Introductions: Common tern, meet a fellow common tern!

Our new common tern was introduced into our Shorebirds Exhibit on December 3. Before that, we'd sent out some of her feathers to a laboratory where the sex of the bird was determined through DNA analysis, as male and female terns look almost identical. While the bird was in still quarantine, we learned that she was a female.

Ike stands on the left, Truro on the right

We also gave her a name, Truro. In the exhibit, Truro joined our other female common tern, Ike, as well as eight other birds. Because Ike had been the only tern in the exhibit since she was introduced as a juvenile almost seven years ago, we were uncertain as to how the terns would react to each other.

Truro on the left, Ike on the right

Surprisingly, Ike, the older bird, was afraid of Truro, while Truro was eager to be around other terns and would try to approach Ike. Over several weeks, Ike began to warm up to Truro and although they don’t interact very much we often see them standing within a foot or two of each other. Both terns have also been trained to approach the door of the exhibit to get fed their morning fish with a vitamin inside of it and Truro has caught on to the routine very quickly.

Come visit the shorebirds exhibit and get to know some of the beautiful birds on your local beaches! Here are some of the animals you'll find:


A lobster with spines

The Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) can be found from North Carolina and Bermuda south to Brazil—and also in the Aquarium's Blue Hole exhibit, where they share the space with some impressive goliath groupers.

Spiny lobster—note the absence of the powerful front claws that American lobsters have

While Caribbean spiny lobsters are nocturnal, you can find them scurrying about the dim exhibit or resting in their favorite den. They are about a foot long, though they can grow to be longer than 3 feet and weigh 15 pounds in the wild!

Spiny lobster in the Aquarium's Blue Hole exhibit

Caribbean spiny lobsters are one of approximately 30 different spiny lobster species found in tropical and sub-tropical waters around the world. They can migrate long distances in single file lines called queues. This species can live down to depths of about 1,650 feet and feed on gastropods, bivalves, and carrion (dead things). Moray eels, nurse sharks, groupers, turtles and sometimes octopus are among the animals that prey on these animals.

Spiny lobster queue | Photo: Florida State University Herrnkind Lab

Unlike the American lobster they lack large claws and have spines covering their body for protection. Like their American lobster cousins, Caribbean spiny lobsters have long antennae on the front of their carapaces for defense. Caribbean spiny lobsters also shed their shells in order to grow bigger like other crustaceans.

Caribbean spiny lobster with antennae | Photo: Becky A. Dayhuff via Wikimedia Commons

You can sometimes find an Aquarium educator holding a molt, which was collected after an animal in the Blue Hole exhibit shed its shell. This happens when lobsters split their shell into two pieces and squeeze out, leaving the molt behind. Look out for this biofact because it's a great way to get a feel for those spines that give this lobster its name!

Conservation Notes: Caribbean spiny lobsters are a popular seafood and commercially fished. The fishery is regulated with size, season, egg-bearing and trap limits. The population of the Caribbean spiny lobster is healthy.

Look for other lobsters throughout the Aquarium! Can you find relatives of the Caribbean spiny lobster in the Isle of Shoals, Boulder Reef, Lobster Nursery and Edge of the Sea exhibits? 

— Meghan-Elizabeth Foster, Visitor Educator


New Arrival: A Common Tern

In October we were lucky to have the opportunity to acquire another bird for our Shorebird Exhibit, a juvenile common tern. Common terns are smaller and more delicate than their relatives the seagulls. They are graceful fliers and you may have seen them at the beach, hovering in the air before plunging into the ocean to catch small fish. They breed in Canada and the Northern US and migrate to the coast of South America in the winter.

Our common tern in holding

Despite their name, common terns have experienced large declines in their population. They were hunted for their feathers in the late 19th century and were harmed by pesticide use in the 1970’s. Today they continue to be threatened by coastal development.

This tern was discovered emaciated and unable to fly on a beach near Orleans, MA, on Cape Cod in late August. She was brought to Wild Care where the rehabbers discovered that her right wing was injured. She had no fractures that were detectable from radiographs, so the injury was likely due to a torn tendon or ligament. The tern lived in an aviary through September and into October while her care-takers waited to see whether her wing injury would heal so that she could be released to migrate south with other terns in October. It became clear that the bird would not be able to fly well enough to be able to fish or migrate.

New England Aquarium staff picked her up in late October, just in time before some cold weather set in! The tern went into quarantine in an indoor enclosure. We were pleasantly surprised by how calm she was around people. She would squawk loudly in the morning to remind us that it was time to be fed her first fish of the day!

Our new common tern came to us from the same wildlife rehabilitation facility, Wild Care, as our semipalmated sandpiper. The exchange of these birds was mutually beneficial—Wild Care found a good home for two non-releasable birds and the Aquarium now has two great new exhibit animals that will help educate the public about shorebirds and their conservation.

Stay posted for an upcoming blog about the tern’s introduction in the exhibit.