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Groundhog Day Forecasts by Tennessee Aquarium Animals

1/26/2011 12:11:58 PM

Groundhog day celebrations shouldn't be limited to just woodchucks. Many of the Tennessee Aquarium's animals also have weather forecasting skills according to folklore. Meet Chattanooga Chuck and other weather predicting animals during February.

Grounhogs, like Chattanooga Chuck, aren't the only animals said to have weather predicting skills. Meet them at the Tennessee Aquarium throughout February.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                   Contact: Thom Benson 423-785-3007

Chattanooga Chuck Working On Groundhog Day Prediction
Aquarium Guests Introduced To Other Animal Forecasters In February

Chattanooga, Tenn. (January 26, 2011) – Predicting the weather is a difficult job, especially when the public is pretty much fed up with snow and cold. Fortunately Chattanooga Chuck, the Tennessee Aquarium’s groundhog, has a thick skin - or at least a thick coat of fur. He’s not sweating the long-range forecast yet.”Our groundhog is slowly coming out of hibernation right now,” said Aquarium senior educator Susie Grant.”So for the time being, he’s pretty laid back.” According to folklore, if the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2nd, six more weeks of winter are ahead. If Chuck’s shadow doesn’t make an appearance when he greets Aquarium visitors on Groundhog Day, he might get carried out of the building on the shoulders of guests relishing the thought of an early spring. Either way Chuck, as well as other groundhogs across the nation, will be celebrated for their fabled forecasts.

But many people don’t realize there are other weather predicting creatures living in the Groundhog’s shadow. Throughout February Aquarium visitors will be introduced to many of these Fintastic Folklore Forecasters during animal encounter programs and special keeper talks.

If Facebook or Twitter would have been around in the late 1800’s, Brigadier General William B. Hazen’s quest for weather proverbs would have gone viral. Hazen was a trendy weather guy writing, “The study of popular weather prognostics has been considered of such interest that much attention has been given this subject by European meteorologists.” The Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army received hundreds of letters from across the country detailing local tales about birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and other “beasts” with proverbs touting their predicting prowess. Hazen published the compilation in the 1883 book, Signal Service Notes IX – Weather Proverbs.

The Tennessee Aquarium’s two buildings are home to more than 10,000 animals, many of them are creatures mentioned in Hazen’s War Department report. So Aquarium biologists examined the proverbs associated with “beasts” they care for to see which ones had roots in scientific fact.

According to senior aquarist Rob Mottice, several of the old sayings relating to fish are behavioral responses to weather changes. "Barometric pressure changes create havoc for fishermen as fish adjust to rapid pressure changes associated with passing fronts," said Mottice. So the adage; "Fishermen in anger froth, when the wind is in the north; For fish bite the best, when the wind is in the west" makes sense as does, "When fish bite readily and swim near the surface, rain may be expected." Mottice says fish tend to feed on insects and other critters when the barometer is falling.

Other sayings related to fish forecasters have scientific explanations according to Mottice. One saying attributed to Chippewa Indians could be one of the better long-range predictions: "In the northern lakes of the United States white-fish and lake trout leave reefs for deep water one month earlier in stormy falls than in mild, calm falls, with little winds." Mottice said the conditions mentioned could easily trigger the observed behavior. "Temperature changes and turbidity, or visibility changes, upset the daily routines of the fish. They might find it harder to locate prey or change locations to avoid being preyed upon in murky waters."
 
Other species seen at the Tennessee Aquarium like cuttlefish, crabs, catfish and sharks were also mentioned as watery weather wizards. However, Mottice said some sayings like, "Skate jump in the direction that the next wind will come from" were rather fishy. "Skates and stingrays don't normally jump. They are bottom dwellers," he said.
 
Visitors really enjoy meeting creatures like barking geckos up close. But Aquarium educators like Grant say guests shouldn't plan their day according to the proverbs related to many of the species they meet during animal encounter programs. "It's unlikely that a barking gecko's call means a storm," said Grant. "They don't vocalize to broadcast a weather report." So place the proverb, "When lizards chirrup, it is a sure indication of rain" into the "not likely" category.
 
According to Kevin Calhoon, the Aquarium's assistant curator of forests, many of the avian proverbs are 'for the birds.' However, you might pay attention to the hyacinth macaws while you're in Ocean Journey. According to folklore, "Parrots and canaries dress their feathers and are wakeful the evening before a storm." Calhoon said that saying may have some merit. "All birds, whether macaws or penguins, preen to care for their feathers. But parrots might remain a bit uneasy before a storm in response to wind or pressure changes."
 
While observing various frogs in Discovery Hall, Aquarium visitors also might want to listen for a forecast. Dave Collins, the Aquarium's curator of forests, says there's a grain of truth to a couple of proverbs related to these amphibians. "Frogs are stimulated to call and become more active during periods of high humidity and rain," said Collins. "While individual frogs don't call more loudly, more rain can stimulate more frogs to call, making for a louder overall chorus." So place two more proverbs into the "weather fact" category: "Frogs croak more noisily, and come abroad in the evening in large numbers, before rain," and "The louder the frogs, the more's the rain."
 
So it seems as though Chattanooga Chuck may have some wiggle room in his forecast. If there’s more winter ahead, he could shift blame from his shadow to the huge catfish in the Lake Nickajack exhibit. According to folklore, “If the skin on the belly of the cat-fish is unusually thick, it indicates a cold winter.”

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Last year, Chattanooga Chuck was right on the money with his forecast for six more weeks of winter. Find out what he’ll predict this year on Wednesday, February 2nd at 11:00 am and 4:00 pm in the River Journey Auditorium.

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