TAMPA — The audience gasped as a fish spit a line of water like a sharpshooter to knock down a piece of krill, a minor league shrimp, from a branch hanging over its tank. The stream of water looked like an arrow shooting from below by the appropriately named archerfish.
The Southeast Asian hunters are just one of the weird and wild marine life adaptations on display in a brand-new gallery at the Florida Aquarium, the first new gallery since the aquarium first opened 28 years ago.
Called MORPH’D, it is the first of three new galleries coming as part of a three-year, $40 million expansion at the Tampa aquarium.
Jessica Chau of Sarasota brought her three kids to check out the new gallery. Olivia, 11, giggled when she read the name of the tiny Malaysia tree frogs set up in what looked like a rain forest terrarium. The “bird poop” frogs found in Southern Malaysia and India earned their nickname.
“They really do look like it,” she said as she spied a handful of the frogs lined up on a log. They made it look like a scat-covered fence post.
Biologist Eileen Caro has spent a year assembling a gallery full of fish and marine life never before seen at the aquarium. Her focus is on the ways animals adapted to their environment or, in the case of the freshwater stingrays, employed unusual ways to camouflage themselves.
“This one is my favorite,” Caro said of the Amazon River ray that lives in freshwater only. It has a distinctive pattern of white dots on a black background, helping it blend into its riverbed habitat.
The new 3,700-square-foot MORPH’D gallery can be found on the second floor of the aquarium in the Mosaic Special Exhibit Hall. The new gallery also adds a new high-tech element, with touch screens next to each tank that create a more interactive exhibit. Kids can trace a finger across the screen to find out where the animal comes from, what they eat and how they have adapted.
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Among the creatures to look for:
Archerfish: Try not to miss the twice-a-day feeding times for these Southeast Asian hunters when they show how they can spit a stream of water with extreme accuracy. Aquarium biologists will place food, such as krill, on branches hanging above their tank, and the fish will shoot streams of water at them to knock them down for a meal.
Paddlefish: Also a fun tank to watch at feeding time, these odd-looking fish from the Mississippi River have a long, spatula-shaped nose. They look as prehistoric as they are when their wide mouth opens to vacuum up the cloud of fish pellets and bloodworms dropped into the tank.
Anableps: Better known as four-eyed fish, the Asian fish actually has only two eyes but they look like four because a horizontal band of tissue splits the eye into two lobes. A nearby interactive element lets visitors look through a periscope that feels like the old Viewmaster toy to let you see the world the way the four-eyed fish can see both above and below the water at the same time.
Arowana: Native to the Amazon, these sharp-eyed fish can leap more than 6 feet out of the water to pick off insects and birds from overhanging branches, earning them the nickname “water monkeys.”
Electric catfish and electric eels: They have developed the ability to stun their prey with as much as 400 volts.
Epaulette: Also known as the walking shark, the Australian shark has broad, paddle-shaped paired fins that let it walk across the bottom of the ocean. It can even walk out of the water briefly to catch prey or escape trouble.
If you go
Florida Aquarium: Admission is $30.45-$33.70 depending on the date, $27.20 and up ages 3-11, 2 and younger free. 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa. 813-273-4000. flaquarium.org.