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Aquarium Plays Matchmaker with White-blotched Stingrays

Chattanooga, Tenn. (February 12, 2009) - The love life of a freshwater stingray can be tough. When amorous males come courting, they sink their teeth into their partner. "Courtship for most ray and shark species is pretty frenzied with little time for wine and roses," says aquarist Kathlina Alford.

With romance in the air this Valentine's Day, the Tennessee Aquarium is going to play matchmaker with a pair of white-blotched river rays. The Aquarium currently has four of these relatively rare animals. One male was imported from South America, while the other two males and one female were aquarium born. Aquarists like Alford will be busy playing referee when they see love at first bite. "Male freshwater rays leave bite marks all over the female during breeding and can often do real damage to her throughout the process," says Alford. "For this reason, when we put two stingrays together for breeding purposes we watch them carefully."

White Blotched Sting Rays

Romantic Rays? White-blotched river rays at the Tennessee Aquarium

According to Alford, if the pairing is successful, the expectant mother's appearance won't change much. "Usually around three to three and a half months, a pregnant female starts to look fatter than normal. But since the babies are so thin and flat themselves, there is not much bulging as would be typical for other pregnant animals."

White-blotched river rays usually give live birth to one or two pups in a litter, but sometimes octuplets occur. The young are tiny duplicates of their parents, measuring just five to six inches across. Each newborn stingray has a unique spot pattern.

This particular species, Potamotrygon leopoldi, are native to the Xingu and Fresco rivers of South America. While not that rare in the wild, the Brazilian government controls exports of these stingrays. As a result, there are only about 80 of these animals living at North American aquariums and zoos, only 17 of these rays came from their native waters in South America. "These animals are the most important to the overall health of the breeding population because they have the most genetic diversity of the rays currently living in aquariums and zoos," Alford says.

Right now the white-blotched rays are in the Tennessee Aquarium's quarantine room with a "do not disturb" sign on the door. But visitors can enjoy the big-tooth and tiger rays which can be seen in the freshwater ray pool on Level four of the Ocean Journey building. Guests may also choose to feed or touch southern, Atlantic or blue-spotted rays at the nearby "Shark Island." Divers can be seen in the "Secret Reef" with larger southern stingrays. Cow-nosed rays appear to fly gracefully over even larger southern stingrays in the "Gulf of Mexico" exhibit inside the River Journey building.

Learn more about courtship in the natural world throughout February at the Tennessee Aquarium, or see the amazing underwater cuttlefish courtship rituals shown in the new IMAX film, “Under the Sea 3D.”

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The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission is $19.95 per adult and $12.95 per child, ages 3-12. Each ticket purchased helps support Aquarium conservation programs. The IMAX® 3D Theater is next door to the Aquarium. Ticket prices are $8.50 per adult and $6.00 per child. Aquarium/IMAX® combo tickets are $25.95 for adults and $17.95 for children. Excursions aboard the new River Gorge Explorer depart daily into “Tennessee’s Grand Canyon.” Advance tickets may be purchased online at www.tnaqua.org or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. The Aquarium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit organization. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Aquarium and IMAX® are accessible to people with disabilities.

ONLINE press kits & downloadable images: http://www.tnaqua.org/Newsroom/Newsroom.asp



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