July 4, 2008

Old Oklahoma Friends Revisited

By Elaine Warner, The Edmond Sun, Okla.

Jul. 4--EDMOND -- Two of my favorite Oklahoma attractions have become even more attractive with new additions to their collections.

The Oklahoma Aquarium at Jenks opened the Hayes Family Ozark Stream in March. The exhibit replicates northeastern Oklahoma habitat and is home to river otters, beavers, raccoons and native fish.

Timing is key in visiting these animals. I arrived shortly after lunch and discovered this is animal naptime. I could see the beavers in their den thanks to closed-circuit TV. One was sacked out; the other, having a hearty scratch. The otters were hidden away in their little enclosure and the raccoons were immobile, furry lumps on high shelves.

Teri Bowers, aquarium executive director, clued me in. "The best time to see the animals in action is close to their feeding times," she told me. The beavers and otters are fed at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily.

Before I left the aquarium I went back to check on the beavers. It wasn't time for their afternoon meal and they didn't seem anxious to entertain. One beaver was still asleep; the other was in the pool but seemed to be trying to get back into his den. All I got was a shot of the beaver's backside! Still, it was better than nothing.

Fortunately, there's always a lot more to see. Touch tanks and feeding pools offer more opportunities to interact with the animals. Starfish are big favorites in the tidal touch pool and, in another pool, visitors can touch stingrays. While some of the areas are only open at specific times, others, like the turtle feeding pond are available throughout the day.

My visit this time was short, but I managed to see the sharks being fed (Mondays and Thursdays at 1:30) and the electric eel, piranhas and archer fish feedings (Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 2 p.m.).

The electric eel is not a true eel but actually a fish. Found in rivers in the Amazon, they have specialized organs that produce electricity with which they detect and stun their prey. At the aquarium, a small receiver has been installed in the eel's tank. When the eel is fed, it discharges electricity, which causes static to be broadcast through a speaker. It sounds like a giant, rumbling stomach!

The archer fish use their food for target practice. Keepers put small bits of food on the glass of the tank and the little fish spit streams of water at them, causing them to fall into the water.

Admission prices at the aquarium are about $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and military, $10 for children 3 to 12. The Aquarium is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with extended hours (until 9 p.m.) on Tuesdays. Check feeding schedules and driving directions at www.okaquarium.org.

Another great attraction is the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman. My grandson Alex and I visited last week to see the newest gallery, the Paleozoic Gallery in the Hall of Ancient Life.

This gallery's subject is Earth's first four billion years -- a big chunk of history. Obviously, there's a whole lot of simplification going on here -- and that's OK. Things livened up (no pun intended) with the appearance of bacteria and evolved from there! Walking into one area, we felt like we were on the bottom of an ancient sea. Suspended overhead were fantastic marine creatures including a giant shrimp-like predator, Anomalocaris, scourge of the Cambrian ocean.

Oklahoma fossils are featured with trilobites being among the earliest inhabitants. Vivid dioramas depict life in the shallow ocean that covered this part of the country. A scary Dunkleosteus from the Devonian period chases a Cladoselache kepleri, a primitive shark in one of the colorful exhibits.

Next came a walk through a Carboniferous swamp. Strange trees branch out overhead and giant dragonflies, Meganeura, hang suspended from invisible wires.

All this excitement leads up to the older, more familiar exhibits by way of winding galleries which lead to new surprises. I watched a pre-schooler, who had never visited the museum before, round a corner to get her first glimpse of the enormous Apatosaurus and Saurophaganax skeletons. Her face said it all -- her expression akin to Macaulay Culkin's famous "Home Alone" face -- and a loud "Wow" came out of her mouth.

That pretty much sums up the Sam Noble Museum. It's definitely wow-worthy. And, until Aug. 24, visitors also can see "The Science of SuperCroc Featuring Nigersaurus." Get a gander at possibly the largest crocodilian ever -- the 40-foot-long Sarcosuchus. The exhibit also includes a Suchomimus skeleton rigged with levers so visitors can move the mouth and neck of this bipedal dino with its crocodile-like head and a Nigersaurus, a four-footed herbivore with a mouth like a lawnmower.

The museum is on the south side of the University of Oklahoma campus, at 2401 Chautauqua Ave., and is open Tuesday through from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission for adults is $5; seniors, $4; children 6 through 17, $3.

Elaine Warner is an Edmond Resident


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