A new "Nemo" exhibit at The University of Southern Mississippi's
Scott Aquarium has triggered Sara Pelleteri's memories of playing
midwife and nursemaid to a host of the colorful clownfish currently
riding a wave of popularity in the Disney movie "Finding Nemo."
a Southern Miss graduate student who is also an aquarist at the
J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium, worked with a species
of the Indo-Pacific clownfish while employed with a large metropolitan
aquarium a decade ago.
with clownfish at an off-site water quality and animal health lab
used for breeding, researching and quarantining large animals.
is old hat for large aquariums to raise their own clownfish for
display, but back then it wasn't quite as routine," Pelleteri
said. "Sometimes things wouldn't go as expected, and it was
a challenge to figure out the different variables that made some
breeding pairs successful and others not."
worked with clownfish, she found them to be just as intriguing as
young moviegoers find Disney's Nemo today.
breeding and reproduction behavior is complex," she said. "They
have a whole little courtship dance that they do. Also, if there
is not a female around, the dominant male usually becomes a female
in about two months.
pair the clownfish up, and they would lay their eggs inside of flower
pots that we used. They cleaned the eggs, kept them free of fungus
and guarded them just as if they were in the wild protecting their
eggs from predators. When the babies hatched, they were a little
larger than the width of a pencil lead."
Pass Christian resident wasn't involved in setting up the new exhibit,
she shares concerns about tropical reef fish with Scott Aquarium
educator Howard Walters, who initiated the display of living Nemos
as a teaching strategy.
of tropical reef fish are collected in environmentally unfriendly
ways, sometimes using cyanide or dynamiting reefs," she said.
"The large public aquarium industry and responsible dealers
in the home pet trade are trying very hard now to ensure that the
fish for the U.S. aquarium trade come from environmentally friendly
and sustainable collection that does not kill the reefs."
clownfish are one of the easier tropical fish to breed, and the
Nemos in the 210-gallon tank at the Scott Aquarium were purchased
from a source that retails clownfish bred and reared in commercial
He said he
hopes the exhibit will help children and visitors separate fact
from fiction about the living species that served as the model for
clownfish have never been observed outside the host anemone,"
Walters said. "Some clownfish species can get up to five inches
in length. Our fish are about an inch long, and the real juvenile
clownfish are much smaller in comparison to other fish than Nemo
appears in the movie. And, of course, they don't talk!"
flush," Pelleteri emphasized to youngsters who want to "free"
a Nemo from an aquarium. "The chances are slim to none that
a saltwater fish would survive a trip down the sewer. First of all
you would be putting it into freshwater. If that doesn't kill it,
most sewage treatment involves chemicals.
as you keep the tank clean and feed the fish correctly, they will
be happy in the habitat you have created for them."
The Nemo display
can be seen at the aquarium 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Admission is $4 adults, $3.50 for seniors, $2.50 for ages 3-17,
with 2 years and under free.
And what about
the former Nemo nursemaid?
She is now
concentrating on another kind of tiny marine animal - tanaids, minute
crustaceans that live in the ocean bottom sediments.
little guys are interesting because they are not a well-known order
at all. Scientists are just now learning about the diversity of
species out there. They think there are potentially hundreds of
different kinds of taniads that have yet to be described scientifically,
particularly deep water ones."
In a couple
weeks she is leaving her position at the aquarium to complete work
for her master's degree - including her taniad research - with the
Department of Coastal Sciences at the Southern Miss Gulf Coast Research
Laboratory in Ocean Springs. The first item on her agenda is heading
to Bermuda Biological Station for Research to take a tropical invertebrates
a four-week course and includes a lot of diving. I'm excited,"