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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.

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. 

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 are 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.

 

 

The Secret Lives of Sea Stars

Where is their mouth? How do they move? Why does the animal care team call them sea stars and not starfish? Learn a few basics and discover how different sea stars can be with aquarist Bethany H. #cleaquarium #natureiscurious

Today we’re going to talk about sea stars. The reason we call them sea stars and not starfish most of the time is because they’re not actually fish. They’re in a group called echinoderms, which means spiny skin. Other echinoderms include sea urchins and sea cucumbers, so it’s a big group of invertebrate animals.

We have several different species here at the Aquarium. We will start by looking at the Bahama sea stars that live in the Aquarium’s Invertebrate Pool.  They have a bottom surface where you can see their mouths are right there in the middle. They also have rows of tube feet coming out in every direction. Those tube feet end in little suction cups, so that’s how this particular sea star is sticking to the acrylic.  Sea stars also have a back surface with little spikes all over it.

The way sea stars move and breathe are really pretty interesting. Both of those work a lot on what is called a water vascular system. You might think of vascular blood vessels. While these guys do have a couple of blood vessels, most of their circulatory system is done with just sea water. That sea water can move their tube feet in and out.

Because we disturbed him, this sea star might decide that this is no longer where he wants to be and start moving very slowly across the acrylic. He’s going to do that by sticking out each tube foot and pulling himself along. Sea stars tend to look like they’re just gliding because their arms aren’t actually moving, just their tube feet. They’re really slow. Their average speed is about six inches a minute. The fastest sea star there is can move about nine feet a minute, which is still quite a bit slower than your walking speed.

Sea stars also use that water vascular system to breathe by sticking little papulae or little hair-like projections out of their backs. All those little white specks in between the big bumps are papulae that are all pulled in right now. Again, sea stars can use hydrostatic pressure inside to move those in and out. When those papulae are sticking out they create a lot of surface area for gas exchange with the water. Then that will circulate through the sea water inside their body to move it all throughout all of their tissues.

This central little dot or light area you can see here is called the madreporite. That’s a big word for something sea stars can open or close to determine how much water is inside of them.

The leather and the pink star in our Coastal Arch exhibit look a lot furrier with all of the papulae out. These are some cold water species. Sea stars do live in different climates all over the world. There are many different species. Most of them have five arms, although there are a few exceptions. 

All sea stars can move their arms independently a little bit, but how much they do so is very much dependent on the species. These are all mottled sea stars and as sea stars go, they are probably some of the most flexible.

Author: Bethany H.

The Truth about the Red-Bellied Piranha

Are piranhas as fierce as they’re often made out to be in pop culture? Maggie H. dispels some of the myths and tells you how a President was responsible for their frightening reputation while feeding the red-bellied piranhas at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.

Some people think is the red-bellied piranha is the scariest fish here at the Aquarium. Piranhas have gained a bad reputation for viciously devouring anything in their path within mere seconds, but are they actually as scary as everyone thinks they are? The short answer is no. These fish get a bad 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. The widely circulated story from the President’s trip inspired a 1970s’ horror movie that only confirmed people’s suspicions that the piranha was a man-eating terror.

This is a gross misrepresentation of a beautiful and usually quite docile fish.

Piranhas are native to the Amazon River Basin where they struggle to survive changes to their habitat during the dry season. This land can go for months without rain at certain times of the year, reducing the piranhas’ normally large swimming areas to small, stagnant pools that are little bigger than puddles. These conditions make competition for food and resources fierce as the fish can go for a long time without a meal. So, if something falls in the water, the hungry fish will use their strong jaws and razor-sharp interlocking teeth to rip it apart as quickly as possible to get their fill.

They tend to travel in groups more for protection than to take down larger prey, but then end up stuck in these ever-shrinking pools together trying to fend off starvation.

So, while people tend to think of these fish as fearsome predators, they are actually very valuable to their ecosystem as scavengers. They are opportunistic feeders with a very varied diet. Although they might hunt for small fish insects and invertebrates, they also consume carrion and even plant matter. Piranhas have also been known to nip at the fins of some larger fish for sustenance. The red-bellied piranha at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, eat a mix of fish shellfish and a special very nutritious gel diet.

While stories in the media have portrayed these fish as ferocious killers that should be feared, they are actually quite docile when well fed and will avoid conflict if possible. I hope I’ve debunked some of the myths surrounding these widely misunderstood creatures.

Make sure to check them out on your next visit to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. We look forward to seeing you soon!  

Where to find @CLEaquarium: Tropical Forest Gallery

Author: Maggie H. 

Meet Your New Favorite Animals, the Surinam Toads @CLEAquarium

Aquarist Maggie H. feeds the Surinam toads (who shovel the meals in their mouths most adorably) and explains why she’s such a big fan of these unusual animals.

Hey guys! My name is Maggie and I’m an aquarist here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Today I’m going to tell you a little bit about Surinam toads . Surinam toads are native to northern South America where they spend most of their time lying in wait in the bottoms of rivers, streams and ponds disguised as leaves. They are very still most of the day, blending in exceptionally well with their surroundings.

Even though their name implies they are toads, they’re actually frogs. They get that name due to their exceptionally bumpy and textured skin.

In the wild, these animals would eat a varied diet of small fish, crustaceans and worms. Here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium they get a similar diet of earthworms, squid tentacles and fillets of freshwater fish. Their eyes are quite small, so to help them find food they have small, star-shaped sensory organs on each digit of their forelegs. Their strong, muscular back legs are used for swimming.

In addition to their odd appearance, reproduction for this species is also very unique. The toads locate each other using a loud, metallic-sounding clicking noise. Once a male and female find each other,  amplexus, or a spawning ritual, will begin. The toads will do a series of movements in the water column that culminates with the female laying anywhere from 60 to 100 eggs which the male then fertilizes and presses into a thick pad of skin on her back. There they will develop for several months before her babies swim out fully formed and able to provide for themselves.

The toads and I are looking forward to seeing you at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium soon.

Where to Find @CLEAquarium: Tropical Forest Gallery

Author: Maggie H.

Get to Know the Longnose Gar @CLEAquarium

The Greater Cleveland Aquarium’s Ohio Lakes & Rivers Gallery highlights animals native to this region and it’s where you’ll find several longnose gar. Watch aquarist Laura B. feed them whole, small trout while she tells you more about these distinctive fish. #natureiscurious

Hi! I’m Laura and I’m an aquarist here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and today I’m feeding some of our native species in the gamefish exhibit. In fact, right now I’m going to feed the longnose gar .

Longnose gar get their name from their elongated jaws, which have needle-like snouts. They have rows of cone-shaped teeth on the top and bottom of those jaws that help them trap small fish, insects and crustaceans. Today they’ll be eating whole, small trout.

The longnose gar have a very wide distribution. They’re found all throughout the Midwest and Eastern United States. They’re found in areas with vegetation and downed trees. They have gills, but they’re also able to breathe air which makes them able to adapt to low oxygen environments. They’ve been found in brackish water in coastal areas.

Gar are pretty special because they don’t have typical scales like normal fish. They have what are known as ganoid scales, which have serrated edges and don’t overlap like an average fish you might see. Full-grown adult gar are what are known as apex predators. That means that there are very few species that will prey on them. The only two predators really are alligators and humans. They will live to be about 15 to 25 years old. Typically they’ll be 2- to 3-feet long but they have been known to grow up to be 6 feet long and 55 pounds.

Personally, I think the gar are very interesting. Their fossils go back 100 million years, which is absolutely fascinating. I think they’re underrated. They’re very pretty. They have those dark patches that kind of help them blend in with their surroundings and that long body shape, which is pretty unique of all the species found in this region.

Where to Find @CLEAquarium: Ohio Lakes & Rivers Gallery

Author: Laura B.