen (then thawed) silversides and capelin, which are also on the menu for other Aquarium animals like the penguins and large fish in the Giant Ocean Tank. And no, they don't actually eat the fish in the exhibit!

Preparing lunchtime for the shorebirds

And now and then, the aquarists also release a jar of crickets into the exhibit. That's when you can really see the birds forage!

Special delivery for the shorebirds: crickets

In the wild shorebirds rely heavily on bugs and crustaceans they find on the beach, mainly in the wrack, or seaweed, that washes up and is found along the high tide line. In our exhibit, however, it would be a lot of work to constantly haul 50 pounds of wrack into the everyday and we might not know how much the birds are eating.

Most of the shorebirds in the exhibit were injured and could not survive on their own in the wild. There are the common terns, Ike and Truro, the semipalmated sandpiper, and piping plover. On your next visit to the Aquarium, be sure to take a moment to watch the shorebirds in their exhibit—you'll be transported to warm summer days at the shore no matter what the weather is like outside.