Posts Tagged 'behind the scenes'

Animal Update – June 6

national aquarium animal update

Purple Tang in Surviving Through Adaptation

The purple tang’s coloration ranges from a light violet to a deep blue. They can be easily recognized by the small dark spots that appear on their face!

purple tang

Did you know? These vibrantly colored tangs can be found throughout the coral reefs of the Red Sea. Tangs are generally quite active swimmers and primarily graze on algae!

Be sure to check back every Friday to find out what’s happening!

A Delicate Balance: Inside the Jellies Lab

Described as mesmerizing, beautiful, even otherworldly, jellies are unique in the animal kingdom. Not technically fish, they have no heart, brain, blood or bones and are 95 percent water.

Most closely related to corals and anemones, their pulsing translucent bod­ies drift an unchoreographed dance based mostly on water currents, not choice.

The full life cycle of these incredible animals actually takes place at the Aquarium, as baby jellies grow up and are cultured by skilled aquarists in what is referred to as the jellies lab.

Bringing Up Jelly

Jennie Janssen, Manager of Changing Exhibits, is in charge of the jellies lab, located on Pier 5 in the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, and Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance on Pier 4 inside the National Aquarium.

Janssen and her team of aquarists are responsible for many species, includ­ing moon jellies, lion’s mane jellies and Atlantic sea nettles.

In the lab, the Jellies team cares for a community of jellies, raising them until they are large enough to go on exhibit. Sometimes there are hundreds of babies being cul­tured, at other times as few as five or six.

During a visit to Jellies Invasion, guests can sometimes see what look like baby jellies pulsing alongside the adults, but in fact they are more like teenagers. Jelly babies are extremely small, developing from tiny polyps (resembling small sea anemones) that attach to the inside of their exhibits.

Polyps are collected from exhibit walls and viewing windows and allowed to attach to petri dishes in the lab. There, they are fed, kept clean and encouraged to strobilate, releasing free-swimming ephyrae. At just 2 millimeters, these ephyrae are easy to miss, except by those with a trained eye.

moon jelly polyps

Once the ephyrae are released, they ride the water flow into a larger container where they grow until they are big enough to be put on exhibit.

There’s No Place Like Home

While specific jelly species have different exhibit needs, they are generally cared for in the same ways. Jellies eat zooplankton, small fish and other jellies in the wild. Jellies at the Aquarium eat brine shrimp, grown by the Jellies team, two or three times per day. As the jellies grow, their food gets larger as well.

A precise balance of water flow, salinity and tem­perature is critical to a viable jelly-breed­ing program, and sophisticated water measurement technology allows aquarists to keep careful watch over the conditions.

jellies lab behind the scenes

The size and shape of the tank, in addition to the direction and speed of water flow, are important in ensuring the jellies don’t rub against the walls or become tangled. The aquarists on staff are constantly tweaking the instruments and engineering the tanks to make sure that flow is perfect for these drifters.

In fact, Janssen says that getting that water flow rate just right is one of the hallmarks of a great jelly aquarist. And the Aquarium’s Jellies team is among the best. Not only do aquarium-raised jellies appear on exhibit here in Baltimore, but many are sent to other aquariums for their exhibits…kind of like a jellies invasion!

Animal Update – May 23

national aquarium animal update

Spotfin Butterflyfish in Survival Through Adaptation

A spotfin butterflyfish has been added to the Lurking gallery within our Survival Through Adaptation exhibit!

national aquarium spotfin butterflyfish

Did you know? The black bar across the eyes of the butterflyfish help it confuse predators.

This fish is found in the Western Atlantic, from the east coast of the United States to Brazil.

Be sure to check back every Friday to find out what’s happening!

Animal Health Update: Margaret’s Annual Exam

Blog-Header-AnimalExpertUpd

This Spring, I’ve been able to work with our Animal Programs staff and an amazing hyacinth macaw, Margaret, on some great voluntary behaviors.

Margaret has a strong history of working closely with her caretakers on what we call “husbandry” behaviors such as nail trims, stepping on and off items, showing the underside of her wings, and allowing us to listen to her heartbeat with a stethoscope. These husbandry behaviors make routine visits from our Vet staff easier, stress-free experiences for both the animal and our team.

Hycanith macaw Margaret

Training a complex voluntary behavior, like laying down for a blood draw, is done by breaking the final behavior down into smaller steps, in a process known as shaping.

We started with a behavior Margaret already knew how to do, referred to by our team as the “lay back,” where she lays her back down on a towel. Over the course of a few months, we worked with her hold her wing down flat and still and to let us touch around her vein, as well as put pressure on her wing over the vein and remain still for up to five minutes. Wing veins can bleed easily and we wanted to make sure she’d let us hold it off so a hematoma didn’t form.

She did well with the sessions and within a few months we were ready for her first blood draw. It went perfectly. A few short weeks later, we put it all together for her annual exam – a physical exam, listening to her heart, and getting a blood sample.

The video below gives you a behind-the-scenes look at what this shaping process with Margaret looked like:

[youtube http://youtu.be/H6Hjvxs8LOA]

I’m happy to report that our hard work paid off and Margaret passed her annual exam with flying colors!

national aquarium Leigh Clayton

Animal Update – May 9

national aquarium animal update

Stoplight Parrotfish in Atlantic Coral Reef

Two stoplight parrotfish have been added to our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit!

stoplight parrotfish national aquarium

Photo via Flickr user Carl Haupt.

Stoplight parrotfish can be found throughout the tropical waters of the western Atlantic!

Did you know? Parrotfish are herbivores that depend on algae from the reef for sustenance. Their fused teeth help the fish crush coral, which passes through their digestive system and is deposited back on the reef as sand! A parrotfish can produce up to one ton of coral sand a year!

Fairy Basslets in Atlantic Coral Reef

Fairy basslets are small, vibrantly colored fish. With purple fronts and yellow tails, their bodies are split into two colors with a black spot on their dorsal fins.

national aquarium fairy basslet

These fish are known to swim upside-down under ledges and along cave ceilings. They live in colonies and defend their territory from other species (and even other fairy basslets). Male fairy basslets are responsible for guarding and caring for the eggs and the nest!

Be sure to check back every Friday to find out what’s happening!

Animal Update – May 2

national aquarium animal update

Red-bellied Piranha’s in Amazon River Forest

Ten red-bellied piranhas have been added to our Amazon River Forest exhibit!

national aquarium red-bellied piranha

Red-bellied piranhas can be found throughout the Amazon River basin. They are omnivorous scavengers, feeding mostly on a mix of insects, worms, crustaceans and smaller fish.

Although they’ve gained a ferocious reputation over the years, piranhas do not pose any attack risks to humans.

Be sure to check back every Friday to find out what’s happening!

Animal Update – April 25

national aquarium animal update

Puddingwife Wrasse in Atlantic Coral Reef!

A puddingwife wrasse has been added to our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit!

puddingwife wrasse

The puddingwife wrasse is native to the reefs of the western Atlantic (from North Carolina to Trinidad and Tobago).

This species prefers the shallow areas of the reef, where it can easily feed on sea urchins, crustaceans and brittle stars.

According to the IUCN Red List, the puddingwife is a fairly abundant species!

Be sure to check back every Friday to find out what’s happening!


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