In honor of Mother’s Day, we’re throwing the spotlight on Adventure Aquarium’s African penguin colony during our Mother’s Day Penguin Weekend, May 9 & 10. African penguins have much in common with us human counterparts; they mate for life and make great parents – each sharing mutual roles in the incubation of their offspring. While there’s much to love about these endangered sea birds, here are 9 of our most favorite reasons:
We couldn’t end April without calling out everyone’s favorite colorful species: FROGS! Go behind-the-scenes with Biologist Lauren Hauber for insight into the breeding of red-eyed tree frogs, on exhibit in Zone C.
Content Provided by: Lauren Hauber, Biologist – Fish & Invertebrates
April is significant, and not just because it’s National Frog Month. It also marks the start of breeding season for these tiny amphibians. At Adventure Aquarium, Biologist Lauren Hauber of our Fish and Invertebrates Department is responsible for overseeing the collection and their breeding process. Lauren was caring for the frogs when a pair of red-eyed tree frogs paired up and produced eggs in June 2014.
In the wild, males will start calling after a heavy rainstorm to attract females. When an interested female comes along, the male will climb on top of her until she finds a suitable place to deposit her eggs. Typically, the female looks for a smooth surface that hangs over a permanent water source, normally a leaf. But here at Adventure Aquarium the window was chosen as the best place. Our pair of red-eyed tree frogs laid about 100 eggs on the window overnight. The eggs being on the window even allowed guests to watch the embryos develop and see the tadpoles move around inside the eggs!
The change from embryo to tadpole normally takes 5 to 9 days. So a day or two before the eggs were supposed to hatch, Lauren put a small floating basket in the water below the eggs to catch the tadpoles. She then moved the tadpoles to their own enclosure behind the scenes to complete their development once all the tadpoles were hatched.
The first tadpoles started morphing into little tiny ¼ inch frogs just after about two months. Once the froglets had all four legs, Lauren moved them to a new enclosure where they could continue to grow. At this point, they still have their tail when they leave the water, and it takes a good few days for them to absorb it. When the froglets are finally ready to hunt, they eat teeny tiny insects. At Adventure Aquarium, they are fed a diet of flightless fruit flies and pinhead crickets.
The froglets will continue to grow very slowly, and are now about 1 inch long. Visitors will be able to soon see them on exhibit, but in the meantime, see adult red-eyed tree frogs in the Ribbit Room in KidZone.
If you’ve ever participated in one of our penguin encounters or have seen some of their artwork in the gift shop, you know that our African penguins are very good artists. However, have you ever wondered why our penguins paint? Or, what other animals at Adventure Aquarium have taken their turn with paint and canvas? If so this blog entry will answer those questions and have some super cute photos of animals putting paint to canvas!
The main reason we paint with our animals is for their enrichment (providing something new or different for the animal to mentally stimulate them or just simply have a different activity in their day). Part of the animals’ benefit through painting is actually the process of learning how to paint. Another reason we paint with the animals is because it’s fun for us too! We can use that time to further bond with the animal or to enhance guest experience in the case of the penguins painting during the encounter programs.
In order to train the penguins to paint, they must first be comfortable being handled by the trainers and taking a bath in the sink afterwards. (All penguins need clean feet before going back on exhibit and some even splatter paint up their bellies!) The next step is to introduce the penguins to the paint tray and canvas and teach them to walk across it in a straight line, although some of our penguins seem to prefer walking in circles across the canvas instead!
Once comfortable with the routine, the penguins start painting. Eleven penguins of our colony have passed art school and make footprint paintings for our guests and other events. Some of the penguin artwork has helped raise money for their fellow endangered species in the wild during Adventure Aquarium’s African Penguin Awareness Weekend. This is yet another benefit for training the penguins to put paint to canvas.
Another species in the “foot painter” group at Adventure Aquarium is the cape porcupine, brothers Julian and Vince. Both porcupines already knew how to target to a pole and follow it around so the trainers added in the new behaviors of stepping in paint and walking across a canvas.
And just like the penguins, our porcupines have bath time afterwards too. In order to rinse off their feet, the boys were trained to walk through a tray of water.
Combining both old and new behaviors in a series is great mental stimulation for the porcupines. It also helps the process when they get their favorite treat, banana slices and peas, as their reward. Just look at that happy face!
You may not have guessed our last big painters, but believe it or not, our trainers have actually taught hippos Button and Genny to paint too! Instead of making footprint art, these girls paint with their muzzle and whiskers. Just like training the porcupines, our hippos started out with behaviors they already knew – such as resting their head on ballards, targeting, and “touch,” a cue given to let the girls know when they will be touched. Then the trainers added to the “touch” behavior by applying paint to the hippo’s muzzle.
Once the paint is applied the hippo can target to the canvas, ending with a unique whiskered face print! Button and Genny even look forward to the clean-up and enjoy being sprayed off with the hose. Also like the porcupines, the girls are quite excited to work for treats, which are given after the painting is made to avoid food bits in their art.
Hope you enjoyed seeing some of our artists in action!
By: Jamie Hogan, Biologist – Birds & Mammals
If you look carefully, you can find plenty of different kinds of creatures on your trip to the Jersey shore! In fact, you can find so many that I’ll be narrowing it down to talk about only five animals: minnows, fiddler crabs, horseshoe crabs, comb jellies and smooth dogfish. Coincidentally, they just happen to be my favorite.
First, minnows! I’m sure everyone has seen tons of these little guys swimming around your feet. A couple common ones are silversides and mummichogs. Silversides are found in schools and have a bright silver stripe down the side of their bodies. We actually have an exhibit of silversides at the aquarium, where you can see them school and change formation. The mummichogs can be found in muddy marshes, channels, and grass flats along coastal areas. They are euryhalide, which means they can adapt to a wide range of salinities. Their heartiness probably helped them to become the first fish in space!
#2 – Fiddler Crabs
These guys are found mostly in the muddy areas of marshes too. If you look down and see little tunnels in the mud, you’ll eventually see them crawl out to defend their burrows or hunt for food. The females have two equally sized claws, but the males have one regular sized claw and one HUGE claw that is about half of the weight of his only body. The males use this big claw to pick up the ladies. They wave the claw to make an acoustical signal.
#3 – Horseshoe Crabs
You’re probably thinking, “hey, another crab??” but technically they aren’t crustaceans at all! Horseshoe crabs belong to their own class, Merostomata. They even predate dinosaurs! If you see any on the beach during the day, it is most likely a horseshoe crab molt. But if you go out at night time, they look like little walking army helmets with a long tail. They use the long tail to flip themselves over not as a weapon. Horseshoe crabs are highly valued because of their blue blood. Medical researchers use it to test drugs and vaccines to make sure there is no bacterium contamination. To help increase the population, Adventure Aquarium’s senior biologist, Matt Ferroni has led the horseshoe crab head-start program. Baby horseshoe crabs were collected then raised in our holding systems and this year we released them back into their environment.
#4 – Comb Jellies
Comb jellies are one of my favorites finds in the ocean. Comb jellies or ctenophore are oval shaped and have comb like plates to help them swim through the water. They can expand their stomach to hold prey about half the size of their own body! If disturbed in a dark environment, some comb jellies give off a bright green luminescent flash.
#5 – Smooth Dogfish
And last but not least, smooth dogfish. They like shallow waters less than 60 feet deep. If you are a fisherman you probably have caught one at some point or another. They can get up to about 5 feet long. Dogfish are usually nocturnal and have pavement-like teeth. These crushing teeth help them open their favorite foods: crustaceans.
On your next trip to the shore, keep an eye out for these 5 common Jersey shore natives!
By: Sarah Stafford, Biologist – Fish & Invertebrates
By: Callin Mulvaney
When walking through Adventure Aquarium have you ever noticed a whiffle ball in an exhibit or the giant tractor tire in Hippo Haven? They might look out of place but actually they were put there on purpose. This is called animal enrichment, which is providing stimulating and challenging environments, objects, and activities for animals. The Biologists provide many different types of enrichment for our animals to keep them happy and healthy. You can provide your pets at home with enrichment too! Here are a couple different examples of how you can make enrichment for your pets.
Dogs love toys, right? You can make toys very easily for your dog. If you have an old sock that no one is using anymore and a tennis ball, it can make a great tug toy. Simply put the tennis ball inside the sock all the way to the bottom. Tie a knot around the top of the tennis ball, and ta da! You have a wonderful new toy for your favorite pup. Another kind of enrichment is using food. You can put peanut butter inside of a rubber chew toy. Your pup will love trying to lick out all the yummy peanut butter. Always make sure that your dog does not have any food allergies before giving them new treats.
Cats are really easy to please if you have some ribbon or paper and some string. You can tie bits of ribbon or shredded paper to the end of a string. Then tie the other end to the back of a chair so that it hangs just above the ground. Cats love pouncing and grabbing for the hanging toy. Another thing that you can do for your furry friend is get a bird feeder. Set the bird feeder up outside of a window that your cat can easily see out of. This will be like kitty TV. This is also great in the winter because you will be helping feed the birds as well as amusing your cat.
For those of you who have the more exotic pets such as parrots, hedgehogs, chinchillas, and other small critters it is very easy to find things just around your house to make enrichment out of. The easiest is cardboard boxes. Our parrots here at Adventure Aquarium love boxes. You can hide their food inside the box so that they have to discover how to open the box to get their treat. Our small mammals such as the hedgehog and chinchillas love just hiding inside boxes. Anything that they can munch on is great too.
We create enrichment for many of our animals here at Adventure Aquarium. We hope that these tips will inspire you to create enrichment for your critters. Just remember to mix it up as the same enrichment used repeatedly can become less exciting.
By: Matt Ferroni, Biologist – Fish & Invertebrates
I saw JAWS for the first time about twenty years ago. That movie terrified me so badly that I was convinced there were sharks in the deep end of the swimming pool. If you had told me then that I’d be swimming with twenty-nine of them on a regular basis I would have laughed in your face. Who knew that one of my biggest fears would someday become a reality that I’d happily accept?
Hi, I’m Matt Ferroni, the biologist responsible for Adventure Aquarium’s 550,000 gallon Shark Realm exhibit. The most common question I hear is “Why don’t the sharks eat the other fish in the exhibit?” The answer is that our sharks are very well fed. In the wild sharks can go for weeks between meals, but we feed our sharks three percent of their body weight three times per week.
Each shark has a marking or distinguishing feature that we use to identify them. Our sand tiger and sandbar sharks are fed off of feeding poles from two different areas of the exhibit. Separating the sharks this way allows us to feed more quickly and accurately, but also keeps the sharks safer by reducing the chance of accidental bites when multiple sharks go for the same piece of food. As the shark takes food from the feed pole, the biologists call out the name of that shark to a recorder, as well as the amount of food that it ate. Keeping records of the feed allows us to closely monitor the sharks’ diets.
So what do we feed the sharks? All of the animals in the aquarium are fed restaurant quality seafood. We offer a variety of fish including mackerel, croaker, blue fish, blue runner, porgy, skate, and bonita. Once a week the fish are stuffed with a specially formulated shark vitamin.
The second most common question I hear is “Why don’t the sharks attack the divers?” The answer to that question is that sharks are not the man eaters you have all been led to believe. Sand tiger, sandbar, and nurse sharks are all relatively docile as far as sharks go. When diving in the exhibits for routine maintenance we are always very aware of our surroundings. For the most part we give the sharks their space and they give us ours.
The sharks at Adventure Aquarium also receive routine physicals. The process is quite involved and requires the Fish and Invertebrates team to work really well together. A team of five divers enters the water, and using L shaped PVC poles, they corral the designated shark over a rectangular net, operated by four additional team members. The net is then raised slightly to restrain the animal until the door that separates the exhibit from our acclimation area is opened, and the shark can be pushed through. Once the shark has calmed down, the team mobilizes a stretcher and guides the shark inside. At this point, the shark is flipped on its back in a position known as tonic immobility, which is a natural state of paralysis similar to a human being put under anesthesia. Once in tonic, the shark relaxes and oxygenated water is forced over its gills. A typical physical consists of obtaining various measurements of the shark, as well as its weight, and usually a blood sample. At the conclusion of the physical the shark is flipped back over and spends several minutes swimming in the acclimation area before it returns to the exhibit.
Sharks are amazing animals and we go to great lengths to exhibit them for you. Our hope is that by the time you leave the aquarium you have gained an appreciation for how incredible they truly are and have maybe, just maybe, left some of that fear behind.
By: Elizabeth Hann, Senior Biologist – Fish and Invertebrates
Everyone who has come to the aquarium has fallen in love with our loggerhead sea turtle, Bob, and her crew of green sea turtles, Old Green and Stitches. I’m sure some of you have wondered, “How do we get these huge sea turtles to the doctors?” Well today is your lucky day! I’m going to give you the inside scoop on how we perform our yearly sea turtle physicals.
The Fish and Invertebrate team and our veterinarian staff work together to plan and coordinate yearly physicals to closely monitor the health of our sea turtles. The first thing we think about when planning these physicals is, How are we going to get these sea turtles out of our Ocean Realm Exhibit?
Ocean Realm is designed with an acclimation area, which is a large holding area that is attached to the exhibit. Our first step is to get them into this acclimation area. In an ideal world, the sea turtles would swim into the area on their own; however, they typically need a little assistance. And while the physical catch and restraint of a sea turtle to bring them into this acclimation area would very stressful on them and our team, the question still stands: how do we get three monster sea turtles to willingly swim into a narrow causeway on their own free will?! Well first things first, we start by getting them used to having the causeway door open with someone standing in there. Throw food into the mix and you have a happy sea turtle!
A week prior to physicals, I got into the causeway and fed them in front of the open causeway so they would feel comfortable. Using food items that we know the sea turtles love, we get them to follow these items into our acclimation area. For example, we use ice blocks with greens inside as an enrichment item for Bob.
Add a rope to that and you can guide a massive loggerhead through a narrow causeway and right into our acclimation area with no restraint from our Fish and Invertebrate team!
We did the same with our green sea turtles using romaine lettuce.
Our next step is to get the sea turtles out of the acclimation area and onto the roof where our veterinarian staff is set up and ready to go. The sea turtles are guided into a transport box and hoisted up to the roof.
Now the physicals can begin. Our veterinarian, Dr. Michael Hyatt, starts with visually checking their physical appearance, body condition, and draws blood.
We conclude the physical by getting length and width measurements of their carapace and a weight.
Our physicals were a success this year and we have three heavy, healthy sea turtles. If you want to get more involved with our sea turtles, Adventure Aquarium offers a Sea Turtle Up-Close Adventure where you actually can participate with our feeding and enrichment! You can find out more details on our website.