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Just For Kids    |    for Kids Only

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published on 02/05/2007

That’s a Moray!

Communications Manager Tennessee Aquarium & IMAX Theater

Amore! It’s Italian for love. However you say it, mere words cannot express the language of love for the wild hearts at the Tennessee Aquarium. Whether it swims, slithers, or flies the animal world is full of interesting courtship behaviors you need to see to believe. Here’s a sample of what you might discover throughout the month of love at Chattanooga’s riverfront aquarium.

That’s a Moray!
It’s often said that love is mysterious, and that’s certainly true when it comes to the green moray eel.

Eels are rather secretive animals and up until the late 1800’s not much was known about moray courtship and mating. Researchers know today that moray eels reproduce by engaging in a choreographed courtship during which they will open their mouths very wide at each other and eventually end up entwining their bodies together. Morays can stay like this for up to nine hours, at which point they separate and the eggs are fertilized.

Two large green moray eels can be viewed in River Journey’s Gulf of Mexico exhibit. They are normally seen down low snuggled up in a rock, or entwined among the mangrove trees.

Daily Dance Displays
Weedy seadragons are among the most unusual animals on display at the Tennessee Aquarium, and they have one of the best love stories around. One pair of weedy seadragons currently on exhibit in the Tasmanian Kelp Bed display have been courting since September of 2006. Look closely and you’ll see their dancing display almost every day. These lovers have successfully bred twice in the past, and one of their babies is now 4 years old. As far as we know, the Tennessee Aquarium is one of only two aquariums that have been successful breeding weedy seadragons.

You’re in good hands my love.
It’s Valentine’s Day almost every day in the Mississippi Delta and Tennessee River galleries. Here male freshwater turtles do their best to impress the ladies with their courtship displays.

Male red ear sliders and southern painted turtles can be seen swimming in front of or above their female counterparts. With long claws extended, they carefully yet rapidly seem to fan their prospective mates in the face. It’s as if the males are saying, “You’re in good hands my love.”

Blue or Pink?
If his waving catches her eye and the two turtles successfully mate, the sex of the little ones depends on temperature. If the nest is warmer, female turtles will hatch. Lower nest temperatures mean more males will hatch.

Me and My Big Mouth
The cichlids in the Lake Nicaraqua exhibit are having babies all the time. The male and female get together over the gravel nest site by making passes over it side by side. Later when the eggs hatch, the male stands guard over the baby cichlids. When one youngster starts venturing away from the group, the male will go after it with his mouth and bring it back to the group.

It Takes Two to Tango
Seahorses are one of the most popular animals at the Tennessee Aquarium. Watching their courtship rituals might be one reason why.

When a seahorse chooses a mate the pair tends to stay together constantly. They oftentimes will hold onto each other’s tail and swim together, rest together and even hunt for food together. The mating dance begins with the male bowing his head to squish his pouch empty of water. Next he’ll swim around the female flaunting himself. This display involves filling his pouch with water to show her how full it can be. If she’s impressed enough, the pair will swim upward belly to belly as she releases her eggs into his pouch. The male holds the eggs in his belly for 30 to 45 days until the baby seahorses are released.

There are 11 species of seahorses at the Tennessee Aquarium and we have had babies from every species of seahorse. Right now there are babies from 7 different species at the Aquarium.

Peril in the Wild
Recently scientists from the Institute of Zoology in London have discovered that fertilization of common or yellow seahorse eggs actually takes place outside the male’s pouch. That means that these animals are more vulnerable to pollutants in the water like mercury. That’s just one more threat to these beautiful sea creatures.

Of the 33 species of seahorse, nine are listed as vulnerable and one is classified as endangered. Too little is known about the other species to know how devastating pollution may be.

Show Your Love
There are many ways you can show your love for seahorses and all of your freshwater fishy friends here at home.

• Don’t over-fertilize your yard. Excess fertilizer will wash off your lawn and eventually flow into area waterways.
• Fix oil leaks. A few drops of oil here and there add up to vast amounts of oil running off into lakes and streams which is harmful to aquatic habitats from the Tennessee Valley to the Gulf of Mexico.
• Conserve water. Be careful when washing your car or watering your lawn.
Reduce waste. Dispose of trash properly and whenever possible recycle. Participate in Earth friendly events like River Rescue.

Love Bites
When boy meets girl in the shark world, it’s usually a toothy affair. During mating season, a male shark will approach a female and begin to engage in what researchers call “ritualized swimming.” This means that the shark will begin to swim in a repetitive pattern.

The male shark will approach the female, bite and hold her pectoral fin to help secure the union. The male will then attempt to try to turn the female on her side to mate. As a result female sharks usually bear the tell-tale bite marks of the mating courtship.

The sand tiger and sand bar sharks in the Secret Reef exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium are not likely to breed; one never knows when Amore will strike.

After all . . .
“When moon jellies float by like a big pizza pie, that’s a Moray!”

“When what catches your eye, are giant octopi, that’s a Moray!”

Have more Valentine fun at the Tennessee Aquarium!

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