Creepy Critter #3: Sand Tiger Shark

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Creepy Critter #3: Sand Tiger Shark

Dun, dun. Dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun. DUN, DUN, DUN, DUN, DUUUUN! Though no Great White, if seeing the protrusive teeth of a Sand Tiger Shark doesn’t start the JAWS theme song playing in your head, something is wrong. TSA Omni3

These decidedly ferocious-looking beasts boast a mouthful of terrifying teeth that are even visible when their mouths are shut. They can go through thousands of teeth in a lifetime, losing up to hundreds per year. And even with all those teeth, this predator still swallows its food whole!

Most Sand Tiger Sharks range in size from 6.5 up to 10.5 feet and they can weigh anywhere from 200 lbs to 350 lbs. And despite their intimidating size, they eat little, and can go for extensive periods without feeding.

The stealth hunter gets its name from its tendency to reside near shoreline habitats, and they are often seen trolling the ocean floor in the surf zone, very close to shore. They are found in warm or temperate waters throughout the world’s oceans, except the eastern Pacific. images

Something that sets the Sand Tiger Shark apart from other carnivorous fish is its ability to self adjust its buoyancy levels. The shark will break the surface of the ocean, gulp air, and then store the air in its stomach, allowing it to float motionless in the water. All the better to silently stalk prey… Hans

Though this species of shark has relatively plentiful numbers, they have a scarily low reproduction rate and are thus listen as threatened on the worldwide species list, meaning they are vulnerable to endangerment in the future.

Visit Hans, our very own Sand Tiger Shark, at the Islands of Steel exhibit this Saturday for Green Halloween and learn more spooky shark facts!

Creepy Critter #4: Green Moray Eel

Green Moray Eel
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Creepy Critter #4: Green Moray Eel

What’s green, slippery, slithery, looks slightly undead, and lurks under rocks in the ocean? Nope, not Frankenstein – we’re talking about the Green Moray Eel. Green Moray Eel

This creepy critter can be found anywhere from the western Atlantic Ocean, to Bermuda, the northern Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Brazil. Their sinuous, snake-like appearance ups their “ick” factor, but not as much as the fact that they’re actually covered in mucus does! It’s hard to believe, but these species – so known for their vibrant lime green color – is actually brown. The yellow tint of mucus that its body is coated in is yellow, thereby giving this spooky, serpentine creature its signature hue.

TSA Aquarist Rafael Calderon added another creepy fact to this animal’s repertoire of weirdness. “It’s kind of cool, even alien-like, but the Green Moray actually has two pairs of jaws, a primary and a pharyngeal, meaning it’s located deeper inside the eel’s throat,” he explains. “The first set of jaws grabs and holds the prey and the second sucks in the food and eats it whole.” That prey is normally fish, squid, shrimp, crab, and octopus. eel jaws

These incredibly successful predators can allegedly grow to be up to eight feet in length, and they come equipped with some seriously scary teeth. Curved and sharp, you can see them when the eels open and close their mouths every so often, something they do to breathe.  Although this behavior may appear threatening, the eel is actually taking in water to breathe. The water passes over its gills and exits through vent-like openings at the back of the creature’s head. 

“They don’t really play well with others, either,” says Calderon, “Green Morays are very territorial, and if they don’t like you in their space, or if you’re getting too close, they’ll let you know it.”

Another creepy fact via Calderon is that Green Morays love tight, enclosed spaces. No claustrophobia for these scale-less swimmers.

The Texas State Aquarium is home to three Green Moray eels, Russell, Scooter, and Houdini – come get a load of these alien-like fish this Saturday at Green Halloween!

Creepy Critter #5: Eurasian Eagle Owl

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Eurasian Owl graphic.fwEyes as big as half dollars and as yellow-orange as a harvest moon stare straight into yours, the intense gaze of the apex predator creeping into your soul…or at least that’s how some may feel. The long look a Eurasian Eagle Owl can give you is not one you’ll soon forget. 

These owls are native to Europe and Asia, and are among the biggest in the entire world – they can reportedly boast a six-and-a-half-foot wingspan! Within this impressive wingspan are serrated (like the teeth on a knife) wing feathers that enable the owl to glide almost silently through the night, stalking its prey – unbeknownst – from the sky. Jessica & Brutus

“It’s a really cool adaptation,” says Bird and Mammal Trainer Jessica Brown, “Also the soft, downy feathers underneath help absorb sound and any turbulence they encounter in the air, making them even quieter.”

 Eurasian Eagle Owls hunt using their silent flight, keen eyesight, and impeccable hearing. Brown says that like other species of owl, eagle owls have facial disks, or groups of feathers around their ears, that actually direct sounds toward their ears. Owls can raise these feathers slightly when on the hunt, enabling them to hear the rustle of a mouse in the grass, the flapping of feathers in the night, or the slithering of a snake in a tree branch. These sounds give away the location of prey animals, making it easy for these owls to swiftly swoop in to catch a meal – and their pointed, powerful talons can exert 500 pounds of PSI (pressure per inch)! Compared to the human hand’s 30 lbs of PSI, that’s scarily strong. “They normally hunt rodents like rabbits and rats, but they’ll also eat other raptors, and they can even take down small deer,” explains Brown.

The scariest thing about this creature, however, is its history. During the first half of the 20th century, Eurasian Eagle Owl numbers declined radically as humans over-hunted and nearly poisoned the whole population. Local European governments began increasing protective measures regarding the owls, and they are now back to a healthier number, though not as populous as they once were. Brutus

TSA’s resident Eurasian Eagle Owl, Brutus, will be one featured creature you can meet at Green Halloween this Saturday! 

In-Depth Info on Imping

Bamboo shoot in feather shaft
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TXAQ-rehab-logo
At the Texas State Aquarium, we pride ourselves on being at the intersection of science and saving animals. So, last week when our Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital staff learned a procedure and then successfully applied the technique to a Crested Caracara in their care and was able to release him back into the wild earlier than expected, we felt right at home in that intersection – thanks to imping.

Imping is a procedure wherein feathers are taken from a deceased bird and then transferred to a live bird so that the live bird’s feathers will molt feathers faster, thus replacing its broken feathers and bettering the bird’s chances of being able to fly again.

Second Chances staff already had heard of the procedure, and when the annual Raptor Research Foundation meeting took place in Corpus Christi recently, they utilized the opportunity to attend a workshop and perfect the procedure firsthand. The RRF is an international scientific society dedicated to accumulating and disseminating scientific information regarding raptors. 

Raptor Research Foundation Logo

Raptor Research Foundation Logo

Second Chances Veterinary Technician Laura Martinelli (she’s featured in our Crested Caracara release video) said she had been hopeful about the technique for a while for this particular bird, and Second Chances already had a donor bird from which to transfer the feathers.  The process involves binding together broken feather shafts to healthy, whole feathers with bamboo and an animal-friendly adhesive. Imping allows for birds with broken or clipped feathers to molt these false feathers faster, making way for new, healthy feathers to grow in. 

Veterinary staff studied the various steps involved in imping for a few months prior to attending the workshop. Laura explained that shaved bamboo shoots are inserted into feather shafts that anatomically match up with the same types of feathers on both birds, these are secured to the shaft with glue, and then left to molt out naturally. The procedure took around an hour and was extremely rewarding, said Laura. 

“It’s so cool when you have something like this that you study, practice, then actually do it and it works,” Laura commented, “Doing things like this is one of the best parts of my job.”

Our Second Chances hospital was called in early February by a local man who discovered the Crested Caracara, a vulture-like raptor, in a field near his home. The bird was on the ground and clearly unable to fly due to a multitude of clipped or broken feathers.

During the RRF conference, Second Chances staff was able to practice imping on supplied bird carcasses and then was excited and confident to perform the technique on the Crested Caracara.

The procedure was a huge success and all of the Texas State Aquarium was happy to be able to release the bird back into his natural habitat along Oso Creek, at the intersection of a winding creek and grassy marsh area, where our passion for science and animals came full circle.

To view the video from our Crested Caracara release, visit the following link: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152363956473015&set=vb.83477018014&type=2&theater

Stay tuned – our next blog post will feature information about animal enrichment and how your donations and contributions help support causes like our Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital!

Bamboo shoot in feather shaft

Bamboo shoot in feather shaft

Check Out October’s Creepy Current Webisode

TSA Current
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Be sure to check out the October webisode of the Aquarium’s monthly online television program, “The Current”, on YouTube.com.

This episode will include information about our Sensational Sustainable Seafood Lionfish Event, spooky Halloween-themed animal enrichment, a feature about Valero’s donation to the Aquarium’s Campaign Caribbean, and a video showcasing some of the birds we’ve released through our Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Center & Hospital. 

Be sure to subscribe to the Texas State Aquarium’s YouTube channel to get notification each time we post a new video or episode of “The Current.” And please share “The Current” with your friends!

Poison Dart Frog

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Poison Dart Frog#DidYouKnow unlike other frogs, the Poison Dart Frog does not swim.  If you look closely, you will notice that this frog does not have webbed toes. Another fun fact about poison dart frogs is that they are only poisonous when they ingest certain types of foods.

Here at the Texas State Aquarium, they are not poisonous, because of their diet.