Biologist Spotlight: Breeding Red-Eyed Tree Frogs at Adventure Aquarium

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.

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Frog ParentsIn 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!

Egg casesAfter the female lays her eggs, the male fertilizes them. And believe it or not, this is as far as parenting goes for them; the babies are now on their own. IMG_1272

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.

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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.

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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.

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Behind the scenes at Adventure Aquarium: the wonderful world of chinchilla enrichment

Cheech and chong

Cheech takes his turn at the wheel

Cheech takes his turn at the wheel

Fluffy, soft and furry are not the words you would use to describe the majority of the animals at Adventure Aquarium but they do perfectly describe Cheech and Chong the chinchillas. That’s right! We have 2 chinchillas here at the Aquarium as part of our program animal collection. Many of you have probably seen them out on stage at one of our up-closes. However have you wondered what these guys do when they’re not hanging out with everyone? If so, this blog shows some of the enrichment provided to Cheech and Chong.

One important part of any animal’s life is exercise, so we provide the chinchillas with a few different things to keep them active. The chinchillas have a multi-level enclosure they can run around in, and boxes or houses provide great surfaces to jump/climb on. One of their favorites though is the wheel which they can run around in just like a hamster would.

in boxesChinchillas also like to hide so the houses and boxes provided can double as places to hide or sleep in. Another favorite hiding spot for Cheech and Chong is their plastic tube.in tube

The biologists can get creative with their enrichment items too and create more unique toys for the boys to play with. Sometimes they’ll get a hanging cardboard platform to jump to or get a box full of hay with treats inside that they have to find. As shown in the picture below Cheech and Chong got to chew apart a paper mache ball to find some treats inside. As part of the rodent family, chinchillas need items they can chew on so the paper mache and even the cardboard boxes work well for that.

Cheech and Chong checking out a paper mache ball with treats inside

Cheech and Chong checking out a paper mache ball with treats inside

Chong participates in a weekly weight check

Chong participates in a weekly weight check

Enrichment for their minds is important too and the chinchillas were trained to do few basic behaviors to keep them thinking. Cheech and Chong were trained to voluntarily hop into the crate used to take them to the up-close area. They were also taught to station to a particular target (or symbol). After they knew how to target, both boys were trained to sit on the scale for their weekly weight checks, as Chong demonstrates below.

Thanks for checking out two of the aquarium’s furry animals and make sure to look for them at an up-close at our Irazu Falls stage our outside in Critter Courtyard during your next visit!

By: Jamie Hogan, Biologist – Birds & Mammals

Go behind the scenes with some of the animal ‘artists’ at Adventure Aquarium

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!

Minnie Painting with Jamie

Jamie paints with African penguin (and artist!) Minnie

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!

Minnie finishes her painting

Minnie finishes her painting

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. 

Vince is target trained to walk through paint onto canvas.

Vince is target trained to walk through paint onto canvas.

Rule #1 of painting - always clean up afterwards! Vince walks through a foot bath to rinse off his feet.

Rule #1 of painting – always clean up afterwards! Vince walks through a foot bath to rinse off his feet.

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.

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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

What it’s like to work with sharks at Adventure Aquarium: every day is #SharkWeek!

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?

Biologist Matt Ferroni of Adventure Aquarium's Fish & Invertebrates team, responsible for caring for the 550,000 gallon Shark Realm exhibit.

Biologist Matt Ferroni of Adventure Aquarium’s Fish & Invertebrates team, responsible for caring for the 550,000 gallon Shark Realm exhibit.

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.

Some of Matt's 'co-workers'

Some of Matt’s ‘co-workers’

Feeding the inhabitants of Shark Realm!

Feeding the inhabitants of Shark Realm!

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.

All of the sharks are fed a variety of fish including mackerel, croaker, blue fish, blue runner, porgy, skate, and bonita.

All of the sharks are fed a variety of fish including mackerel, croaker, blue fish, blue runner, porgy, skate, and bonita.

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.

Preparing for a dive

Preparing for a dive

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.

All in a day's work!

All in a day’s work!

#SharkWeek Special: Behind the Scenes with Adventure Aquarium’s Great Hammerhead Shark

Here at Adventure Aquarium, one of our most unique animals is the great hammerhead shark, which is in fact, the only one on exhibit in the entire country!

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As you can guess, he gets a lot of attention from visitors and biologists alike. Our husbandry team takes great care to ensure that the hammerhead, along with the other fish, sea turtles, sharks and rays in our 760,000 gallon Ocean Realm (the hammerhead’s home), is well cared for; and, one of the important factors in maintaining the great hammerhead shark’s health is making sure he is well-nourished.

Biologist Liz Hann prepares to pole feed our great hammerhead shark

Biologist Liz Hann prepares to pole feed our great hammerhead shark from the top of Ocean Realm

The great hammerhead is fed six times a week, with a varied diet that consists of mackerel, herring, squid, blue fish, among other species. During each feed, he is fed around 2% of his body weight, which measures out to 900 – 1,000 grams of food. Due to the large amount of fish we feed the animals each day, the fish come to the aquarium frozen. When the fish is frozen, it loses some of its nutritional value. Therefore, our biologists will put a vitamin supplement inside the fish before feeding the sharks once a week, with our hammerhead receiving four and a half vitamins each feed.

Before even going to Ocean Realm to feed the great hammerhead, the biologists first get the vitamins and “fish of the day” to feed the shark. Once at Ocean Realm, there’s a specific procedure for feeding. First, the biologist will prepare the pole used to feed the sharks. The feed pole is around 12 feet long and has short, skinny prongs that stick out laterally at the bottom where the food is placed. Then, the biologist weighs one fish and records the weight on a form before sticking it on the pole. The biologist then taps the water with the pole, which signifies to the great hammerhead shark that it’s time for feeding! This procedure is repeated until the shark becomes full or he has eaten his entire meal.

Fish is placed at the end of the pole and dropped into Ocean Realm. Biologists tap the water with the pole, which signifies to the great hammerhead shark that it’s time for feeding!

Fish is placed at the end of the pole and dropped into Ocean Realm. Biologists tap the water with the pole, which signifies to the great hammerhead shark that it’s time for feeding!

Doesn’t seem too hard right? Well, sometimes competition can arise, even from our loggerhead sea turtles! The biologists work around this by having turtle-favorite treats like lettuce and veggies in case curiosity gets the better of the hammerhead’s shelled neighbors!

Loggerhead Bob checks out the feed action

Loggerhead Bob checks out the feed action

Curious sea turtles!

Curious sea turtles!

So what happens during a great hammerhead feed and what does it look like? Well, check out the exclusive video below!

Adventure Aquarium welcomes a juvenile Giant Pacific Octopus

By: Kari Milroy, Biologist – Fish & Invertebrates

I would like to introduce you to my new buddy Randolph.  Randolph has 8 arms equipped with suction cups, enjoys living alone, squirts ink, and can taste with his arms. Sort of sounds like a superhero right? Although you’re unlikely to see Randolph fighting crime, you can see this Giant Pacific octopus, along with a host of other unique creatures, in the Jules Verne Gallery at Adventure Aquarium.

Randolph - 1Octopuses come with an assortment of personality types. Some can be mischievous, relaxed, irritable, gentle, and silly. As one of our newest additions to the Aquarium, Randolph is still getting used to his surroundings and is still a bit shy.

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However, when food is involved, he becomes very excited, changing a vast array of different colors. Octopuses are considered to be the most intelligent of all invertebrates. Because of this, Randolph needs a constant source of enrichment to keep his day interesting.

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As an octopus caretaker, I take pleasure in coming up with new and interesting ways to keep my boy happy, healthy, and entertained. Examples of octopus enrichment include introduction of various foods, meeting new people, and presenting his food in different ways. Randolph gets an assortment of goodies three times a week, including capelin, shrimp, herring, squid, and mackerel. However, he gets especially giddy for blue crab. When presenting enrichment, food is typically placed inside a container in which Randolph must open to grab his dinner. Examples of this are clear PVC pipes, water cooler bottles, screw-top jars, puzzles, and even large blocks of ice.

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Some of the more fun and rewarding forms of enrichment come from my daily tactile interactions with this special creature.  Check Randolph out in action, below:

How our biologists use everyday items to strengthen the bonds of our penguin pairs

By: Jenn Hutchins, Biologist – Birds & Mammals

Hi everyone this is Cliff, one of our 24 resident African black-footed penguins.  Cliff is 26 years old and he lives at Adventure Aquarium with his mate Mouse.

Clif Penguin Enrichment

Throughout the week the keepers like giving the penguin colony different types of enrichment.  One of the main things we like to give the penguins are items of different shapes and sizes to bring back to their nests and to help show off for their mates.

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Here at the aquarium we give the penguins a variety of items to carry around such as whiffle balls, plastic chains, small children toys, and small dog toys.  In this picture Cliff has one of his favorite “toys” -a yellow plastic chain that he takes back to his nest and shows off for Mouse.

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When a penguin brings an item back to the nest both mates get really excited and put on a visual and vocal display.  They can also be seen sitting on different toys as if it is an egg.  Giving these items to the penguins is very important to stimulate breeding behavior and create a stronger bond between mates.

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