11/21/14

Lobsters: Not so neighborly

Lobsters have long been part of New England culture and lore. But how much do you know about lobsters' social lives? Turns out they are not so neighborly.

The orange lobster was featured in our fall colors post a couple weeks back, for obvious reasons.

Lobsters can be aggressive and territorial, each claiming a secretive dwelling among the nooks and crannies on the ocean floor. After a skirmish, a dominant (usually larger) lobster claims the top spot in its realm of influence. Other lobsters usually stay out of its way and avoid future confrontation.

Looks like the beautiful blue lobster knows its place in the lobster exhibit at the Aquarium. Watch it avoid the orange lobster as it skulks around the exhibit looking for a fight!



Upstairs from this exhibit in the Aquarium's research laboratory, scientists are working hard studying lobster shell disease. Researchers are also working to understand the science behind lobster shell colorations. Some genetic mutations create wild colors! Other shell colors can be determined by a lobster's diet. Those colors are on display in our lobster nursery in the Blue Planet Action Center.

Come visit the Aquarium because there's probably a lot of lobsters that you don't know yet!

11/14/14

Aquarium Close Up!

With so many exhibits, habitats, colors and patterns, not to mention animals, it's no wonder that visitors can find the New England Aquarium a bit overwhelming. However, if you slow down and take a closer look, amazing details start to pop out!

It takes practice to look a little closer. Here's a quick guide to start you off. Can you tell what each animal or exhibit is by just seeing a small piece? Take a guess using the pictures below...and then look below to see if you were right!

The nose knows...
One part...of five
Strong stuff!
Light the way?
I spy with my little eye...

Done guessing? Think you know what each item is or belongs to? Okay...let's see if you were right!

First up...the furry nose.
The nose knows...
Harbor seal!
If you think that furry nose belongs to one of our marine mammals, you would be right! The nose above belongs to one of our harbor seals. Located in the front of the Aquarium, our harbor seals look sleek underwater. But once they have some time to dry, particularly when they are molting and growing in a new fur coat, you can see their fur clearly.

The second closeup can be found in the tide pool touch tank. That's right, a sea star!

One part of the whole...four more parts to go!

If you take a close look, or better yet feel the surface, of the sea star, you'll notice small, raised bumps. These bumps help keep the skin of the star clean, which is important as their gills are on the surface!

The next set of items should look familiar-you have similar looking bones in your body, though much smaller in size. These large items are some vertebrae of the North Atlantic right whale skeleton!

Strong stuff!

Hanging above the penguin exhibit, the whale skeleton gives visitors an idea of how large these animals can be. With only around 500 of them left, New England Aquarium researchers work hard to document the population in the area. This skeleton has been at the Aquarium for quite some time and came from an animal stranded on a beach. [Get a feel for the work these right whale researchers do in the field, check out the Right Whale Research Blog!]

Okay, next one! Is it a strange, bioluminescent jelly? Sunlight off some glass panel? Nope! That glowing fin fits in on the shark wall!

Light the way?
See some sharks on the shark wall


This exhibit feature showcases the silhouettes of different shark species. Many visitors don't stop to take a look, but it's definitely worth checking out! The species depicted are full size, so it's a great way to compare the size of some larger species, including basking and white sharks, with smaller species like the spiny dogfish. It's not just a pretty wall covering-it's a well-lit way to learn about sharks!

Now...what about that eye...

I spy with my little eye...
Nassau grouper in the Giant Ocean Tank
Meet the Nassau grouper, one of 120 species inside the Giant Ocean Tank! These large fish hang out towards the bottom of the exhibit, resting near sandy trays or against coral structures. You may even find these larger fish being cleaned by cleaner gobies and wrasses. Keep an "eye" out for them at the bottom of the exhibit!

So next time you are feeling overwhelmed by all of the cool things the Aquarium has to offer, take a closer look! It's a great way to slow down and see some amazing animal or exhibit details you might not have seen before!

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!