Introducing Our Peacock Mantis Shrimp
On Monday morning, May 2, the Lab welcomed its first addition for our upcoming new biology exhibit! A Peacock Mantis Shrimp (scientific name Odontoactylus scyllarus) is now being housed temporarily in the Garage while we prepare its future home for unveiling this summer. Until then, you can see this animal while it is quarantined. Quarantining an animal is always a good practice so that you can observe whether it has any illnesses or injuries which will need time to heal. While in quarantine, we try not to introduce any new animals to the quarantine tank so that we can isolate any issues to the original animal. If we do detect an illness or injury, we can ensure that it is limited to one animal and take precautions to treat if needed. Animals are not always quarantined on their own, though, we try not to introduce new animals while we observe them to prevent anything new from being introduced into the system.
Quarantining our animals also allows us to ensure that their future exhibits are fully matured. We consider an aquarium to be mature and able to house animals once it is fully colonized by billions of bacteria – yes, bacteria! Bacteria is very important in life processes and our bodies are filled with them as is the air, soil, and water around us. Bacteria can be harmful but most bacteria is very beneficial to us and does not pose a threat until it colonizes the wrong places. Many forms of bacteria rely on nitrogen to survive and just like in the air, the nitrogen cycle exists in water.
What exactly is the nitrogen cycle? It’s how nitrogen is used in the environment around us. As animals gain nutrition through feeding, they are also producing waste that takes the form of ammonia (NH4+). Ammonia is also produced when organic materials decompose and decay. This ammonia is toxic to most organisms and can burn respiratory tissue such as our lungs or gills in a fish. Some organisms, however, such as the aforementioned bacteria, thrive on consuming ammonia for their life processes. These bacteria, called Nitrosomonas Bacteria, convert the ammonia into nitrite (NO2-). Nitrite is not quite as toxic as ammonia, but it can prevent blood from carrying oxygen, so it poses a major threat to animals as it can asphyxiate them, or deprive them of the oxygen they need to survive. Never fear, however, because this is where Nitrobacter comes in. This type of bacteria thrives off of consuming nitrites and converts them over into nitrates (NO3-). Although they can be harmful in large concentrations, most organisms can tolerate nitrates fairly well in lower doses. Nitrates are also relied upon by plants and algae (producers) as a food source so once a tank starts to grow algae, this means that there are nitrates in it for the algae to consume. Algae is then eaten by other animals (consumers) and the nitrogen that was originally consumed has now completed the circle and is back into the animal and can be passed along the food chain once again. This process takes anywhere from 30-90 days or more to complete so we have already begun the process off-site to ensure that we provide a safe and healthy atmosphere for our animals when they are moved in.
As we quarantine our animals and wait for the nitrogen cycle to become mature in some of our future exhibits, you’ll be able to visit our Peacock Mantis Shrimp at the Lab and periodically attend pop-up demonstrations where we describe the animal and some of the features that make it truly unique in the animal kingdom. You’ll also get a chance to see more animals as the quarantine process simply means that we don’t mix in new animals with existing ones so some that are being quarantined off-site will be moved into the Lab to await their new homes.
—- Dave Lin, Director of Lab Operations
Next Up: More on the Magnificent Mantis Shrimp!