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5 Things I Learned about Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe crabs get their name from a rounded carapace, or exoskeleton, that’s u-shaped like a horse’s shoe. They have jointed legs, a hard shell, an exoskeleton and a segmented body, but they don’t have antennae or a jaw. These arthropods are more closely related to spiders or scorpions than they are to what we think of as true crabs, and they are really fascinating (and important) creatures. Here are just a few reasons why:

  1. Tracing the ancestry of these invertebrates would result in a massive family tree. Horseshoe crabs have been around for hundreds of millions of years, even longer than the dinosaurs!
  2. It might not be fine dining, but it gets the job done. A horseshoe crab’s diet consists of sea worms, mollusks and crustaceans. Because horseshoe crabs don’t have jaws or teeth, they’ll break up food between their legs before pushing it into their mouths. Like birds, a gizzard further grinds that food down. Any undigested bone or shell particles are regurgitated.
  3. Their spiky telsons are nothing to fear. They look like barbs or stingers, but those tails are actually pretty fragile. Horseshoe crabs use them to dig, to steer and to right themselves after swimming upside down or being flipped by a wave.
  4. Horseshoe crabs are slow growers. And because that hard exoskeleton doesn’t grow with them, they regularly develop new, slightly larger shells and shed their old ones. It’s a process called molting.  They’ll do this 16 to 17 times before they reach full adult size.
  5. They’re very important animals. Not only do horseshoe crabs play a big role in their ecosystems—providing a source of food for migratory seabirds, sea turtles, alligators and even sharks—but they are also important to human health. Because their blue, copper-based blood quickly clumps up in the presence of bacterial toxins, it can be used to test for contamination in things like injectable drugs, surgical implants and medical equipment.

While there are synthetic alternatives in development, today pharmaceutical companies developing COVID-19 vaccines are using horseshoe crab blood to test for potential bacterial contamination. Pretty amazing, right? Don’t miss these little lifesavers in the Coastal Boardwalk Gallery the next time you visit the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.

Author: Samantha F.

What Do You Know About the Brownbanded Bamboo Shark?

Not all sharks look like the ones you see in the movies. Aquarist Mallory H. tells you all about the brownbanded bamboo shark at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Next time you visit, look for this #shark in the Coastal Gallery!

#clefinfest #cleaquarium #natureiscurious #sharkweek

Hi! I’m Mallory and today I’m going to be talking about our brownbanded bamboo shark. The brownbanded bamboo shark is found in the Indo-West Pacific between Japan and northern Australia.

They’re also known as cat sharks due to cat-like whiskers which are called nasal barbels. They are a sensory organ that helps them find food.

Brownbanded bamboo sharks grow to be about three feet long so our male is fully grown. They have light brown bodies with some darker banding which is how they get their name.

Brownbanded bamboo sharks will swim along the bottom and suck any food up that they find. Typically they are nocturnal hunters.

They typically hunt in tide pools so if the tide goes out they can actually survive outside of the water for up to 12 hours. Our brownbanded bamboo shark eats frozen shrimp, scallops and fish.

In the wild they may be in groups to help protect each other in open environments. They like to hang out in crevices on coral reefs and they try to blend in.

They are listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List due to habitat deterioration, pollution and hunting for human consumption and trade.

My favorite thing about the brownbanded bamboo shark is watching him eat when he will kind of prop himself up on his pec fins.

He’ll suck up the food and prop himself up on peck fins and I just think that’s very cute behavior that they do.

Where to find @CLEAquarium: Coastal Boardwalk Gallery

Author: Mallory H.

Watch Mallory Feed the Silver Screen Exhibit @CLEAquarium

See Mallory feed the “Silver Screen” jacks as the Greater Cleveland Aquarium aquarist shares information on schooling fish.

Hi! I’m Mallory. I’m one of the essential staff here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium taking care of our animals and today I’m going to be showing you how we feed our Silver Screen exhibit.

So we have three different species of jacks in here. The lookdowns are the ones that you’re seeing the most of. They are kind of the flat-faced ones. We have our golden trevallies which are the yellow ones with the black stripes on them. And they’ll lose that yellow color as they get bigger and they can actually grow to be up to 4 feet, so they’re going to get quite a bit bigger. And then our third species of jack is our palometas which are the ones with the black fins. There’s only a couple of them in there and they’re pretty close to full-grown, so they’re going to stay about that size.

And all of those species of jacks can be found in the Atlantic Ocean. And then we do have our brownbanded bamboo shark that’s in here. They’re also sometimes called catsharks and that’s because they can have a whisker-like appendage in the front of their face so it helps them kind of feel things out.

Today we’re going to be feeding about three pounds of capelin. They get a variety of different fish. Today is capelin. Sometimes they’ll get herring and squid and all sorts of other saltwater fish.

This exhibit, our Silver Screen exhibit is kind of meant to show how schooling fish work. So schooling fish are going to be in big, large groups and that’s because there’s safety in numbers. If a predator were to come by it’s going to be a lot harder for that predator to pick off the fish versus just chasing down a fish that might be on its own.

One of the ways that schooling fish can do this is because they have something called a lateral line. That lateral line is directly connected to their nervous system and it’s a line that goes down the side of their body and it’s going to be very sensitive to any movement or pressure changes in the water. So as soon as the food hits the water or if there’s a predator nearby, the very first fish that’s going to sense that is going to move and then all of them are going to sense at the exact same time.

Where to find @CLEAquarium: Coastal Boardwalk Gallery

Author: Mallory H.

See Us Feed Lionfish and more @CLEAquarium

Aquarist Laura B. dishes on the appetites of lionfish, a dog-faced puffer and yellow blotch rabbitfish. #natureiscurious

Hi everybody! I’m Laura. I’m an aquarist here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. I’m one of the essential animal care staff and today we’re going to be feeding the lionfish exhibit.

So the lionfish that you’re seeing here are indiscriminate feeders so what that means is that they will eat anything that they can fit in their mouths. That makes them especially large of a problem because they are invasive and they do take over natural habitats by destroying everything that they come across because they will just eat it.

The pufferfish that you’re seeing here… he’s got those big front teeth that he can use to crush shells, so I’ll be feeding him a muscle. It is too big for the lionfish to eat. They’ll try but he’ll go down there to the the bottom and get it.

So the rabbitfish that you’re seeing here…he is an omnivore. He will eat plants and meat as well. So here we’ll be eating an herb gel today. It’s a type of mixture that we make with plants and proteins that we just mix up. It’s one of his favorites. It’s good for him to get a mixture of both so it gives him that well-balanced diet. He will also be getting a leaf of lettuce that he can kind of graze through. In the wild he would be grazing algae off of the structures that he comes across or off the reefs.

Where to find @CLEAquarium: Industry & Habitat Gallery

Author: Laura B.

5 Things I Learned about Poison Dart Frogs

Poison dart frogs prove that old adage—big things come in small packages . . . some of these 1 to 2-inch wonders are among the most toxic animals on the planet.

Humans have actually benefited from poison dart frogs’ toxins—whether it was the indigenous people of western Colombia coating the tips of blow darts with their poison or the scientists currently working to create pharmaceuticals based on their secretions. You can see “azureus” blue, green & black and “Patricia” dyeing dart frogs up close in the Tropical Forest Gallery at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.

– Sam Fryberger

5 Things I Learned about Garden Eels

At first glance, garden eels can be mistaken for plants but a closer look reveals slim little fish with big eyes. 


Nature. It’s a curious thing. You can see yellow garden eels the next time you visit the Coastal Boardwalk Gallery at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.

– Samantha Fryberger

5 Things I Learned: Surinam Toad

With a triangular head, flattened appearance, bumpy skin and tiny lidless black eyes, the Surinam toad is one odd-looking amphibian. Their earthy-colored, mottled, leaf-like appearance allows them to blend into the rocks and plant debris at the bottoms of muddy, slow-moving waterways of South America.

The Surinam toad can stay underwater for more than an hour and is actually considered an aquatic frog. Its rough skin earned it the “toad” name. See these unique animals up-close at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Nature. It’s a curious thing.

-Samantha Fryberger

A Spin on the Laundromat: Moon Jellyfish

You may wonder as you walk through the Greater Cleveland Aquarium’s Coastal Boardwalk Gallery why there is a giant washing machine. As you get closer, you will see what is gently swirling in the fanciful exhibit—moon jellyfish. The decision to showcase these animals in such a way came from Director of Artistic Production and Operations, Bruce Orendorf.

Bruce had a few ideas about how to fit the new exhibit in with the gallery’s deliberately kitschy boardwalk theme. The jellyfish exhibit uses a circular kreisel tank that causes the water to flow in a circular motion and enables the animals to rise and fall, but moves slow enough so that they are allowed to move freely as well. In thinking about the exhibit’s relationship to a boardwalk Bruce thought, “Cotton candy machine?”, but ruled that out as that kind of machine operates horizontally, not vertically. Then he thought, “You know what that looks like? A washing machine.”

The moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), which gets its name from four internal gonads that have a moon shape, cannot swim, so their movement in the water relies on currents. They use currents to move through the water to find their prey, which consist of zooplankton, fish eggs, larval crabs and shrimp. Here at the Aquarium, their diet consists of artemia nauplii, a form of brine shrimp.

“I want people to find them as interesting as I do,” said Aquarist Bethany Hickey, who is in charge of the exhibit, and who has a particular interest in invertebrates. Hickey says that ensuring that the temperature, as well as the water currents, mirror that of the environment these animals live in, is crucial to their survival. “They are very susceptible to any environmental changes, and that necessary stability is somewhat challenging to maintain in the exhibit,” she said.

After landing on a name, Bruce built the façade in-house and had signs made that were similar to what you would see in a real laundromat, but would also work within the Coastal Boardwalk theme.

Now you know some of the thought and planning that goes into creating a new exhibit. Next time you visit, check out the jellyfish in the Blue Moon Laundromat.

– Neda Spears

Species Highlight: Poison Dart Frog

Poison dart frogs got their moniker from indigenous Central and South Americans using the toxins the animals secrete through their skin on hunting arrows. We talked to aquarist Connor Craig to learn more about some of the Greater Cleveland Aquarium’s newest (and deadliest) residents.

Poison dart frogs can be found in nature in the humid rainforests of Central and South America. Their vivid coloring is a form of protection from would-be predators. “A poison dart frog’s bright color advertises the fact that it’s poisonous, so they don’t get eaten,” says Craig adding that although darts frog come in a variety of hues, their color doesn’t correlate to how poisonous they are.

Their deadly poison comes from the frog’s diet of different small insects like ants, small flies and beetles. In the Aquarium, the poison dart frogs eat fruit flies, pinhead crickets and a vitamin supplement to ensure proper nutrition. “The controlled diet doesn’t allow for the development of the poison for which these animals are known,” says Craig.

The only natural predator of the poison dart frog is the fire-bellied snake (Leimadophis epinephelus), which has developed a resistance to the frog’s poison. However, the biggest problems facing poison dart frogs are related to human activity. “One of the first signs that something is wrong in an ecosystem is if indicator species, such as amphibians, start to decline,” Craig says. “Many species of amphibians are threatened from human activities like deforestation, the pet trade and deteriorating water quality.”

While deadly, imagine if their poison could be used to make someone feel better. Scientists are using the toxins blue poison dart frogs secrete to study how nerves conduct electricity to help them create new human painkillers.

Get an up-close look at green and black, Patricia dyeing and ‘Azureus’ blue dart frogs on your next visit to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Nature. It’s a curious thing.

– Hannah