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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Sandbar sharks prefer a hearty helping of squid for dinner.

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

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

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

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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.

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.”

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.

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.