Friday, April 27, 2012


A large pink shrimp in our crustacean holding system

People are probably more familiar with the steamed, spiced version of shrimp rather than with any of the three live penaeid shrimp species: brown, pink, and white shrimp. They are difficult to distinguish, even to the trained eye, but can be distinguished by color (not very reliably), or the presence (or absence) and length of grooves along the back of the shell. They can get surprisingly large - over 10"- and are quite beautiful to observe. In addition to their striking color variations and antennae that can reach over a foot long, they are active and graceful swimmers.
A grass shrimp in our holding system eats a bit of fish gel

Their much smaller cousin, the grass shrimp is very common in this area. They can be found amongst vegetation in the shallows of all of our local rivers in from near fresh water to full salt. They are an extremely important forage species for almost every near-shore fish species and many shore birds as well. And there are yet more species of shrimps less common but no less interesting, such as the sand shrimp, snapping shrimp, mantis shrimp (look up a YouTube video for them!) rock shrimp, arrow shrimp, etc. Without going Forrest Gump on you here, the point is there are many shrimp species in our area that inhabit very specific niches.
Shrimp have complex eyes that are sensitive to light making them active at night

We intend to showcase as many species as possible in a new exhibit in our world of darkness gallery. We have several species in holding now and hope to be able to procure many more. I believe you will find them fascinating to watch (they are always busy doing something) and attractive as well. Look for them by the end of May!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

VLM/CNU/Duke Trip

This April 6th - 8th, aquarist Sarah Peake and I accompanied Dr.Brown's Marine Ecology class from CNU to the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, North Carolina. They go for a fun and hopefully experience an educational field trip; we go to provide some expertise when needed and to collect live specimens for their lab session.
Sarah prepares the wet lab for specimens

The first day was too windy to trawl aboard the Susan B Hudson, so the class instead went to the mud flats adjacent to the lab to pull a small seine net, sift through the sediment, poke around in the marsh grass and generally have some fun. It was a little cool (and windy) but they did a good job of finding some specimens. Sarah and I were also able to find some colorful sea whips to decorate our sea horse exhibit; we added these to the students' collections and set them all up in the flow through wet lab. Afterwards everybody got cleaned up settled in our dorm-rooms at the lab.
The Susan B Hudson 

Thankfully, the next day was much calmer and warmer. After a behind the scenes tour of the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, conducted by my friend and colleague Curator Brian Dorn, we all met at the docks for a half day of trawling and dredging. Sarah assisted the first mate pulling the trawl and dredge and after each tow, also helped me identify the animals we caught for the students and collect a few samples of each specimen to be held temporarily in the wet lab. We all enjoyed the time in the sun aboard the vessel and the peaceful ride back to the docks.
The sea always inspires deep thoughts in Sarah

The students await the contents of the trawl

Sarah and I released all the specimens after they had been successfully identified, classified and recorded by the class; they ranged from a smooth butterfly ray to sea spiders to margined sea stars - and of course our sea whips. The Duke trip has become somewhat of a tradition which the VLM staff always enjoy and hopefully the students and professors do as well. And on the last day Sarah finally got to see the famous wild horses of Shackelford Banks! Can't wait until next year!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jillian Swinford: My experience as VLM Aquarium Intern

My name is Jillian Swinford and I volunteer at the Virginia Living Museum as an Aquarist Assistant.  I currently go to school at Christopher Newport University and am majoring in Environmental Biology with the hopes to go into Marine Biology, somehow, and the VLM has been a good place to start.  I had been volunteering for half a year at the touch tank when the opportunity arose for me to work behind the scenes in aquariums, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Most of the tasks I do involve cleaning tanks and feeding the animals, as well as doing water chem, but now I am determined to either get in one of the exhibits or go out collecting, which I think I should be able to do both soon. Hopefully. My favorite thing to do here is attempt to feed the turtle, however, he/she isn't always the easiest to work with and sometimes we get annoyed with each other. I also love to go and feed the seahorses...they are always so adorable.  Probably one of the coolest experiences I've had here was when I got to go release some flounder at Yorktown beach...I hope to have more of those experiences or go out collecting.  I am glad that I have had this opportunity and have learned so much, and I am coming back next semester (and the rest of next year) to work again. I know, crazy, however, it's probably one of my favorite parts about being down here during the school year! I mean, how many other people can tell their friends that the feed a shark and a turtle on a weekly basis?

Jillian with Sea urchin
Jillian with various cleaning supplies