When you visit the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, the stars of the facility tend to get all the attention. Sharks, alligators, and otters get the squeals and giggles, but throughout the Aquarium are some hidden treasures — smaller or less noticeable animals that don’t receive the same amount of attention.
Who are these lesser known stars?
As you journey through the Aquarium, the first fish you’ll come across are the scrawled and honeycomb cowfish. Named for the horns on their heads, these boxy fish seem to be poorly designed. Even though they are shaped like a dented in box, they are good swimmers. Their bodies are covered in specialized scales which provide protection against predators.
Continuing your visit, you’ll meet the lesser siren and the scarlet kingsnake. These two animals are excellent at hiding so look close to find them. The lesser siren is an eel-like aquatic salamander who has a long slender body with very small front legs and no rear legs. Its external gills are one of its most noticeable features since they surround the head in a bushy mess. The lesser siren is so named because it only grows up to 2 feet, versus the greater siren, which can reach over 3 feet.
Next, you will find the scarlet kingsnake. Scarlet kingsnakes are frequently mistaken for venomous coral snakes since they have the same red, black, and yellow coloration. Scarlet kingsnakes are harmless and having kingsnakes around is beneficial since they eat other snakes. When startled, kingsnakes use quick, jerky movements that flash their scales startling predators.
Hidden within the Sea Treasures Gallery, you’ll find the pipefish and scorpionfish. The pipefish are often overshadowed by their more famous cousins, the seahorses. However, these fish are excellent at camouflage and are known to imitate blades of seagrass. They line up vertically with the grass, and sway with the ocean current.
Another fish excellent at camouflage is the scorpionfish. It lives in our lionfish exhibit and is mainly a bottom dweller. Its coloration and fleshy skin flaps enable it to hide from predators. Long venomous spines are found on their dorsal fins.
So, the next time you visit the Aquarium, don’t forget to seek out the animals who hide, crawl, or swim by unnoticed.
These seldom seen animals are stars and once you discover them, it’s hard not to notice them on every visit.
Dia Hitt is Education Curator at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island.