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Featured creatures
The Aquarium's most popular residents

With thousands of creatures that swim, fly and crawl in realistic habitats, the Tennessee Aquarium has a variety of creatures to intrigue and delight visitors of all ages. Here's a glimpse of some of the Aquarium's most popular inhabitants:


Blue catfish
The big blue catfish in River Journey’s Nickajack Lake exhibit are among the largest on exhibit in the U.S., weighing up to 100 lbs. These bottom-dwelling creatures have flat heads, long slender barbels that resemble a cat's whiskers and "naked" or scaleless skin. The barbels are covered with many taste buds, which have a triggered feeding response when food comes in contact with them. Catfish rely more on taste and touch than they do on sight. They are active at night, on dark cloudy days, or in murky or muddy water.

Although many visitors assume the Aquarium’s catfish are males, they are really big mamas. They typically weigh more than male blue catfish and can produce up to 100,000 eggs at a time.

Alligator snapping turtle
Several alligator snapping turtles, the largest exceeding 150 pounds, live in the Delta Country gallery in River Journey. The largest freshwater turtle in North America, the alligator snapper, gets its name from its strong jaws and shell ridges that resemble an alligator's back. It lures its prey by lying in wait and wriggling its pink, worm-like tongue and can stay submerged almost an hour before coming up for air.

Giant Pacific octopus
Octopi are intelligent and highly adaptable animals. They can be found in almost every type of ocean environment, from the shallow waters near coasts to the deep sea, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The giant Pacific octopus, shown in Ocean Journey's "Boneless Beauties" gallery, is the largest of the octopus species. Like many octopi, the giant Pacific octopus has the ability to drastically change its color with its special pigment cells, called chromatophores, to blend into its environment or to attract a mate.

The octopi are intelligent and social animals that get bored if they do not receive stimulation from new experiences. At the Aquarium, the octopi are given puzzles to solve, like a bell jar with a piece of soft-shell crab inside. Also, they quickly learn to unscrew the tops of the jars to get to the food inside.

Giant spider crab
Although the giant spider crab is the largest of all crabs, it must still protect itself from predators. Its armored exoskeleton helps protect it from larger predators such as octopi, but it also uses camouflage. The crab's bumpy carapace blends into the rocky ocean floor. To further the illusion, a spider crab will adorn its shell with sponges and other animals. See these jaw-dropping creatures, which can reach widths of 10 feet, in Ocean Journey's "Boneless Beauties" gallery.


Blue tang
These graceful, flat fish, which resemble "Dory" from Disney's Finding Nemo, are bright yellow when born but turn blue or purple when fully grown. The blue tangs in River Journey's Gulf of Mexico exhibit swim together in a school as they would in the wild. The white triangle on the blue tang's tail is more than just part of its costume; it's actually a dangerous spine used for protection. The blue tangs at the Aquarium have doubled in size since they were collected in the Florida Keys.

Fire-bellied toad
River Journey's fire-bellied toad is well camouflaged with its green and black markings. When threatened, a fire-bellied toad will raise its head, arms and legs upward to show its rightly colored orange and black belly as a warning. This serves to warn predators of the toad's toxic skin secretions. This behavior is called "Unkenrefkex".

These interesting toads eat insects and can be found in Southern China, Thailand, Korea and other continental southeast Asian countries.

Like the octopus, the cuttlefish is a master of disguise and a quick color-change artist. These "chameleons of the sea" use chromatophores to change color. A cuttlefish also can change the texture of its skin, raising or lowering it to help the animal blend in with rocks or coral. This natural camouflage helps the cuttlefish hide from predators. If hiding is not successful, the cuttlefish has one last defense: it can jet away, leaving behind a cloud of toxic ink in the face of its attacker.
Featured in Ocean Journey’s “Boneless Beauties” gallery, cuttlefish eat a variety of small crustaceans and fish and live in underwater caves and rocky reefs in Australia and waters between the Red Sea and Japan.

Butterflies are found in nearly every habitat from the Arctic tundra to the tropics, decorated with unique, multi-colored designs on their wings. They feast on honeydew (a sweet secretion produced by aphids), fruit juice, sap or liquids secreted by dung or decaying animals.

With varying sizes, butterflies are unique in that their entire bodies are covered with overlapping scales -- much like shingles on a roof. These scales are so thin that it would take more than half a million of these scales stacked up to be an inch tall.


One of only two living species from an old group of ancient fish, the paddlefish in the Reelfoot Lake exhibit in River Journey will eventually reach six feet or more in length. This filter feeder normally lives in dark, algae-filled water, but its long snout contains many sensory cells that allow it to navigate, detect the presence of food and help stabilize the fish while its mouth is wide open. And no, the paddlefish gliding by with an open mouth does not have lockjaw; it's just letting small particles of food drift into its long gill rakers, straining it from the water. Juveniles have teeth, but the adults are toothless. Often called "spoonbill catfish" in Tennessee, the paddlefish is not related to the catfish at all.

American alligator
Some scientists believe the alligator, with its long body, short legs and flattened skull, has changed little since the Jurassic period. The female alligator in River Journey's Delta Country often basks on its specially heated beach at the edge of the cypress swamp pool, seemingly oblivious to the northern bobwhite and hooded merganser nearby. Adorable baby gators also call the Aquarium home in River Journey's Discovery Hall and Mississippi Delta Country exhibits. These tiny gators bask on logs in the swampy water and make cute chirping noises as guests admire them.

Lake sturgeon
The lake sturgeon is a species that has remained virtually unchanged since swimming alongside the dinosaurs. Populations of this fish have declined due to pollution, habitat destruction and over-harvesting, though they may live for 150 years. They do not have typical teeth, but instead have wide "crushing plates" in the back of their throats, which they use these to crush clams, mussels and crustaceans at the bottom of lakes and large rivers.

The Aquarium is working with a variety of different agencies and organizations to reintroduce the lake sturgeon into the French Broad River near Knoxville, Tennessee as part of their conservation efforts.

The endangered lake sturgeon can be viewed and touched in River Journey's Discovery Hall touch station.

Weedy seadragon
The weedy seadragon is an inhabitant of kelp beds and coral reefs. Its weed-like appendages and coloration help keep it camouflaged from predators. Like all members of the seahorse family, the male carries the eggs. Unlike seahorses, where the males carry the eggs in a pouch, the weedy seadragon male carries eggs under his tail.

The Tennessee Aquarium is only the second facility in the world to breed and rear weedy seadragons in captivity. These fascinating creatures can be seen in River Journey's "Seahorses: Beyond Imagination" gallery.

Although some jellyfish do not sting, most have tentacles that are studded with stinging cells that behave like tiny harpoons armed with toxic chemicals. This stinging ability makes the jelly an efficient predator and protects it against animals that want to eat its soft body. Jellies don't sting people on purpose. It's just that when the tentacles brush against something, thousands of the cells explode, launching barbed stingers into the victim.

The graceful phantom-like animals are ocean vagabonds, drifting ceaselessly with the currents and tides. Many of them are almost transparent a convenient camouflage in their open habitats, where there are no places to hide from predators. As they are carried with the current, they are both predator and prey, catching small animals, fish eggs, and other jellyfish in a net of tentacles. These slimy creatures can be found gliding in Ocean Journey's "Boneless Beauties" gallery.


Red piranha
Sharp teeth and an ability to swim with lightning speed during its feeding frenzy make these red and gold Amazon River inhabitants well-equipped for their carnivorous diet. One of the most widely distributed species in the Amazon Basin, the red piranha can quickly tear one of its own to pieces if it is injured by a fisherman's hook. Still, according to the experts at the Tennessee Aquarium, the reds in River Journey’s Rivers of the World gallery are among the calmest of the piranhas and are only a threat to other fish in the exhibit, not their human caretakers.

Great barracuda
This long, cylinder-shaped fish has been known to attack man, but usually when provoked by a spear or other weapon or when a diver is wearing flashy jewelry that could be mistaken for a small, shiny fish. The two 4-foot specimens in the Gulf of Mexico exhibit in River Journey were just 10 inches long when they came from the Florida Keys just before the Tennessee Aquarium opened in 1992. They are very high-strung and will dart in a panic if about to be caught.

Southern stingray
Contrary to popular belief, a ray will not sting unless someone steps directly on it, at which point it will whip its tail around to protect itself by jabbing with its sharp barbs. River Journey's southern stingray is a ghostly creature with large pectoral fins that give the impression that it is flying through water.

Sand tiger shark
Sand tiger sharks, seen in Ocean Journey’s Secret Reef, have possibly the strangest method of reproduction in the shark family. This shark is ovoviviparous, meaning that its eggs hatch inside each of the mother's two uteri and are later born live. The largest sand tiger embryos in each uteri gain nourishment by eating their smaller siblings. This mode of survival, called intrauterine cannibalism, results in two large healthy pups that are about 3 feet in length when they are born.

Sand tiger shark populations have declined by more than 20 percent in the last 10 years and they are listed as a vulnerable species in the Atlantic Ocean. The sand tiger, also known as the gray nurse shark or the spotted ragged tooth shark, poses little danger to humans. It can reach up to 10 feet in length and is found in the open ocean around shoreline and coral reefs.


The “Penguins’ Rock” exhibit features two very active species of cold climate penguins unique to this region. Gentoo and Macaroni penguins take people to the world’s southern hemisphere and the sub-Antarctic islands surrounding the South Pole. When visitors enter “Penguins’ Rock” they will find themselves immersed in an interactive gallery that will take them on a journey into the penguins’ world thousands of miles away.

River otter
The otter's dense, water-shedding fur, strong swimming skills, and keen underwater eyesight make it a well-adapted aquatic animal. It can remain submerged up to four minutes before coming up for air. The otters in River Journey’s Cove Forest spend much of the day curled up napping. Morning and early evening are the best times to catch them at play.

Hyacinth macaw
The hyacinth macaw, seen in Ocean Journey’s Tropical Cove gallery, is the largest member of the parrot family, reaching 40 inches in length with a 50-inch wingspan. These macaws are social birds and generally live in pairs or small groups. Pairs are extremely faithful and share the tasks of raising their young. The hyacinth macaw's natural lifespan is estimated to be 30 to 50 years or more. They are found in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia.


Dwarf crocodiles
The young specimens in River Journey's Zaire River exhibit in the Rivers of the World gallery are worth looking for. (Check with a docent, who can point them out.) The smallest species of crocodile in Africa, the dwarf can actually grow to 6 feet in length.

Leafy seadragon
Leaf-like appendages on the head and body help camouflage this animal. Although its color looks bright in the Aquarium exhibit, its greenish coloration appears dull in its natural habitat. This makes the leafy seadragon resemble a plant. More closely related to pipefish than seahorses, seadragons lack prehensile tails, do not swim vertically and are larger than seahorses.

These underwater wonders live in shallow green flats and can be found in Southern Australia. Check out these awe-inspiring creatures in River Journey’s “Seahorses: Beyond Imagination” gallery.


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 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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