Will Be "Safely Scared" in New Tennessee Aquarium Gallery
Tenn. - Enter a vaulted chamber where a black mamba lies draped
over a tree branch and beautiful poison dart frogs shimmer
like living jewels in colors of green, red and gold. Step
into a futuristic space of danger and intrigue, where natural
habitats and eerie special effects showcase some of the world's
On March 11, visitors can do all this and more when VENOM:
Striking Beauties replaces the popular Jellies
display as the Aquarium's second changing exhibit. VENOM
offers more than shock value; it also helps visitors develop
a new appreciation for these often-misunderstood animals.
"Most of these creatures use venom as means to capture prey,
not as a weapon," says Jackson Andrews, director of operations
and husbandry at the Tennessee Aquarium. "Instead of relying
on venom as a defense, many of these animals have developed
strategies that help them remain hidden. This exhibit allows
visitors to experience the secret world of venomous animals."
Austere design elements and "virtual" habitats create a mood
unlike any other at the Aquarium. Visitors will experience
an odd mix of danger and security as they peer into futuristic,
brushed-aluminum exhibits trimmed in steel and tightly secured
with industrial locks. With a variety of large and small exhibits,
and nearly 50 species of venomous fish, snakes and other creatures,
VENOM exposes visitors to a world few people have ever
seen up close.
The gallery will house some of the biggest, deadliest and
most exotic creatures known to man. Visitors who stop at the
African Rainforest exhibit can try to outstare the penetrating
gaze of the agile black mamba and watch in awe as the gaboon
viper flashes its 2-inch-long fangs (the longest fangs of
any snake in the world). In the misty South American Rainforest,
the brilliantly colored eyelash viper can be found stretched
out on a limb near the terciopelo, whose claim to fame is
the fact that it bites more people than any other venomous
snake in Latin America. And a freestanding tank will spotlight
the sea krait, a very active species of snake known for its
VENOM, however, isn't just a showcase for serpents.
Visitors will be "safely scared" by such oddities as the Emperor
scorpion (one of the world's largest), the Goliath birdeater
tarantula (yes, it can make a meal of a small bird), and the
majestic lionfish, a beautiful species that flares lethal
spines when threatened. A cross-section of burrows allows
desert creatures, including the Gila monster, Arizona hairy
scorpion and beaded lizard, to safely co-exist. Secure, stainless
steel columns house smaller animals, like cow killer wasps,
the Giant Peruvian centipede and one of this country's most
toxic spiders, the black widow.
Interactive touch screens and graphic panels also acquaint
guests with topics ranging from Cherokee legends about venom
to tips on snakebite first aid and antivenoms, to what venomous
animals live in our own backyards.
Because of the potentially dangerous nature of the exhibit
animals, a number of precautions have been taken to ensure
the safety of visitors. The aluminum, steel and slick laminate
surfaces in the gallery will deter unruly insects from climbing
the walls, and all air supply grills are screened. The exhibit
also has solid ceilings and closed back walls. At feeding
time, heavy steel doors will keep out everyone but authorized
Although these animals can be dangerous, they are not out
to get humans. In fact, they are quite beneficial in controlling
rats, insects and other pests. Some venomous species are even
being studied for possible medical use; research indicates
that venom may, among other things, relieve arthritis pain,
treat brain disorders, and prevent clots in stroke victims.
Despite its killer reputation, venom is most often reserved
as a tool for capturing dinner. "All of these animals have
one thing in common - they do not want to interact with any
potential predator," says Dave Collins, curator of forests.
"They're going to do everything they can to avoid a confrontation
- hide, flee, bluff. If none of that works, some have adapted
bright coloration to ward off would-be attackers."
Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is the largest freshwater
aquarium in the world. Built with private contributions, this
non-profit educational organization is dedicated to the understanding,
conservation and enjoyment of the Tennessee River and related
ecosystems. The Aquarium is open every day except Thanksgiving
and Christmas and is accessible to people with disabilities.
For more information, call 1-800-262-0695.