Let’s have some science-related fun while we’re social distancing!
Tune in every day to the Aquarium’s facebook page to step behind-the-scenes and see how we take care of the animals at the Aquarium!
Each day will be accompanied by an activity you can do from home.
Complete ten activities before June 15, 2020 and receive a free admission pass to the Aquarium!
Download this form for more details.
Tuesday, April 21 : Humboldt Penguins Feel The Heat
Humboldt penguins are one of many species of penguins facing serious threats from human activity in their environment. Listed as vulnerable, this species faces loss of habitat from harvesting of their guano, loss of food sources due to overfishing, increased competition and predation from invasive species, and the changing conditions of climate change. While protection and management plans are in place to help stabilize their population numbers, sometimes natural events make it harder for these efforts to work.
You may recall Humboldt penguins live on the west coast of South America, inhabiting the normally cold waters of the eastern Pacific. This region is prone to natural changes in ocean and weather conditions called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). This ENSO cycle irregularly shifts from normal conditions to those that are warmer or cooler than average. The warmer times are referred to as El Niño events and the cooler times as La Niña events. These conditions may last for months or years.
While this great of a change in conditions can impact weather across the globe, the impact it has on Humboldt penguins literally hits them right in the gut. Their favorite food source- anchovies- become harder to find and capture. Anchovy prefer cool water conditions, but during an El Niño event the cooler water is pushed to deeper depths than usual, and the fish follow along. You can see the difference in the figure below, where the thermocline is 68° F (20° C), and the anchovies are found below this line. Penguins must dive deeper and longer than normal to catch their food or use other sources of food that may not be as nutritious.
When penguins work harder to feed, they will not catch as much fish nor will they be as likely to have enough food available to feed chicks. Researchers have found that breeding success is significantly lower during El Niño events, meaning far less chicks survive. Even though El Niño events are natural occurrences, they make a bad situation worse. You can help Humboldt penguins by choosing sustainable seafood, eating less meat, and avoiding disposable plastics.
· Anchovies are popular for humans, too. What do you think happens to the fishing industry during an El Niño event?
· How does the level of the thermocline change during a La Niña event?
· What kind of weather changes do we see in the US during an EL Niño event?
Using this activity sheet, you will become a scientist and plot out the average sea surface temperature in the tropical Pacific over the last 30 years. By looking at this chart, you may be able to see trends in the ENSO cycle and help with predicting the next time it may occur.
Wednesday, April 22: Happy Earth Day!
One of the ways humans impact wildlife and their habitats is through pet ownership. Pets can be great companions, but being an irresponsible pet owner can have some serious consequences.
Pets can be incredibly helpful in getting through stressful times like we currently find ourselves in. They provide routine and stimulation, as well as companionship and fun. It’s no wonder that at least half of all households in America include pets. With such a large demand for critters in our family, there are some downsides to pet ownership.
· Diet: Many of our favorite pets- dogs and cats- are meat-eaters. The production of meat is a big contributor to carbon emissions. Using foods that include by-products helps to offset these emissions and keep the products from being wasted. The choice of meat can make a difference, since rabbits and chickens produce less emissions than beef and lamb.
· Waste: Being animals, they not only eat and breath, they also produce urine and feces, and how we handle these can have an impact on the environment. Not picking up after a dog is not only inconsiderate, it can introduce harmful bacteria to waterways that are used for drinking water or recreation. The clay-based litter often used for cats is not the best choice, as clay is sourced through destructive and inefficient strip-mining practices. Other products made from wood chips, newspaper, or corn offer a more Earth-friendly option.
· Predation: Cats were originally brought into households because of their excellent hunting skills and ability to control pests. Despite thousands of years of domestication, they have not lost their killer instinct and are now one of the biggest challenges facing songbird and small rodent populations across North America. Studies indicate that cats spending time outdoors kill billions of animals each year. Simple solutions include adding a bell or other flashy accessories to their collar to make them easier to detect, or just keeping them indoors.
· Sourcing: It may be appealing to have a unique animal as a pet, however access to these species is not easy and sometimes means they have been illegally taken. Many reptiles, amphibians, fish, and even some birds and mammals do not have established breeding programs. If the animal you are looking to adopt is rare or hard-to-find, there is a good chance it would be illegally taken from the wild and trafficked before it came to you. This type of pet trade is a large problem for many threatened and endangered species around the world.
· Disease: Bringing exotic animals into new areas of the world also means new bacteria, parasites, and other pathogens are brought with them. This problem has been documented in birds when smuggled parrots from South America caused the introduction of Exotic Newcastle Disease, a serious and often fatal disease that affects all species of birds.
· Invasive species: When someone chooses an exotic animal as a pet, the owner may not fully understand what it takes to care for the animal, how big it may grow, or how long the animal may live. Rather than take appropriate steps to give up the animal responsibly, they may instead release it to the environment. There are multiple instances where this has been the cause of these animals becoming invasive and harming native species: red-eared slider turtles, lionfish, and pythons to name a few.
The best way to be a responsible pet owner is to do the research before acquiring any pet and be prepared to provide care for the animal throughout its life. If you have a hard time finding information about the animal, it may not be the best choice for you.
· If you have a pet at home, what are some ways you could make their care more Earth-friendly?
· Why would picking a pet from a breeder of an exotic animal be better than one that was collected from the wild?
· Pick one of the animals given as examples of becoming invasive species because of release from pet owners. Research where they are a problem, what native species they harm, and management efforts trying to control their spread. Were you aware of this problem before today? What could you do to help conservationists control these species?
Complete this activity sheet to get a better understanding of domestic and exotic pet choices.
· Are you surprised by the number of exotic pets you circled?
· What is a big difference between warm-blooded and cold-blooded animals as far as the conditions they require to stay healthy?
· Do a parrot and a frog require the same amount of attention from their caretaker? If not, what is different?
Thursday, April 23: Invasive Species
Invasive species damage the native wildlife or ecosystem of habitats where they do not naturally occur. In the Great Lakes there are over 180 invasive species and at least 6500 in the United States, both on land and in the water. They are not a new issue, as some have been problematic for hundreds of years, but others are new introductions that have occurred in recent years.
They pose some of the hardest environmental problems to solve because each invasive species presents a new situation that must be researched and tracked to understand how it started. The life cycle, adaptations, and consequences of introduction must all be identified before a way to manage it can be determined. And not every strategy to control the organism works.
What does help in every situation is public awareness and efforts to control the spread. Many invasive species require citizen action, such as removal of plants, identifying and reporting insects, avoiding transfer of goods to new areas, or even capture of the invasive animal. There are many agencies that work across the country to help educate residents of the help needed in their region. You can help by checking with your local state department of natural resources or university extension office to learn more about the invasive species affecting your area.
One of the best ways to help control the spread and damage of invasive species is awareness and reporting of their location. This website offers a way for individuals to check on where it has been recorded and even submit their own observations. You can refer to it to see where the species on this activity sheet have been reported across the US.
Friday, April 24: Marine Mammals & Marine Debris
All of our marine mammals have been rescued and/or deemed non-releasable by the U.S. government. There are many reasons that marine mammals may be unable to survive in their natural environment.
Kiah and Arie, who came to the Aquarium of Niagara as pups back in 2009, were abandoned by their mothers and learned that approaching humans for food was easier than hunting for fish. This presents a dangerous situation for both the humans and the animals!
A big reason marine mammals end up in rehabilitation is marine debris. Marine debris is trash that ends up in the ocean and becomes a hazard for all marine life. Research indicates that the United States alone contributes 242 million pounds of plastic to the ocean each year, and this debris can be found in all the world’s oceans.
Marine mammals are susceptible to marine debris because they spend a fair amount of time at the ocean surface, where much of the debris collects since a lot of it floats. The dangers include:
· entanglement in debris such as ropes, fishing line, ribbon, or plastic sheeting and bags
· ingesting or swallowing any variety of debris
· injury from large objects
· exposure to toxins leaching from plastics and unemptied bottles
Intentional littering or dumping, blowing out of trash bins, flowing downstream through rivers, carried by air currents, and lost cargo from ships are just some of the potential paths for garbage to wind up in the ocean. No matter how it ends up there, the main reason there is so much trash in the ocean is because our society produces so much of it.
We all have a part to play in the creation of marine debris, but that means we also have a role to play in cleaning it up and preventing more from adding to the problem. Simple changes to our personal habits can greatly reduce how much debris ends up in our oceans. Try out these examples and feel good knowing you are helping the ocean and marine mammals stay healthy:
· Avoid using disposable plastic bottles – carry a water bottle with you to reuse any number of times.
· Avoid carry-out related waste – skip the use of a straw or carry a metal/silicone one with you, bring a container with you out to restaurants to carry your leftovers home, and pack reusable utensils in your lunch box.
· Buy in bulk – many of our favorite snacks can be bought in large quantities and broken up into smaller reusable containers for later use.
· Switch to reusable shopping bags – many fold into small sizes for easy carrying and can be used at any store you visit.
· The garbage patches shown in the image focus on the Pacific Ocean. Do you think marine debris is found in other oceans, like the Atlantic and Indian?
· Of the reasons listed for why trash ends up in the ocean, how many included people intentionally putting trash in the ocean?
· Do you already do something to avoid creating more trash? What else could you do that would help?
Since we are spending so much time at home these days, it is a perfect opportunity to better understand what we use and throw away most often. By learning this, we can brainstorm ways to replace disposable items or change our methods to avoid creating so much waste.
You can perform a trash audit of your household garbage. There are a couple ways to do this:
1. Clean, but not as accurate – You can create a tally sheet so when members of your household throw anything away, they can mark down what it was and how much went into the trash. You can leave this by the trash can with a pencil to help everyone remember. The only trouble is that it could be easily overlooked, or people may forget to fill it in each time.
2. Messy, but most accurate – After gathering a bag full of your household trash, put on some gloves, take the bag to a spot where it is okay to be a bit messy, and spread the garbage out on a tarp. You will sort through everything and mark down what it was and how much of it you found. You will get an accurate idea of everything you and your family members throw away, plus be able to sort out any recyclables that wound up in the garbage.
Whichever way you decide to audit your household trash, you can gather your data using a tally list. You will right down a description of each new item, but if you find more than one or see it already on the list, you can keep track of the total number of that item by adding a new mark.
Once you have your list, identify which 2-3 items had the most marks. These are the ones you can work on first to cut down on their usage and disposal. If it is paper towels, could you switch to reusable rags that can be washed between uses? If it is food scraps, can you gather those to add to a compost pile? If it is plastic bottles, could these be recycled, or even better, could you switch to a water filter or bulk purchases to avoid the individual bottles?
Not every item will have the same solution, that is why it helps to focus on just a few to try to change our habits. Once you have those figured out and are comfortable with your new solutions, you can move on to changing other habits to avoid the waste.
You may also find that your habits change (for better or worse) on their own as schedules and family needs change. The best way to assess this, is to perform another audit!
· Were you surprised by any of the results of your audit?
· Did you find many recyclable items ending up in your trash? How could you help your family remember to put these in a recycling bin instead of the trash?
· Did you share your findings with your family? In order to make the change to avoid creating the waste, everyone must understand what is going to change and agree to help. If they do not agree, is there another solution that could work?
Saturday, April 25: Sustainable Seafood Diets
The animal care staff work hard to ensure the quality of the seafood we feed out to our animals is the best it can be, but we care for more than just the animals living at the aquarium. We also want the wildlife in our oceans to be happy and healthy, too!
In order to help ensure that all marine life is healthy, we use sustainable seafood in our animal diets. Sustainable seafood is seafood that is harvested in a way that does not cause undue stress on animal populations or environments. It avoids the hazards of:
· overfishing – catching so many individuals that not enough are left in the habitat to reproduce at a rate high enough to replenish the population
· high levels of bycatch – bycatch are other species of animals caught along with the targeted species; for example, shrimp trawling often catches other animals such as stingrays, fish, and sometimes sea turtles
· spread of disease – farmed fish can be a good option, but if they are not well kept, they can spread disease to wild populations
· physical damage to habitats – some fishing methods physically damage habitats, such as bottom trawling where the nets are drug along the ocean floor, scouring the bottom and breaking up reefs
If you eat seafood, anything from sushi to fish sticks, you can choose sustainable seafood, too. The three main things you will need to know are:
1. What kind of seafood is it?
2. Where was it caught?
3. How was it caught?
Once you know these, you will be able to look it up in Seafood Watch. Seafood Watch is a consumer guide to help anyone choosing seafood find the most sustainable options. They provide a free app so you can carry the guide with you while you are at the grocery store or out at a restaurant. They can even point you to merchants that have committed to offering sustainable seafood as most or all of their inventory.
Please join us in ensuring our oceans are healthy by choosing sustainable the next time you eat seafood!
With the variety of species we have at the aquarium, we need a variety of food options to cover all their nutritional requirements. However, if that food were to put other species at risk, it would not help our overall efforts. To avoid this, we choose sustainable seafood so that we know there was as minimal stress on the ecosystem as possible when it was harvested.
Use this activity sheet and download the Seafood Watch app (be sure to get your parents’ permission first!):
Or use the Seafood Watch Website to find the best food option for the Aquarium animals. You can even find the best seafood choice for you, too!
Sunday, April 26: All About Axolotls
Axolotls are special amphibians – they are neotenic salamanders. This means they do not fully grow up!
Consider other amphibians like frogs, that change from eggs to tadpoles to froglets to frogs. As they grow, they are going through a process called metamorphosis, shown below.
This change is not only physical, it also changes where the amphibians live. You will notice in the above image that from eggs to froglets, they are living in water. Once they transition to adult frogs, they are living on land. This requires changes in how they move (tail to legs) and how they breath (gills to lungs). Axolotls are salamanders, so instead of being called froglets when they begin to grow legs, they are called larva. When it comes to metamorphosis, they are stuck in the larval stage, where they do not leave the water, still rely on a tail for much of their movement, and use their feathery gills to breath. However, axolotls can still reach adulthood and reproduce.
Metamorphosis is just one type of growth process seen in nature. Use this activity sheet to see how other animals grow from babies to adults.
• Did any other animals go through a metamorphosis-like change in their growth from baby to adult?
• Do any of the babies look like the adults, just smaller in size?
• Why do frogs and other amphibians go through such drastic changes as they grow? Why don’t other animals experience such changes?
• Why are axolotls able to stay in the larval stage even as adults?
• Since amphibians spend so much time in water over their lifetime, do you think they would be affected by pollution in the water? Would axolotls be more or less affected by the pollution than other amphibians and why?
Monday, April 27: Meet Our Humboldt Penguin Chicks!
We are so excited to announce that penguin chicks have hatched at the Aquarium of Niagara! This is the first time we have had chicks in 14 years, and the proud parents are some our newest and youngest colony members. Prior to the last year, most of our colony members were older and any eggs they laid were infertile.
Humboldt penguins can nest throughout much of the year and often raise two broods, or groups of chicks per year. Males will prepare nests in naturally occurring crevices or caves by digging into the guano, or penguin poop, that builds up along the cliff face. These burrows provide a sheltered place for the females to lay up to two eggs.
The adults will trade off incubating the eggs, and after ~40 days the eggs hatch. It can take 24-48 hours for each chick to pip or break out of the egg. Once hatched, both adults continue to co-parent the chicks, taking turns hunting at sea to catch and swallow fish to bring back for the chicks. When the parents return from foraging, they regurgitate, or bring back up the fish for the chicks to eat.
When the chicks are 10-12 weeks old, they will be ready to fledge or leave the nest and take care of themselves. Prior to this time, the chicks stayed warm because of the fuzzy down feathers that covered their bodies. Leading up to fledging, they molt, or shed, the down and add contour feathers over the down to smooth out their body and provide a waterproof barrier.
We are looking forward to sharing their growth and progress with you in the coming months. Please continue to follow us on social media for the latest updates!
· How many chicks could a pair of Humboldt penguins possibly raise in a year?
· If the average age of Humboldt penguins in South America is 15 years and they reach reproductive maturity at 3 years of age, how many chicks could a pair produce over their lifetime?
· Do you think that all eggs laid in the natural environment produce chicks that survive to adulthood?
· What are some of the challenges that Humboldt penguins face that may limit the number of chicks that survive?
· Do you think we will keep the chicks raised at the Aquarium or will they be relocated to colonies at other zoos and aquariums?
Given that it has been so long since we had penguin chicks at the Aquarium of Niagara, there are some new words we are using to explain what is happening. These words are used in the previous description and will help you to complete this crossword puzzle.
Tuesday, April 28: Talking Animal Training
Animal training is a skill that not only produces amazing behaviors from the animal, but can bring about great change and understanding in the trainer.
Consider this video that spotlights a program where prison inmates are matched with shelter dogs to train them basic obedience skills. The goals include helping the dogs become better behaved and more adoptable, as well as helping the inmates learn patience, improve their communication skills, and gain purpose and self-confidence. It is hard to say whom benefits the most in a program like this.
Training animals new behaviors often demands more of the trainer than the animals, especially when the behaviors are complex. Each animal has a different temperament, a different way of learning, and possibly different motivations. A trainer has to accommodate all of these and make adjustments to their methods to suit their trainee, such as breaking down one step into smaller steps, moving along quicker if the animal gets bored, or holding shorter sessions if frustration is an issue.
You may be surprised to learn that the same training methods used with animals can work with humans, too. From toddlers to adults, our brains respond similarly to rewards and stimulus, and these same training techniques can help us perform simple tasks all the way to life-changing skills. This podcast discusses how clicker training (similar to the whistles our trainers use) has been effective at teaching medical students orthopedic surgery techniques.
· Does training only work on animals?
· Have you ever been trained to perform a behavior?
· Have you ever trained an animal a new behavior? How about a person?
Understanding the basics of training is just the beginning. It requires patience and careful consideration of how to ask and prompt the trainee to respond the desired way. What may seem like a simple task to you may not be so easy when you ask another to perform it without prior experience.
Consider making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Two pieces of bread, peanut butter, jelly, and a knife are all that are needed for this popular food. But what if you have never made one before or you do not know what it should even look like when it is made? This activity will show you how the success of the trainee is determined by the success of the trainer.
· Pen/pencil and paper
· Loaf of sandwich bread
· Peanut butter
· Butter knife
1. Begin by writing a step-by-step process of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
2. Give a member of your family the supplies needed to make the sandwich and ask them to follow your instructions exactly as they are written. Did they successfully make a PB&J sandwich that you would want to eat?
3. Edit your step-by-step process of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, being as descriptive and clear as possible.
4. Repeat step 2. Do you need to make more edits?
5. Keep repeating steps 2 and 3 until the result is a sandwich you would want to eat.
· How many times did you have to edit your instructions? Do you think animal trainers have to make these edits to their work?
· Imagine if instead of your family following your instructions, it was an animal or other being that did not communicate the same way as you. Would this change how you made your instructions?
· Did anyone get frustrated when things did not work out? If so, did yelling, scolding, or hitting help make anyone more successful?
· Do you think providing a reward after each step would help keep a trainee engaged
Wednesday, April 29: Zoos & Aquariums – Then & Now
Visitors have enjoyed attending zoos and aquariums around the world for over 100 years, but a lot has changed in that time.
Historic images show animals living in cold, cramped spaces while modern exhibits allow animals to roam in sprawling areas with natural features. This is the most obvious change for visitors to see, but a lot more has changed behind the scenes, too.
· Animal care- As animals were kept at zoos and aquariums, caretakers learned how to increase life spans and improve quality of life for the animals. A better understanding of what is critical for survival continues to drive animal care standards forward.
· Skilled professional staff- Zoo and aquarium staff have become specialized and often have unique skills important to this field. From specialties in animal care to jobs focused on guest experience, the requirements for staff working at zoos and aquariums have advanced greatly.
· Education- Educating guests about animals and the environment has become a main goal of almost all animal care facilities. With this, there have been advancements in the formats used and audiences reached.
· Conservation- Zoos and aquariums have become vital to the protection and management of threatened species around the globe. Many facilities participate in breeding and repopulation efforts for critically endangered animals, as well as increase the public’s awareness and understanding of these situations.
· Research- Many facilities have prioritized research on the species they care for, both at the facility and in the natural environment. This not only increases knowledge for improved animal care, but also conservation efforts of wild populations.
· Technology- Advancements in technology have improved everything from exhibit design to educational opportunities. Whether it is how you view the animals on-site or see them from the comfort of your home, zoos and aquariums have been able to dramatically change their guests’ visual perspective on the animals.
· Accreditation- Professional organizations, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association, help to set and improve standards for staff and facilities to strive for and maintain. Accreditation from these organizations is a sure sign that facilities are meeting the highest standards in the field.
Aquariums and zoos have changed quite a bit over the last 100 years. Download this worksheet. Then, using the historic and modern-day images of each type of facility, look for similarities and differences between time periods.
Thursday, April 30:Showing Off Our Softshell Turtle
Being able to see a variety of turtles at aquariums helps us to understand that there is a lot of variation among the world’s species.
There are three main groups of turtles:
1. Tortoises – land-based turtles that do not swim and are adapted to carry large, heavy shells with thick, padded feet
2. Freshwater turtles – aquatic turtles found in rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, wetlands, and estuaries and have streamlined shells and webbed feet adapted for swimming
3. Sea turtles – ocean-based turtles that spend almost their entire lives in water and have hydrodynamic shells and flippers for limbs
Even within these groups, there is still variation among species and the softshell turtles are examples of this. Of the freshwater turtles, they spend the most time in the water. This leads to adaptations like flattened shells that create minimal drag in the water and long necks with snorkel noses that can be stretched up to reach the surface and take a breath.
There unique shell structure is quite different from other turtles in that it has minimal bone and much more cartilage present. This means they are less protected from predators and other threats but have other ways to defend themselves. Softshell turtles do not often expose themselves to bask in the sun the way other turtles do, and if confronted are usually aggressive and quick to bite and scratch.
· If softshell turtles do not have very hard shells, in what ways do they make up for this lesser protection?
· How does spending so much time in the water help them find food?
· Does their shell have any advantages to helping them find food?
Turtle bodies have many things in common, however the specific structure of their shell, limbs, and other features vary depending on the habitat each species is found in. We will compare the shell and limb structure of aquatic turtles to understand how their behavior and morphology relate to each other. Download this worksheet for more!
Friday, May 1: Older Than Dinosaurs – Horseshoe Crabs
Horseshoe crabs are amazing creatures to behold. Their adaptations have helped them survive for over 400 million years, through multiple mass extinctions and changes in Earth’s conditions. They’ve even taken on the role of medical support of human health!
If you have had a shot, vaccination, or medical device implanted into your body since 1977, you have horseshoe crabs to thank for your continued health today. In the 1950s, it was discovered that horseshoe crab blood, which is blue due to the presence of copper instead of iron, reacted to the presence of bacteria and their toxins by coagulating, or gelling, around them. This reaction not only limits infection in the horseshoe crab, but also provided a quick test option for biomedical producers to test whether their products are safe for use.
Collection of horseshoe crab blood does not kill the animals, as they are able to survive with a lessened supply of blood like how humans can donate blood and remain healthy. Despite this, the growing demand for the tests derived from their blood and concerns over their population decline from other factors have prompted development of a synthetic version to replace the need to harvest their blood.
As this new version gains support and grows in use, the horseshoe crab will never lose their place in history. The human species will always be indebted to this living fossil for providing a solution to keeping us healthy.
· Many animals need blood for the same reasons, but blood can be made up of different materials and work in different ways. What does blood do to help us stay alive?
· After the blood of a horseshoe crab has been harvested, they are returned to the ocean. How do you think people know to avoid collecting from those crabs again?
· Humans often discover new things by observing nature. Can you think of other discoveries or advancements that were inspired by living creatures?
The obvious reaction of horseshoe crab blood coagulating around bacteria and its toxins creates a slimy mess, and you can, too! Use this recipe for slime that can be just as fun as spending time with horseshoe crabs.
· 1 4-6 ounce bottle of white school glue or all-purpose glue
· ½ teaspoon of baking soda
· 1 ½ tablespoons of multipurpose contact solution
· Blue food coloring
1. In a small bowl, mix the baking soda, contact solution, and blue food coloring until well blended.
2. Pour the glue out into a large bowl and add the baking soda mixture, using a spoon or your hands to combine them together. It will be quite sticky initially, but that will lessen with additional kneading.
3. If you want to adjust the texture, add more baking soda to firm up the slime or add a small amount of water to make it oozier.
If you do not have contact solution available, you can make slime with shampoo or dish soap and baking soda instead.
1. Pour 1 cup of baking soda into a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of shampoo/dish soap. Stir to blend. Add blue food coloring and continue blending.
2. You can add more shampoo/dish soap until you reach your desired consistency. Add a pinch of baking soda if it becomes too runny.
· When horseshoe crab blood gels around bacteria, how does that help stop the spread of bacteria in their bodies? Think about the texture of the slime you made.
· Which ingredient in the slime you made is like the horseshoe crab blood? Which is like the bacteria and their toxins?
· Do you think this characteristic of their blood played a role in helping horseshoe crabs survive for over 400 million years?
Monday, May 4: How To Be A Naturalist
From now on, our Monday Facebook Live videos will have an “Ask The Educator” theme! It’s a great chance for you to weigh-in on the topics you want to learn about. Email [email protected] to suggest an idea!
A naturalist is someone who studies nature and its processes. Many may focus on life forms like animals, plants, fungus, or bacteria, and others study non-living parts of the environment, like weather, geology, and watersheds.
Many famous scientists started out as naturalists. They observed what happened around them and from that, they became curious about what they saw. This is how science begins- using observations to form questions that can be tested.
To help naturalists remember what they observe, many keep journals filled with notes and drawings. These help them to analyze what they see, while also making available to look back at in the future. Charles Darwin was a well-known scientist that traveled around the world, journaling along the way. The records he kept later helped him to develop some of the most important theories in science – adaptations and natural selection.
If you are naturally curious about nature and the planet, you may be well on your way to becoming a scientist. Keep practicing by observing nature, keeping notes, and asking questions!
We learn many important facts by watching nature and recording what we find. Some of history’s most famous scientists were also naturalists, watching and writing down what they saw. You can do the same thing by spending time outside and watching what happens around you.
· Pencil, pen, or other writing/coloring utensils
· Optional: binoculars, magnifying glass, bug box, identification guides,
1. With your parent’s permission, head outside with your materials and find a comfortable spot to sit quietly and observe your surroundings. The less you move and the quieter
you are, animals will be less likely to notice you and continue with their natural behaviors.
2. Pay attention to the birds, insects, mammals, and any other animals around you. Watch their behavior- can you figure out what they are doing?
3. Notice how they look- what color are they? Do they have any special features? You can use binoculars or a magnifying glass to get a closer look.
4. As you notice the animals, write your observations in your journal. There are no wrong observations, it is just what you see. You can also sketch the animals and add their markings and patterns, or show the behavior they are doing.
5. When you return home, you can use identification guides and online resources to learn more about the animal.
6. If you return to the same spot several times, you may see the same animals repeatedly. This will allow you to understand if they have routines or use the same spots for eating, resting, or bathing.
· What happened with the animals if you moved?
· Was there something that attracted animals, like a birdfeeder or flower garden?
· Did animals ever seem scared? Did you ever see any predators, like a cat, hawk, or snake?
· If you returned to the same spot on several days, did you see the same animals? How do you know they were the same? How do you think scientists keep track of multiple animals?
· Did it help you remember what you saw by writing notes or drawings? How does journaling help scientists gather and retain information?
Wednesday, May 6: Animal Records
Animal care involves more than feeding animals and checking water quality. Since animals cannot tell us how they are feeling we must look at measurements and behaviors to communicate the status of their health.
Today we are going to learn about a very important aspect when it comes to ensuring the health of all the animals here at the Aquarium of Niagara.
If you joined us on April 15th, we learned all about morphometric measurements and did an activity where you could get the morphometric measurements of your own stuffed animals. We learned that these measurements were taken regularly to be recorded and put into a database to help researchers gain a better understanding of the animals. While this is important, it is not the only reason we take them. By keeping morphometric measurement records, staff can go back and look at patterns throughout the animal’s life at their facility.
In order to ensure the total health of all our animals, records are kept from veterinary exams, behavioral observations, and diet prep and feedings. Veterinarian notes are kept so staff can look back and see past medical history for a specific animal. Some animals may have an allergic reaction to some medication or may have a disability that needs monitored to look for improvements. Food records are kept so staff can keep track of how much each individual animal is eating. If an animal is not eating its usual amount, the staff can look at past food records and check for seasonal changes, such as with seals and sea lions who eat more during the winter to add more blubber.
When taking care of animals, keeping records is critical to ensure that facts, rather than opinions, are used to evaluate an animal’s welfare. Daily observation allows staff to respond quickly and effectively should an issue be detected and better able to catch problems before they become serious. Aquarium staff measure weight and other morphological traits at least once a week and record food intake daily.
You can keep your own records at home by finding your pet’s or your own metamorphic measurements.
Make sure you keep track of your food intake or your pet’s too.
Make sure you record the weight and length once a week and keep track of food intake daily!
Feel free to do more than one pet’s records or another person in your family.
• A household pet or yourself
• Measuring tape
• Bathroom scale
• Measuring cup (if you cannot measure the food with a scale)
• Paper or printed table provided in this activity sheet.
1. Using the measuring tape, cm side up, have another person help you by measuring your pet’s length from tip of nose to tip of tail. If you are measuring yourself, while standing, measure from your heel to the top of your head (cm) and record your results in the table.
2. To measure girth of your pet, stand over them and place the end of your measuring tape on its spine, just above the widest part of their rib cage. With your other hand, wrap the tape measure behind its front legs and around its body. Place this end next to the beginning of the measuring tape. Put your thumb on the number that meets up with the beginning of the measuring tape, the higher number is the girth measurement. To measure your own girth, while standing, place the beginning of the measuring tape just above your hip bone with your thumb. Bring the measuring tape around your body to meet up with the beginning of the measuring tape where your thumb is. The higher number is your waist girth measurement. Record your results in the table using cm.
3. Using a bathroom scale, weigh your pet or yourself and record your results in the table (lbs)
4. To measure your pet’s food intake, weigh out their food before you feed them and weigh what is leftover. To measure your own food intake, weigh out your food before you eat and weight what is leftover. Make sure you know the weight of the food bowl and you plate so you can subtract that from the overall weight! If you do not have a scale feel free to use a measuring cup.
5. Continue the above steps on the same day of the week for two more weeks.
Friday, May 8: J-E-L-L-O and Animal Diets
In their natural habitat, some marine animals are opportunistic feeders. This means they will eat whatever they can catch whenever they can catch it. Marine animals under human care on the other hand, can be picky, since they become habituated to being fed lots of nutrient rich fish several times per day. Here at the Aquarium of Niagara, our animal care staff make sure out animals are getting enough water and nutrients from the food. To do this we add more than just fish to their diet!
Our Harbor Seals and California Sea Lions get Jell-O! We do this to make sure they are getting enough water in their diet, as gelatin traps water in it as it cools into its wiggly form. The Jell-O we give our animals is not the same kind we like to eat for a snack or dessert, it is just water, gelatin and food coloring, no flavors. In addition to water, nutrients are just as important, so our animal care staff give them lots of fish full of vitamins, calcium and fat. The fat in the fish is essential to keep them warm during the cold months of the year.
Our many fish and invertebrate species get something called a gel diet. It has healthy proteins and carbohydrates the fish need to stay healthy. This gel diet is great for our fish because our aquarists can add fruits, vegetables, flavors, medications and nutritional supplements into the mixture.
Orange Fluff Jell-O Salad
- 1 12-ounce carton of cottage cheese
- 2 3- ounce packages of orange Jell-O
- 1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
- 1 11-ounce can mandarin oranges, drained
- 1 12-ounce carton whipped topping
1. In a large bowl mix pineapple and mandarin oranges together.
2. Mix cottage cheese and Jell-O together in a separate bowl
3. Add cottage cheese and Jell-O mixture to the large bowl with the pineapple and mandarin oranges.
4. Mix well and chill for 1 hour before serving.
If you have your own favorite Jell-O salad share it with us on Facebook!
• What mix of nutrients is found in the orange fluff recipe? You may need to check the nutrient labels on the ingredients.
• If you made your own gel diet recipe with Jell-O, what would you put into it? Why?
• All our animals at the aquarium get extra nutrients and vitamins added to their daily feedings. Do you take any vitamins? How do they help you stay healthy?
Monday, May 11: What We Love About Lobsters
There are many unique marine species in the world, one of those is the American Lobster.
Before we dive into all thing’s lobsters, you need to know what an adaptation is. An adaptation is a special skill which helps an animal survive. Adaptations can be physical changes to the animal’s body or behavioral changes in how animals do things during their daily lives. Lobsters have many adaptations to help them live in their environment, some include the ability to shed their exoskeleton, compound eyes, dark coloring, claws and a heightened sense of smell and taste.
Lobsters live in deep water where little light is present and they are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night. With little light present lobsters rely on many physical adaptations to help. A more noticeable adaptation is its compound eyes, which is an eye with many small visual units, think of the eyes on a fly. Due to having more than one lens lobsters can pick up on movements much quicker. Lobsters keep their eyes moving constantly to search for food and predators. Another adaptation that is less noticeable is the lobster’s ability to “taste” their food with their sensory hairs along their legs. Because there is little light it is hard for lobsters to see what is food and what is not. The sensory hairs help lobsters distinguish between what is food and what is not.
Have you ever cracked a lobster shell to get to the meaty center? That hard-outer shell is called an exoskeleton, which is a rigid external covering for the body that provides support and protection. In order to grow, lobsters must shed their exoskeleton in a process called molting. They can also intentionally lose limbs! This is a very important adaptation because it helps the lobster get away from predators. During molting they can regenerate the lost limb over a period of several molts.
While lobsters do look unique those qualities help them live in deep water. The adaptations listed above are only a few, there are so many more. Feel free to do some research and find some more unique facts about lobsters!
Using the information provided in the description and from the Facebook Live, create your own lobster.
- Lobster Outline (click to download)
- Toilet paper tube
- Glue or Tape
- Markers or crayons
- Feathers, glitter, pipe cleaners
1. Cut out your lobster and tape the body around the toilet paper tube.
2. On your lobster, use feathers, glitter, pipe cleaners, markers or crayons to decorate. Think about the adaptations you learned lobsters have to help them survive and how you may be able to represent them in your own design.
3. Write up a short description about your lobster answering these 2 questions:
- Where does it live?
- What special adaptations does it have?
4. Present your lobster to someone in your household!
Wednesday, May 13: Let’s Learn About Life Support
A very important part of any household is cleaning. At the Aquarium of Niagara cleaning is an essential part of our aquarists’ daily responsibilities too! While some staff make sure the floors are vacuumed, the windows are wiped down and the shelves are dusted just like what you do at home, the aquarists take care of one important addition to our list, cleaning the inside of all our exhibits.
Many of our fish exhibits use a type of filtration called under-gravel filtration. Under-gravel filtration consists of a plastic plate with small holes or slots that lays at the bottom of an aquarium and is covered with gravel. Each back corner of the plate has a tube that pulls water from under the plate, drawing the water down through the gravel and using it as a filter. This circulation helps keep good bacteria within the gravel, helping to keep the environment healthy for the fish.
When our aquarists clean a fish’s exhibit, they use a siphon called a gravel siphon. This acts like a vacuum and sucks up the uneaten fish food, dead plant materials, and other solids from the gravel. If these things are left in the aquarium for too long, they will produce ammonia, which is very toxic to fish and if it is not removed can become detrimental to the fish. Gravel siphons do the same thing our vacuums do when we vacuum at home except, we can see and smell the debris our vacuum picks up, whereas the particles in the exhibits are not always visible.
They also must clean algae from the inside of the exhibit. Some algae are good to have in an aquarium because they influence carbon and nutrient cycling. Algae generates oxygen, which is essential for the fish in the exhibit, but if there is too much algae present, then the oxygen being produced gets taken up by algae and none is left over for the fish. To clean algae, the aquarists simply use a sponge and wipe the glass, walls, and decorations within the exhibit.
Under gravel filtration provides mechanical and biological filtration. Mechanical filtration occurs as tank water passes through a filter, filter cartridges, sponges, foam, or filter floss, trapping particles of debris, uneaten fish food, dead plant materials, and other solids. After the particles are trapped, the filtered water may continue through other filters, then eventually goes back into the tank. As an aquarium cycles, colonies of nitrifying bacteria form on the hard surfaces of the tank, aquarium glass and decorations. Biological filtration happens as water passes over these colonies of nitrifying bacteria and turn ammonia into nitrite, and then nitrite into nitrate. Nitrates are then removed by doing regular partial water changes, often as part of the gravel vacuuming.
Life support systems (LSS) help aquarists maintain water quality on a 24-hour basis, whereas our aquarists must maintain the exhibits several times per week. This is an easy process, but it means our aquarists really must get into their work! It’s a good thing our aquarists don’t mind getting a little WET!
- 3 glass jars
- 6-8 coffee filters
- Dirty water (from a puddle or a pond)
- 2 plastic cups with a hole cut in the bottom of each
1. Start by getting 2 jars full of dirty water.
2. In two plastic cups, line the bottom of each with the coffee filters, 3 or 4 in each. Place a layer of clean sand inside one of the cups and a layer of gravel in the other.
3. Place the cup with the sand into an empty jar.
4. Pour half of the dirty water over top of the sand and coffee filters.
5. Using a timer, time how long it takes for the dirty water to filter through the sand and coffee filters
6. Using the rest of the dirty water, from the first jar, do the same with the gravel and coffee filters
7. Look at the difference in the water before and after!
- Which one held the water longer?
- Which one produced the cleaner water?
1. What would happen to the water if you cleaned the filters, by running tap water over them, and ran the dirty water through again?
2. We use sand and gravel in this experiment, what other particles can you use to filter water through? What would happen if you put sand and gravel together?
3. Try changing how the filters are layered in the plastic up. Does this change how well water is filtered? Would adding more filters improve the water quality?
4. Do you think oil, food coloring, or even soda would be filtered easily? Why?
5. How is water naturally filtered in the environment?
6. How do aquatic habitats maintain healthy conditions naturally? How do you think physical or chemical pollution impacts this process?
Friday, May 16: Endangered Species Day & Seahorse Feeding
The seahorse’s digestive system is different from the digestive system of other fish. Just like humans, a seahorse digestive system has additional small organs to digest the food they eat. Their stomach is extremely reduced, so they are mostly reliant on other organs for digestion.
Let’s imagine you are a tiny plankton who has just been eaten by a seahorse. What happens next? First, seahorses have no teeth, so they do not chew their food. Instead, they swallow their food whole. After you have been swallowed by the seahorse, you go down a tube-like structure called the esophagus to the reduced stomach where you are partially broken down. While here, the liver helps to break you down by producing bile. Next, you will travel to the small intestine where the nutrients from you are absorbed. While this is happening, the kidneys are filtering chemical waste and sending them to the urinary bladder. Finally, the seahorse does a 360-degree spin and excretes what is left of you as solid waste!
Now let us compare the seahorse’s digestive system to the digestive system of a fish. It starts at the mouth, with teeth used to capture prey or collect plants. Each type of fish has a specific mouth well-matched to their diet and feeding behavior. From the mouth, food travels through the esophagus, a short and expandable tube that leads to the stomach. The stomach varies in fish, depending on their diet. In most predacious fish, it is a straight or curved tube or pouch with a muscular wall and a glandular lining. This lining secretes mucin, otherwise known as mucus, that helps break down the food into liquid. This liquid travels to the intestine but first goes through a muscular valve called the pyloric caeca where nutrients begin to be absorbed. The intestines vary in length depending on the fish’s diet. In predacious fish it is short, no longer than its body cavity, this is because the do not need a long one. Meat diets break down easier than plant diets. Herbivorous fish have on that is longer than the entire length of the fish. This is because it helps them get the most nutrients out of their food. Food that is not completely digested leaves the body through the anal opening, bringing us to the end of digestion. As you can see these two digestive systems work to produce the same result, nutrients are absorbed, and waste leaves the body.
Unfortunately, seahorses are facing problems out in their natural environment. With their unusual characteristics, seahorses are very popular for home aquariums and are often over-harvested to meet this demand. Another threat has to do with our own diet. Humans consume a lot of shrimp, but the fishing method used most, called trawling, catches far more than just shrimp. Seahorses are often part of this bycatch, or non-targeted species, and typically do not survive the capture. We can help these animals by simply appreciating them in their natural environment and by shopping for sustainably caught seafood!
- 1 piece of bread
- 1 cup of water
- 1 Bowl
- Start by tearing the bread into pieces and put them in the bowl. Imagine you are chewing them up so you will want bite-sized pieces.
- Add a splash of water to the bowl and stir, this is mimicking the spit created when chewing.
- Add a little more water to the bowl, this will be the stomach acid.
- Next you are going to mush the mixture with your hands, mimicking what the stomach muscles do.
- After it is mushed up nicely, pour it onto the towel and roll it up, the towel is mimicking the small intestine.
- As you roll up the mixture watch and see how much water comes out, this is the nutrients our bodies absorb during digestion.
- Squeeze the towel just like the large intestine would.
- Lastly open the towel and see what is left!
- What do you think this is mimicking?
- Go back through the seahorse and fish digestive systems. What do they both have in common? What is different?
- Water is an important ingredient in digestion. What happened to the bread when water was added in your experiment? What parts of the seahorse and fish digestion added something like water to help with breaking down their food?
- Could you use more than just bread for the digestion activity? What would happen?
- What is something you could use that would not change after going through digestion? Why?
- We talked about two threats seahorses face in their natural environment, but, sadly, there are many more. Research other threats to seahorses, and then determine what YOU can do to help.
Monday, May 18: Let’s Get Excited About Eels!
Eels belong to the order Anguilliformes, within this order there are about eight hundred species of freshwater and saltwater eels! At the aquarium of Niagara, we have a Tessalata Moray eel, which lives in saltwater, and an American Eel, which lives in freshwater.
Let’s talk about what makes an eel an eel.
Freshwater eels are usually greenish, yellowish-brown, or black with a white belly and a continuous fin that stretches down the back and around the tip of its tail to its belly. Moray eels vary in colors they can be black, brown, yellow, green, blue, orange, and white! All these colors can occur as spots, stripes, or any other pattern. Moray eels also have a continuous fin just like the freshwater eel. Eels generally have long, narrow bodies with a long dorsal and anal fin. Their backbone is made up of over one hundred vertebrae, this makes them very flexible! This flexibility helps the eels to move through the water using undulatory locomotion. This type of locomotion is characterized by wave-like movements that help to move an animal forward and is usually used by animals who lack limbs.
Freshwater eels can be found in a diverse number of habitats like streams, rivers, and muddy bottomed lakes, while saltwater eels live in the ocean, in coastal bays, and estuaries. Eels are bottom dwellers and due to their snake-like bodies they can hide in a variety of places including burrows, tubes, plants, and other objects that can be used as protection. Another way they protect themselves from predators and parasites is to produce a slippery mucus that covers their entire body.
The American Eel is nocturnal, swimming and eating at night. They feed on insects, fish, fish eggs, crabs, worms, and dead animal matter found in the water. Tessalata Moray Eels are nocturnal as well and feed on fish, mollusks, crabs, and many other hard-shelled invertebrates. One unique characteristic of the Moray Eel is its second jaw in their throat. The second jaw has teeth that point backwards to prevent their prey from escaping their mouth.
Did you know that freshwater eels can go from freshwater to saltwater and back again? When adult eels are ready to reproduce, they go out into the Atlantic Ocean to spawn. After fertilization, the eggs float to the ocean surface and hatch into small, transparent larvae that resemble a willow leaf. The larvae drift along until they eventually reach the Atlantic coast, this takes about a year. By the time they have reached the coast, the larvae will have developed fins and be the shape of an adult eel. During this time, these juveniles are called glass eels because they are transparent. Next the glass eels migrate to brackish waters where they develop the grey or greenish brown coloration. They are called elvers during this time. The next stage is where they become yellow eels, while in this stage they become nocturnal and finds homes in freshwater. It can take anywhere from three to forty years for the yellow eel to reach maturity. The last stage is when they become silver eels. During this time, it is decided if the eel becomes male or female. Population density, eel growth rate, and water salinity can all effect this. They then return to the ocean to spawn!
Moray Eels have a little less complex of a life cycle. The male and female spawn releasing the eggs. Once the egg has hatched, they form a larvae, which also looks like a little leaf, and float in the ocean for about eight months. Then they swim down as elvers to begin life in the reef where they eventually become a moray eel.
Eels are fascinating animals to learn from! Unfortunately, there are some eel species who are endangered. The American Eel is endangered due to overfishing and migration barriers, like dams, invasive species, pollution, and climate change. To help keep this species around for many years’ conservation efforts are taking place. Migration barriers are being removed and eel passes are being installed to help eels move upstream over barriers. A small way you can help is by picking up trash laying around on the ground. It may not seem like a big thing but in the long run it will make a big difference!
- 4-6 Gummy Worms
- 3 Tbsp Baking Soda
- ½ cup Vinegar
- 1 cup Water
- Clear Glass or Plastic Cup
- Small Dish or Paper Bowl
1. Cut several gummy worms lengthwise 4 times with scissors (to expose the sticky part).
2. In a glass, mix the water and the baking soda.
3. Add the gummy worms to the baking soda mixture and mix.
4. Let the gummy worms sit in the baking soda mixture for 10-15 minutes.
5. Move the gummy worms with a fork to a small dish.
6. Pour the ½ cup of vinegar into the empty glass and begin to add the gummy worms one at a time.
7. Watch as the gummy worms move just like eels!
8. If you want to do the experiment again, you can reuse the worms! Using a strainer, wash the worms off with water and start over again.
1. How does having one continuous fin help eels move?
2. Why do you think Moray Eels can be so many different colors?
3. Can you brainstorm some other ways we can help to keep these eel species around for a long time?
4. What would happen if you cut the worms into smaller sections?
5. If you redid the experiment a few times, you may have noticed your worms were starting to dissolve. Why did this happen?
Wednesday, May 20: Penguin Courtship
Penguins are well known for their strong pair bonds, and our Humboldt penguins are no exception!
When a Humboldt penguin reaches adulthood around 2-3 years of age, it begins its search for a mate using a variety of techniques. Vocalizations, called brays, along with body postures will help a penguin to attract a mate.
Once a pair is bonded, they will continue to strengthen their relationship through courtship displays. Some of these displays include braying, head shaking, wing slapping, mutual preening (or grooming), and building a nest together. This not only helps the mated pair, but also shows other members of the colony that they are mates as well. The pair will begin breeding between the ages of 3-6 years old.
While penguins hold a strong bond with their mate, they do not make very good neighbors. They will use loud, excited calls to warn others if they get too close to themselves, their nest, or their mate! They may also use short contact calls, to locate their mate or their chicks in large, crowded colonies.
Penguins form strong monogamous bonds, meaning they will have a mate for life. At the Aquarium, we have some pairs who have been together for many years. Out in their natural habitat, they will also form strong, lasting bonds with their mate. The pair will stay together throughout the breeding season, but may separate during other times of the year. If a penguin pair does not meet up during the next breeding season, they will begin the search again for a new mate.
Be sure to follow us on social media for updates on our Humboldt penguin chicks as they continue to grow very quickly. Please take part in the activities provided to learn how penguins, birds, and other animals communicate without words!
Penguins cannot talk, so to communicate they use many vocal and visual displays. Some reasons they communicate is to establish nesting territories, mating information, mate and chick recognition, and defense against intruders. During this activity you will learn how animals communicate without the use of words and facial expressions.
Communicating Without Words
- Slips of paper with different emotions written on the
- Index cards
- Provided sonograms
- Audio files
- Pair up with a member of your household and sit or stand with your backs to one another. Do not let your partner see your cards.
- One at a time try to convey the emotion on your card only using syllables, like ba or da.
- The partner who is listening to the message will write down on their index card what they think the message is and why.
- Do this several times before you reveal what the messages/emotions were.
- What were some ways you varied your voice to communicate?
- Next, listen to the audio file the Aquarium has provided:
- Draw how you would represent the sound if you wanted to visually see it. (Using an X and Y axis may help)
- Share it with your partner
- Did they draw it the same or different?
- Lastly, look at the sonograms we have provided.
- Can you match the sonogram to the recording? On the line provided under the sonograms write which sound you think corresponds to the correct sonogram.
1. How did a higher pitch call appear on the sonogram? How about a lower pitch?
2. Sit outside and listen to animal sounds around you. Can you determine the meaning behind these?
Friday, May 22: The Residents of Lake Ontario
Have you ever looked at a fish’s mouth and compared it to another fish? Fish mouth shape and location is all based on where they live in the water. Most fish mouths fall into three general types: superior, terminal, and inferior. Today we are going to discuss three different fish in Lake Ontario with these mouth types.
Inferior Mouth Positions
Inferior mouth positions are located under the fish’s head and are adapted for scavenging or grazing algae, invertebrates, or mollusks. Bottom feeding fish generally have this mouth position. At the Aquarium of Niagara, the Lake Sturgeon exhibits this mouth position. The Lake Sturgeon is the oldest and largest native species in the Great Lakes. This fish can measure six and half feet and weigh close to two hundred pounds. Their mouths act like a vacuum hose and sucks the prey from the lake and river bottoms. Their diet consists of small invertebrates, snails, claims, and leeches. This fish was once abundant in the Great Lakes ecosystem, but overfishing has decreased its numbers.
Terminal Mouth Positions
A good number of fish in Lake Ontario have a terminal mouth shape. The mouth opens at the furthest point of their head, with a position set in the middle of the top and bottom of their head. This position is considered the “normal” position and most fish who inhabit the middle levels of the lake possess this mouth type. These fish either chase their food or feed on what is ahead of them. The American Eel in the Aquariums Lake Ontario exhibit has a terminal mouth position. This snake-shaped eel can grow up to five feet in length and feeds on worms, small fish, clams, and crustaceans.
Superior Mouth Positions
Superior mouths are orientated upwards, and the lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw, acting like a scoop. Usually fish with this mouth type feed at the surface. These fish lie in wait for prey to appear above them and then strike from below. Many fish with a superior mouth feed largely on insects, however, some fish with this mouth type will feed on other fish swimming near the surface. The Rudd is one of the many fish found in Lake Ontario with a superior mouth shape. This is a stocky, deep-bodied fish with a forked tail, and the mouth has an angled overhanging lower lip. Rudd’s can grow up to nineteen inches in length and feed mostly on macroinvertebrates, zooplankton, and the occasional small fish. Rudd are invasive to the Great Lakes.
An invasive species is an alien species whose introduction causes economic or environmental harm. Young Rudd compete with native species for habitat and food, such as algae and small invertebrates. This leads to a decrease in native fish species. We can help keep invasive species out of our lakes by fishing using native bait, volunteering to help remove invasive species in your area, and reporting any invasive species you come across!
There is a diverse number of fish found in Lake Ontario that exhibit these different mouth types. All these fish’s mouths are specialized for their needs in their habitat. Take a look at the activity below, see if you can identify which mouth position each of these fish have!
Using the three mouth positions described above, try to match them to the correct fish!
In honor of Memorial Day, we’re taking a day off from the at-home activities. Instead, please enjoy this special, patriotic sea lion show. Thank you to all of our servicemembers, veterans, and military families for your service and sacrifice. We can’t wait to welcome you back to the Aquarium soon.
Wednesday, May 27: Behind The Scenes of An Exhibit Upgrade
Here at the Aquarium of Niagara, our aquarists are hard at work refurbishing, or redoing, the Symbiosis exhibit. This exhibit is home to our Clownfish, Pajama Cardinalfish, and the Bubbletip Anemones. Today we are going to discuss why an exhibit would need to be redone and what the steps are to completely redo an exhibit.
There are many reasons to redo an exhibit, including:
· We may need to change the exhibit to mimic their natural environment. As the animals themselves change and grow, their environment needs to change with them.
· Some aquariums have been around since we opened in the 1960s, which means their life support systems (LSS) are equally old. Once the aquarists have the ability and resources to upgrade their LSS they can improve maintenance and improve water quality.
· The exhibit could have an invasive species outbreak, which is the case for why we are redoing the exhibit at the Aquarium.
While our Symbiosis exhibit is home to the Bubbletip anemone, a different type of anemone known as the Majanao anemone was recently discovered in the exhibit. This anemone reproduces quickly, took over the entire exhibit, and was outcompeting the Bubbletip anemones for space. The Majanao anemone is an invasive species! If you can recall from past activities, an invasive species is a species that is not native to a specific location and causes damage to the environment.
Now let’s walk through the steps our aquarists at the Aquarium take when redoing this exhibit:
1. It is decided if they would like to keep the same animals. In the case of our Symbiosis exhibit, we do. When redoing an exhibit, all the animals need to be moved to a separate space, so our aquarists set up a holding area for them.
2. After all the animals are removed from the system, it is super chlorinated, meaning they soak everything in a strong chlorine solution. It is then neutralized with another solution, because even low levels of chlorine can harm or destroy aquatic organisms, and rinsed down with freshwater. They repeat this process several times to make sure the Majanao Anemone is eradicated.
3. Next, all the rocks and substrate are removed and discarded in case some of the invasive species still survived and are clinging to these surfaces.
4. Redoing the inside of the exhibit often allows our aquarists a perfect opportunity to re-work the LSS. This is the case with the Symbiosis exhibit, giving the animals more room within the space.
5. Next up is to design the exhibits décor. Substrate will be added, and base rock will be stacked according to the needs of the animals. In this case anemones like to have open spaces to flow in the current and cardinal fish are shy fish so they need hiding spaces.
6. Water is added to the exhibit. Before the LSS is turned on, aquarists check the rocks to make sure they are stable.
7. The LSS is turned on and goes through a cycling process. This is when bacteria can colonize within the exhibit to help the system stay healthy. This is a long process and may take up to six weeks.
8. Animals can be added during the cycling process. Aquarists will continue with regular water changes and keep an eye on the water quality to ensure the system is healthy.
Redoing an exhibit is a lengthy process. Not only does it take quite a while, it also takes a creative mind! Our aquarists do their research and find what our animals need in their environment to keep them stress-free.
Download this activity sheet to see if you have what it takes to redo an area in your home.
Friday, May 29: Animal Rehabilitation
Imagine you are walking along the beach, it is deserted, and the sun is going down. You look down the beach and notice a little blip, it’s not moving so you just think it is a rock. As you get closer the blip becomes the outline of a sea lion. The sea lion is not moving but it is breathing. Is it okay? Does it need help? What can you do to help? Sometimes animals just want to rest on the beach, it is hard to tell whether they need help. Today you will learn about the rehabilitation process and how long an animal would need to stay at a rehabilitation center.
The goal of wildlife rehabilitation is to provide professional care to sick, injured, and orphaned wild animals so that they can return to their natural habitat. Wildlife rehabilitation is important for many reasons! One reason is it helps to promote ecosystem health. Every species plays a role in its ecosystem and that helps the whole ecosystem work. An example is a prey animal like a rabbit and a predator animal like a Red-tailed Hawks. By being rehabilitated the injured or ill animals can return to their ecosystem to continue their roles.
Disease monitoring is another important reason rehabilitation is essential. Wildlife rehabilitators may be the first to know about a disease outbreak because the animals with the disease were brought to them for care. This is important especially for diseases that can be transferred to humans, like rabies or West Nile Virus.
The rehabilitation process starts when a rescuer or volunteer brings an animal to a rehabilitation center. Or when someone calls in a stranded or sick animal. Some conditions are not recognizable, so the staff preform a physical exam. During this examination they are looking for signs of shock, dehydration, fractures and other injuries, infections, evidence of parasites, neurological damage, or bone disease. Blood analysis, to rule out infections, fecal or blood smear exam, to look for parasites, and x-rays are also performed during the physical exam. Next the animals are given the proper treatment, depending on what the staff discovered during the physical exam. If the animal is dehydrated, they are given fluids, if they are emaciated, they are tube fed. The staff will also suture stitches, stabilize fractures, and perform surgery, if it is necessary, during this time.
The severity of the injuries will determine how long the animal will need to be cared for. Some animals can be released within twenty-four hours, like animals who simply need fluids. Animals who have minor injuries or infections are kept at the rehabilitations center for several weeks prior to being released. If an animal has had an intense surgery, it will need to be monitored and kept at the rehabilitation center for several months.
Before an animal can be released, the animal is assessed to ensure they can survive in their natural environment. The animal must be in good physical condition and have the necessary skills to survive. When it has been determined they are okay to be released, the staff will take them to their appropriate habitat. In some states the animals must be released within three miles of where they were found, so they are near their home range.
Unfortunately, not all animals taken to a rehabilitation center are able to be released back into their natural environment. Some animals are badly injured and recovery and release into the natural world is impossible. If this is the case, some animals are relocated to an aquarium, zoo, or other learning facility! Here at the Aquarium of Niagara, all our seals and sea lions are unable to be released back into the natural environment and have a permanent home with us! In the activity below, you read through examples of animal rehabilitation stories to learn more about the process and better understand the time it may take animals to heal from injuries.
Then, using the information provided, answer the questions about the two seals we have at the Aquarium of Niagara!
1. Animals are not the only ones who get sick or injured. Discuss with a member of your household, a time when you got very sick or injured. What steps were taken to help you get better? How long did it take?
2. Why do you think we it is important to try to release all the animals taken into a rehabilitation center?
3. What do you think would happen if we did not release the animals close to where they were rescued?
4. Research some animal rehabilitation centers around you. What kind of animals to they take in? What is their rehabilitation process?
5. Do you think all animals that are brought to the rehabilitation centers are able to heal and recover? How might rescuers or rehabilitation workers handle animals with injuries or illnesses too severe to save them?
Monday, June 1: Talking Turtles
Here at the Aquarium of Niagara, we have two resident turtles named Maggie and Mortisha. The turtles go on outreach programs and act as ambassadors for their species. Maggie is a Florida Cooter and Mortisha is a Red-Eared Slider. Today you will learn the difference between the two species and why it is important to do your research before having a turtle as a pet.
Pseudemys floridana, or the Florida Cooter, are found throughout the southeastern coastal plains and prefer permanent waters with soft sandy bottoms like ponds, lakes, swamps, marshes, and slow-moving rivers. These turtles are opportunistic feeders, this means they are not picky and will eat generally anything. They will feed on aquatic vegetation and aquatic invertebrates. Florida Cooters are a larger turtle ranging from seven to ten inches (20-30 cm) in length and weigh between eight and eleven pounds (4-5 kilograms). The carapace, or top of shell, is a dark brown with a yellow or orange pattern and the plastron, or bottom of shell, has no markings. There are yellowish orange stripes on their head. River Cooters are known to live for an average of about twenty years. The staff at the Aquarium believe Maggie is about thirty years old!
Trachemys scripta elegansi, or the Red-eared Slider, are found throughout the Midwest and into West Virginia. Their preferred habitat, like the Florida Cooter, is lakes, ponds, marshes, and slow-moving rivers. Like the Cooter, these turtles are opportunistic feeders, unlike the Florida Cooter, Red-eared Sliders eat differently based on their age! Juveniles are mainly carnivorous, as they get older and reach adulthood, they slowly become more and more omnivorous. They can reach a size up to twelve inches (30 cm) in length and weigh up to six pounds (3 kilograms)! Red-eared Sliders get their name from the patch of red located behind each eye. The carapace of this turtle is yellow or olive green with a fine yellow pattern that slowly disappears as the turtle ages. Sliders can live to be about twenty to thirty years old!
Even though these two turtles are different species, they go through a similar life cycle. Males and females reproduce, the females lay the eggs in a hole in the sand or soil on elevated ground. After the female has laid the eggs, she covers them up and heads back to the water. Neither parent provides care for the hatched turtles. Once the eggs have hatched, the baby turtles head for the water. In the water they begin their lives and mature into adult turtles and start the cycle all over again.
In their natural environment, turtles can live up to twenty years, whereas turtles under human care can live a lot longer. This is because the turtles do not have the added stress of finding their own food and getting away from predators. Pet owners can also closely monitor their turtle and take it to a vet for all its medical needs. Since turtles can live for so long, they sometimes get left to family members in their wills!
In previous topics we talked about invasive species. These are animals who are not native to a specific location and causes damage to the environment. The Red-eared Slider is an invasive species to New York. One of the reasons is because people released them into the environment when they were no longer able to care for them. To help with this issue, it is very important to find a home for your turtle when you are no longer able to take care of it. If you are interested in getting a turtle, make sure you do your research and are ready for the many years you will have with your turtle!
Download this worksheet to go through the life cycle of a turtle. Label each step and check your answers above.
1. Why are Maggie and Mortisha used at the Aquarium as ambassador animals for their species?
2. Why do you think the turtles have yellow stripes on their heads or on their shells?
3. Think about what you have learned from past at home activities, why is it important to not release pets into the natural environment?
Wednesday, June 3: Blown Away By Balloonfish
Here at the Aquarium of Niagara we have many different fish species. One of those unique species is the Balloonfish. Today you are going to learn about some interesting adaptations this fish has in order to survive in its environment.
If you recall from past activities, an adaptation is a behavior or trait that help an animal survive in their natural environment. One adaptation is the unique shape of the balloonfish. Some have described it as a football with a tail! They have very robust bodies with small anal and dorsal fins, which help the fish to navigate at slow speeds. Their faces are flat except for their lips, which protrude out due to their large, fused, front teeth that form a beak-like mouth. Their eyes are large and set far forward on their head. The irises are yellow with iridescent blue-green specks within the pupil. This iridescence helps balloonfish hunt at night for snails, sea urchins, and hermit crabs.
Their coloration is another adaptation. The color of the balloonfish varies from tan to light brown with dark brown splotches all over its body, including one right above and below each eye. These colors help the adult balloonfish camouflage in coral and rocky reefs and mangroves. When they are juveniles, this species lives in open water, like the Sargasso Sea. There, they camouflage themselves in the seagrass floating at the surface.
The most distinctive characteristic of the Balloonfish is the sharp spines. These spines are actually modified scales and will stick out when the fish inflates. The purpose of inflation is to defend itself against predators. They can triple their body size by pumping water or air into their stomach. For this to be possible they have a very flexible stomach, which has lost its digestive function. Instead of their stomachs absorbing most of the nutrients, the partially digested food moves to the intestine where it is digested further, and the nutrients are absorbed into the body.
Male White Puffer Balloonfish are known for their nesting instinct. During breeding season, males create a nest to lure the females. Using their bodies, they create peaks and valleys in the sandy bottom around a circle of smooth sand. Watch this video to see this fish in action!
Another cool adaptation some balloonfish species have is a chemical called tetrodotoxin. This chemical is found in the internal organs of the fish. Pufferfish, who belong to the same order as balloonfish, have more tetrodotoxin than balloonfish. Because of this, balloonfish are more commonly consumed by predators. Due to the small amounts of toxins in balloonfish, they are not commonly consumed by people. They are however, used in Eastern medicines and found in tourist shops, puffed up and preserved. They are also a common fish to have in an aquarium because of their uniqueness. Due to this, they are caught in nets and sold in the pet trade.
Balloonfish are incredible fish, from their iridescent eyes to the way the males design their nest! See if you can create your own nest just like a male balloonfish by downloading this worksheet.
Friday, June 5: Missing Link — Pinnipeds
When visiting the Aquarium, not very many people think about why an animal looks a certain way. Why do pinnipeds have flippers? Or why can’t penguins fly? After watching the sea lion show, let’s dive into how researchers believe sea lions evolved!
It is believed the species in the pinniped family, the seals, sea lions, and walruses, once walked on four legs! A fossil was recently discovered in the Canadian Arctic with four legs and webbed feet. This new species, named Puijila darwini, is thought to be the missing link in pinniped evolution. The land to sea transition was difficult to study because there was hardly any fossil evidence until now!
Present day pinnipeds have flippers. This limb adaptation is well-suited for gliding through the water in search for prey. Charles Darwin, himself, predicted the land to sea transition as “a strictly terrestrial animal, by occasionally hunting for food in shallow water, then in streams or lakes, might at last be converted in an animal so thoroughly aquatic as to brace the open ocean.” In simple terms, some species went into the water so often to get food, they eventually evolved flippers to help them swim to their food. Until Puijila’s discovery, the oldest known pinniped had flippers.
Puijila was a four-legged animal who was about four feet (43 inches) from tip of their nose to the tip of their tail. It was well adapted to swimming in the water with its webbed feet and long streamlined body. With its large teeth, short snout, and powerful jaws, it most likely hunted in the water as well as on land.
This fossil is not a direct ancestor of modern seals, meaning they branched off in the evolutionary path that led to modern pinnipeds. They do, however, have a common ancestor because they retain some of the same features a direct ancestor would have. It is still being discussed where Puijila fits in the pinniped family tree.
In the description we talked about how Puijila is not a direct ancestor of modern-day seals. How do researchers know this? They most likely created a cladogram!
For this activity you will create a cladogram to show the evolutionary relationship between organisms. Download this worksheet to continue!
Monday, June 8: World Oceans Day
Today is World Ocean Day! To get a better understanding of a problem our oceans are facing, we will be discussing trash in the ocean. You will dive into how it gets there, what animals are affected by it, and what you can do to help keep our waters clean.
Nonpoint vs. Point Source
Pollution is a big problem in aquatic ecosystems. How does it get there? Most pollution in marine environments comes from the land as a result of runoff. This is called nonpoint source pollution and includes an abundance of small sources, like septic tanks, cars or trucks, and boats. It also includes large sources, like farms, forest areas, landfills, and vehicle motor oil from parking lots and roads. Another pollutant people do not normally think of, is soil. Top soil, or silt, from fields or construction sites can run off into waterways, this could harm fish and wildlife habitats. Point source is a type of pollution that comes from a single source, like an oil spill or untreated sewage spill. These large spills often have a large impact, fortunately they do not occur as often.
Many aquatic animals and their habitats are affected negatively due to pollution. While all pollution is harmful, plastic is the most damaging pollutant in the ocean. It harms nearly all forms of life, destroys habitats, and affects animals’ mating rituals, which can wipe out an entire species! Animals can become trapped in plastic, they can mistake it for food, or they could just be swimming along and accidentally swallow it while breathing. Plastic is not a digestible substance. When animals swallow it, it sits in their stomach and animals oftentimes starve due to their stomach being full of plastic. Chemicals present in plastic have even been found to be entering the food chain, endangering the animals that are part of it, including humans!
So, what can you do to help? Ocean pollution is something that occurs at various levels, and we can all do our part to reduce the amount of pollution in the ocean. One HUGE thing we can all do is limit the amount of single use plastics we use daily. Instead of getting plastic grocery bags at the store, bring your own cloth bags. These are far more durable and are less likely to break anyways. If you like to use straws, try reusable ones; they come in many fun colors and materials. When it is impossible to avoid using plastics, do your best to use the least amount of it, look for ways to reuse it, and as a last resort, recycle it. Every piece of plastic you avoid using is one less pollutant in the ocean, possibly harming our marine animals.
Recently, an increasing pollutant in oceans are face masks. These have become a huge part of our lives, a necessity. These masks are nonpoint source pollution! Many are not being disposed of properly, blowing around in the wind and eventually make their way to the ocean. You can help limit the number of masks in the ocean by helping to pick them up when you come across them laying around. Remember to only touch them if you have gloves on or immediately wash your hands after touching one and do not touch your face.
The ocean is a magical place! We can all help each other to keep our oceans beautiful and safe for the marine animals living there. Leading scientists around the world have determined that we need to protect at least 30% of out planet by 2030. Sign this petition to urge our world leaders to take action and show your support with a social media sticker! Together we can!
During this activity you will understand how easily marine debris is mistaken for food and ingested by marine animals.
- Vanilla pudding (1 cup per person)
- Blue food dye
- Gummy bears (6-8 per person)
- Gummy worms (2 per person)
- Container for each person (small paper bowl works)
- Optional: raisins or dried cranberries (spoonful)
- Optional: Non-food items (leaves, driftwood)
- Optional: sprinkles or nerds (spoonful)
- Scoop the pudding into individual bowls for each participant and add 2-3 drops of blue food dye to turn the pudding blue like the ocean.
- Rinse and keep the pudding cups for a fun upcycling craft!
- Cut or tear gummy worms into quarters and put 6-8 quarters into each pudding ocean
- Put the same number of gummy bears into each pudding ocean
- Add a spoonful of raisins or cranberries to each bowl and mix all the contents
Instructions: Eat like a sea turtle!
1, Try to eat all the gummy worms (jellyfish)
2. Place an ocean pudding bowl, spoon, and napkin in front of each participant.
3. Make sure the participants refrain from eating any pieces until after the game.
4. Participants are going to be given 20 seconds to collect as much food as they can from their pudding ocean.
5. You can only pull food out one by one using the spoon and placing it on the napkin as you go. Reminder: do not eat anything yet!
6. Start the 20 second feeding period!
7. Once the 20 seconds is up have the kids look at what they collected.
- How many gummy bears and worms did you collect?
- How many Raisins/Cranberries did you collect?
8. Do another 20 second feeding period, this time tell the participants that the gummy worm pieces are actually plastic and should be avoided.
9. Have the participants try to only collect the gummy bears. After the 20 seconds is up, have the participants go through what they have collected again.
- Did you collect more plastic than your actual food?
- Was it harder to search for food now that you knew to avoid the plastic pieces
- Did you collect fewer pieces overall? If so, why?
10. Optional: add a spoonful of sprinkles or nerds to each bowl and mix. This new item is microplastic pieces.
11. Do another 20 second feeding period, now they must avoid the plastic and microplastic pieces.
12. After the 20 seconds is up, have the participants count the number of items collected: food, plastics, and microplastics.
- Did you accidentally collect microplastic pieces?
13. Now the game is over, and the participants can finally eat their ocean.
1. How might ingesting plastics affect marine animals like sea birds, who often ingest large amounts of plastic pieces?
2. Does marine debris only affect natural environments? Does it ever become a problem for humans?
3. How else can you help keep plastic out of the ocean?
Wednesday, June 10: Remoras — The Ocean’s Hitchhikers
The word remora in Latin means “delay”. It was believed long ago that the remora fish would attach themselves to the bottoms of ships and boats and slow them down. This fish is now most often spotted hitching rides from sharks! Today let us discuss how these fascinating fish can attach themselves to other animals and what kind of relationship they have.
How do they attach to other animals?
Remoras are known as suckerfish or shark-suckers since they are commonly found attached to the bottom of sharks. These fish can swim on their own but benefit from attaching themselves to other animals. They attach by using an organ that sits like a suction cup on the top of their head. The latest research shows that this suction cup, which is a modified dorsal fine, is lined with tiny barbs that create friction between the two surfaces. This organ can securely fasten to animals for long periods of time, attach to different types of surfaces/animals, and release quickly without harming the surface/animal.
How do they benefit?
The relationship between remoras and sharks is beneficial for both species. Remoras eat scraps of prey dropped by the shark. They will also feed on the parasites found on the shark’s skin and in its mouth! This benefits the sharks because the parasites would otherwise hurt or irritate the sharks. The remora also receives protection from predators when attached and hitching a ride. Some studies have shown that shark behaviors change when remoras are present. Some sharks have been documented slowing down to allow remoras to attach themselves.
What kind of relationship is this?
The relationship between the remora and the shark they are attached to is a symbiotic relationship. The definition of symbiosis is a close and long-term biological interaction between two different organisms. Symbiosis can be obligatory, which is when one or both depend on each other for survival, or facultative, when they generally live independently. In the case of the remora and the shark, their relationship is classified as conjunctive symbiosis, because their bodies are joined.
Remora have adapted over time to be able to suction cup themselves to animals! Even though they look a little funny you now know there is a purpose to it!
Download this worksheet and try to distinguish between the different types of ‘suckers’ the animals have. What do you think their purpose is?
Friday, June 12: The Aquarium Turns 55 — Looking at Our Legacy
On June 12, 1965, the Aquarium of Niagara opened as a privately-owned corporation. This corporation included a small group of chemists and scientists with a goal of running an inland aquarium using a brand new formula for artificial seawater. As today marks our 55th anniversary, we will be discussing what this artificial seawater is and how it has made such a difference in aquariums around the world.
Why is this saltwater a big deal? The Aquarium was the first facility to use artificial seawater to maintain marine life. This was the first time this technology was used on a large scale, being prepared, handled, and managed for big aquarium systems. The seawater formula tested here is now known as Instant Ocean and is used in a lot of aquariums around the world!
Now you are probably asking yourself, what is so special about synthetic sea water? Why do you need it- can’t you just go to the ocean and get that water for aquariums? It is much easier and cheaper to make artificial saltwater than to transport ocean water, especially if the facility is far away from the ocean, like we are. Saltwater from the ocean is also full of bacteria, algae, and other microorganisms that we do not want brought into our aquarium systems, as this could make our animals sick.
The artificial saltwater used at the Aquarium is a lot different from saltwater you may make at home. Table salt is simply sodium chloride, just one of the ingredients used in artificial seawater. If you have ever been to the ocean, and accidentally swallowed seawater, it tastes very different! Not only are there different salts, but other minerals and trace elements. The list shown here includes the different kinds of salt that goes into artificial saltwater:
Each one of the salts added to the seawater has a purpose. For example:
· Magnesium sulfate and sodium bicarbonate are minerals that increases magnesium levels and are essential for calcification. This is good for coral, algae, and invertebrates.
· Calcium chloride is important to help maintain calcium levels, keeping water chemistry stable, and resulting in better coral, algae, and invertebrate growth.
Not only are there many different types of salt that go into the making of artificial saltwater, there is a specific formula, or recipe, to follow in order to get it perfect. The Aquarium of Niagara is proud to have been the first aquarium to utilize artificial seawater so other aquariums around the world could benefit from using Instant Ocean too!
For this activity, help us celebrate by identifying 5 plants and 5 animals/insects outside your home.
Download this worksheet, then go outside and observe your surroundings. While you are looking around, choose 5 plants and 5 animals to investigate. Examine leaves, look under rocks, check out the flowers, and look up in the tree branches. If you have binoculars or a magnifying lens, use those to get a closer look at what you are observing.
Use the lines on your worksheet to list what plants and animals you have observed.
- Click here for a list of plants found in Western New York
- Click here for a list of insects found in Western New York
- Click here for a list of birds found in Western New York
- Click here for a list of animals found in Western New York
Plants and animals who live in Western New York have different needs than those who live in Aquariums, this does not make them any less unique. Hopefully with this activity, you can continue to observe the plants and animals surrounding you throughout your days and use it as a reminder that all plants and animals are special.
1. Where do all the different salts, minerals, and elements found in ocean water come from?
2. Why is ocean water so salty compared to lakes and rivers?
3. If we transported seawater to the aquarium, a large tanker truck may carry 9,000 gallons on one trip. Our Main Pool for the sea lions holds 100,000 gallons. How many trucks would be needed to fill this exhibit?
4. Did you identify any plants or animals you did not know about?
5. How easy was it to identify the plants and animals?
6. Would this be a fun hobby to continue.
Monday, June 15: Prehistoric Penguins
Penguins are birds that have been around for a very long time and have gone through some changes over their history. There are also many species of penguins in the natural environment today, eighteen to be exact. Today let’s discuss giant prehistoric penguins and the adaptations involved in separating penguins from other birds!
A long time ago there was a penguin the size of a human! Researchers estimate that it weighed about 220 pounds (100 kilograms) and was about 6 feet tall (2 meters).
This prehistoric penguin swam off the coast of New Zealand between fifty-five and sixty million years ago. This is only about five to six million years after the dinosaurs were wiped out. Researchers have named this new species Kumimanu biceae, which means ‘monster bird’. This new species shows us penguins evolved to be big early in their history, likely as a result of their close ties to the ocean. These penguins were also occupying the seas well before whales entered the oceans. Scientists believe giant penguins eventually became extinct because whales, walruses, and seals came into the picture, leaving us with the smaller, cuter penguins we see today. Even though this prehistoric penguin lived a long time ago, it was still classified as a bird.
Penguins vs. Other Birds
All birds are vertebrates, have lungs to breath air, are warm-blooded, lay eggs, have feathers, and wings. Since penguins are birds, they have all of these, but they have been modified through the evolutionary process to help the penguins live in their environments. Evolution is the process all life goes through for developing adaptations to their changing environments and can result in altered genes, traits, and new species. Through this process, penguins’ wings gradually became flippers, which are used by penguins to swim. Their feathers are relatively short and stiff compared to other birds’ feathers, and overlap closely to form a thick, smooth layer that traps air beneath and provides insulation from the cold water. All penguins have these types of feathers, no matter where they live within the Southern Hemisphere.
Penguins are birds who have gone through the evolutionary process to better adapt to their environments. Kumimanu biceae, the prehistoric penguin proved penguins went through this process! Penguins used to be big because they had few to no predators and their environment allowed it. As soon as bigger animals evolved, penguins became smaller to survive longer in their new environments. The prehistoric penguin mentioned above is not the only fossil researchers have found. See if you can do your own research and find another prehistoric penguin!
Let’s explore bird beaks.
During this activity you will explore bird beaks in relation to their food source.
- • Eyedropper
- 1 set of chopsticks
- 1 tweezer
- 1 set of tongs
- 1 straw
- 1 spoon with holes
- Turkey Baster
- Tall vase
- 2 Plastic bowls
- Water with food coloring
- Gummy worms
- Popped popcorn
- Fill the vase with your food colored water.
- Fill a plastic bowl with oatmeal and place 4 gummy worms in the oatmeal and then cover gummy worms with oatmeal.
- Fill the other plastic bowl with water and pour some cereal on top
After each challenge answer these two questions:
- Which beak matched with the food source?
- • Can you identify a bird that has that beak shape?
Challenge number 1:
The vase with the food colored water is your food source. You have seven beaks in front of you. Your challenge is to find out which beak makes it the easiest to get to the water.
Challenge number 2:
The plastic bowl with gummy worms is now your food source. Using those same seven beaks, find out which beak makes it easy to ‘dig’ for the gummy worms. 3.
Challenge number 3:
The plastic bowl filled with cereal is your food source. Using the seven beaks, find out which beak makes it easy to ‘scoop’ out the cereal.
1. We talked about how penguins went through the evolutionary process to help them move easier in the ocean, how else do you think penguins adapted to their environments?
2. Why do you think penguins who live in warm environments are smaller than those who live in colder environments?
3. Why do you think penguins don’t live in the Northern Hemisphere?
4. Why do you think the giant prehistoric penguins went extinct when whales and marine mammals started showing up in the oceans?
Wednesday, June 17: It’s The Anniversary of Mia’s Rescue!
June 17th is the anniversary of the day that our sea lion named Mia was rescued off the coast of California. She was very sick and malnourished and suffered from pneumonia and seizures. Just a week after being at the rescue center, Mia gave birth to her pup, Isabel.
How do mother sea lions take care of their young?
Female sea lions are great mothers to their young. Here at the Aquarium of Niagara, we are lucky to have a mother and daughter California Sea Lion pair. Today we will cover what makes sea lions such great parents.
During breeding season, females gather in groups called rookeries. This is where they breed and raise their pups. The total gestation period lasts about 11-11.5 months. Scientists believe that California sea lions have delayed implantation, where the embryo remains in dormancy for about three months before it continues with development. This allows the pup to be born when environmental conditions are optimal for its survival. Most pups along the North American coast are born in June, whereas pups who are born in the Galapagos are born throughout most of the year, due to the year-round warm, tropical climate. Females will generally give birth to one pup each year. Multiple births are possible, and it has been documented in zoos and aquariums.
Once the pups are born, they are about 2.5 feet (0.76 meters) in length and weigh about 13 lbs (6 kg). They are born with their eyes open and can vocalize. Within thirty minutes they can groom, scratch, and walk! The pups can even swim, but, as you would expect, they are not very coordinated in the beginning.
Care of the Young
After a few days with her newborn pup, the mother sea lion leaves the pup alone to forage out at sea. This is important for her to do so she can replenish her energy reserves and continue to nurse and care for the newborn. For the first couple of months, the mother’s milk contains 32% fat, 9% protein, and 0.6% lactose, or milk sugar. The fat content increases to about 44% by the fourth month while the protein and lactose stays the same. The fat content is much higher in pinnipeds, so the pups grow much faster. In humans, breastmilk only has 4.5% fat and the milk we drink ranges from 1% – 3.25%. Parents tend to give their children milk with a higher fat content if they are not growing as fast! Mother sea lions nurse their young for six to twelve months, although some females have been documented nursing yearlings. After only two months, pups begin to eat fish in addition to nursing.
Sea lion mothers are very protective of their pups for the first two to four days. They are very territorial and aggressive towards other females who venture too close. Females and pups recognize each other through many different behaviors. For example, when a female returns from foraging, she will vocalize repeatedly. More than one pup may respond, so she identifies her own pup by smelling it.
Pup Development and Growth
At only two- or three-weeks old pups begin to group together. These groups help them develop vocal, social, and swimming skills by interacting with each other. They are also watching the adults carefully because the pups learn by mimicking the adult sea lion behaviors. After about fourteen months of the pup staying in the social groups with other pups and mimicking the adult, the pup leaves its mom and becomes independent.
Research has been done on California sea lions in zoo and aquarium habitats to see if mother and baby recognize each other later in life. The research suggested that mothers and juveniles do in fact recognize each other after weaning and might continue to hang out with each other. This means that Mia likely knows that Isabel is her pup!
Download this worksheet to demonstrate what you’ve learned about how sea lions rear their young.
1. How does having a higher fat content help a pup grow faster?
2. We talk about how the female sea lion leaves to go forage for food. Why does the time she is gone get longer and longer as the pup gets older?
3. Why is it important for the pup to be born with its eyes and be able to vocalize? What do you think happens if they are unable to do one or the other?
4. Is there anything you learned from watching the adults around you?
5. Why do sea lions have to grow up faster than humans?
Friday, June 19: Meet the Fish & Invertebrates of M&T Bank Shark & Ray Bay
The sharks and sting rays may be the stars of our soon-to-open exhibit, but they’re not the only ones who will call the touch pool home! There will also be at least four different species of fish, horseshoe crabs, and a king conch! The exhibit will mimic a real-life mangrove forest habitat like the ones you’d find along the coast of Florida.
There are many cool habitats that can be found throughout the world. One of the most unique and full of life is the mangrove forest.
A mangrove forest consists of a group of trees and shrubs that grow in tropical coastal intertidal zones. There are around eighty different mangrove tree species that make up most of the plant life found in these forests. All these trees grow in areas with low-oxygen soil, where slow-moving water allows fine sediment to gather. Mangrove trees are recognized by their dense tangle of prop roots, which make the trees look like they are “walking” on water. This root system allows the trees to handle rise and fall of tides that happen daily.
Mangrove forests are important to people! They help to prevent erosion and stabilize coastal ecosystems and provide protection to nearby buildings by absorbing storm impacts during extreme weather events like hurricanes. The complex root systems also filter nitrates, phosphates and other pollutants from the water. This, in turn, improves water quality so the water that eventually makes its way to the ocean environment is cleaner. Mangrove forests also capture large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. These gases are trapped and stored in the mangroves carbon-rich soil; this trapped gas is known as “blue carbon” because it is stored under the water.
Not only are mangroves important to people, they are vital to animals, too. Mangrove forests provide habitat and refuge to many kinds of wildlife like birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals, and other plant species. The roots of the mangrove trees are often used as a spawning and nursery habitat for juvenile marine species such as shrimp, crabs, snook, and tarpon. Red mangroves are particularly utilized by oysters, which attach to the roots that are either hanging in the water or attached to the ground. The tree branches are used as rookeries, or nesting sites, for coastal wading birds such as herons and roseate spoonbills. Many endangered species utilize mangrove forests during some stage of their life cycle, such as Smalltooth sawfish, manatees, Hawksbill sea turtles, and Florida panthers.
Unfortunately, mangrove forests are under threat. Human impacts such as water pollution from herbicides and development can lead to loss of these habitats. The demand for ocean-front property and views usually leads to the removal of mangroves, causing not only the loss of habitat but also the loss of the storm protection. When mangrove forests are cleared and destroyed, they release large amounts of the blue carbon they store in the soil, contributing to climate change.
Fortunately, many organizations around the world are restoring natural mangrove forest habitats. This will help support endangered species and keep pollutants out of our oceans. Mangrove forests also support ecotourism with activities such as birding, fishing, snorkeling, and kayaking. While we may live far away from a mangrove forest, that does not mean you cannot get outside and enjoy our own special habitats. So, soak up some sun while you enjoy the calm relaxation that comes from enjoying nature.
In the description we talked about how mangroves filter out pollutants. Mangroves are trees and trees are plants! In this activity you will create three different wetlands in three different bottles. The first will just be soil, the second will be soil, leaves, rocks, and sticks, and the last milk jug will have soil and grass that you grow. You will then determine which wetland filters water better! Let’s get started.
- 3 pop bottles, any size, empty and clean
- 3 coffee filters
- 3 strong rubber bands
- Leaves and sticks
- Grass seeds
- Measuring cup
1. Take the cap off each pop bottle and then cut the bottles in half.
2. On the first pop bottle, place a coffee filter over the tip of the bottle and secure it with a rubber band. For the second bottle, fold the coffee filter in half and place over the tip and secure with a rubber band. Lastly fold a coffee filter in fourths and place over the last bottle and secure with a rubber band.
3. Next place the top of the pop bottle inside the bottom of the bottle, as shown.
4. Label the bottles 1 – 3 with a marker
5. In bottle one, fill with soil.
6. Fill bottle 2 with a layer of soil then on top off that with a layer of sticks, rocks, and leaves.
7. For bottle 3, fill with soil, spread a small layer of grass seeds over top, and cover with more soil.
8. Place bottle 3 in the sun and wait a couple weeks for your grass to grow, watering often.
9. Once the grass is about 3 inches long, using a measuring cup, pour 1 cup, for smaller sized bottle, or 2 cups, for larger sized bottle, of water over each wetland.
9a. Based on the clarity of the water, which wetland filtered the water better?
1. In the discussion we talked about how the mangrove prop roots keep soil from eroding. How do they do this?
2. There was a long list of animals who utilize mangroves. Do some research and find another animal who lives in mangrove forests.
3. What is one way you can help protect mangrove forests?
4. Do you think the coffee filters used in the activity helped filter the water? What could the coffee filters replicate out in the natural environment?
5. Why do you think the wetland that filtered the clearest water was able to filter so much better?
Monday, June 22: Talking Tube Feet — Adaptations of Seastars & Sea Urchins
Echinoderm is Greek for spiny skin and includes sea stars, sea urchins, feather stars, brittle stars, and sea cucumbers. All these animals are found in the ocean in a variety of habitats from intertidal zones to the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean. Let’s talk about a special adaptation they have- tube feet!
Some echinoderms, like sea stars, have outstanding regeneration powers. Sea stars will often loose arms to predators. Brittle sea stars can drop arms or part of an arm, allowing them to escape predators. The arm they have dropped continues to wiggle to divert the attention of the predator. When they regenerate these lost arms, an important internal structure is the water vascular system that operates their tube feet.
A water vascular system is essentially a system of fluid-filled canals that extend along each of the body regions and have many projections called tube feet. This system has many functions, including using water pressure to move and help in feeding. It also carries out respiratory, excretory, and circulatory functions within the animals.
All echinoderms have tube feet, including sea urchins! So, how do they help them move? When the muscles of the ampullae contract, which are thin-walled cylinders shaped like muscular bulbs, water is forced into the suckered podia at the end of the ampullae. As the podia stretches, they use their suckers to attach to a surface. This results in a slow but very powerful form of movement. The extended tube feet of sea urchins, can create small waves of water to bring food towards their mouths to assist in collecting food.
There are many species of echinoderms in the ocean, the ones discussed today barely scratch the surface! Check out this video of a sea star and this video of a sea urchin to see the tube feet in action. If these animals’ interest you, find out more by researching them online and watching more videos showing how they move. There are many more amazing adaptations found among this group of animals!
For this activity, download this worksheet with the outlines of a seastar and sea urchin. Do some research on what sea stars and sea urchins look like on the bottom. Using the two outlines provided, draw what you think your own urchin or sea star would look like. How would it get around?
1. What other animals have feet like sea stars and sea urchins? Are they similar?
2. Do you think sea stars and urchins can attach to any surface? Why or why not?
3. If you did some research on these animals, what was one fact that really caught your attention?
4. For the activity, did you put the tube feet somewhere else? Why?
Wednesday, June 24: Meet Our Penguin Chicks!
So far, our At-Home Activities have covered Humboldt penguin breeding, weights, enrichment, diet, threats, and penguin courtship. Today, let’s discuss the weight of a Humboldt penguin chick as it matures into an adult. The penguin chicks at the Aquarium of Niagara are very cute, but how do we know if they are healthy?
Humboldt chicks only weigh a few ounces after they hatch. The chicks are fed daily, with the adults leaving the colony in the morning and returning later that day with food. As the chick gets larger, the adults increase their time spent foraging to provide more food for the growing chick. In a facility like the Aquarium of Niagara, it is important to closely monitor a chick’s weight for the first ninety days. Records are kept to provide food consumption rates as well growth rate. A gain of 10-14% in body weight is ideal in the early stages of development.
To determine the growth weight of a chick, three values are needed. The first is the weight of the chick in the morning before any feedings, the second is the difference in weight found when measuring a chick before and after a feeding, and lastly the change or loss in weight between each feeding throughout a single day. By getting the chick’s weight on a current day and the previous day’s weight, the percentage value of how much the chick has gained over a period of 24 hours can be calculated. This will let keepers know if the chicks are in the 10-14% range.
In an ideal situation, the parents feed the chicks for about three months, or until the chicks fledges. After this the chicks are on their own to hunt for their own food. In zoos and aquariums, it is important to closely monitor the chick’s growth as well as the parents feeding to ensure the chick grows properly. If needed, the chicks are hand fed by the keepers to supplement parent feedings. In the natural environment, the chicks must learn to hunt for their own food, this could mean a drop in their weight due to the trial and error of learning to hunt.
There are still many things to learn about Humboldt penguin chicks. Our staff at the Aquarium of Niagara do a fantastic job of taking care of the penguin chicks to ensure a long life. Make sure when you take a trip to the Aquarium, you check out the chicks!
Download this worksheet to map Alpha and Beta’s weights on a chart and compare their growth.
Friday, June 26: Darkness Dwellers
Did you know there is a whole array of animals who prefer to live in the dark? These animals have special adaptations to help in their dark environments. At the Aquarium of Niagara, these nocturnal fish are oftentimes overlooked! In order to thrive in the dark, nocturnal marine fish have developed certain adaptations to find food, get around, and avoid predators.
To get around in their dark environment, some fish, like the blind cavefish that no longer have eyes, use their very sensitive lateral line. This specialized organ found in all fish consists of a canal system under the skin along each side of the fish’s body. Each canal is lined with special receptors, which are very sensitive to vibrations and water currents, working as an extended sense of touch. This helps the cavefish detect obstacles and find food.
For diurnal fish, or fish who are active during the day, it is easy to hunt for their food visually. Nocturnal fish rely on other senses to help them. Some marine animals have antenna, a strong sense of smell, release chemicals, or have really big eyes. At the Aquarium we have a nocturnal fish, called the squirrelfish, whose big eyes absorb more light in their dark environment. Fish’s eyes, just like our, have cones and rods lining the inside. Cones detect color and rods detect light. Larger eyes mean larger rods to detect light!
When it comes to avoiding predators, nocturnal fish are excellent at it! Most nocturnal fish are a color that cannot be detected in the dark, like red or lack a color in general, like the cavefish. Squirrel fish scare off predators and communicate with each other by making a variety of clicking and grunting noises with their swim bladders! The cavefish secrete a mucus on their skin that not only protects them from getting infections but also makes them slippery and difficult for predators to catch.
There is a whole world in the dark! At the Aquarium of Niagara, we have many other animals who are more active at night. Next time you come to the aquarium, be sure to check them out!
Download this worksheet. Then use the outline of the fish on the last page to create your own nocturnal fish! Use markers, crayons, glitter, feathers, or tissue paper to add adaptations to the fish that will help it survive at night. Once you have created your fish, use the space below to explain why you gave your fish those adaptations.
Can you help?
As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the Aquarium of Niagara relies on ticket sales, programs, events and donations to operate. Even though we are closed, we are still committed to providing the exemplary standard of animal care that earned us accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. But as you can imagine, this closure will have a significant impact on our overall operating budget. Please consider a donation to assist us in the care of our animals and team members. Your support is more critical now than it has been in our nearly 55 years operating as an Aquarium.