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See Living Fossils
at the Tennessee Aquarium

(August 2, 1999) - "T-Rex, Back to the Cretaceous" brings dinosaurs to life on the IMAX®3D screen, but you can also get a look at some prehistoric creatures right across the street from the theater at the Tennessee Aquarium.

Alligator snapping turtle:
  • The earliest fossil records of the alligator snapping turtle are from the Miocene Epoch.
  • Few animals look more dinosaur-like than the alligator snapping turtle, because of their sheer size and short thick necks supporting large heads covered with branching, fleshy projections.
  • Alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles in North America. Found only in rivers and streams that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, the average adult weighs from 35-150 pounds, but may grow to more than 250 pounds.
  • To catch fish, these turtles hold their mouths open and wiggle a small, pink, lure-like appendage at passing fish. Once the fish sees the lure and tries to eat it, the turtle snaps its powerful hooked jaws shut and gobbles up dinner.
  • Alligator snapping turtles may live more than 100 year
  • See alligator snapping turtles in the Delta Country gallery.

  • Sturgeon swim today practically unchanged from the way they were when T-Rex roamed the earth.

  • Sturgeon feed by sucking in their food-which consists mostly of snails, insect larvae, crustaceans and small fish-through their toothless, fleshy-lipped mouths.
  • Every sturgeon species has a fine-grained hide with few scales, an upturned, shark-like tail fin, a mouth set well back on the underside of the head, and a skeleton made mostly of cartilage. Each sturgeon has widely separated rows of heavy guard scales called scutes and four barbel feelers that look like a beard and hang below the head to help locate food.
  • See sturgeon in the Volga River and St. Lawrence River exhibits of the Rivers of the World gallery, and in the Reelfoot lake exhibit of the Tennessee River gallery.

  • Paddlefish are one of the oldest types of living bony fish on the planet, with known fossil remains dating back to the Cretaceous Period.
  • These large, freshwater fish are found mostly in the Mississippi River System. They are also called spoonbill or duckbill fish for their flattened, paddle-shaped snouts, which may be a third of the length of their bodies. The paddle is a sensory-laden feature that stabilizes the fish as it swims with its large mouth open to find and filter food particles from the water.
  • Valued as a food fish, paddlefish eggs are increasingly mixed with those of the sturgeon for high-grade caviar. Its nickname is the Chattanooga Beluga.
  • See paddlefish in the Reelfoot Lake exhibit in the Tennessee River gallery.

  • Unlike bony fish, shark skeletons consist of cartilage. Their skin is covered with denticles, tooth-like scales, and they have 5-7 gill slits per side, not one per side like bony fish.
  • See bonnethead sharks in the Gulf of Mexico exhibit.

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is the largest freshwater aquarium in the world. Built with private contributions, this non-profit educational organization is dedicated to the understanding, conservation and celebration of aquatic habitats. Admission is $10.95 per adult and $5.95 per child, ages 3-12. Advance tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. Members enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits. To join or for program and trip information, call 267-FISH. The Aquarium is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas and is accessible to people with disabilities. The Aquarium's TDD number is (423) 265-4498, and FM assistive listening devices are available on site. For more information, call 1-800-262-0695.


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