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5 Things I Learned about the Sandbar Shark

Sandbar sharks, like the one you see here, reside within shallow coastal waters around the globe—ranging from Massachusetts all the way to Brazil in the Western Atlantic. Here are 5 things a non-aquarist learned about this interesting animal at Greater Cleveland Aquarium.

1. This species of shark is considered an opportunistic bottom feeder. From small fish and crustaceans to octopi and stingrays, sandbar sharks don’t leave much off the menu.

2. The only predator of sandbar sharks are—can you guess?—other sharks! Juveniles will sometimes fall prey to larger species like bull sharks, otherwise there are few animals interested in hunting them.

3. Sandbar sharks only breed every 2-3 years and live anywhere from 25 – 30 years old. Researchers estimate full maturity happens around 13 – 16 years of age, meaning they reach true adulthood around the time you first learned to drive!

4. In 2020, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified sandbar sharks as endangered, citing a 50 – 80% decrease in population over the last 75 years. However, management plans have been put in place and those regions are seeing populations begin to stabilize in the shallow waters they call home.

5. Sandbar sharks migrate seasonally, with juveniles often moving from shallow coastal waters to warm deep waters. Interestingly, males tend to migrate in large schools, while females make the journey solitarily with no company.

Look for sandbar, sandtiger and other species of sharks during your next Greater Cleveland Aquarium visit. Nature. It’s a curious thing.

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.

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.

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. 

5 Things I Learned about the Sea Lamprey

It’s October and we thought we’d learn a little about a blood-sucking invasive species you can find in the Great Lakes . . . sea lampreys! Here are 5 facts about this distinctive-looking animal. #cleaquarium #natureiscurious

Some people say it looks like an eel, others think it looks like the stuff of nightmares. In truth, this cartilaginous, jawless fish with smooth, scaleless skin is a parasite, meaning that it gets its nourishment from another host organism.

As you can clearly see, a sea lamprey has a suction cup mouth ringed with sharp teeth. It will latch on to a fish and use its rough, file-like tongue to rasp away at scales and skin in order to feed on the host’s blood and bodily fluids.  Not many—maybe 1 in 7—of the fish that a sea lamprey attaches to and feeds on will survive the ordeal, and it’s estimated that a single lamprey will kill more than 40 or more pounds of fish in its lifetime.

Sea lampreys are native to the northern and western Atlantic Ocean, but thanks to manmade locks and shipping canals, they found their way into the Great Lakes in the 1800s where, because they prey on whitefish, lake trout and salmon, they’ve disrupted the freshwater ecosystem.

Not all lampreys are invasive to the Great Lakes. There are actually a number of native lampreys including the silver, the American brook and the Northern brook, but the sea lamprey is a significantly bigger predator.  

A sea lamprey has a very well-developed sense of smell and uses odors to navigate and communicate. That’s why researchers have tried using both pheromones and the scent of decaying sea lampreys to help with trapping efforts.

So, while you (understandably) might have no desire to see a sea lamprey up-close, you can learn about Ohio’s native and invasive species on your next visit to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Nature. It’s a curious thing.

Where to Find @CLEAquarium: Ohio Lakes & Rivers Gallery

Author: Samantha F.