Press ENTER to search, ESC to clear

What Does Parenting Look Like in Nature?

Ever wondered what parenthood looks like when it comes to the animal kingdom? From mouthbrooding to live births, parenting takes many different forms depending on the species. Here are a few interesting examples among the animals you might see on your next Aquarium visit:

Box Turtles

Box turtle crawling over substrate at Greater Cleveland Aquarium.
Box turtles are an egg-laying animal. After breeding, the female will bury the eggs on shore, leaving them to hatch and fend for themselves. Did you know the temperature of the environment where the eggs are laid determines whether they emerge as male or female?

///

Black-Naped Fruit Doves

Black-naped fruit doves sitting in a nest at Greater Cleveland Aquarium.
This species splits parenting responsibilities between the male and female, with each bird taking turns looking after the nest while the other forages. That vigilant care is important, as the female often lays just a single egg that needs 18-26 days to incubate.

///

Surinam Toads

Surinam toad sitting still underwater at Greater Cleveland Aquarium.
Fun fact, Surinam toads are actually frogs despite their misleading name. Their intrigue doesn’t end there—these frogs have a particularly interesting reproduction cycle. After breeding, female Surinam toads embed the eggs on their backs and carry them until they hatch. Instead of tadpoles, offspring emerge as fully metamorphosed little frogs.

///

Cichlids

Eartheater cichlid swimming at Greater Cleveland Aquarium
Cichlids like this red-striped eartheater are mouthbrooders—this means they carry their offspring in their mouths until they are mature enough for independence. It may look strange to humans, but these fish will let their offspring forage for food before sucking them back up if the parent feels threatened. This close-quarters parenting gives offspring a better chance of survival.

///

Stingrays

Stingray giving birth in shallow water.
One of just a few animals that give live births at the Aquarium, stingrays like the one above will carry their young for 11-12 months. Most of the time they give birth to just one pup, who is then left completely independent. While it takes a bit longer for the pups to fully mature, they enter the world with a fully formed barb ready to deter any possible threat.

///

SHELL-ebrate the curious moms and dads in your life at Greater Cleveland Aquarium during Mother’s Day Weekend and Father’s Day Weekend.

For more fun, parent-themed animal facts, check out the video below:

These Small Animals Make a Big Impact

While the giant Pacific octopus or sandtiger sharks always make an impression on Greater Cleveland Aquarium guests, many little animals are capable of doing mighty things, often impacting their ecosystems in invaluable ways. Check out few examples of a few smaller species worthy of your appreciation on your next #cleaquarium visit.

Stoplight Parrotfish

Stoplight parrotfish swimming near coral at Greater Cleveland Aquarium.
Parrotfish jaws and teeth are uniquely adapted for eating corals. Their strong teeth can crush up the hard coral skeleton and once it passes through the fish’s digestive system it is expelled as sand. It is estimated that parrotfish produce as much as one ton of coral sand per acre of reef in year.

///

Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp

Scarlet cleaner shrimp on a rock in the Aquarium touchpool.
Cleaner shrimp set up cleaning stations on top of a rocks or coral, almost like underwater car washes. Once the cleaner shrimp sway side to side to signal they are “open for business,” fish drop in to have their dead cells and parasites removed.

///

Cookie Dough Sea Cucumber

Cookie dough sea cucumber curled up against a rock.
Cookie dough sea cucumbers interact with their environment almost like an earthworm in soil, breaking down small particles in the water that contribute to the nutrient cycle.

///

Eastern Musk Turtle

Up-close image of an eastern musk turtle standing on a rock.
Found in the Eastern and Central United States, these little turtles are sometimes called stinkpots for the big smell they produce to deter predators.

///

Northern Clingfish

Underside of a northern clingfish stuck to the Aquarium acrylic.
The clingfish is unique in its ability to quickly attach and detach from wet, irregular surfaces. Their suction disk can cling so tightly that scientists are trying to create suction cups based on the clingfish’s disk’s functionality.

///

Plan a visit to Greater Cleveland Aquarium for a BIG look at SMALL species during Spring Discovery Days.

For more small animal fun facts, check out the playlist below:

How Do These Animals Attract a Mate?

Love is in the air—and underwater—at Greater Cleveland Aquarium. With Valentine’s Day this week, you might be wondering how certain species at the Aquarium attract mates. Read on for a few fun animal courtship facts, from horseshoe crabs to red-bellied piranhas.

Weedy Seadragons

Weedy seadragon male carrying eggs
Weedy seadragons perform an elaborate courtship dance beginning roughly two to four weeks before breeding. This dance often takes place at sunset and involves two seadragons mirroring each other’s movements.

///

Solomon Island Leaf Frog

2 Solomon Island leaf frogs together
When they’re ready to mate, male Solomon Island leaf frogs emit a barking sound to attract a female. When their brood is ready, the eggs hatch as fully formed frogs, with no tadpole stage for this species.

///

Red-Bellied Piranha

Red-bellied piranha close-up photo
Red-bellied piranhas swim in circles to attract mates. The eggs are then placed in bowl-shaped nests and hatch in just nine to 10 days.

///

Red-Eared Slider

Two red-eared slider turtles
These turtles can be a bit forward with their courting rituals—fluttering their claws around the face of potential mates to show interest.

///

Horseshoe Crab

Horseshoe crab next to a heart
Horseshoe crab females attract mates by coming ashore and releasing pheromones to signal males. They can then lay up to 100,000 eggs in a brooding season.

///

Plan a visit to Greater Cleveland Aquarium to learn more about species and nearly 250 others. We’d love to “sea” you!

For more Valentine’s Day animal fun facts, check out the playlist below:

What’s On These Animals’ Wish Lists?

At Greater Cleveland Aquarium, the holidays are for giving thanks and meaningful gifts. Let’s take a look at a few of the animals who call the Aquarium home, and the presents on their wish lists this year.

Picasso Triggerfish at Greater Cleveland Aquarium
Named for its vibrant bands of color, the Picasso triggerfish wishes for a new paint brush set.

Paint Brushes

///

Snowflake eel at Greater Cleveland Aquarium
Snowflake eels want a tunnel to play and relax in. Tight spaces make them feel at home.

///

Archerfish at Greater Cleveland Aquarium
Archerfish have impeccable aim when they shoot water as far as 6 feet at prey, knocking them into the water. Let’s get this one a dart board!

///

Harlequin Sweetlips at Greater Cleveland Aquarium
Known for its plump lips that get more prominent with age, the harlequin sweetlips wants a new shade of lip stick for the holidays.

///

Eastern Musk Turtle at Greater Cleveland Aquarium
The eastern musk turtle, known for the smell it produces to deter predators, surely has perfume on its wishlist.

///

Blue Runner at Greater Cleveland Aquarium
Maybe not the fastest fish, blue runners still live up to their name with a fresh pair of tennis shoes.

///

You can see these animals and more when you visit Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Check out the Aquarium’s See & Do page for a chance to see some of these species and nearly 250 others as you learn about their habitats and how you might support them.

What Are These Animals’ Favorite Meals?

All animals have their favorite foods, just like people do. This Thanksgiving, while humans are filling up on turkey and stuffing, these species want tasty treats like mice, crickets, crayfish and even sea monkeys.

Green Tree Python
Green tree pythons love to eat live mice like they would in the wild.

Greater Cleveland Aquarium Mouse

///

Sandbar sharks prefer a hearty helping of squid for dinner.

///

Freshwater stingrays like this ocellate river stingray often dine on crayfish.

///

Moon jellies make a meal out of teeny tiny brine shrimp.

///

This crested wood partridge looks for crickets when it needs a tasty treat.

///

You can see these animals and more when you visit Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Check out the Aquarium’s See & Do page for a chance to see some of these species and others dine on their favorite snacks.

What’s In a Name?

How animals earn their monikers can be surprising. Their common names can come from the places they’re found, the people who discovered them or even fictional characters. The names of the ten Aquarium residents below are inspired by their appearance and/or actions.

 

shovelnose sturgeonShovelnose Sturgeon – Check out that shovel-shaped snout.

 

Red-eared slider turtle.Red-eared Slider – This turtle is named for the red patch on its ear AND the way it slides into the water when startled.

 

Clown Knifefish – This fish’s knife-like shape allows it to swim both forwards and backwards.

 

Crystal-eyed Catfish – Frank Sinatra might have been “ol’ blue eyes,” but this catfish gets attention for its light blue peepers.

 

Dyeing Poison Dart Frog – This name comes from an unverified legend that indigenous people used these colorful frogs to dye parrot feathers.

 

picasso triggerfishPicasso Triggerfish – This peculiar-looking fish has bright, artsy colors AND a dorsal spine will raise when startled.

 

Hammer Coral – Note the hammer shape of these coral polyps.

 

Scrawled Cowfish – The “horns” above its eyes and irregular body markings are what give the scrawled cowfish a distinctive appearance.

 

Raccoon Butterflyfish – This butterflyfish is named for the black-and-white “mask” around its eyes.

 

Black Drum – This fish can make drumming or croaking sounds with muscle movement around its swim bladder.

 

See these and other animals with interesting names and backstories at Greater Cleveland Aquarium.

-Lili F.

*Hammer Coral Photo Courtesy David Davies, via Flickr.com

Small Animal Feedings

During Spring Discovery Days, Greater Cleveland Aquarium focuses on the little things. That’s why created a series of short “mealtime” videos featuring some of smaller residents.

In this one, Aquarist Bethany gives the Surinam toads one of their favorite treats . . . earthworms. 

Here’s cellphone footage of Aquarist Seneca feeding an animal you might spot in Northeast Ohio parks . . . the yellow spotted salamander.

Sea stars eat in a way you might find odd. They extend their stomachs out of their mouths and envelop their food. Aquarist Katie fed a Bahama sea star and we sped up the video so you could watch this process. The food is partially digested externally, and eventually the sea star will pull its stomach back in through the mouth.

And here’s cellphone footage of Lando feeding frontosa, black piebald and daffodil cichlids.

Hungering for more? You never know what you’ll see when you visit the Aquarium.

–Curation 

Are They Bad Guys or Just Misunderstood?

Sometimes reputation is not reality. Greater Cleveland Aquarium’s Education team takes a quick looks at snakes, piranhas and sharks to see if they’re really “bad guys” or just misunderstood.

SNAKES

Snakes have been portrayed as bad guys across the globe for centuries. Ancient Greeks share the myth of Medusa with her head of snakes turning humans to stone.  Christianity writes about snakes representing evil and temptation in the garden of Eden. Ancient Egyptians tell of a two-headed serpent guarding the underworld.
Paired with the fact that some snakes deliver a venomous bite, it is not surprising that many people dislike or even fear snakes. However, with more than 3,000 different species of snakes on the planet, there is much to celebrate as well. Less than 7% of snake species are able to significantly harm a human. Snakes play an important role in keeping rodent pest populations under control. Many snakes are both predator and prey in an ecosystem food web, so losing them would have a negative affect on many other species.

The snake at the Aquarium is a green tree python. She spends a significant amount of time curled up on her branch, basking in the humid, tropical temperatures. She starts her life as a different color entirely and becomes a brilliant green color as an adult.

If you encounter a snake, you should give them space, but there is no reason to harm it.

PIRANHAS 

The piranha’s negative reputation can be traced back to Theodore Roosevelt. He witnessed a staged feeding frenzy of starved piranhas on a trip to South America and wrote about the experience. More than 120 years later, these fish are still working against that tale. The 1978 movie Piranha showcasing a piranha hunting humans refueled the hype, as it showcased piranha hunting humans.

In reality, humans are not part of a piranha’s food chain. Many piranha feed on smaller fish species, and some are omnivores, eating both meat and plant material. In the scientific community, they are described as timid scavengers. Piranha group together for safety to protect themselves from their own predators, like large birds.

The piranha at the Aquarium are red-bellied piranha. They can be admired for their shiny scales. They are an important part of their ecosystems in freshwater rivers of South America. Piranha should be more appreciated than feared.

SHARKS 

Sharks are often portrayed as villains in movies. Jaws, Sharknado, The Shallows, The Meg and even The Little Mermaid portray sharks in a negative light. While some sharks are large, and some do have sharp teeth, there is way more to appreciate about sharks than to fear.

Sharks are apex predators. At the top of the food chain, they play a crucial role in keeping the ocean ecosystems in balance, but humans are not part of the menu. There are more than 400 species of sharks and they eat a variety of different types of foods, with the largest whale sharks eating krill, and the smallest dwarf lantern catching tiny prey with an alluring bioluminescent light.

The sharks at the Aquarium are sandtiger, sandbar and nurse sharks. A fan favorite of Aquarium guests, it can be quite calming to watch them swim slowly through the water.

You are more likely to be struck by lightning, fall off a cliff taking a selfie, or be killed by a lawnmower, than be attacked by a shark. Sharks should be revered rather than feared.

–Education 

Announcing the Rare Births of Weedy Sea Dragons

Greater Cleveland Aquarium is proud to announce the arrival of newborn weedy sea dragons, a species that has proven to be exceedingly difficult to rear. Since the first successful weedy sea dragon hatching in 2001 at the Aquarium of the Pacific, fewer than 20 facilities worldwide have had any level of success with mating and only an estimated dozen of those have had fry survive.

A delicate species whose survival has been tested by habitat degradation, weedy sea dragons are native to the cold coastal waters of south and west Australia.
“Weedy sea dragon births are exceedingly rare, and this would be a point of pride for any animal care facility, but it’s a particularly exciting for an aquarium of our size and age,” says General Manager Stephanie White, who has been with the downtown Cleveland destination since it opened a decade ago in January of 2012.

Greater Cleveland Aquarium is housed in a brick building dating back to 1892, and Curator Ray Popik believes the creativity required to reimagine the historic space contributed to his team’s success breeding sea dragons. “We were able to home the sea dragons in a very deep exhibit built into a structure that likely served as an air duct or a coal chute when this building was an operational powerhouse,” says Popik, explaining, “Its depth provided an optimal habitat for the seahorse relatives who court with an elaborate vertical dance.”

After a female weedy lays her eggs, they are transferred to the male who, similar to its pipefish cousins, is then responsible for fertilizing and carrying them until they hatch. “This was actually the second time one of the female sea dragons in our care deposited eggs on a male’s tail,” says Popik.

While the initial egg transfer in January of 2020 was likely too early in the Aquarium residents’ development to result in viable offspring, the initial mating and successful deposit was an indication that the sea dragons—who came to the Aquarium in March 2018—were thriving. “Animals need to be healthy, have good nutrition and be acclimated to mate,” explains Popik. “We felt the odds they would try again were good.”

A second mating attempt in September of 2021 resulted in another clutch of eggs and fry popping out between late-October and the beginning of November. The hatchlings were moved behind-the-scenes. “There’s no parental involvement after birth and it’s incredible that any of these tiny offspring survive when they’re left to fend for themselves in the ocean,” says Mallory Haskell, the primary aquarist responsible for their monitoring and delicate care. Not particularly strong swimmers, weedy sea dragons’ leaf-like appendages blend in with kelp and seagrass help hide them from predators.

Greater Cleveland Aquarium plans to put some of the young on public view soon in a temporary exhibit just down the corridor from the adult weedy sea dragons. “It’s been amazing to watch these animals develop and we want to give that opportunity to others if we’re able,” says White.

The process has been full of ups and downs, but Haskell is optimistic. “If raising weedy sea dragons was easy, everyone would do it,” she says. “We know there are challenges ahead, but we hope we will see a number of these sea dragons reach full size in a year or so.”