is a real scream
at the Tennessee Aquarium
creepy crawlies are more treat than trick
Tenn. - "Oh my gosh!" a teenager screams as she spots a hairy
Goliath birdeater tarantula next to a giant Peruvian centipede,
roommates in sturdy steel tanks fit for a classic Houdini
escape. Nearby, a woman shivers as a menacing cottonmouth
gapes from beneath a rickety shack in the lifelike Cajun exhibit.
Behind her, a man has just noticed the stonefish with its
warty camouflage and bulging eyes. "Look at the size of that
mouth!" he gasps, staring at what is widely considered the
world's most venomous fish.
Want to be spooked this Halloween? Then forget the monster
masks and killer costumes and head to the Tennessee Aquarium
for a taste of the real thing. VENOM: Striking Beauties, the
Aquarium's newest changing exhibit, features some of the world's
largest, deadliest and most exotic creatures - nearly 50 different
species in all.
Enter the vaulted, venomous chamber and be greeted by the
deceptively delicate lionfish, whose long, sharp spines cause
intense pain, swelling and even paralysis. Move on to a jewel
box of blue, green and golden poison-dart frogs, some standing
sentry like tiny porcelain statues, others hopping around
like Mexican jumping beans. Observe long legged bullet ants
- they can deliver a sting 30 times more powerful than bees
- as they parade in an eerie march in their layered tunnels.
And, if you dare, come face to fang with some of the world's
most venomous snakes - the agile black mamba, aggressive death
adder and legendary green mamba. While you're here, watch
the high-energy sea kraits whip around in a frenzied underwater
dance. Feel the hairs stand up on your arms as the thick-bodied
gaboon viper rouses from sleep and, lifting its arrow-shaped
head, bares a set of deadly two-inch fangs, the longest of
any snake in the world.
And there's more, including:
* The velvety-textured terciopelo, which has earned the distinction
of biting more people than any other snake in the jungles
of Latin America;
* The beautiful eyelash viper, easily recognized by the raised
scales over its eyes and a tendency to lunge at its prey;
* The Eastern coral snake, whose fatal bite can be deceiving,
causing only minimal pain and swelling - at first.
It's hard not to be scared by these things that go bump in
the night. Maybe it's the sheer size, or the prickly appearance,
or all the slithering, creeping and crawling. Perhaps it's
because they lurk in burrows, under rocks or beneath mushroom-shaped
coral, waiting for their unsuspecting prey. Or maybe it's
the magic, mystery and folklore surrounding these lovely but
Don't worry, though - the black widow spiders, Gila monsters
and Emperor scorpions are locked up tight in the VENOM gallery.
A number of precautions have been taken, from the use of industrial
locks and escape-proof surfaces to the purchase of powerful,
and expensive, antidotes in case of a bite. The exhibits are
tightly sealed during visitor hours, and only a limited number
of herpetologists (snake experts) have access to the venomous
Their killer reputations, however, are often undeserved. In
fact, says Dave Collins, the Aquarium's curator of forests,
most venomous animals would rather bluff than bite.
"Many of these creatures are nocturnal," Collins points out.
"They may attack if you surprise them but they are not out
to get you.
"The single most important thing to consider is that the animal
did not adapt venom as an offensive weapon," he adds. "And
most of them did not adapt it as a defensive weapon. It serves
two roles: to immobilize the prey without risking injury to
the feeding animal, and especially for snakes, to use as a
Color slides available upon request.
Striking Beauties will be on display at the Tennessee Aquarium
until January 2002. 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 $11.95 per person and $6.50
per child, ages 3-12. Members enjoy unlimited visits and other
benefits. To join or for program or trip information, call
267-FISH. The Aquarium is open every day except Thanksgiving
and Christmas and is accessible to people with disabilities.
For more information, call 1-800-262-0695.