Hidden Gem: Live Mangrove Exhibit

The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank is an Aquarium favorite. When you walk into the Aquarium's West Wing, it's easy to bee-line right to this beautiful, interactive exhibit filled with gregarious cownose rays and fascinating sharks. But you'd be missing a gem of a tank at the entrance to the exhibit. So stop for second, get quiet and belly up to the live mangrove display on your right.

Here's a quick peek at the tank—Vine-video-style. (If you have the Vine app, look for us @NEAQ!)

This tank is bursting with life—from speedy fish, to colorful anemones to hermit crabs to the upside-down jellies to live plants! Let's get to know a couple of the stars of this tank so you can impress your fellow visitors with your knowledge.

An upside-down jelly

First up, the upside-down jelly, (Cassiopea xamachana). These jellies lie on the sandy bottom with their four branching tentacles left to sway in the water. The bluish fringe contains symbiotic zooxanthallae, which are tiny plants that make food for the jelly. Those tentacles also filter nutrients and plankton out of the water. Scientists studying mangrove ponds in Belize know these tentacles also pack a bit of a sting, too.

By Aquaimages [CC-BY-SA-2.5] via Wikimedia Commons

Don't forget the copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus). You may have noticed this guy zoom past the camera during the jelly clip. These fast, flat fish have a long snout that helps them eat small crustaceans, worms and coral polyps. It is an asset to this exhibit, too, because it likes to snack on parasites that might hitch a ride into the exhibit!

A speedy fusilier

The double-lined fusilier (Pterocaesio digramma) are easy to spot with two bright yellow stripes against their sleek bluish-silver bodies. While they are related to snapper, they are well adapted to eating smaller prey such as crustaceans that live in the silty layer on the bottom of a mangrove stand.

Photo: Nick Hobgood [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Tube anemones look quite graceful dotting the tank. Take a close look and you'll notice two distinct rings of tentacles and a tube-like body. The outer ring of tentacles is for defense and capturing prey. The inner ring is used to manipulate their food. If disturbed, they can completely retract into their tube! These anemones are different from other anemones, like the green anemones, and attach to the substrate by secreting a hard mucus tube.

via Wikimedia Commons

And what would a mangrove exhibit be without mangrove plants! We have some young plants that have started to put down roots, along with some sculptural mangrove roots. Mangroves are incredibly important marine habitats. They provide a cozy nursery for sharks and other fish to grow up, they are essential for healthy coral reefs, they protect coasts from storm damage and they are a carbon sink! But there has been a 17 percent decline in mangrove forests since 1980, according to the IUCN.

With all the animals that call this tiny tank home, just imagine all the marine animals in the wild that are threatened by the loss of mangrove habitats. The best way to save mangroves is to prevent them from being destroyed in the first place. Conservation organizations around the world are working to protect mangrove forests from deforestation and pollution.

-Dave Allen contributed information for this entry


Jaw-Dropping Cuttlefish Video

Ask some serious fish nerds what their favorite animal is and there is a good chance that they will mention cuttlefish, which are both freaky and very cool. Take a minute to watch this stunning slow-motion video (with their real-time counterpart clips) of the cuttlefish feeding and changing color and you'll know what we're talking about.

This super-crisp, slow-motion video was a collaboration between New England Aquarium, an underwater photographer, a physicist and a local tech company. At 500 frames per second, the footage appears about 17 times slower than it occurs to the naked eye. The result: a spectacular new window on cuttlefish in action. Did you see how this cunning cephalopod captured its food with two shotgun-like tentacles? Once it snagged the fish, it pulled it into the grasp of eight waiting suction-cupped arms. Learn more about this stunning video.

Cuttlefish are related to squid and octopus. When they feel threatened, they can change color and skin pattern in just a few seconds. The lighting-fast color change is quite subtle in the slow-motion video.

Cuttlefish change colors and patterns to blend into their surroundings.

The Aquarium’s cuttlefish tank currently houses nine cuttlefish patrolling the water column, wary of some of their pesky neighbors—rays and guitarfish. Come by to see these amazing creatures in action. With special construction pricing in effect, you'll save when you come belly up to this exhibit to marvel at their tentacles and color changing expertise.

Cuttlefish are fascinating for any age!

Can't get enough of these cephalopods? Check out these fun facts, and meet some former Aquarium residents—dwarf cuttlefish.


Shark Love

Shark love. It's not a new reality show or a killer band name (yet). It's what's happening behind the scenes at the New England Aquarium! We couldn't let the sweetest of holidays go by without introducing this prolific pair of Valentines. With spring on the horizon, it gets us thinking about all those babies, too!

Our female epaulette shark cozy under her bread tray habitat. The male shark is never far away.

Our happy epaulette shark couple has been "together" for about four years. They started out in The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank along with another male. With two males competing for one female, the two sharks got a little aggressive after hours. One of the males had to have a time-out behind the scenes to recover from a torn dorsal fin, which a common injury to mating epaulette sharks in the wild.

But by himself in the recovery room, he refused to eat. So the aquarists thought to move the female to the same tank. He ate (and mated) right away, and they've been living happily every after ever since! The aquarists usually find them fin-to-fin under their favorite hiding spot, which is a repurposed bread tray. Epaulette sharks are very tactile and as you can see with this pile of shark pups, they like to stick close together. 

Older epaulette shark pups resting together in a pipe habitat.

Speaking of shark pups, while you can't see this pair on exhibit at the Aquarium, you can definitely see their babies! Just in time for February school vacation, we have a fantastic new shark nursery exhibit. Families will have an opportunity to see epaulette and coral cat shark pups at different stages of development. Check out this post to see what those adorable shark babies look like at different stages of development.

An epaulette shark egg case with the yolk clearly visible.

It's quite obvious that this is happy couple because of how many shark pups they have produced over the years. She lays about five egg cases every month. So many pups, in fact, that we have transported some to other zoos and aquariums around the world. This means that epaulette sharks are not taken from the wild for exhibit.

Baby epaulette sharks are born with stripes to help them camouflage

As the sharks age, they lose their stripes but their namesake "epaulette" spot remains.

Come by the Aquarium's shark and ray touch tank and get to know the children of this very happy couple this Valentine's Day or any day during February school vacation! Special construction pricing is in effect, so you'll save when you visit during the reconstruction of the Giant Ocean Tank.