Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Field Trip: Homeschool Day at TN Aquarium

This year we are going to be taking some field trips for school. I didn't really do any last year for Tommy, and since I am teaching all three kids this year, I thought it would be fun to plan some field trips. The Tennessee Aquarium holds a Homeschool Day every September for area Homeschoolers, so that is our first field trip.

We met up with some of our friends and began touring the Aquarium at 10 am - when the doors opened. They gave the kids a quiz to fill out and return at the end of the day so we headed down to begin our tour with the Sea Horses. We didn't make it that far though, because when we got to the bottom of the escalator, there were lots of animals on display in the new Ranger Rick showcase - so we had to stop there first.

The first animal we saw was the Eastern Box Turtle.Box Turtles have a high, dome-shaped carapace (top part of shell) and a hinged plastron (bottom part). The hinged bottom allows the turtle to completely close off its body to the outside - making it hard for another animal to eat it for supper. :)

The kids learned that turtles are vertebrates - and that anything you find in the wild with a spine, you should not take home as a pet. Bugs are ok to catch, but not turtles, frogs or lizards. Apparently, Tennessee has a law forbidding any wildlife from becoming a pet. So if you want to get a box turtle as a pet - you have to buy it from a breeder - not pick it up from your back yard.

This turtle was fascinated with Nikki and kept walking over to say hi. His keeper was very nervous about Nikki getting bit on the nose or something, so I backed her farther away from the table - even though she really wasn't that close.

The next animal encounter was the corn snake. She had milky colored eyes because she was getting ready to shed her skin. We learned that the snake starts to swell up with water just before she gets ready to shed her skin. When it's time to shed, she reabsorbs the water, and starts looking for something to scratch her nose on. The snake rubs her nose until the skin catches on something, then she slowly slides out of her skin, turning it inside out and she slithers out of it. It's kind of like when you pull off a tube sock from the top instead of from your toes.

The kids had fun touching her skin to see what she felt like. We learned that this corn snake wasn't as brightly colored because it was a wild corn snake - instead of a captive-bred snake that was bred for brighter colors.

After meeting the corn snake, we found a Leopard Gecko. This species of gecko stores fat in its tail in case of food shortages.

We also discovered that unlike most other geckos, leopard gecko's have little claws instead of sticky pads and eyelids that they can blink.

Our next encounter looked very snake-like. However, it wasn't a snake. It was a Legless Lizard. Legless Lizards are also known as Glass Lizards, because they can easily loose their tails when grabbed. When the tail breaks, it can break into several squirming parts. The animal’s predator will focus attention on the wiggling tail while the lizard escapes. The tail will grow back, but just not as long as the original! The tail makes up almost 2/3 of the lizards body.

You can tell the difference between the Glass Lizard and a snake because the lizard has eyelids over its eyes (a snake has scales) and it also has ear pits to hear with (a snake "hears" through vibrations on the ground).

We quickly toured the Sea Horse exhibit, then the Ranger Rick Bird show began. The first bird is the Worlds Smallest Toucan- the green aracari. His name is Squirt. His beak is considered a soft beak that’s used to grab fruit in the tropical rainforests of the aracari’s home. Apparently people used to think this bird was diving for fish in the water - but instead of fish, it was really fishing for the fruit that had dropped off the trees.

The second bird they brought out was the Rose Breasted Cockatoo. These birds can live a very long time - 20 to 40 years! They are also very smart birds and can quickly learn how to do certain behaviors. This bird was trained to pick up money from someone's hand and fly it back to the trainer. Then the bird took the money and a sticker back to the original person and flew back to the trainer. Very impressive since it didn't matter how far away the person was or where the person was in the room (we saw three different shows with this bird at various times throughout the day).

The last bird we encountered was the Easter Screech Owl. This is North America's smallest Owl. It is roughly the size of an extended Adult hand. Owls are able to fly very quietly through the forest to catch their prey. The Eastern Screech-Owl is known to eat a variety of songbirds, including the European Starling. Despite this fact, the starling regularly displaces the owl from nesting sites and takes over the hole to raise its own brood.

After the bird show, we headed up the escalator to continue our tour at the top of the Aquarium. However, because of the sheer number of people crowding to go up, I didn't pay attention to the fact that Nikki was standing backwards on the escalator and that her shoelace was untied. We got to the top, but she wasn't able to move because her shoe had gotten stuck. I tried to pull her, but she started crying - and I realized she was stuck in the escalator. People started piling up behind me and falling on top of me. I tried to push the off button on the escalator but I guess I didn't push hard enough. Someone tried to help me up but I quickly explained I was protecting my daughter from getting trampled and just needed the escalator to get turned off. I guess because of all the confusion, they didn't hear me, so the escalator kept going. Finally I was able to push the off button hard enough and the escalator stopped. I quickly took off Nikki's shoe and moved off the escalator so others could move off, then an employee grabbed her shoe for me. They checked to make sure she and I were both ok, which we both were - just a little shaken up - and then we continued on our way up to the third floor to continue our tour to see the Otters.

We made it to the Otter exhibit and then I noticed Tommy was missing! So I ran back towards the top of the escalator and he walked through the doors. He had seen Tom walking outside the Aquarium, so he had stayed behind to watch. I called Tom to let him know where we were and that I had already gotten a ticket for him. I guess I wasn't clear in which aquarium we were in, so when I got to the bottom of the River aquarium, he had left to go to the Ocean aquarium to meet us. We finally figured out how to find each other and Tom got to join us for the rest of our tour.

The girls had fun playing in the Sturgeon fish tank, but weren't able to touch any of them. Sturgeons are on the endangered species list, so the aquarium has a release program to help increase the numbers of sturgeon in the wild. We walked through the Delta Swamp and then through the Rivers of the World Gallery. We saw a Dwarf American Crocodile that grows to be 6 feet in length. Doesn't he look happy?

It was almost time for lunch, so we quickly finished up the River Aquarium and went outside for lunch. After lunch, we split up so Tom could take Tommy on a behind the scenes tour of the Aquariums with his friends. I took the girls through the Ocean Aquarium where we got to try to pet stingrays (none came close), catch butterflies (they all flew away) and watch the penguins. One of the penguins was having a great time "flying" through the water. I wish I had the camera, but I sent it with Tom and Tommy on the behind the scenes tour.

See that rock in the corner beside Tommy? He told me that's where they send the food out for all the fish in the shark tank.

Here is the tour guide explaining how volunteers put the food into the tubes and it gets flushed out into the big tank for all the fish. The fish know when its time to eat, so they gather at the end where the food gets washed out of tubes.

While the kids were learning all about how the food gets delivered to the fish, Mr. Oscar, the Green Sea Turtle, came to pay them a visit and check them out.

See that bowl shaped thing in the water?

It's to make ripples on the water to break the surface tension so people beneath won't have to see the ugly ceiling above the tank.

This a smaller tank next to the large tank where they put the new fish in to get acclimated in. When the fish gets used to the water, they open the gate between this small tank and the large tank so the fish can swim back and forth. When the fish spends more time outside in the large tank, they close the door between the tanks. The fish prefer the larger tank, so acclimation usually doesn't take too long.

These white barrels are the filters for each tank in the aquarium. Every tank (large and small) in the aquarium gets filtered here. The numbers on the green pipes indicate which tank the filter is filtering for.

The tour passed by the quarantine room where they keep the sick fish and animals until they are well again.

The final stop on the behind-the-scene tour was the kitchen where they learned about how the food was prepared and what food to give each fish or animal.

 And that is the end of our tour of the Aquarium. Have you taken your kids anywhere fun this year for school? Do you plan field trips or just spontaneously decide on a trip? 
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