In summer 2015, NAUSICAA France, the National Sea Centre in Boulogne-sur-Mer, will be providing a glimpse of small animals that are extraordinarily beautiful and/or have extraordinary behaviour patterns.
They join the 36,000 animals at Nausicaa, one of Europe’s biggest and most amazing aquariums.
The yellow boxfish, Ostracion cubicus
The yellow boxfish lives in the Red Sea and the Pacific Ocean (Hawaii, south of Japan, Tuamotu Archipelago and New Zealand). To begin with, the boxfish is shy and easily scared but it quickly becomes interested in what’s happening on the other side of the aquarium glass, often spending time watching visitors for several minutes. The body of the boxfish is enclosed in a shell consisting of bony plates (in the form of a box, hence its name), with openings for the mouth, eyes, fins etc. Although slow-moving, it can use its fins to undertake a range of manoeuvres, sometimes hovering in one place, swimming backwards or turning around. There is even a name for its particular way of swimming – the “gondolier style”.
The peppermint shrimp, Lysmata wurdemanni
This shrimp comes from the Western Atlantic (Caribbean and South American waters) and is remarkable for the way it moves. When it moves forward, it looks as if it is dancing. It feeds on small detritus, food scraps or the parasites that live on reef fish. It hides among the irritant tentacles of the great tree anemones (Actinodendron spp) or near corals. Peppermint shrimps live in small groups of 6 to 8 around the same anemone.
Redback dragonet, Synchiropus tudorjonesi
Visitors to NAUSICAA have probably already seen the magnificent fish known as the mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus). Now they can see its cousin, the redback dragonet. This beautiful fish, measuring only 5 cm was first discovered in Indonesia, in 2010.
Dragonets (members of the Callionymidae family) are sexually dimorphic, meaning that the males and females differ in shape. The males have a slightly more compressed head than the females and they are deeper in colour. When looking for a mate, the males will wave their dorsal fins to attract the females and show them they are ready to breed!
The scientific name of the redback dragonet, “tudorjonesi”, pays homage to Paul Tudor Jones, President of the United States National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) which is engaged in nature conservancy work.
Birth of guitarfish at Nausicaa
In November 2014, some of NAUSICAA’s guitarfish gave birth to five young – four females and one male. Now, two of these young fish, the male and one of the females, have joined the Mediterranean area of the exhibition. The three remaining young have been sent to other leading partner aquariums who are also involved in the breeding programme.
While the famous thornback rays in NAUSICAA’s touch tank lay eggs, the guitarfish is ovoviviparous, meaning it “gives birth” to young that are already fully formed and independent. When the guitarfish are born, they are placed in a nursery tank away from public view and fed several times a day by their attentive carers. Having grown quickly and with larger appetites they are now ready to join the exhibition tank.
NAUSICAA’s guitarfish are “burrowers”. This is the term used to describe fish that find it easy to dig into the seabed and can cover themselves with several centimetres of sand.
Guitarfish seem to be a combination of rays (front part of the body) and sharks (back section). The main characteristics of the Rhinobatos family are their very flat bodies and their dorsal fins, which are located behind the pelvic fins. The tail is asymmetrical and has no lower lobe. Forty-three species of guitarfish belong to the Rhinobatos family. Marine guitarfish use their tails to swim and move, like sharks, whereas the other rays use their pectoral fins to “glide” across the water.
In the natural environment, this species of ray lives on the sandy or muddy floor of the eastern Atlantic Ocean and in the Mediterranean, at depths of between 9 and 100 metres and in temperatures of 16 to 25° C. It commonly grows to a length of two metres. To date, the record is 2.42 metres. Its skin is uniformly beige and granular. In fact, it looks like sand in appearance and colour.
The blackchin guitarfish is not very prolific and is under threat from over fishing.
Meet these wonderful creatures and 36,000 more including penguins, sealions, giant tortoises and sharks at Europe’s most amazing aquarium: www.nausicaa.co.uk