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Tennessee Aquarium Showcases Courtship during February.

Wild Things – I think I Love You.

Chattanooga, Tenn. (January, 31st 2008) – The Troggs smash hit “Wild Thing” was the grooviest love song when it was released in 1966.  Today there are plenty of wild things at the Tennessee Aquarium that have some pretty groovy love songs and courtship rituals as well.  In fact, you should hear our frogs singing their own version of wild thing.  Not to mention the lead vocals at Penguins’ Rock. Here’s a sample of what you might discover throughout the month of love at Chattanooga’s riverfront aquarium.

Penguins Calling
Visitors to Penguins’ Rock are sometimes surprised by the rather raucous mock courtship displays. The Aquarium’s gentoo and macaroni penguins will occasionally pair up and begin loudly calling to each other while bobbing and swaying their heads.  Normally this is only two penguins at a time, but that is loud enough according to penguin keeper Amy Graves. “Imagine what it will be like when all of these birds start calling. It will be deafening inside the exhibit.”  Graves explains that this is not true courtship behavior, but a practice session in the penguin world. “Penguins need small, smooth stones to build their nests.  We call these magic rocks because to the penguins, the rocks are like dimming the lights and playing soft music. The nesting materials are the cue to become romantic.”

WWF – World Wrestling Frogs
Some species of dart frogs choose just the right location to attract a mate.  If another male invades that space, a frog wrestling match will ensue.  The winner claims the territory and presumably a fine mate.  In spite of their aggressive nature, dart frogs are very caring parents. Dave Collins, the Aquarium’s curator of forests says both males and females have an amazing parental instinct. “If the area where the eggs are laid begins to dry up, one or both parents begin to transport water to the clutch to keep them moist,” says Collins. “If things get too dry, the parents will carry the tadpoles on their backs to a place with more water.” A new frog exhibit will open on Leap Day at the Tennessee Aquarium featuring three species of dart frog.

Amorous Amphibians
Dean Martin might have made “That’s Amore” one of the most famous love songs ever recorded, but probably not the song of love that is most heard around the world.  That title might go to frogs and toads.  On any given spring or summer evening, the chorus of frogs calling to attract a mate is overwhelming. But they are not the only amorous amphibians that vocalize to woo the opposite sex.

Salamanders and newts emit a variety of soft squeaks, low whistles, barks and clicks. In addition, many salamanders communicate with the opposite sex chemically and visually. “Many species have well developed hedonic glands that emit an attractive chemical,” says Collins.  “A complex courtship dance involving a lot of head rubbing and dancing in circles takes places between the salamanders as the male leads the female to the proper location to reproduce.”  Several species of salamanders can be seen at the Aquarium like the hellbender, a native amphibian that was once common in the Tennessee River, but has been listed as Near Threatened by the World Conservation Union.

Globally the chorus of frogs is beginning to wane. Researchers worldwide are trying to solve a crisis that could wipe out one third to one half of the world’s 6,000 amphibian species. You can show your love for frogs, toads, salamanders and amphibians by trying a few of these suggestions at home.

  1. Don’t over-fertilize your yard.  Excess chemicals are harmful to the sensitive skin of amphibians.
  2. Create a backyard habitat.  A small pond will attract frogs and toads that will reward you by gobbling up insects.
  3. Make sure you are careful when weed-eating and mowing overgrown grassy areas. Frogs and toads may be hiding within the taller vegetation and may not be able to escape quickly.
  4. Leave a small portion of your yard a natural area for amphibians. A compost heap helps you dispose of leaves and lawn clippings while giving toads a place to live.

See Dragons Dancing
Weedy seadragons are among the most unusual animals on display at the Tennessee Aquarium, and they have one of the best love stories around.  One pair of weedy seadragons currently on exhibit in the Tasmanian Kelp Bed display has been courting since September of 2006.  Look closely and you may see their dancing display almost every day.  These lovers have successfully bred twice in the past, and one of their babies is now 5 years old.  The Tennessee Aquarium is one of only a few aquariums that have been successful breeding weedy seadragons.

Belly Dancing
When a seahorse chooses a mate the pair tends to stay together constantly.  They oftentimes will hold onto each other’s tail and swim together, rest together and even hunt for food together.  The mating dance begins with the male bowing his head to squish his pouch empty of water. Next he’ll swim around the female flaunting himself.  This display involves filling his pouch with water to show her how full it can be. If she’s impressed enough, the pair will swim upward belly to belly as she releases her eggs into his pouch.  The male holds the eggs in his belly for 30 to 45 days until the baby seahorses are released.  And baby seahorses seem to appear all the time at the Tennessee Aquarium.

Turtle Turn-On
It’s always Valentine’s Day in the Mississippi Delta and Tennessee River galleries. Here male freshwater turtles do their best to impress the ladies with their courtship displays.

Male red ear sliders and southern painted turtles can be seen swimming in front of, or above their female counterparts.  With long claws extended, they carefully yet rapidly seem to fan their prospective mates in the face.

That’s a Moray!
It’s often said that love is mysterious, and that’s certainly true when it comes to the green moray eel.  Eels are rather secretive animals and up until the late 1800’s not much was known about moray courtship and mating. Researchers know today that moray eels reproduce by engaging in a choreographed courtship during which they will open their mouths very wide at each other and eventually end up entwining their bodies together. Morays can stay like this for up to nine hours, at which point they separate and the eggs are fertilized.
Two large green moray eels can be viewed in River Journey’s Gulf of Mexico exhibit. They are normally seen down low snuggled up in a rock, or entwined among the mangrove trees.

Moon Struck
Coral reefs like those within the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary have a unique love story.  Eight nights after the first full moon in August, corals spawn at the same time.  This event has been described as looking like an upside-down snowstorm. More information and images of the coral spawning can be found near the Secret Reef exhibit in the Ocean Journey building.

First Date and More, eh?
Some people think the Tennessee Aquarium is the perfect place for a first date.  Just ask Lee Prichard and Whitney Moon.  The Lee University couple came to the Aquarium on their first date.  One year later, Lee brought Whitney back to the Aquarium and proposed.  Whitney said yes, and the two are planning a Spring ’08 wedding. Whitney says, “The Tennessee Aquarium is a great place to make a memory.”

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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 $7.95 per adult and $5.50 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $24.95 for adults and $16.95 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.

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


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The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission is $14 per adult and $7.50 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 $7.75 per adult and $5.25 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $18 for adults and $10.50 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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