5 Reasons Horseshoe Crabs are Cool Creatures

Horseshoe crabs can be found on many beaches along the Jersey shore.  Their coolness factor? Don’t be so quick to judge.

Honestly, they get a bad wrap.  Where are their eyes?  Wait, how many eyes do they have?  That hard shell and tail don’t attract people to think of them as cute, cool or helpful creatures from the sea.  Helpful?  We’ll explain.

1. Horseshoe crabs aren’t really crabs.

They’re not crabs at all but more closely-related to spiders.

2. Here’s “looking” at you kid…

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Rachel Oh via Wikimedia Commons

Each horseshoe crab has an array of sight organs.  Large compound eyes rest on the sides of their shells. Come mating season, these bean-shaped units help crabs locate a partner. Behind each one, there’s a small, primitive photoreceptor called a lateral eye. Towards the front of the shell are two tiny median eyes and a single endoparietal eye. On its underside, a horseshoe has two “ventral eyes,” which presumably help it navigate while swimming.

2. They’re kind of dinosaurs.

And you thought Jurassic Park was the only way to see dinosaurs in 2016?  Nope.  Aside from the potential for raptors and T-Rex returning, horseshoe crabs can claim “dino-status” in the here and now. They are actually considered dinosaurs – yes, dinosaurs!  These “living fossils” have been around for 445 million years.  Discovered in 2008, the 25 millimeter-wide Lunataspis aurora crawled over Manitoba nearly half a billion years ago, about 100 million years older than any previously known forms.  This makes it the world’s oldest-known horseshoe crab. Four species are with us today, all of which closely resemble their long-extinct ancestors.

 

3. Hundreds of THOUSANDS Gather in the Delaware Bay for a Massive Breeding Frenzy.

Every year in May and June, the Delaware bay becomes the largest Atlantic horseshoe crab spawning zone on EARTH. During the night, a female will climb ashore with a male (or several) in hot pursuit. After she digs a hole and deposits her eggs, the males fertilize them. Migratory shore birds descend upon the bay in huge numbers to feed on the nutrient-rich eggs. Scores of red knots, which use the crab fest as a final stop during their yearly migration from the Arctic to South America making it a great spot for bird watching fans.

4. Adulting is super hard for a horseshoe crab.

Or making it into adulthood, anyway.  A mother can lay as many as 90,000 eggs per clutch. It’s estimated that only about 10 of those individual embryos will ever become adults. Before they get a chance to hatch, fish, sea turtles and birds consume the eggs making nesting horseshoe crabs vital to the ecology of Delaware Bay and countless other regions around the world.

5. Horseshoe crabs have been helping humans for 60 years. 

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So sweet of them, huh?  Seriously, if you are under the age 0f 40 and have been vaccinated – thank the nearest horseshoe crab you can find.  Let us explain why.

A horseshoe crab’s blood is blue and contains hemocyanin, which contains copper, to transport oxygen throughout the body and turns bluish-green when it oxidizes.

(Our blood uses iron-based hemoglobin and turns red, as you most likely are aware, when exposed to oxygen.)

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Another interesting fact about these anthropods is they lack infection-fighting white blood cells.  When you live in the sea and a single gram of undersea sediment contains roughly 1 billion bacteria, what do you do to fight infection?  Special cells called amebocytes attack pathogens in the horseshoe crab’s body by sealing them inside a gooey physical barrier, thus halting the spread of infection.

In 1956, Johns Hopkins University physician Frederick Bang discovered this characteristic leading medical researchers to test the safety of a vaccine or injectable drug by introducing horseshoe crab amebocytes into a sample.  If the cells start releasing their goo, it’s because they’ve encountered bacteria and the product isn’t ready for humans.

In the 1970s, the FDA made this test mandatory for experimental drugs and surgical implants.  The magic elixir is extracted from over 600,000 “donors” every year, each of whom parts with 30 percent of its blood before being released within 48 hours. Sadly, about 10–15 percent of captured crabs die somewhere in the process, and survivors can exhibit lethargic behavior down the road. Scientists aren’t insensitive to this problem.  Researchers have been trying to develop synthetic amebocytes and regulations have been set for blood extraction to ease impact on the species.

So there you have it. Horseshoe crabs are pretty awesome – don’t you agree?

Awesome Ocean News: President Obama expands the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

Papahanaumokuakea…say that 3 times fast.

On this gorgeous Friday leading into African Penguin Awareness Weekend, we’re excited to share that last Friday, August 26, 2016, President Barack Obama more than quadrupled the size of Papahanaumokuakea, the Hawaiian marine monument, making it the largest ecologically protected area on Earth.  Hawaii is now home to an ocean reserve TWICE the size of Texas!

Papahanaumokuakea-marine-reserve-1200x737In 2006, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument was officially established by President George W. Bush.  His Presidential Proclamation protected 1,400 miles of the Pacific Northwestern region of the Hawaiian Islands. Thanks to his proclamation, many conservation efforts to produce the largest protected marine area of its kind at the time were brought together.

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President Obama added to President Bush’s initial proclamation to expand the protected area to now include 582,578 square miles of land and sea. The protected region is the world’s largest seabird gathering site, numbering 14 million birds from 22 species. It is home to Laysan albatrosses and the remaining endangered Hawaiian monk seals.  Did we mention it’s absolutely stunning and brimming with amazing wildlife??

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This region of Hawaii is a glimpse into what the Earth was like before the impact of human activity as the majority of the newly protected region is untouched by human influence. The preservation of the area, in its natural state, is a milestone and we’re thrilled to be able to share it with you as we all work together to conserve our planet for many generations to come.

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Learn more about this incredible act of conservation here!

Sharks + Stress = ?

This week’s Adventure Insider was written by Dr. Michael Hyatt, Adventure Aquarium’s veterinarian.  He’s passionate about providing the best animal care as well as conducting research in the field to better understand and learn about animals, such as sharks.

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I would like to share with you a cool new way to take part in the research process and promote some exciting research. Dr. Paul Anderson from Mystic Aquarium, and myself, Adventure Aquarium’s veterinarian, Dr. Michael Hyatt, are studying how changes in the environment impacts sharks’ response to capture and release fishing. Results will guide recommendations for fishing methods to reduce mortality of these important apex predators.

Field work and sample collection has been completed; we have developed a data set on 61 bull and 93 bonnethead sharks that were captured and handled for fisheries research in the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (Naples, FL) over a 4 year period. Data analysis has not yet been completed.

To finish this experimental project and submit for publication, we need $5,000 in order to conduct statistical analyses and reporting to determine the effects of water quality parameters on the stress response due to capture and handling.

Recently, we launched a crowdfunding campaign on Experiment to raise support for our research: https://experiment.com/sharkstress. Once we complete the statistical analyses, we’ll share every step of the scientific process from the field to the lab, on our project page. It’s a very unique experience and we are lucky to have a chance to share this with you! Once we’re ready to publish our results, we’ll thank all of our backers in the paper as well.

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We would so appreciate any support you can provide to make this dream a reality. If you please take a moment to share our project on social media or emailing the project to any friends, family or colleagues interested in science and the environment will help finish this amazing project.

If you have any additional questions about the research, or how this works, we’ll be happy to answer them. Thanks for supporting this science, it won’t be possible without you!

Learn more about our project at: https://experiment.com/sharkstress

 

A penguin, a lobster & 3 sea stars take Manhattan

An African penguin, a blue lobster & 3 sea stars drove up to NBC Studios at Rockefeller Center this week for an appearance on the Today Show. Well, humans came too.

We climbed into the AAQ van and started the journey up the NJ Turnpike – with some coffee fuel and snacks in hand (for the humans, no animals were caffeinated!).

As part of 4th hour of the Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda, Adventure Aquarium partnered with NBC’s animal expert, Corbin Maxey, for the show’s popular trivia segment.  African penguin, Cornelia aka “Corn Dog” made the trip, along with Elvis the 1 in 2 million blue lobster and 1 leather star, 1 bat star and 1 ochre star.

At last, we arrived the the NBC Today Show studio!

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Cornelia checked out the set.

Our team got to work, setting up the tanks for Elvis and the sea stars – rehearsal and the live segment would happen in just moments!


At last, it was time for the stars (and lobster, penguin + Kathie Lee) to go on!

 

The segment went swimmingly (see what we did there?)…

AND radio personality Elvis Duran even stopped by to take a quick photo with Elvis the blue lobster! Perfection.

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All in all, it was a great trip to NYC. But back home to Adventure Aquarium we went – tired after a long and exciting day!

(Please note: Biologist, Jennifer Duffy refused to be part of the car photo shoot but she was there too!)

Until next time…Happy #AAQTravels!

 

#NameMeMaybe? Penguin Edition

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A major decision will be made in 2016 and every vote counts. The ballot is set – with some unique options…

Beaker. Bernard. Pickles. Scout. Squirt. Thumper. What now?

Well, Adventure Aquarium visitors will choose our African penguin chicks’ names!  Beginning Friday, June 3, an official Voting Station, located in the Aquarium’s main entrance lobby, will display six name options for the African penguin chicks.  Using spare change, guests visiting Adventure Aquarium will be able to vote for their favorite name choices all summer long.

Aquarium Members and social media fans were asked to suggest names for the African penguin chicks in a contest held on the Aquarium’s website.  Over 1,100 names were submitted during the two week nomination period.  The nominations were then narrowed down to the six finalist names by the biologists who care for the birds.

The winning names will be announced following the 8th annual African Penguin Awareness Weekend, being held Labor Day weekend (September 3-5). 100% of donations collected will support endangered African penguins in the wild and the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).   Adventure Aquarium plans to do a dollar-for-dollar match for all funds raised during the voting period and African Penguin Awareness Weekend.penguinhatchlings2_1

So which names will win? Scout and Pickles? Bernard and Thumper?  Beaker and Squirt? YOU decide!! Only time will tell!

 

 

Double the Fun: African Penguin Clutch Mates Hatch

Is that the pitter-patter of baby penguin feet?!

The answer is YES! AAQ is proud to welcome our 21st and 22nd African penguin chicks!

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Adventure Aquarium officially announced the birth of two African penguin chicks earlier today. The clutch mates were born just days apart on Wednesday, April 6 and Sunday, April 10, respectively.

The baby penguins are doing well and growing fast. When the chicks first hatched approximately five weeks ago they each weighed less than two ounces, the approximate weight and size of a golf ball, but have each grown to weigh just under three pounds.

“We’re thrilled to welcome two new, healthy African penguin chicks to Adventure Aquarium,” said Michele Pagel, Curator, Birds & Mammals, who has overseen the African penguin population since 1998.  “They are very active, growing strong and have hearty appetites.”

The chicks’ genders are unknown, and a DNA test is scheduled in the coming months. The new chicks have also not been named.  “A special announcement regarding how guests will help name our newest additions will be revealed in the very near future,” said Pagel. “Stay tuned for details!”

The Aquarium participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA’s) African penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program that encourages zoos and aquariums to work in concert to help ensure the survival of African penguins through a scientifically-controlled breeding program. Since it began working with the program in 1998, the Aquarium has successfully bred and raised 22 African penguin chicks.

Much like human newborn babies, when penguin chicks are first hatched, they are very dependent on their parents. Their eyes are closed, and their bodies are developing muscles that will eventually allow them to hold their head up and walk (or waddle). A major difference between penguin and human babies is that penguin growth happens very quickly. In fact, in a year, the siblings will be the size of fully grown African penguins.

The chicks eat small whole fish just like the adult birds including silversides, smelt, anchovies, trout and capelin. Young penguins usually eat more than some of the adults at about 15-20 fish per day. The chicks’ care was transferred from their parents to AAQ keepers on Monday, May 9 at which point they were able to eat small but whole fish and are more physically developed and mobile.

“In order for the penguin chicks to learn how to acclimate with the colony here at the Aquarium, our staff must take over caring for them,” said Pagel. “The birds need to learn how to eat from human hands, associate fish with the feed bucket and learn to be social with the keepers, which are all important steps to becoming part of the group.”

Adventure Aquarium visitors will be able to see the adorable siblings this month following the African penguin feeds.  Once they have grown large enough to assimilate with the other residents of the Aquarium’s Penguin Island exhibit, the chicks will join the rest of the colony on exhibit.

Guests are encouraged to follow AAQ on Facebook and Twitter for updates on this adorable new addition to the Adventure Aquarium family and stay up-to-date on the latest Aquarium happenings.

Did you miss us?

We missed you too! It’s been a little while hasn’t it? Well, we were busy getting some great stories together for our AAQ Insiders!

First up is a tale about a Tank. Get ready to have your mind blown by SCIENCE!!! (Seriously, this stuff is super cool).

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Oh, hello there.

Adventure Aquarium is home to an inquisitive southern three-banded armadillo, warmly named Tank.  Isn’t this 3-year-old boy just awesome??

Now you may be asking, why does an aquarium have an armadillo?  Well, AAQ manages a diverse collection of animals not on display, including this armadillo, which have special jobs as “Animal Ambassadors.”  These animals are able to be easily handled and trained for up close experiences with our guests.  Through our up closes, held at Discovery Deck in Zone A as well as other locations throughout the aquarium, we can help educate and promote conservation of their species and other animals.

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Here’s Tank posing with a soccer ball – say CHEESE!

We like to say that our animals have the best healthcare thanks to our on staff veterinarian, Dr. Mike Hyatt, and his team.  As part of a preventative health program, Tank receives routine annual examinations just like your dog or cat by Dr. Hyatt.

For animal comfort and safety, Tank is anesthetized for the exam, blood collection and x-rays.  Tank’s exam and blood work indicated a healthy armadillo, but because of the armor that surrounds and protects him, x-rays can be difficult to evaluate.  As such, there were suspicious changes in Tank’s lungs on x-ray that could not be confidently evaluated.

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Here’s another one because, well, we can’t get enough of this guy!

To make sure what Dr. Hyatt and his team were seeing on the x-rays was nothing more than normal anatomic variation, which means normal flexibility in the topography and morphology of the armadillo’s body structure, we contacted our friends at NorthStar VETS, a referral specialty and emergency veterinary hospital in Robbinsville, NJ, for a computed tomographic (CT) examination, also known as a CAT scan.

Tank was so brave during the CAT scan!

This type of advanced diagnostic imaging provides cross-sectional x-ray imaging through thin slices along the whole body.  This imaging allows better visualization of internal organs that a standard x-ray would not be able to detect.

Get ready for the cool part! The computer program is also able to take these images and create a 3D reconstruction of the animal’s skeleton, and in this case, Tank’s armor.

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We were relieved to learn that Tank’s CT was completely normal! (Hooray!!)

Armadillo Tank CT Lungs

This visit also gave the veterinarians and veterinary radiologist at NorthStar VETS an opportunity to work with an animal species not normally brought to their hospital.  It was a great learning opportunity for both veterinary teams.

So, there you have it. Science and technology amaze us again!