My "finny" Valentine
From amorous turtles to seahorse courtship,
love is in the air at the Tennessee Aquarium
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Jan. 21, 2004) – If you think your
Valentine brings out the animal in you, take a look at the mating
game going on at the Tennessee Aquarium. From the top of the
Appalachian Cove Forest to the depths of the seahorse gallery,
it’s love aquarium style for many of the animals in Chattanooga’s
It’s an important question if you’re a seahorse
because it’s the males who carry the babies.
all begins with a slow, dance-like promenade through the sea
grass. The male, head bowed, performs an elaborate dance around
the female, often wrapping his tail around her or mimicking
her movements. The male often changes color, his body becoming
lighter while his spine area darkens. During this mysterious
mating dance, the male opens his empty pouch to the female.
The female then raises her head and intertwines her tail with
ritual can last up to nine hours and resembles a sort of ballet,”
said Thom Demas, curator of fishes at the Aquarium. “The
seahorse pair travel up the water column as she transfers eggs
to the male seahorse’s pouch on his abdomen, where he
fertilizes the eggs and goes through the pregnancy.”
seahorse pairs are monogamous – once a male and female
form a pair bond, they mate exclusively during the breeding
mine, you slimy Valentine
It’s not Valentine’s Day that gets the Aquarium’s
creatures cruising on the love boat. Changes in temperature
and light cycles, along with some deeply ingrained instincts,
can trigger an upsurge in courtship rituals.
Some of the most interesting courtship rituals take place in
the Aquarium’s Mississippi Delta Country, home to many
freshwater turtles. Admittedly, turtles may not be the first
animals many associate with romance, but they’ve survived
thousands of years, so they must be doing something right.
red ear sliders and southern painted turtles go to great lengths
to express their intent. With Edward Scissorshands-like appendages,
the persistent male swims in front of or just above the female
and waves his long nails in her face.
can see this behavior throughout the spring and summer, and
sometimes in the fall and winter if the turtles are bored, say
male map turtle is a little subtler in his display. With a head
bobbing routine, at varying speeds and occasionally with a little
cheek-to-cheek caressing, he turns the head of an interested
temperature of the turtle’s nest determines the sex of
the hatchlings; lower temperatures produce males and higher
temperatures produce females.
to go back to my place?
For the male longear sunfish, found in the Aquarium’s
Discovery Hall, the female is most impressed by a nice “home.”
Male sunfish spend a great deal of their time creating cozy
nests, and are very protective of this territory. Visitors can
see male sunfish guarding their turf by chasing away would-be
in the Gulf
In the Aquarium’s Gulf of Mexico exhibit, the male sergeant
majors establish territories for reproduction and become quite
aggressive when protecting their “turf.” Males often
turn a deep shade of blue to attract females.
the damselfish, courtship is not so straightforward. Some damselfish
change sex over their lifetimes, beginning as a male and becoming
female as they grow.
male southern stingray uses external “claspers”
– elongated organs found at the base of his body –
to grasp and mate with the female. Southern stingrays are ovoviviparous
– a long word that means the female carries eggs internally
but does not actually nurture fetuses. The young hatch from
the eggs while still in the mother’s body. The stingray
then gives birth to approximately three to five “pups.”
Like adult stingrays, the pups have long, spiny tails and large
fins. To make the birth easier, the pups’ spines remain
flexible and the “wings” of the baby stingray remain
folded – much like a folded newspaper.
takes a sharp and patient eye and good timing to see the Aquarium’s
courtship displays. Some species may court for an hour or two
in the morning, then spend the rest of the afternoon searching
for food, basking on a log or just swimming around.
the month of February, the Aquarium is offering a “Finny
Valentine” special. Log on to www.tnaqua.org
for cool animal facts, games for kids and a “Finny Valentine”
good for half price admission with the purchase of an adult
male river cooter, Pseudemys concinna, waves
long “fingernails” to attract the attention
of a female. River cooters are found throughout the Southeastern
states in large rivers, streams and lakes. They can grow
to 12.6 inches in length.
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