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5 Things I Learned about the Green Tree Python (Morelia viridis)

When mature, green tree pythons spend a lot of time in trees, often resting their diamond-shaped heads over one or two coils they’ve looped over branches to create a saddle. Here are five other facts about these arboreal snakes:

  1. Green tree pythons start life bright yellow, red or reddish-brown, and don’t become the vibrant green color you see here until they are 6-12 months old.
  2. Their prehensile tail is helpful for climbing and anchoring them in trees. They’ll also drop it down and wiggle the tip, using it as a lure to attract curious prey.
  3. Speaking of hunting, in addition to good eyesight, green tree pythons have thermoreceptive pits in their upper lip area that let them sense the body heat of their prey.
  4. Green tree pythons can wrap themselves around their prey and squeeze them to suffocation. They can then swallow that prey hole.
  5. Green tree pythons are solitary except during mating. A female can produce a clutch of 5-35 eggs, coiling around them and using “muscular shivers” to regulate their temperature.

There’s a lot more to learn about this nonvenomous snake that can be found in Indonesia, New Guinea and Cape York in Australia.  You can see this one in the Asia & Indonesia Gallery at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Nature. It’s a curious thing.

–  Samantha F.

5 Things I Learned about the Red-Bellied Piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri)

While they do have sharp teeth and very powerful jaws, contrary to popular belief the red-bellied piranha is quite docile. Here are 5 other facts about this misunderstood fish.

  1. These misunderstood fish can reach lengths of 8 inches long and weigh around 4 pounds.
  2. Red-bellied piranhas travel in groups for protection rather than to take down larger prey.
  3. Piranhas can make different vocalizations that sound like barking, grunting, croaking or the thudding of a drum. They use their swimbladder to make these sounds.
  4. Red-bellied piranha feed on whole small fish, insects and aquatic invertebrates and occasionally plant material and ripe fruit. At the Greater Cleveland Aquarium they eat an omnivorous diet, composed of a variety of items mixed in throughout the week. Things like prepared gel foods, pellets, occasional fresh fruit or veggies, krill and other shell fish and chopped up freshwater fish like minnows, smelt and trout, all make up a well-balanced diet.
  5. The red-bellied piranha is rarely seen in a frenzy unless they are extremely hungry and deprived. These fish get a vicious reputation in part because of some exaggerated claims made about them following one of Teddy Roosevelt’s expeditions to the Amazon. His guides showed him starving piranhas taking down a large animal in a short period of time. While the widely circulated story from the President’s trip might have made them legendary, it was a 1970s’ horror movie that confirmed people’s suspicions the piranha was a man-eating terror.

You can take a closer look at the red-bellied piranha along with other curious creatures in the Tropical Forest Gallery at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Nature. It’s a curious thing.

– Tyler H.

Spanning History: Main Avenue Bridge Recognized

On Wednesday, October 6, 2021, 82 years from the day when it was opened, the Main Avenue Bridge, also called the Main Avenue Viaduct, will receive a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Designation from the Cleveland Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. According to WEWS TV-5,  fewer than 230 projects in the United States have received this distinction.

Built in 1939 with funds allocated from the Public Works Administration, the Main Avenue Bridge was one of many bridges and structures built in Cleveland during the Great Depression as a way to spur economic growth. The span over the Cuyahoga River in the Flats originally featured a float bridge, but was replaced with a 200-foot hand-operated swing bridge in 1869. In 1938, plans to build a new bridge to alleviate the increased traffic driving into the city was introduced by joining the east portion of the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway (named for the local veterans of World War II) to the west side span that extended to Edgewater Park. The eastern portion was originally built in 1936 to access the Great Lakes Exposition, which extended from E. 9th Street to E. 55th. It was the largest project of the Works Project Administration in the country.

When the bridge was completed, it held the record for the longest elevated structure in Ohio (with a length of 8000 feet) until 2007. The initial construction of the bridge, from 1938 to 1939, had workers use over 24,000 tons of steel and 55,000 cubic yards of concrete to build the cantilever truss crossing.

The structure is being given historic landmark status due to its use of continuous, haunched structural forms which offered greater structural efficiency and improved the aesthetics (the haunches are the vertical support structures under the roadway). It is also a significant example of a deck cantilever structure, which means that a structural member is positioned below the joists to support the weight of the frame. The lakefront ramp includes a plate girder span that holds the record at 271 feet and the overpasses at West 28th Street contain some of the first welded rigid frames. The construction represented a significant engineering achievement of the time.

In 1986, the bridge was renamed the Harold H. Burton Memorial Bridge in honor of the man who served as mayor during its construction and in 2007, the signature blue paint was added to keep the steel portions from deteriorating.

See an album of historic Cleveland bridges here. More details on the dedication ceremony can be found here.

– Neda S.

5 Things I Learned about Vietnamese Mossy Frogs

Native to North Vietnam, these mossy frogs live in flooded caves and in the banks of rocky mountain streams. A semi-aquatic species, they spend a significant amount of time submerged with only their eyes poking out over the surface of the water.

Sometimes it can be a challenge to spot the Vietnamese mossy frogs in Greater Cleveland Aquarium’s Asia & Indonesia Gallery. They only grow to be 2.5 to 3.5 inches and they’re flat and wide when resting. Wart-like bumps and green-and-ruddy brown skin give them a moss-like appearance and let them blend with their habitat.

Not only are they masters of camouflage, but they’re also masters of misdirection. Vietnamese mossy frogs can make their voices seem like they are coming for 10 to 13 feet away so predators cannot pinpoint their locations.

Vietnamese mossy frogs have sticky toe discs that help them climb trees and cling to rocky surfaces.

Even with excellent camouflage, climbing abilities and ventriloquist-level vocal skills, predators sometimes track down mossy frogs. When threatened by tree-dwelling mammals or snakes, Vietnamese mossy frogs will curl into a ball.

Next time you visit, see if you can spot the mossy frogs blending in with their surroundings. Nature. It’s curious thing.

  • Samantha F.

Blimey! Pirates are Everywhere

Ahoy, me hearties! International Talk Like A Pirate Day be comin’ ‘round again on Sunday, September 19. To commemorate the day, we be divin’ into the tales of some pirates not as well-known in these parts as the likes of Blackbeard and Captain Kidd, but just as fearsome:

ANCIENT PIRATES

  • Cilician Pirates: Famous for kidnapping Julius Caesar for ransom in 78 B.C.
  • Teuta of Illyria: Queen who took over the fleet after the death of her husband and raided Roman forces (231-228 B.C.)

AFRICAN PIRATES

  • Black Caesar: War chieftain who raided during the “Golden Age of Piracy” in the 18th century who later became a member of Blackbeard’s crew
  • Barbary Corsairs: Raided North Africa and the Mediterranean; the Barbary Coast is named for them

ASIAN PIRATES

  • Ching Shih: One of the most successful pirates in history, this queen commanded more than 1800 vessels, 100 times more ships than Blackbeard
  • Zheng Chenggong (better known as Koxinga): Drove the Dutch from Taiwan and took control for the next two decades

FEMALE PIRATES

  • Anne Bonny and Mary Read: Mates to Calico Jack, both Bonny and Read dressed as men to fool other pirates
  • Sadie the Goat: American pirate queen who raided the northeast coasts
  • Sayyida al-Hurra: Muslim who used her fleet to terrorize Spanish and Portuguese ships

Getting in the spirit, are you? Then maybe you’ll be wantin’ to know a wee bit more ‘bout some of them pirate movies ye have a hankerin’ for:

Treasure Island: Disney’s 1st live action feature (released in 1950). Phrases like “Argh!” and “Avast, me hearties!,” as well as the sword style used in modern costumes originated from this movie.

Princess Bride:  The character Dread Pirate Roberts was based on Bartholomew Roberts, a Welsh pirate from the 1700s.

Pirates of the Caribbean franchise: Many scenes from the Disney World ride were incorporated into the movies, including:

  • the pirate song, “A Pirate’s Life for Me”
  • the skeletons featured throughout
  • the dog with the keys to the cell
  • the treasure room

Make sure you buy your tickets online to ensure entry to our swashbucklin’ celebration, wear your best gear and get ready to TALK LIKE A PIRATE!

ARRGH!

-Neda S

5 Things I Learned about Channel Catfish

This whiskered, bottom-dweller generally measures 15-25 inches in length, but it can get bigger. Here are 5 other facts about the channel catfish.

These catfish are most active at night. They are also found to be out more often after rain.

Like other catfish, the channel catfish has no scales. It has sharp and deeply serrated spines on the dorsal and pectoral fins. Sometimes when caught, people are often “stung” by the spines on their fins.

Adult channel catfish consume fish like yellow perch and sunfish as well as snails, algae, snakes, frogs, insects, plants and even birds. At the Aquarium, they often enjoy chopped frozen fish like shiners, minnows and silversides, as well as a prepared gel food—think fish Jell-O—as well as a wide variety of pellet food.

Thanks to the Weberian apparatus, which connects the swim bladder to the ear, they are able to amplify vibrations coming from the swim bladder. This gives the channel catfish great ability to hear what is going on in their surroundings.

Channel catfish can live in fresh, brackish, and even saltwater, but they are generally found in freshwater environments, just like the lakes, ponds and rivers right here in Ohio.

You can take a closer look at the channel catfish and other large Ohio gamefish in the Ohio Lakes & Rivers Gallery at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.

– Tyler H. 

Ray Discusses Rays

My name is Ray. I’m the Curator at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. My background is in animal care, particularly sharks and stingrays. Today I am going to answer a few stingray questions Annual Passholders have submitted.

What kind of stingrays are at the Aquarium?

Four species of stingray reside here. One freshwater stingray is in the Amazon River exhibit and there are three species of saltwater rays. There are the cownose stingrays, Southern stingrays and one Atlantic stingray.

How is it possible for stingrays and sharks to live together in the Shark Gallery?

They tend to occupy different areas of the water and don’t really interact very much. Just like any other fish in the exhibit, the curation chose them to cohabitate because they cohabitate well.

Why does the freshwater stingray look different than the saltwater ones?

Freshwater stingrays are a whole different genus from saltwater stingrays, so while they do have some common lineage in the past, the reason they look so much different is because of the habitat in which they live. That river stingray lives in murkier waters with darker substrate—leaves and things like that. Its coloration is different for camouflage.

How did saltwater stingrays adapt to live in freshwater?

That is a very good question. That came from millions of years of evolution. There is a common ancestor from a few hundred million years ago that slowly started to live in some of the fresher waters and eventually evolved into freshwater stingrays as we know them. Nowadays a lot of the coastal species of saltwater stingrays do go in brackish areas and occasionally in freshwater. But they can’t do it for long-term, but through evolution a few of them managed to get a little further up stream and stay there permanently.

Are stingrays related to sharks?

Yes, stingrays and sharks are related. They are both in the cartilaginous fish group known as elasmobranchs, and they all have cartilaginous skeletons.  (Cartilage like you have in your nose or your earlobes.) That is the biggest distinguishing feature.

How do stingrays eat?

Stingrays are benthic feeders, so they are typically finding food along the sand bed, buried in the sand, on the seafloor or, for freshwater varieties, in the riverbeds. There are a handful of exceptions like a pelagic stingray that can catch fish right out of the water column.

What are the holes I see on the top of the stingrays?

With stingrays being on the bottom of the sea floor, if they took in water through their mouths, they would get a whole mouthful of sand. Instead, they have spiracles on the top of their head so they can bring in new clean water, into their gills and out through gill slits on the bottom. That’s how they breathe. When you see them swim up on the window, you’ll see gill slits on their belly. That is how the water will exit.

Why do stingrays sometimes bury themselves?

That’s dual purpose. It’s for their own protection. But while it helps them hide from predators, as predators themselves it also can help them to hide and wait to ambush their food.

What are baby stingrays called?

Baby stingrays are often called pups, as are most other shark species.

Are stingrays poisonous?

Stingrays are not poisonous, they are venomous. Here is a simple way to remember the difference between poison and venom. If an animal were to attack and you got sick, that is a venom or a toxin. If you eat an animal and get sick, then it is poisonous. If a barb poked you it could envenomate you, so stingrays are venomous.

Why can’t guests be stung by the stingrays in the Aquarium’s touch pool?

First off, stinging is a defense mechanism. Since guests always polite to our stingrays and these animals are accustomed to the presence of guests, there is no need for them to sting. This touch pool is deeper than many you see. That depth gives the stingrays avoiding human an interaction a choice to swim lower in the water. We also go the extra step and trim the barbs on the stingrays in the touch pool. It’s not unlike trimming the toenails on your dog.

If you want to learn more about stingrays, come visit the stingrays in the Tropical Forest, Coastal Boardwalk and Shark Galleries at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.

– Ray P.

 

 

Flipping the Script to Save Sharks

Think about spiders, piranhas, or snakes. Simply the sound of some animals’ names causes fear and panic. Whether it stems from tall tales or a few chance encounters, unfortunately for the animals involved, bad reputations developed over time tend to stick. Sharks might be the ultimate example of this situation. There have been many movies about sharks made over the years. A recent study from the University of Australia asserted that “almost all of these films (96%) overtly portrayed shark-human interactions as being potentially threatening to humans.” How factual and accurate have these movies been to sharks? Let’s take a closer look at a few of them.

In Jaws, Amity Island was terrorized by a Great White shark that ruined quite a few people’s vacations and the blockbuster film’s protagonists indeed ended up needing a bigger boat to catch this predator. Jaws had such an impact on our collective psyche that the reputations of Great Whites and other shark species remain affected by the movie to this day—46 years after the motion picture came out. The big myth in Jaws is that sharks specifically target humans. In truth, we simply are not on a shark’s menu. Rarely do humans and sharks come in contact, but IF they do, sharks mistaking a person for a seal or another one of their actual prey items might take an exploratory bite before quickly realizing the mistake and swimming off. A vengeful, human-seeking shark like the Great White in Jaws doesn’t occur in our oceans.

Many shark movies since Jaws have leaned into a more fictional sci-fi component, such as Deep Blue Sea, The Meg and, of course, all the Sharknado films. (They apparently made six so far?!). I hope I don’t need to let you know that no one needs to fear long extinct predators, DNA-altered sharks or waterspouts causing sharks to attack humans in the sky and on land.

But there are some movies that could seem very realistic to the average movie fan, such as The Shallows. This film finds an injured young surfer fighting for her survival in the open water while the Great White shark that bit her circles and zeroes in on its compromised target. Similarly, to Jaws, this movie portrays the shark to be following a prolonged plan of attack on our species, although on a smaller scale. Sharks don’t spend extended periods of time playing this cat-and-mouse game with prey. Many sharks like the Great White must be swimming constantly to breathe, and sharks are too smart to waste time and energy for very long before moving on to the next area or potential meal.

It’s important to know that we are not telling you to never watch another shark movie ever again. I love all kinds of movies and I know these thrillers can be fun to sit down and enjoy. We just ask to do your best in not letting television and movies fully form your opinion of animals like sharks. As apex predators, sharks are extremely important to the health of the oceans on which humans rely heavily. It’s vital that we are constantly trying to improve the public opinion of sharks for their overall conservation. A third of all shark species are threatened or endangered, and movies have done their part in contributing to the decline. Going forward, we need to try and continue to flip the narrative on sharks, talking about them in a positive way and focusing on the facts to protect them as a species and ultimately protect our oceans.

-Matt D., Education Coordinator

A Conversation with a Community Partner

It’s hard not to think about water here in Cleveland. To us Lake Erie is our backyard and we see it every day, but the Great Lakes contain about 90% of the United States’ freshwater supply. That’s why in advance of World Water Day (March 22nd) Greater Cleveland Aquarium General Manager Stephanie White decided to check in with our community partner, Drink Local. Drink Tap.

SW: I am here with DLDT’s Wavemaker Program Manager Kristine and with Matt, Education Coordinator at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Kristine, tell us a little bit about the mission and activities of Drink Local. Drink Tap.

KN: Sure! The mission at Drink Local. Drink Tap. is three-fold. We help to educate about the global water crisis, improve water equity for those in need, and get people engaged in helping to protect our water.

SW: What type of local and international activities do you have with your programs?

KN: Locally we have our Wavemaker Education Program where we go into schools and speak with students about the global water crisis and how they can get involved here in Northeast Ohio. On a global level, we work in Uganda bringing water and sanitation to rural, needy areas.

SW: What sparked your interest in water access?

KN: I was living and traveling throughout Asia and I saw how differently people experienced water depending on where they lived and their socioeconomic status. When I moved back to Cleveland I met Drink Local. Drink Tap. Founder & Executive Director Erin Huber Rosen in 2011 as the nonprofit was really getting off the ground and I decided to get involved and volunteer. Over the years I participated in beach cleanups and various events. Eventually I started working with the Wavemaker program and in 2019 I officially became a staff member.

SW: Over the years we’ve partnered with you for the United Nations’ World Water Day, which is part of your Wavemaker program. Tell us a little more about how you engage with students?

KN: Our program goes into schools and we speak with students directly in classrooms or during assemblies. Obviously doing everything virtually right now. We try to educate children on the global water crisis and share how people experience water so differently. You know, we’re really blessed in Northeast Ohio to have so much water here. We have our Lake Erie, we have rivers and we have plenty of rain and snowfall. That’s not how people experience water all over the world. We’re trying to raise awareness and hopefully bring some of that to their thought process on a daily basis and encourage them to get involved—to come to beach cleanups, to change their daily and to consider water as a basic necessity of life and not something we just turn on a tap and use without thinking about it at all.

SW: As you said, this time we’re all virtual, but in the past, Matt, what did World Water Day look like here at the Aquarium?

MD: World Water Day has always been one of my favorite days here on-site. In past years, hundreds of local schoolkids came to celebrate water. They did water-related activities before experiencing the exhibits and animals. I think my favorite part of the day has been the palpable energy and excitement that the students feel about water. As an educator, it was inspiring to see children getting excited about an important topic.

SW: Hopefully this year we can have that same excitement but on a virtual platform. Kristine, can you talk us through how you’re going to celebrate in 2021?

KN: We are holding a virtual event, which allows anyone to join from anywhere and we’re not limited to who can physically get to us. We’ll be offering a virtual fieldtrip for the students where we have exhibitors who are holding a booth. Students can migrate in and out of the booths and find out about the various organizations and how they pertain to water. We’ll also have a portion where Erin Huber Rosen, the Executive Director of Drink Local.Drink Tap., and I will be hold a live piece. We’ll talk about various topics and engage with participants. Then we also have a student youth activist from Uganda that we’re going to connect with and hear from, so we’re super excited about that.

SW: I know the Aquarium is part of that too. Kristine was just saying clean water is critical for all life and important for us. Matt, what’s one message that you share with your students while your educating, whether it’s on this one particular day or 365 days of the year?

MD: I like to stress that it can feel like we have unlimited water, right? Day in and day out, for most of us here in this area we can turn on the faucet and water comes out to use and drink. But less than 1% of all water on Earth is available for us to use. In terms of a global scale, there’s really not that much water left for all human beings on Earth to use and our population is still growing. It’s really important that students coming through this building start to get a sense that it is a limited resource. It is finite. You should do everything you can to make small changes in your daily life as you think about water as a resource and how you can conserve it.

SW: So then what is your favorite tip to share with your students as to how they can participate in water conservation at home?

MD: Since most of our students are younger, I try to keep it simple for them, something easy to remember. I really stress trying to drink more tap water if you can does multiple good things for our Earth. For one, it takes more water to create a plastic bottle than actual amount of water inside that bottle, which is really crazy to think about. It also takes oil to produce plastic which is giving out CO2 into the environment. And then many of these water bottles that people are buying from the store, these single-use bottles, do end up as litter, unfortunately, which can then end up in our waterways. Just trying to drink a little more tap water than you have in the past and reducing the number of single-use bottles you are buying can make a huge difference overall.

KN:  I fully agree with everything Matt said. Reducing our single-use plastics is one of the biggest and most important steps in the right direction. And I would also suggest just a change in your thought process—thinking differently about water, about how you use water and about how the things we do use water. Not only brushing our teeth or taking a shower, but the things we buy and use require water. Just thinking differently and sharing what you’ve learned with others is important. If people don’t know there’s a problem they can’t do anything to help, so spread the word.

SW: Kristine, I saw on your website that just $30 can bring safe drinking water to one person for life. If anyone wants to donate to Drink Local. Drink Tap., what would their donation do?

KN: Right now our Wavemaker program is working to fund a project for Mbaale Primary School. They are in desperate need of clean water and sanitation. There are hundreds of students, teachers and local villagers who are using a latrine that was constructed by the school head teacher and some parent volunteers and unfortunately it’s not safe. It’s falling apart. These students end up going in the bush which is highly problematic, especially for young girls. Our focus right now is funding a latrine project for that school. If we aren’t able to come up with a solution for them quite quickly the school will have to close down. That’s how severe the problem is right now. Once we can raise for that, we’re going to then switch for that same school to a borehole to bring them clean water. W

SW: Wow! So a donation really could make a difference.

KN: Oh, it makes a huge difference. Like you said, $30 can bring one Ugandan water for life. That really is completely life-changing. It allows children to go to school instead of fetching water. It keeps them safe because they’re not traveling long distances by themselves to get that water. It allows for basic dignity. Even a small donation makes a really huge difference.

SW: Thank you for joining us today, Kristine, and for the conversation. Thank you Matt for taking time out of virtual tours. I look forward to March 22nd. Happy World Water Day!

To learn more about the water equity issues and supporting the nonprofit’s projects and programming, visit drinklocaldrinktap.org.