Captivating Camouflage [Seadragon GIFs]

For your daydreaming pleasure, please enjoy these leafy seadragon gifs.

And now that we have your attention, how about some seadragon fun facts. Did you know seadragons are a temperate species? They are not the delicate tropical flowers they seem. The water in their tank is a brisk 58–62˚! Brrrr.

The leafy and weedy seadragons have tiny mouths that open rapidly to suck in their prey. And they are very particular about that prey, in fact—only mysid shrimp is on the menu.

These slow-moving animals rely on those fluttering decorative appendages for camouflage only. To get around, albeit slowly, they use the clear dorsal fin that you see undulating on their back. They also have two smaller fins on either side of their neck.

Leafy seadragon

There are only three species of seadragon on the planet—two of which you can see here at the Aquarium. The leafy (seen here in gif-fy glory) and the weedy are on display in the Seadragon Exhibit of our Temperate Gallery. The third species is the recently-identified ruby seadragon.

Try spotting them among the habitat in their Level 2 exhibit here at the Aquarium. And if you cannot get enough seadragons, check out aquarist Jeremy Brodt's expedition blogs from his trip to seadragon country in Australia.


Lobsters Pee Out of...Where?!

For many of us, the upcoming months are a festive time spent with family and friends. Whether gathered around for a holiday meal or just spending some time together, there’s always a need for a “fun fact” to share with the group. Out of fun facts? Well look no further! Your fun fact for the day: lobsters pee out of their heads.

Wait, they do what?! Yup! It’s true! So what’s the deal? To start, animals need to communicate with others for lots of reasons. It could be to send an alarm, find a mate or defend a territory. Lobsters are no different. And in the ocean, chemicals, called pheromones, are an important communication method. These chemicals travel through the water, potentially impacting the behavior of another animal. If you’re a lobster hunkered down in your own cave, you need to communicate with other lobsters walking by. That’s where pee comes in!

Internal anatomy...find the bladder by the eyes (Gulf of Maine Research Institute)

A lobster’s bladder is located under their brain. Pheromones are created, added to the urine and then released from nephropores at the base of their antennae. And that urine stream can go far…up to seven feet away from the lobster. That’s some pretty powerful pee propulsion! But what is that urine “saying” to other lobsters? The pheromones are used mostly for love…and war.

Adult lobster looking for a place to hang out

This juvenile lobster found Home Sweet Shell

Lobsters face towards the entrance of their cave, making it easy to defend the home-front from other lobsters, with males asserting their dominance over neighboring lobsters. Peeing out of their heads is the most direct way for urine to travel out of their home into the surrounding water. If two males find themselves in the same area, one lobster is determined to be the strongest and may depend on the amount of pheromone in the urine stream. This gives him a competitive edge for the best shelter and preferential mating rights.

Lobster condos provides enough space for everyone!

Once the battle has been won, it’s now time to impress the ladies. A dominant male lobster will have a more attractive scent to female lobsters, indicating that he’s a good choice for a mate. Picking up on that scent, a female lobster cautiously approaches the male’s burrow and urinates towards him! This reduces his aggression, allowing the female to enter his cave for mating. And because she wants the male all to herself, the female will use more urine to tell other females walking by that the male lobster is “unavailable” at the current moment.

So there you have it…your fun fact for any gathering of family or friends. Need some more information on lobsters or want to take a trip to see lobsters in person? Head to the Aquarium and see a 12-pound lobster in our Gulf of Maine boulder reef exhibit or the 6-month old lobsters in our lobster nursery in the Blue Planet Action Center.

Lobsters helping us to learn about shell rot

More importantly, learn how Aquarium researchers study shell rot, a disease that’s impacting lobsters throughout New England, and work with lobster fishers to ensure healthy lobster populations for generations to come. And you never know…you may find your new fun fact while you’re here!


Ancient Fish Food

Lunchtime in the Ancient Fishes exhibit comes with equal parts "Awesome!" and "Ewww." You see, the elephantnose fish are fed blackworms through a feeding tube that delivers the writhing bolus to the gravelly bottom of the tank. That's where the elephantnose fish root around with their trunklike protrusions, which happens to be on their lower jaw and not their nose.

Aquarist Jeremy Brodt planted a GoPro camera at the bottom of the tank so you could have an up-close look at this awesomely chaotic feeding frenzy.

While there is evidence that the trunk-like proboscis may have electroreceptors, elephantnose fish primarily use this sensory organ to probe the substrate for food.

Elephantnose fish probe the gravel for leftovers

This species has a brain to body size ratio similar to that of humans! Much scientific research has been dedicated to study how elephantfish use weak electric fields to sense their surroundings and possibly to communicate. Perhaps their cerebellum is so enlarged to help them interpret bio-electrical signals.

Feeding time in this exhibit is always exciting, the elephantnose fish are just one of many fascinating creatures to observe. Visit the Aquarium and be sure to spend some time getting to know these well-evolved ancient fishes.

More about this exhibit:


Anaconda Gets a New Skin

As animals grow, different processes happen. Hermit crabs find a new shell to call home. Lobsters shed their shells and grow new ones. Flounders have one eye migrate to the other side of their body. For our three green anacondas on exhibit, it means it’s time to molt, or shed, their skin!

All stretched out
To start the process, the snake first “loosens up” the skin along their body by secreting fluid in between the old and new skin over the course of a week or two. Once ready to go, the snake rubs their head against an object, snagging their skin on a rock, tree root or some other obstacle, causing the stretched skin to split and start peeling off.

The perfect spot to take off that skin
The skin comes off in the same way you might peel off a long sock-if you pull at the top, the inside becomes the outside! The molted skin will sometimes come off as one piece, including the scale that covers each eye!

The white part is the skin being shed
The New England Aquarium’s anacondas molt fairly often, depending on how fast they have been growing. And with over 30 feet of snake on exhibit, there’s usually some molted skin to be seen.

Newly molted skin
When a particularly nice molt happens and the skin stays in one piece, the aquarists will often lay it out on the tops of tanks to dry it out. After some additional preparation and cleaning, educators can then show it off to visitors and behind the scene tours. And though the skins get stretched a bit, it still gives us an idea of how big the snakes are!

A recent molt left to dry

Close-up of the scale
The aquarists will remove any pieces of skin that are left over, but not before many fish in the exhibit have a snack. And while the fish make for a colorful exhibit, as well as tiny snake skin vacuums, these fish are part of an important conservation initiative.

Small fish, big project
Project Piaba works to foster sustainable trade at a commercial level for wild-caught aquarium fish in the Rio Negro basin of Brazil. By working with fishers in the area to create a sustainable fishery for these common hobbyist species, this in turn provides protection to this vital rainforest ecosystem from harmful practices and habitat destruction. It ensures these fish, and the anacondas, have a healthy home for future generations and supports local communities along the Rio Negro.

In the trees
With fewer visitors in the building, now's a great time to visit and "hang" out with the anacondas. You may see them with a new, brightly-colored skin and some fish with a tasty snack!

Love 'em or hate 'em, snakes are fascinating and important parts of our blue planet. Keep reading about these slinkly reptiles with a blog about anaconda check-ups with our vets.


Future Flamboyant Cuttlefish?

In vibrant swatches of moving color, the flamboyant cuttlefish have made quite a splash on Central Wharf. For the past several weeks, these small relatives of octopuses and squid have been living in the Tropical Gallery, showing off their ability to instantly change color or using their arms to “walk” across the exhibit floor. Only reaching 3 inches in length, these little animals are a visitor, and staff, favorite!

The colorful flamboyant cuttlefish

Native to the Indo-Pacific region, these particular cuttlefish were raised at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and then flown to Boston. While many aquaria across the U.S. showcase different cuttlefish species, there are very few that have flamboyant cuttlefish on exhibit. That makes us very excited to show them off! And while it’s amazing to watch these animals up close, we know it’s only for a short time. Like many of their relatives, the flamboyant cuttlefish only live about a year, so we make sure to enjoy them while we have them.

Hiding underneath a sea urchin
As with other species, flamboyant cuttlefish mate towards the end of their life. Males fight over the best mating dens and then settle in to wait. A female will appear at the den’s entrance, mate and then fertilize her eggs with the sperm packet the male has delivered to her. Once the fertilized eggs have been laid in well-protected spaces like ledges or crevices, the cuttlefish pass away. It’s always disappointing when it happens, but it’s a way of life in the cuttlefish world.

Mating behavior spotted on exhibit
The current batch of flamboyant cuttlefish are nearing the end of their lifespan, but we have hopes for future generations! Our expert staff and volunteers have successfully bred and raised the young of other species of cuttlefish and were up for the challenge with this new species. We had kept our fingers crossed that the flamboyant cuttlefish would settle in and eventually breed…and we weren’t disappointed. About a week ago…success!

Cuttlefish eggs...can you find the eye?
Mating behavior was recently spotted in the exhibit and not long after, the staff found several small, transparent eggs among the pieces of coral. The eggs were careful extracted from the exhibit and put into a gentle “tumbler” behind the scenes. This simple piece of equipment allows the eggs to stay healthy and develop without the worry of them being eaten by hungry sea stars or sea urchins while on exhibit.

Egg tumbler keeps the eggs gently moving
To add to our excitement, one egg, which was developmentally way ahead of the others, hatched! Smaller than your pinky nail, this little newbie is growing behind the scenes with the other eggs. Though it's small right now, you can tell this little guy has some big attitude!

Can you see it?
Big attitude in a teeny, tiny body
While we aren’t sure how many of this next generation will survive, we have our fingers crossed that it goes well. Given our past track record with other cuttlefish, we're hopeful what we can raise this new batch of flamboyant cuttlefish and showcase them in the exhibit once they get bigger. But for now, the staff and volunteers are working hard to keep these little colorful bundles healthy, and their sights on sharing these amazing animals with future Aquarium visitors!  


VIDEO: Flamboyant cuttlefish being fabulous

See some surprisingly beautiful animals—like a flamboyant cuttlefish—at the Aquarium. Plan a visit and buy your ticket online—no service charges.

The flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) may only grow to be 2 or 3 inches long and live just a few months, but they sure can make a spectacle. Just watch!


Did you notice the rippling stripes surging down the little cuttlefish's back? This species can hypnotize its prey and change colors using chromataphores in its skin. [Head over to KQED Science to learn about this remarkable ability.] All those flashy visuals also tell predators to steer clear of a toxic meal. The cuttlefish's skin is toxic—and even the aquarists have to be careful not to touch!

Flamboyant cuttlefish in its exhibit.

Native to the western Pacific, these flamboyant cuttlefish were hatched by our friends at Monterey Bay Aquarium and are now nearing the end of their lifespan. But exciting things are happening behind the scenes here on Central Wharf (hint: it's very, very tiny but still flamboyant). Stay tuned!


Birth Announcement: Lined Seahorses!

See the baby seahorses! Buy your tickets online today and pay no ticketing surcharge. As a non-profit, proceeds from tickets pay for our education, conservation and research programs—and help feed the animals. 

Today's post comes from guest blogger and volunteer Daire Gaj, who volunteers in the Dive Department and behind the scenes of many exhibits.

Visitors to the Edge of the Sea touch tank are in for a special surprise: dozens of baby sea horses! Check them out in this video:

These babies are lined seahorses, or Hippocampus erectus, a species found in the waters off Cape Cod, with a range extending south to Argentina. But these seahorses weren't found in the ocean; they were born in the Aquarium near the Edge of the Sea tidepool touch tank! Take a step to the left and you'll see a tall tank full of adult seahorses.

This is where aquarist Dave Wedge discovered the babies on the morning of September 13. He quickly moved them to their own tank, where you can see them now.

An adult male seahorse at the New England Aquarium. He might be the father of the baby seahorses.
Or it might be one of his tankmates.

Seahorses are special in that the male gives birth. During mating, the female gives him 250 - 650 eggs, which he will carry for about 20 days until he's ready to release the live offspring into the water column. Breeding typically happens from May to October, triggered by the warmer water temperatures. This made me wonder if the seahorses at the Aquarium have a breeding season. "Not really," says aquarist Jackie Anderson. Instead, they tend to breed whenever the staff turn up the temperature in their tank.

It takes lined seahorses about 9 months to grow as big as their parents. Eventually, these babies will be too big for the exhibit, and will need to be moved behind the scenes, so catch them while you can! Even after they're gone, there will still be plenty of seahorses and related animals to see.  Look for the Caribbean dwarf seahorses in the Yawkey Coral Reef Center, and the seadragons in the Thinking Gallery.

Actual size: These aren't babies! Caribbean dwarf seahorses grow to a maximum size of one and a half inches.

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


The yellow-spotted river turtles visit the vet

Kerry McNally is a biologist in the Animal Health department. She blogged extensively when she was with the Rescue department. Today she takes us behind the scenes to show how the resident yellow-spotted river turtles get their annual check-ups. 

Did you know we have many species of turtles that live in the aquarium? Not only do we have our resident sea turtles including Myrtle the green turtle, but we also have several brackish water and freshwater species such as the diamondback terrapin that you can find in the Mangrove Exhibit or the Amazon river turtles in the anaconda exhibit. Like our sea turtles, these animals get annual physicals just like humans every year.

Yellow-spotted river turtle | Photo: Christine A. via Flickr

Recently, our Amazon yellow-spotted turtles came out of the Amazon Flooded Forest Exhibit for their exams by veterinarian Julie.

Turtle in its tank before the exam

The exam by our veterinarian is what you would expect at your own doctor. The turtles need a check-up just like us! First step is to get a weight on the turtle.

Peru, our 25 year old female, gets her weight taken.

Peru is not shy about it so I can tell you she weighs almost 23 pounds! Her son Oedipus, who was born here at the Aquarium in October of 2005, weighed in at 10 pounds.

Then the turtles get a full visual exam by our veterinarian. This includes looking at the eyes, in the mouth, and looking over the entire animal for any abnormalities.

Julie exams the eyes of Peru.  

Julie examining the plastron, or bottom shell, of Oedipus. 

The last part of the exam involves taking blood for analysis. The results allow us to make sure the animals are in good health.  Where do you think we get blood from this type of turtle?

If you guessed the tail you are right! Above, blood is being taken from dorsal tail.  

The turtles don’t seem to mind being out for their exams once a year. Their annual exams are important to ensuring they get the best care here at the aquarium. Until they visit the Animal Medical Center next year, you can find them in the Amazon Rainforest Gallery.

Oedipus hangs out in his make shift hammock, one of his favorite spots where you can find him. 

— Kerry


The Terrific Terrapin!

The New England Aquarium is THE place to see turtles! It’s usually our sea turtles that get all the attention. But did you know that weaving between the tendrils of the tree roots in our Mangrove exhibit lives the most unique turtle in America? Introducing the diamondback terrapin!

One of the Aquarium's diamondback terrapins (Photo: A. Sargent)
So what makes Malaclemys terrapin so unique? It is the only turtle in the US that lives in brackish water, a mixture of fresh and salt water found in coastal salt marshes, estuaries and tidal creeks. Ranging along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, these terrific terrapins are locally found on Cape Cod. Living in salty water can be tough, but terrapins have thick skin and a gland near their eyes which allows them to “cry” out excess salt, just like sea turtles!

Right at home in the marsh (Coastal Review Online/Tess Malijenovsky)

Home sweet home-the Aquarium's Mangrove Exhibit!

No matter where they live, terrapins they are important to their ecosystem! Their smiley expression is thanks to a set of big, strong jaws, perfect for cracking hard shells of a favorite food- snails! Periwinkle snails, though small, can alter a coastal salt marsh community if their populations grow too numerous. In large numbers, the snails overgraze marsh grasses and can quickly damage habitat.

Any snails around? (Photo: A. Sargent)

Periwinkles climbing marsh grass (NOAA Photo Library)
Don’t worry—it’s terrapins to the rescue! The turtles, acting as a top predator, keep marshes healthy by keeping snail populations in check. In turn, the salt marshes and other estuarine ecosystems provide good homes for animals and even protect humans! Estuaries protect coastal and inland areas from storms by absorbing wave energy, filter out pollutants and also serve as nursery zones for commercially important fish species. The terrapins help the marshes, which in turn help us humans!

Salt marsh in Boston's backyard (MA Bays Program)
As it turns out, these feisty reptiles need our help. Diamondback terrapins are currently listed as threatened here in Massachusetts. So what can we do? While recreational and commercial crabbing is a threat in some areas, the biggest overall challenge terrapins face is the loss of crucial marsh habitats, as humans development and sea level rise encroaches on prime terrapin real estate. Fortunately, there are communities and conservation organizations that work to protect and restore salt marshes! If you or someone you know lives along the coast, encourage them to join and support the cause!

Happy news for terrapins! (Photo: S. Bazany)
So how did we get our two feisty terrapins if this species is protected? It’s a great turtle rescue story. In 2005, a female terrapin was struck by a car in New York. Although she did not survive, two little ping-pong sized eggs were rescued, carefully incubated and successfully hatched! We received the little terrapins not long after, and they've been living here ever since. When you visit next, make sure to check out the Mangrove Exhibit on the second floor, and take in our terrific terrapins!

Oh hi...is it time to eat? Our two resident terrapins (Photo: A. Sargent)


Local Turtle Species: The Blanding's Turtle

Turtles are the stars of the show this summer…and many different species call the Aquarium home. Some turtles are on exhibit full-time while some of turtles only make special appearances. One of these special guests is a local freshwater Blanding’s turtle named Skip!

Oh hi there...
Named for the naturalist who discovered them in the 1800’s, Blanding’s turtles can be found in wetland areas, like ponds and marshes, from Massachusetts through the Great Lakes. Even though they have a big range, they face some tough challenges and their numbers have dropped over the past several decades. There are now only pockets of them left, including some in Massachusetts.

Range of Blanding's Turtles (www.blandingsturtle.org)

Blanding's Turtle in its wetland habitat (www.blandingsturtle.org)
One biggest challenge for Blanding’s turtles? It’s something we use every day…roads!

Trying to cross the road (Dav Kaufman)
Imagine trying to cross a busy highway on foot. Not easy, right? Roads make life tricky for many species. Blanding’s turtles will move a mile or two to find food, mates and nesting sites, so crossing roads is a necessary part of life…but it’s also dangerous. Many are hit by cars and don’t survive. Fortunately, there are communities working with state transportation departments to install road signs that warn motorists of Blanding’s turtles in the area as well as building fences around nesting locations in hopes of reducing road mortality.

Turtle crossing sign in Maine (Maine DIFW)
You too can help! If you see a turtle crossing a road, first make sure it is safe for you to move the turtle. Then pick the turtle up and move it to the other side of the road, making sure to maintain direction and place it in the direction it was heading.

If these turtles are threatened in Massachusetts, then why do we keep two here at the Aquarium? One of our turtles, Skip, was found by a family who decided to bring him home as a pet. Not a good idea! It’s illegal to remove a threatened or endangered species from the wild, so state wildlife officials confiscated the turtle and brought him here.

Good thing to remember (www.ma.gov)
Skip can't return to the wild for a couple of reasons. First, we don't know what population he came from, and second he may have been exposed to diseases that he could transmit to native populations. As there were concerns about his ability to survive in the wild, the decision was made to give him a forever home on Central Wharf!

Skip gets ready for a meal
Skip, and all of our other turtles, are well taken care of by Aquarium staff, with lots of space to swim and gourmet meals of worms, fruits, veggies, crickets and more. He is visited by our Marine Mammal trainers, who work with him during enrichment sessions to keep his mind sharp and feed him a snack  (check out the video). Skip even gets “shell-icures”, having his shell scrubbed with a toothbrush. And in return for his prime accommodations, Skip is an ambassador for his wild Blanding’s turtle counterparts, showcasing how we can all help turtles, even it’s helping them to cross the road.


Cuttlefish lays eggs!

The Aquarium is all turtle, all the time this summer. But there are still thousands of other animals, just swimming there and being fascinating! Just this week, the pharaoh cuttlefish began laying eggs. It's a process that can take a couple days. Luckily, aquarist Brianne Dent was on hand to record a quick video of this special event!

These eggs should be fertilized since Brianne has observed breeding behavior between individuals. Visit in the next few days and you might be able to see the eggs! They will probably only stay on exhibit for a few days so they can mature and stabilize a bit. But as soon as it's save, the aquarists will take the eggs behind the scenes—away from the hungry mouths of the urchins.

Pharaoh cuttlefish (Sepia pharaonis)

Behind the scenes, the eggs will go into a holding tank and we will rear them behind the scenes for the next generation of pharaoh cuttlefish for the exhibit! The animals on exhibit are currently from wild caught eggs that were hatched out by our colleagues at a fellow aquarium. That means they have good genetic stock and aren’t too inbred, which can be a problem with captive cuttlefish.

More cuttle time: