Tennessee Aquarium

Gentoo Penguin Chick Has ‘Big’ Happy Feet

1_Gentoo Penguin chick at 21 days old credit Casey Phillips Tennessee Aquarium

It may only weigh a few pounds, but two of the biggest features of the Tennessee Aquarium’s newest Gentoo Penguin chick have already earned it an unofficial nickname.

Born on June 5 to experienced parents Bug and Big T., the large feet of the newest addition to Penguins’ Rock immediately inspired the moniker “Big Foot.”

“Our animal trainer Holly Gibson chose that name, and it is very fitting,” says Senior Aviculturist Loribeth Lee. “Besides his belly, the feet are the biggest thing on this guy right now! Penguin chicks have almost comically large feet until they grow into them. Having big feet helps Penguins to balance while they are so oddly shaped.”

This nickname is just a placeholder. It will be replaced by an official name, chosen from a crop of keeper-selected alternatives, during a public contest on the Aquarium’s Facebook page later this year.

2_The Gentoo Penguin chick at two days old credit Casey Phillips Tennessee Aquarium

3_Gentoo Penguin Chick at two days old credit Casey Phillips Tennessee Aquarium

4_Senior Aviculturist Loribeth Lee holds the new baby Gentoo Penguin credit Casey Phillips Tennessee AquariumPhoto Credits: Casey Phillips / Tennessee Aquarium

Aquarium staff began noticing signs that the new chick was breaking out of its egg, a process called “pipping,” at 8 a.m. on June 5. The baby Gentoo was fully hatched at 3:30 p.m., a faster-than-average pace, Lee says.

The chick’s gender will remain indeterminate until November, when it can be properly assessed by staff during the colony’s next round of semi-annual physical exams. A drop of the chick’s blood will be sent to a lab, and the DNA results will be available a few days later.

For now, the Aquarium’s Penguin experts are closely monitoring the chick’s growth and health, Lee says.

“The first four weeks of a chick’s life are the most concerning, as there are lots of obstacles to overcome,” she says. “We will continue to keep a close eye on this little bird, especially making sure the nest stays clean and the chick continues to get fed by both parents.”

Until the arrival of its waterproof adult feathers in six to seven weeks, the chick will remain safely corralled with its parents behind a clear, acrylic “play pen.” This barrier around the nest keeps nosey neighbors at flipper’s length away and prevents the baby Penguin from accidentally tumbling into the water.

Despite the uncertainty of this early period in its development, so far the chick has exhibited robust vitals and a healthy appetite. And it is gaining weight at a healthy rate, which indicates the chick’s body should start catching up with its enormous feet soon.

“We like to see the chicks on the higher end of the weight range, as if they do have a drop in weight at any point, then it is less critical than a bird who is on the low end of the weight range,” she says.

The chick’s parents, Bug and Big T., are one of the exhibit’s most prolific breeding pairs, having successfully hatched four chicks: Roxie, Bobber, Rodan and Terk. In all, the residents of Penguins’ Rock have hatched 20 chicks since 2009.

“Even after seeing over 20 chicks hatch here, it never gets old,” Lee says. “It’s so exciting to have a new young one in the group and watching our guests enjoy their progress! The best part of my job is seeing thriving birds in the exhibit, and this one seems to be doing well so far.”

The chick will reach its full, adult size when it is about 75 days old and its full adult weight a few months later after its swim muscles develop.

Continue reading "Gentoo Penguin Chick Has ‘Big’ Happy Feet" »


Tiny Chicken Turtles Hatch at Tennessee Aquarium

1_baby chicken trutles - all three

Three Chicken Turtles hatched in mid-April at the Tennessee Aquarium. The tiny trio hatched from eggs that were laid in January by adults in the Aquarium’s ‘Delta Swamp’ exhibit.

At their initial exam, each of these hatchlings measured less than two inches long. As adults, they will grow to about 10 inches in length.

2_baby chicken turtle front

3_baby chicken turtle with rulerPhoto Credits: Tennessee Aquarium

The Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia) is an uncommon freshwater turtle native to the southeastern United States.

The name "chicken" commonly refers to the taste of their meat, which, at one time, was popular in southern U.S. markets. The species is characterized by a long neck and unique coloring, which could also contribute to the reason for their name.

The Tennessee Aquarium’s herpetologists often point out that Chicken Turtles look as if they are wearing striped pants when viewed from behind.

Chicken Turtles are semiaquatic turtles, found both in water and on land. They prefer quiet, still bodies of water such as shallow ponds and lakes, ditches, marshes, cypress swamps, and bays. They prefer water with dense vegetation and soft substrate.

The turtles are omnivorous, eating crayfish, fish, fruits, insects, invertebrates, frogs, tadpoles, and plants. During the first year of their lives, they are almost completely carnivorous.

Eggs hatch in about 152 days. The turtles lay eggs during the winter months, with the eggs hatching in the spring. The eggs undergo diapauses: meaning, the eggs don’t develop immediately after laying as with other species of turtles.

The Chicken Turtle is currently classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN. Populations are currently considered stable throughout their range, although they do face potential threats.

Habitat destruction reduces suitable habitat for foraging, migration, and hibernation. Chicken Turtles are sometimes killed while crossing roadways, as they migrate between habitats.


Four ‘Fierce’ Panther Chameleons Hatch in Tennessee

1_Baby Panther Chameleon at the Tennessee Aquarium 3

Four tiny (but fiercely-cute) Panther Chameleons recently hatched at the Tennessee Aquarium!

After hatching, from eggs laid in January of this year, the babies measured in at around two inches long. They are now growing quickly under the care provided by Tennessee Aquarium herpetologists.

The daily routine for these tiny reptiles includes feeding them small insects (along with calcium and vitamins twice a day), cleaning their environment, and spraying them with lukewarm water.

Right now these babies, along with their parents, live in a backup area at the Aquarium, but it is hoped that these creatures will be viewable by the public in the near future.

2_Baby Panther Chameleon at the Tennessee Aquarium

3_Baby Panther Chameleon at the Tennessee Aquarium 4Adult male Panther Chameleon:

4_Adult Male Panther Chameleon at the Tennessee AquariumPhoto Credits: Tennessee Aquarium

Panther Chameleons (Furcifer pardalis) are native to tropical forest biome areas of Madagascar. Like other chameleon species, Panther Chameleons display a wide array of colors. Females are typically peach, pink or grey while the males have red, blue or green color patterns. Babies have a more neutral coloring until they reach reproductive maturity at several months old.

These fascinating reptiles are carnivorous and eat a variety of insects in the wild. Chameleons are stealthy hunters, using a sticky, mucus-covered tongue to strike their prey and pull it back into their mouths.

Male Panther Chameleons can grow up to 20 inches (51 cm) in length, with a typical length of around 17 inches (43 cm), and females are smaller, at about half that size.

Panther Chameleons can reach sexual maturity at around seven months old. When carrying eggs, females turn dark brown or black with an orange stripe to signify to males they have no intention of mating.

Females usually live two to three years after laying eggs (with a total of between five and eight clutches) because of the stress put on their bodies. Females can lay between 10 and 40 eggs per clutch, depending on the food and nutrient consumption during the period of development. Eggs typically hatch in 240 days.

Continue reading "Four ‘Fierce’ Panther Chameleons Hatch in Tennessee " »


Gentoo Penguin Chicks Hatch at Tennessee Aquarium

1_Baby Penguins at the TN Aquarium 2015

Three baby Gentoo Penguins are warming the hearts of Tennessee Aquarium guests this summer. Like the Macaroni Penguin, which was the first to hatch at the Aquarium in 2015, this trio has made remarkable progress since they first arrived at the end of June.

Two of the chicks are actually siblings, but are being raised by different penguin mothers. “When Bug and Big T’s first egg hatched, they were having a tough time keeping both the second egg and the chick underneath them,” said senior aviculturist Loribeth Lee. “Biscuit and Blue did not have a viable egg this year, so we were able to move the second egg into their nest. It hatched a couple of days later and they have done a beautiful job caring for their adopted chick.”

2_Baby Gentoo Penguins at the TN Aquarium 2015

3_IMG_6074

4_IMG_5700Photo Credits: Tennessee Aquarium

This is the first time a baby penguin has been raised at the Aquarium by surrogate parents. In the past, aviculturists have supplemented feedings for any chicks that were not receiving enough nourishment from their parents. “We always prefer to let the parents raise their chicks, but we’ll intervene whenever necessary,” said Lee. “Since Biscuit and Blue have been diligent parents in the past, we believed they would do a great job caring for Bug and Big T’s chick and they have.”

In addition to their rapid growth, the three newest Gentoos are now showing their individuality. The experts caring for them say these penguins have personalities that range from passive to positively pecky. “The chick in Biscuit and Blue’s nest acts pretty mellow, preferring to hide its head under mom or dad,” said Lee. “Bug and Big T’s other chick is pretty perky and active, but nothing like Nipper’s chick. He acts feisty just like his father and loves to bite and squawk a lot.”

These traits will be interesting for Aquarium guests to watch over time. Lee and the other experts spend quite a bit of time pointing out the chicks and talking about their lives during penguin programs, which take place at 10:30am and 1:30pm each day.

The gender of the penguin chicks will be determined later this fall when every bird in the colony undergoes a thorough physical examination. A blood sample will be collected from the juvenile birds that will be sent to a lab for DNA testing to determine whether the new additions are male or female. A naming contest on the Aquarium’s Facebook page will begin after the genders are announced.

Continue reading "Gentoo Penguin Chicks Hatch at Tennessee Aquarium " »


Tiny Endangered Turtles Hatch at Tennessee Aquarium

1 turtle

In a sunny space directly under one of the Tennessee Aquarium’s tallest glass peaks, senior herpetologist Bill Hughes is caring for a special group of Southeast Asian turtles. The aquarium's ten adult Beal’s-eyed Turtlesare members of a vanishing species.

This past summer, five more Beal’s-eyed Turtles hatched, a significant conservation milestone for this species.

2 turtle

3 turtle

4 turtlw
Photo credits: Tennessee Aquarium

The aquarium's first Beal's-eye Turtle, hatched in 2007, made big headlines because it was also the first of its species known to hatch in a North American zoo or aquarium. Other hatchlings followed at the aquarium in 2008 and 2013. In the past two years, they have had eight more hatchlings - three in 2014 and the five tiny turtles that appeared this summer.

This species has been listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) since 2000. 

“Their numbers have continued to rapidly decline over the past 15 years,” said Hughes. “The current recommendation is to update their status to Critically Endangered.” 

Such a move would officially mean that these animals face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future. So adding even a few individuals to the global population is a big step toward ensuring this species does not vanish forever.

Continue reading after the fold.

Continue reading " Tiny Endangered Turtles Hatch at Tennessee Aquarium" »


Tiny Dwarf Seahorses Born at the Tennessee Aquarium

Baby Dwarf Seahorse and Dad

A few very tiny baby seahorses were born last month at the Tennessee Aquarium

 

The Dwarf Seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae) is among the smallest seahorse species, with adults growing to only one inch in length.
 
Connie Arthur, the Aquarium’s seahorse keeper, had been observing a few males who seemed to be pregnant.

On Thursday morning when she arrived at the Aquarium, the tiny babies - each one about the size of a grain of rice - were swimming in the tank.
 
“It’s not uncommon for us to find babies in any of our seahorse tanks,” Arthur said.

“But the Dwarf Seahorses are especially tiny so I keep a sharp eye out for them.”
 
Luckily, according to Arthur, these babies (as tiny as they are) are one of the easiest species to raise.

The babies instantly use their prehensile tail to grab onto whatever they can and will start eating newly hatched brine shrimp right away.
 
The birth of these itty bitty babies came just in time for Father’s Day, since seahorse males are actually the ones that give birth.


Two Penguins Are Better Than One at Tennessee Aquarium

Baby Gentoo 1 Weigh InWhat’s better than a new baby Penguin at the Tennessee Aquarium? Two new baby Penguins! Two Gentoo Penguin chicks - born to two separate Penguin pairs – are just over a month old and already showing their plucky Penguin personalities.

Baby Gentoo 1 2014
Bug and Big T with Gentoo Chick 2
Loribeth Aldrich with two Gentoos 2014Photo Credit:  Tennessee Aquarium

The oldest of the two chicks “is already testing boundaries,” says Aquarium aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich. The little Penguin is already investigating everything with its beak and continually knocking over mom and dad’s food bowl. The chick already makes a hissing sound, similar to the warning hiss of a goose, which is typically heard in adult Penguins. 

The second chick seems happiest in the nest, snuggled up behind mom and dad. However, during checkups and weigh-ins, this cuddly-looking chick shows its feisty side.

With three Penguin chicks and the possibility of more on the way, Curator of Forests Dave Collins explains that the foundation of the Aquarium’s Penguin breeding program was laid in 2007. “A strong husbandry program is key in making sure every bird’s needs are met,” said Collins. “Proper diet, a strict cleaning schedule and outstanding veterinary support are very important – especially during nesting season. These factors contribute to the best conditions possible for the colony, which are needed to encourage bonding, strong mating pairs and healthy chicks.”

The chicks are in temporary “playpens” for a few weeks, but can still be seen in the exhibit. “It won’t be safe for them to get in the water until they have grown their swim feathers,” explains Aldrich.

Gentoo Penguins are native to the coastlines of Antarctica and islands in the southern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  They are listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

See more photos below.

Continue reading "Two Penguins Are Better Than One at Tennessee Aquarium" »


Peek Behind-the-scenes at Tennessee Aquarium's Baby Stingrays!

1 stingray

A new Haller's Round Stingray arrived at the Tennessee Aquarium with a surprise of her own to share: she gave birth to a litter of five on October 21, soon after her arrival. Each baby now measures about three inches (7.6 cm), minus the tail, and could grow to be slightly larger than 12 inches (30 cm) in disk size as adults. Stingrays give birth to live young, which absorb nutrients from a yolk sac and then a special uterine 'milk' before birth. Born fully developed, the babies are immediately able to swim and feed, requiring no parental care. 

The mother gave birth while going through a routine quarantine period. The mother and eight other adult Stingrays acquired at the same time will be put on display in the zoo's touch tank once the quarantine period is complete. The babies will be raised off-exhibit until they are large enough to be displayed. 

3 stingray

2 stingray

4 stingray

5 stingrayPhoto credits: Nikki Eisenmenger / Tennessee Aquarium

The Haller’s Round Stingray is a common species native to the coastal waters of the eastern Pacific. Haller’s Round Stingrays prefer sandy or muddy bottoms in shallow waters close to beaches. Round sting rays eat primarily benthic invertebrates – organisms that live in or on the sediment of the ocean floor - and small fish. 


Second Endangered Keeled Box Turtle Born in Tennessee

Keeled Box Turtle Tennessee Aquarium 1.jpg

For the second time in Tennessee Aquarium history, the institution welcomed a rare Keeled Box Turtle hatchling. Like many other Southeast Asian turtles, Keeled Box Turtles have been over-collected in the wild for food and the pet trade. Several conservation organizations are working to protect the remaining wild populations from illegal trade, while zoos and aquariums are building assurance populations so the species does not go extinct if these animals disappear in the wild. Currently the U.S. population of Keeled Box Turtles at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums is less than twenty animals, seven of which are at Tennessee Aquarium.

This baby was the only one to hatch out of seven eggs laid in July. The incubation time was 92 days at a toasty 82 degrees Farenheit and the tiny hatchling weighed just 0.41 oz (11.7 grams).

Keeled Box Turtle Tennessee Aquarium 2.jpg

Keeled Box Turtle Tennessee Aquarium 3.jpgPhoto credits: Bill Hughes / Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium has one of the largest turtle collections on public display with more than 500 individuals representing seventy-five species. Their Senior Hereptologist, Bill Hughes, manages the Keeled Box Turtle Studbook and serves as the Species Survival Plan Coordinator for Spiny Turtles, Four-eyed Turtles, and Arakan Forest Turtles. 


Endangered Keeled Box Turtle Hatches at the Tennessee Aquarium

C.mouhotii-10.12

A tiny new face has Tennessee Aquarium herpetologists smiling. This is the Aquarium’s first successful hatching of a Keeled Box Turtle, Cuora mouhotii, a species that is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).  Unlike other endangered Turtles reared at the Aquarium this year, this recent addition was rather slow to venture into the world. “The spiny Turtles just come right out,” said senior herpetologist Bill Hughes. “But this Turtle seemed content to open one end of the egg and look out at the world from inside the shell. It stayed there for two days before emerging.”

C.mouhotii-10.12-2

C.mouhotii-10.12-3
Photo credit: Tennessee Aquarium

Keeled Box Turtles get their common names from the three raised ridges, or “keels” running the length of their shells. The edge of the shell has a number of sharp spikes near the tail. Their rugged appearance doesn’t match a tender start. This species tends to lay rather fragile eggs that are often crushed by the parents. Luckily this one was discovered by keepers before being damaged. “This baby Turtle hatched after an incubation period lasting 126 days,” said Hughes.

This species is native to China, India, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam. Like many other Southeast Asian Turtles, keeled box Turtles have been over-collected in the wild for food and the pet trade. Several conservation organizations are working to protect the remaining wild populations from illegal trade, while zoos and aquariums are working toward increasing assurance populations in human care. This assures that the species does not go extinct if these animals disappear in the wild. Currently the U.S. population of Keeled Box Turtles at accredited zoos and aquariums is fewer than 20 animals.

The Tennessee Aquarium has one of the largest turtle collections on public display with more than 500 individuals representing 75 species. The Aquarium now has six Keeled Box Turtles. There are three adults, one male and two females, this new baby and a pair of young Keeled Box Turtles on exhibit in the Turtle Gallery on level 2 of the River Journey building.