Toledo Zoo Aquarium Renovation – Update 9: Jewels of the Sea

With the Toledo Zoo’s Aquarium currently undergoing a $25.5 million renovation and the new Aquarium slated to open in 2015, curious Zoo visitors frequently ask what exhibits the new Aquarium will feature. In this installment, let’s continue our exploration of these new exhibits with a look at some of the smaller planned exhibits that will allow visitors a close-up view of the animals.

Please bear in mind that the planning process is fluid; things can and will change before the Aquarium’s grand opening. Additionally, the names for the exhibits are only placeholders—the final names may reflect helpful donors or be more descriptive of the exhibit itself.

Artist’s conception of the Jewel Exhibit area at the Toledo Zoo Aquarium

Artist’s conception of the Jewel Exhibit area at the Toledo Zoo Aquarium

Not all interesting sea creatures are large, hulking beasts like sharks, eels, and stingrays. Some of the most incredible species may be just a few inches long. One basic rule of aquariums is that big fish usually eat little fish. How then to exhibit these tiny species if they cannot be housed in with larger species? The answer is what is known as a “jewel exhibit”—a small aquarium, typically holding fewer than 150 gallons of water.

With aquariums such as these, the visitor comes face to face with these fascinating, yet tiny creatures. Another benefit of the jewel aquariums is that their theme can be more easily changed. While the 90,000-gallon Pacific Reef exhibit will have that same theme for decades, aquarists can change a small jewel aquarium’s theme in just a few months’ time if desired. The new Aquarium will feature six of these exhibits:

Caribbean Deep Reef Community

tzupdate9-carib_deep_reefThis 75-gallon aquarium will showcase small, deep-reef fish from the Caribbean that few people, even advanced scuba divers, ever get to see. Some of these fish are collected by deep-sea submersible, and others are caught by divers using special re-breather diving rigs. The Toledo Zoo Aquarium has kept some of these species in the past, so we have a good working knowledge of their care requirements. Species we expect to acquire include candy basslets, threadnose bass, and bank butterflyfish. One educational message for our visitors will explain how light is filtered by depth, first the red light, then yellow, green, and finally blue.


tzupdate9-seahorsesThis 66-gallon exhibit will house seahorses, pipefish, and shrimpfish. These are all related, evolutionarily derived fishes, so adaptation is the most obvious theme. How would you describe a seahorse to somebody who has never seen one? “The head of a horse, armor plating like an alligator, the tail of a monkey, and the pouch of a kangaroo—oh yeah, and the males give birth!” Because seahorses feed very slowly, they do well only when kept in aquariums by themselves without more active feeders.

Garden Eels

tzupdate9-garden_eelsThe Toledo Zoo Aquarium has extensive experience keeping three different species of garden eels over the past 20 years. This 156-gallon exhibit will have a deep sand/gravel bed to allow these eels to create secure burrows. A water current will flow through the aquarium, and the eels will turn to face into it to watch for any food that floats by. This behavior is called “rheotaxis” and is often exhibited by aquatic animals when exposed to water currents.

Clownfish and Anemones

tzupdate9-clownfishThis exhibit will house sea anemones and clownfish that were raised in the old Toledo Zoo Aquarium before it closed for this renovation. Ever popular with children due to their familiarity with this species in movies, the important underlying message is “symbiosis,” or how clownfish live safely within the stinging tentacles of the sea anemone.

Home Aquarium

tzupdate9-home_aquariumHome aquariums are a popular hobby for many people, but others sometimes find it difficult to succeed with them. This exhibit will show people how to begin in the hobby in a way that will give them a better chance of success. Building on the overall theme of increased interactivity for our visitors, this home aquarium will be special; children will be able to stand up inside a chamber at the bottom of the tank, allowing them to get a “fish’s eye view of the world.” Parents will enjoy this amazing photo opportunity as well!

Linear Showcase

tzupdate9-linear_showcaseThis custom-built, 60-gallon aquarium will consist of five 16-inch-wide chambers, each able to house a different species of tiny marine organism. This helps separate incompatible animals while having the benefit of using a single filtration system for all five chambers. The theme for this linear tank can be readily changed: from tropical shrimp to starfish to small scorpionfish.

These new jewel exhibits will offer visitors a glimpse into the fascinating underwater world of smaller creatures that would otherwise be missed in our more expansive displays. Home aquarists will enjoy viewing rarer animals than they would normally see in their own aquarium. The aquarium staff is very excited about these tanks as well because they can be more involved with the actual design and construction of the systems, setting up the exhibit themselves from start to finish.

Check out the Toledo Zoo Aquarium renovation page for all updates.

Photo Credit: Toledo Zoo


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About Jay Hemdal

Jay Hemdal is the Curator of Fishes and Invertebrates for the Toledo Zoo. He has written over 150 articles and six books on aquariums since 1981.

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