For the past two days, my work has revolved around food and turtles. Yesterday, I got to stay for the archer fish, electric eel, and piranha feed shows; although I didn’t get to help feed, I got to observe how these animals ate, which was a lot of fun, because they eat in such different ways. For example, to feed the piranhas, they dangle pieces of fish from a rod, and the piranhas swarm the food and take small bites until it’s gone. The archer fish eat by shooting bursts of water at their prey to knock it into the water. Normally, they shoot small insects of off mangrove roots, but at the aquarium, they stick pieces of fish on the window, and the archer fish will knock the food into the water, and eat it. Also, in the wild, archer fish will take turns shooting and eating. One group will shoot the food into the water, and the other group will eat. They rotate until every fish has had an opportunity to eat, and they mimicked this behavior at the aquarium. They were constantly switching positions so that every fish had an opportunity to eat. My favorite, though, was the electric eel. The electric eel is basically blind, and emits small electric pulses to navigate through the tank, similar to a bat and echolocation. The aquarium set up a sensor to the tank that allows the electric pulses to be heard as a buzzing, zapping noise, and the stronger the electric pulse, the louder the noise. Since the eel is basically blind, the feeder could put the food right in front of the eel, and the eel won’t notice anything at all. However, if you put the food against the eel’s side, it will go berserk. The eel wants to make sure that what it’s about to eat is really dead, so it will discharge approximately 500 V of electricity to make sure that the food is dead, and safe to eat. Obviously, the food we give them is already dead, but it’s pretty spectacular to see (and hear) the electric eel discharge the electricity, and eat its prey. Although you can’t see the electricity from the eel, the eel will convulse a little bit due to the electricity.
Today, I had to prepare greens, which is the food for the iguanas, and consists of collard greens, mustard leaves, turnip greens, and green beans. I know, not very exciting, but I also got to observe some of the food prep for the larger fish. The larger fish eat a mixture of shrimp, krill, mackerel, and smelt, which is a small freshwater fish. I asked my supervisors how they know how much to give each animal, and they base it off of research and experimentation, which is what I thought. They research how much food the animal typically eats, and then adjust it based on how much the animal ate, increasing the amount if the animal was still hungry, and if it did not eat all of the food given to it, they would decrease the amount. I also learned that all the food is mixed with a small amount of Zoe, which is a solution of phytoplankton, and it serves as vitamins for the animals.
Yesterday, as I was cleaning the albino turtle tank, I noticed clumps of red on the rocks, and I thought it looked like blood. When my supervisor came by to feed the turtle, I asked them if it was, in fact, blood. It was, and it turns out that the turtle had torn a couple of its claws on the rocks, and the wound wasn’t able to heal because it kept climbing all over the rocks. My boss took the turtle out of the cage, wiped the blood off, and put it in a plastic bucket behind the scenes, where it wouldn’t be in danger of ripping its claws again. Within a day, it was back to normal, and they were able to put it on exhibit again. Today, another turtle, from the turtle pond, got bit on the tail, and had to be taken off exhibit. This turtle is going to be off of exhibit for a while, because there’s quite a bit of skin missing, and the wound smells pretty nasty. My boss, who was the one who found it, has been treating it with a topical medicine called Betadine, which will help with infection. I think it’s really cool that the workers are able to treat minor wounds, because that is the kind of work I want to do, and its nice to know that I can work with and treat animals without necessarily going to vet school first.