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Tennessee Aquarium Myth Busters
Challenge the “killer” reputations of the world’s deadliest creatures

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (August 14, 2006) -- Tennessee Aquarium Myth Busters take on the "killer" reputations of some of the world's deadliest, scariest and slimiest creatures.

Almost nothing inspires terror like gigantic, man-eating creatures. Biologists at the Aquarium want to set the record straight: Are these animals predators or pushovers? During “Thrills & Gills” in October, visitors will uncover the real facts about the Aquarium’s most notorious animals -- like sharks, moray eels, stingrays, piranha, barracuda, alligators, anacondas and even those stinging ghouls of slime: the jellyfish.

On the Thrills & Gills page visitors can register to win a behind-the-scenes tour to watch biologists feed some of the Aquarium’s most dangerous creatures.

Here’s just a sample:

MYTH: Stingrays seek out unsuspecting swimmers and impale them with their spines.

BUSTED: Stingrays are generally gentle, non-aggressive creatures that swim away from humans and only use their stinger when they feel threatened. A neurotoxin on the barb can cause swelling and severe pain, but very rarely death. To keep divers and visitors sting-free, Aquarium biologists “snip” off the barbs of the rays much like a fingernail.

MYTH: Sharks are regarded as the essence of maritime horror, eternally hungry, ready and willing to devour any living creature in their path.

BUSTED: Shark attacks against humans are uncommon, and fatal attacks are very rare. People are more likely to be killed by lightning than by a shark. Humans kill millions of sharks each year.

MYTH: If an alligator is chasing you, you should run “zigzag” away from it.

BUSTED: First, it is rare for an alligator to chase a human because you're much too big to be suitable prey. (Probably your're too near a nest.) However, if an alligator does charge, run fast and straight (away from the alligator, of course). They can get up to 10mph, but they can't run very far.

MYTH: Known for their razor sharp teeth, moray eels have a reputation for being able to snap the hand off an unsuspecting diver who ventures too close to an eel’s rocky lair. They constantly open and close their mouths in a menacing manner.

BUSTED: In reality the eel is simply breathing. The opening/closing mouth action pulls oxygenated water over its gills. Eels are near-sighted, generally shy and avoid contact with humans

MYTH: Saber-toothed piranhas devour unsuspecting Amazonians year round.

BUSTED: Although their sharp teeth and lightning speed make piranha well equipped for their carnivorous diet, they are relatively timid and rarely bite humans. During the dry season, piranha may attack a wounded creature and reportedly can strip a 140-pound animal down to bones in just a few minutes. Piranha attacks on humans during the rainy season are extremely rare.

MYTH: "Crocodile tears" originated from the belief that these remorseless reptilians wept only to lure their prey, or that they lacked tear ducts completely.

BUSTED: While crocs can and do generate tears through lachrymal glands the same way humans do, crocs do not weep or cry for remorse. The idiom, “crying crocodile tears,” usually means insincere weeping.

MYTH: Called the “wolf of the sea,” the barracuda cruises the oceans seeking to make a meal of a swimmer using its mouthful of menacing-looking teeth.

BUSTED: Barracuda are curious fish that follow divers and snorkelers through the water just to check out what they’re doing. Although the long, cylinder-shaped barracuda has been known to mistakenly bite humans on rare occasions, their intended target is usually the catch dangling from the belts of spear fishermen.

MYTH: With its venomous ink and snake-like tentacles the Giant Pacific Octopus is one of the deadliest creatures of the sea.

BUSTED: Although old pirate lore would say otherwise, the Giant Pacific Octopus is actually harmless (to humans) and quite intelligent – requiring constant enrichment to feed its brain functions. “Inking” is a defense mechanism. The giant part is true, though. Octopi can reach an astounding 30 feet in length.

MYTH: You can tell a rattlesnake’s age by the number of segments in the rattles.

BUSTED: Nope! A segment is added every time the snake sheds its skin. If the weather is warm and food is plentiful, several rattler segments can be added in just one year.

MYTH: Sharks have ESP – Extrasensory perception – to assist them when they’re moving in for the final attack.

BUSTED: Close, but no cigar. Sharks possess one sense that humans do not: Electroreception is the ability to detect electrical fields created by muscle movement (including the beating of hearts).

MYTH: Just stinging balls of slime, jellyfish are “out to get you” with every ounce of their stinging being.

BUSTED: Heartless, brainless and sightless, fragile jellies are 97 percent water. Jellies "accidentally" sting you as they drift along. While most jellies are harmless (only 70 out of 200 species sting), at least one can be deadly. The Australian box jelly is probably the deadliest animal in the ocean?more dangerous to humans than any shark. People have died within three minutes of being stung.

MYTH: Anacondas are slithery villains that are supernaturally gifted critters that can swallow a man whole and reach lengths of over 60 feet.

BUSTED: Anacondas ARE one of the largest snakes in the world – up to 30 feet long and more than 550 pounds. Although they frequently appear on the Big Screen squeezing away at some of Hollywood’s top stars, anacondas are not man-eaters.

MYTH: Sand tiger sharks are named for their teeth – thin and needle-like with a wicked backward curve that helps the shark grab and hold anything it comes in contact with.

BUSTED: Nope. Not a man-eater, but a cannibal! Female sand tiger sharks have two uteri. After fertilization, the largest embryo in each uterus is nourished by eating its smaller siblings, along with any additional eggs produced by the mother.

MYTH: If a frog urinates on you, you'll get warts.

BUSTED: Everybody knows warts are caused by viruses. But did you know that frogs have teeth and toads don’t? Frogs have a ridge of very small cone-shaped teeth around the upper edge of their jaws to hold their prey in place.

At the IMAX 3D Theater you can face off with a wolf eel, hunt with hungry sand tiger sharks or dodge hundreds of voracious Humboldt squids in an inky black sea in “Deep Sea 3D.” Or if you never got your fill of “Jaws,” dive to the depths of the sea to swim with the biggest fish on earth and overcome your greatest fear when you encounter a great white shark in “Sharks 3D.”

October 27 -- “Phantom of the Aqua” Halloween Party -- Dress to impress in your Halloween costume, and celebrate the spooky night with the Aquarium’s bizarre seahorses, squirming octopus and electrifying jellyfish. You’ll see mystical creatures ranging from dragon-like fish to menacing, toothy sharks and peculiar, hovering cuttlefish. Watch in fascination as divers feed the beasts of prey in the deep sea, journey through the galleries for some trick or treat goodies, play games to win prizes and listen to storytellers share spooky tales.

The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission is $17.95 per adult and $9.50 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 $7.95 per adult and $5.50 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $22.95 for adults and $13.50 for children. 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. Members enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits. Call 267-FISH to join.



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