Tennessee Aquarium

Tiny Spiny Turtle Hatchling at the Tennessee Aquarium

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Big news at the Tennessee Aquarium: A highly endangered spiny turtle (Heosemys spinosa) hatched over last weekend of February 4 from a single egg that was incubated at 82 degrees for about 105 days. This latest hatchling is only about 5 cm long and weighs 37 grams.

According to Tennessee Aquarium senior herpetologist Bill Hughes, this tiny turtle is a big success story for a species on the brink of extinction in the wild. "Captive breeding of this species is still an uncommon event, with only three other U.S. zoos having success," Hughes said.  "However, we have worked carefully with these animals and have had 13 spiny turtles to hatch at the Aquarium since 2007."

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has listed this species as Critically Endangered in Indonesia, and Endangered in other parts of its range. Over-collecting these animals in the wild has led to the demise of these rather amazing turtles. Hatchlings like this one, and others in this special management program, represent the last hope if this species vanishes in the wild. So each rare turtle hatchling is worth celebrating.

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Photo Credit: Bill Hughes

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Creepy or Cool? Cuttlefish Hatchlings

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For the past few weeks aquarists at the Tennessee Aquarium have been monitoring an egg mass which was laid by a cuttlefish pair born and reared at the Aquarium. Shortly after the eggs were removed from the exhibit and placed into a holding tank, tiny cuttlefish began hatching. Carol Haley, the Aquarium’s assistant curator of fishes, said, “The first day about 42 hatchlings appeared. Another 40 or so appeared the following day.”

The hatchlings, called cuttlets, are tiny replicas of their parents. Each individual is small enough to fit inside a quarter teaspoon. Once they emerge from the egg sac, they begin hunting. “They have a pretty big appetite and are ready to use their tentacles to snare the live mysid shrimp we feed them,” said Haley.

These babies are too small to be placed on exhibit like their parents. Right now they use their chromatophores to look like tiny pebbles in the bottom of the holding tank they’ll call home for the next few months. They also use another trick to avoid being a tiny treat for a predator. “Even at their small size they can produce ink,” said Haley. “They will ink more as feisty teenagers, usually when they reach about six months of age.”

When they are six to seven months old, they’ll be large enough to go on exhibit. Until then, Aquarium guests can see these miniature cuttlefish in the Quarantine Room during the 1:30 p.m. Backstage Pass Tour. “Cuttlefish babies are super cute as babies and people are still fascinated by them when they reach adulthood,” said Haley. “They might be the most adorable ‘sea monsters’ you’ll ever see.”

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Photo Credits: Bill Hughes/Tennessee Aquarium

 

 

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Two Tiny Turtles in Tennessee

This month two rare baby turtles have give staffers at the Tennessee Aquarium two more reason to celebrate World Turtle Day on Monday May 23.

"A spiny turtle hatched on May 1st and last week a four-eyed turtle hatched,” said Bill Hughes, Tennessee Aquarium senior herpetologist.  “Both species are considered endangered in the wild.”

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Spiny turtles have shells with distinctive pointed edges and are sometimes known as cogwheel turtles. The Tennessee Aquarium, Knoxville Zoo, Tulsa Zoo and Zoo Atlanta are the only public institutions in the United States to have successfully bred this species. This new spiny baby will remain off-exhibit until it gets a little bigger, but guests can view a rather small spiny turtle hatched in 2009 in the Turtle Gallery on Level 2 of the River Journey building.

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Four-eyed turtles get their name from the ocelli, or false eye markings that occur on the back of the head. The current U.S. zoo population of this species consists of the 28 individuals at the Tennessee Aquarium and one male at the Charles Paddock Zoo in California. “Adult males and females have different ocelli patterns,” said Hughes. “This baby’s head pattern is similar to a female’s, but so far all of the ones we’ve hatched have had the same pattern.” This hatchling will also remain off-exhibit until it gets a little larger, but guests can view two hatchlings from 2009 in the Turtle Gallery nursery tanks.

Like many Southeast Asian turtle species, spiny turtles and four-eyed turtles have been overharvested in the wild for food and traditional medicine trade. Successful breeding programs such as the Aquarium’s help maintain assurance populations in case numbers of their wild counterparts fail to rebound. Collins encourages Aquarium visitors to explore the exhibits at a turtle’s pace to appreciate the special adaptations and extremes in form of each species. Said Collins, “When people develop an awareness and appreciation for these remarkable animals they’re more likely to help protect them.”

 


Rare Footage of a Papa Seahorse Giving Birth!

The Tennessee Aquarium's seahorse gallery is a busy nursery but actual footage of seahorses being born is still rare. Lucky for us Carol Haley, the Aquarium's Assistant Curator of Fishes, caught this amazing video of Lined Seahorses being shot-outta-Pop (that is not the technical term). Many people are surprised to learn that it's the father, not the mother, seahorse that gives live birth to the young.  In the video, you’ll notice the babies racing away from dad towards the surface. There’s a reason for that according to aquarist Elaine Robinson. “When they are born, Hippocampus erectus fry swim quickly to the surface of the water to gulp air for the primary phase of swim bladder inflation,” said Robinson.  “Lined seahorses tend to be pelagic, drifting near the surface of the water, in search of their prey.” 

In the pictures below, a toothbrush has been inserted for size reference Baby seahorses at Tennessee Aquarium 3

Baby seahorses at Tennessee Aquarium 3Photo credits: Thom Benson / Tennessee Aquarium

Aquarists quickly remove the babies to care for them in backup areas until they are strong enough to be placed on exhibit or shared with other AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited institutions.

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Tennessee Welcomes Tiny Spiny Turtle Hatchling

One Spiny Hill Turtle, Heosemys Spinosa, hatched at the Tennessee Aquarium Monday, September 20th from a clutch of three eggs that were laid on June 18th.  The eggs were incubated at 82 degrees.  The hatchling weighs 26 grams and is roughly 2.25 inches across. This is only the eighth successful hatchling of this species at the Aquarium.  According to senior herpetologist Bill Hughes, each successful hatchling improves the odds of this species' survival. “We now have seventeen Spiny Hill Turtles in our collection,” Hughes said. “There are eight adults and nine juveniles. The adults are part of the Tennessee Aquarium’s Asian Turtle Breeding Program.”

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Interestingly, this little "Hill" Turtle bears a striking resemblance to Morla, the giant sneezing mountain turtle in The Neverending Story.

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Photo Credits: The Tennessee Aquarium

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Things Are Gonna Get Weird - Baby Caecilians!

Eel? Worm? Baby sea-monster? Actually Caecilians are amphibians like frogs and salamanders, but they lack any limbs and their eyes are tiny or non-existent. Most caecilians live underground in moist soil but Aquatic Caecilians, like these babies born at the Tennessee Aquarium July 18th, spend their lives wriggling within swamps, ponds and lakes.

While nearly all caecilians have lungs including Aquatic Caecilians, this species is also born with frilly, external gills, which can clearly be seen in the pictures below. The gills detach from the animal’s body shortly after getting its first breath of air from the surface. We recommend watching the video to see these bizarre critters in action.

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A baby caecilian smile perhaps?

Baby caecilian says "Hi Leah Melber!"