It’s on top of everyone’s mind this season...food!
Except by “everyone” we mean all of our animals, and by “this season” we mean all day, every day! With thousands of animals from over 300 species living in our Aquarium, we run through quite a lot of food. And with so many dietary needs that vary not only by species, but by the needs of individual animals, there’s a lot to keep track of.
So, what’s on the menu? Depends on the species!
For carnivorous animals such as our Komodo dragons, snakes, Tomistoma, and raptors, their diet includes rodents and small birds. Each week, our staff prepares and feeds these species up to 400 feeder mice, 100 feeder rats and 72 feeder chicks and quail each week. This totals 19,000 mice, 4,700 rats and over 3,400 chicks and quail fed to these animals annually! The feeders, or the animals offered to our residents, are grown in a special facility and shipped to us frozen and predeceased – we just thaw out each feeder out before feedings.
Then there are the seafood lovers, which includes animals like our seals, sharks, rays, many of our fish, and turtles large and small. These residents will enjoy a variety of restaurant-quality delicacies such as herring, capelin, smelt, shrimp, Boston and Spanish mackerel, salmon, cod, and tilapia. We also stock shellfish like scallops, clams, mussels, oysters, and a type of shrimp-like crustacean called mysis for them to munch on. Our spotted eagle rays are adept at crushing up shells in their mouths to get to the meat before spitting the shell pieces back out!
(What does “restaurant quality” mean, by the way? It means our seafood comes from the same supplier used by many restaurants in our area. Love Virginia Beach seafood? So do our animals! Get a taste for yourself by checking out which local restaurants participate in our Sensible Seafood Program.)
That’s not to say we don’t have our veggie lovers here, though. Our freshwater terrapins as well as small lizards like our uromastyx and Zula the blue-tongue skink will chow down on fresh produce from carrots and sweet potatoes to cucumbers and fruits like blueberries and pears. Our sea turtles also love snacking on leafy greens, lettuce and carrots!
Food isn’t just for filling bellies – we use it in a variety of ways to improve our animals’ well-being. Per guidelines set by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, we make sure that their diets are not only nutritionally balanced but also stimulates natural feeding behaviors.
Our staff provide plenty of enrichment for them, which can occasionally mean providing a different (but still species-appropriate) type of food as a treat, sometimes for a celebration. For instance, our juvenile Komodo dragons, Bejo and Kado, usually eat rats, mice, chicks, and eggs. However, they each received their own whole, raw chicken as a special birthday meal in August, when they turned six years old. Another example is around Halloween, when we make jack-o-lanterns full of fish for animals like our otters to enjoy. Certain medications and supplements such as vitamins are added to the food when prescribed by our vet team. We’ll even stick handfuls of food into large empty water jugs to keep our sea turtles distracted and out of the way while our divers clean the Light Tower exhibit!
Keep an eye out to see what our animals have been eating the next time you visit. Sometimes you may spot the last remaining bits of their breakfast being gobbled up, or even get to watch one of the regular feedings throughout the day!