Aquaria & Co.

On the exhibition floors of the Muse, aquaria, terraria and the tropical greenhouse describe both alpine and tropical habitats and host 462 animals belonging to 62 different species.

In the ‘Labyrinth of the Alpine Biodiversity’ on the third floor, representing a virtual hiking along a mountain path, there are two aquaria. The first describes a stream at high altitude, with low temperature (12°C) and highly oxygenated water, hosting the fario trout (Salmo trutta fario). The second represents a stream at the bottom valley with more calm, well oxygenated and a bit warmer water (14°C), that hosts the Salmo trutta marmoratus, a species endemic to the Po Valley in the Veneto region. Each aquarium hosts only one species because trouts are quite aggressive, especially towards smaller and more shy fish even of the same species, and what is more, they were already used to living in the same aquarium alone.

On the same exhibition floor, there is also a terrarium hosting an individual of Phrynosoma platyrhinos, a small lizard native to the deserts of Mexico and USA, which spends the night under the sand and gets swollen when excited. This terrarium is part of an exhibit that explains thermoregulation in reptiles.

The second floor is about geology and both the aquarium and terraquarium on this floor represent habitats similar to those that were in Trentino during the Triassic. At that time, like nowadays, in tropical areas there was carbonates oversaturation. In the past, carbonates were fixed by bacteria and algae, nowadays by corals. The tropical aquarium, that represents the marine environment where the Dolomia rock formed, hosts the following species: Anthias squamipinnis, Premnas biaculeatus, Amphiprion ocellaris, Zebrasoma flavescens, Zebrasoma veliferum, Acanthurus tennenti, Paracanthurus hepatus, Naso vlamingii, Platax teira, Siganus vulpinus, Centropyge bicolor, Salarias fasciatus, Acreichthys tomentosus, Tectus niloticus, Lysmata amboinensis, Lysmata debelius, Stenopus hispidus, Diadema setosum, Eucidaris metularia, Fromia elegans, Entacmea quadri color, Actinodiscus sp., Lobophyton sp., Sarcophyton sp., Sinularia sp. and Pocillopora damicornis. In order to raise citizens participation, fish and invertebrates hosted in this aquarium have been recovered from private citizens who no longer could keep them, rather than bought. People who have donated their animals know that they are well and can come to visit them whenever they want.

During the middle Triassic, among tropical and sub-tropical islands, notosaurs and other extinct reptiles lived in vegetated environments along the coastline. Nowadays, in tropical areas, there are still some reptiles which are deeply linked with water, like the Basiliscus plumifrons, the species hosted in the terraquarium (two individuals) on this floor. This species is characterised by a shiny green colouration, notable length (up to one metre) and a crest that adorns the head. They are skilled swimmers and are even able to run over the water surface (that’s why their common name is ‘Jesus Christ lizard’). In the terraquarium there are also more than 50 guppies (Poecilia reticulata) and two individuals of Polypterus ornatipinnis.

On the first floor, in the area dedicated to the alpine prehistory, there are two aquaria describing different lake environments in archaeological context. The first represents an archaological site at high altitude where the small lake hosts a group of common minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus), tufts of Sparganium minimum and mosses. Here the water lacks of nutrients and is at low temperature (12°C). The second represents a pile dwelling at low altitude (bottom valley) where the fish species hosted are Alburnus arborella, Rutilus aula and Tinca tinca.

In the DNA gallery (-1 floor) there is a small aquarium hosting some zebra fish (Danio rerio). This is a model species in biology, especially used for studying developmental biology and gene expression. Not distant, a series of 5 big aquaria introduce people to the tropical greenhouse. The fish hosted there, are representative of the fish biodiversity of the big lakes and rivers of Tanzania (Malawi and Tanganyika lakes and Kilombero river). These are mostly Cichlids, a fish family known for having been the protagonist of a spectacular phenomenon of speciation in the lakes along the Rift Valley, an aquatic version of what happened to the finch family in the Galapagos islands. These fish were born in captivity, are confident and curious and breed quite easily even if the space in the aquaria is limited. In the aquarium representing the Malawi lake diversity, there is a group of Pseudotropheus saulosi, a species categorised as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, that gives the opportunity to talk about the conservation of aquatic environments in general and more in detail about the conservation projects to save this species. Other species in this aquarium are: Nimbochromis venustus, Copadichromis borleyi kadango and Astatotilapia calliptera. In the aquarium representing the Tanganyika lake diversity there are: Cyathopharynx foae ndole, Cyprichromis microlepidotus kasai, Cyprichromis leptosoma utinta, Cyphotilapia frontosa moba, Altolamprologus compressiceps kasanga, Altolamprologus calvus black, Neolamprologus leleupi orange and Neolamprolous brevis. In the aquarium representing the Kilombero river diversity there is a group of Oreochromis tanganicae, where the dominant male is brightly coloured while the other males are very similar to the females. In the same aquarium there is also one individual of Auchenoglanis occidentalis, a big catfish. In the aquarium that represents a mangrove habitat (Rhizophora mucronata) there is a small group of Monodactylus argenteus. In the terraquarium just before the tropical greenhouse entrance there is an individual of Tetraodon mbu, a freshwater puffer that inhabits the Tanganyika lake and some of the big rivers of the east Africa.

The animal species hosted in the tropical greenhouse are typical of the eastern Africa, in particular of the Eastern Arc. In 600 square metres, this greenhouse recreates the forest of the Udzungwa Mountains, a centre of endemism and great biodiversity in Tanzania. In the soil litter there are giant millipedes (Archispirostreptus gigas), in the drywalls it is possible to spot some lizards with a spiny tail (Cordylus tropidosternum) and during evening hours it is easy to hear frogs singing: Leptopelis flavomaculatus, Leptopelis vermiculatus, Phlyctimantis maculatus and Afrixalus fornasini. Tadpoles of Phlyctimantis maculatus and Afrixalus fornasini have been found in the ponds of the greenhouse. Some of them have been collected and their development and metamorphosis have been monitored. Later, the adults have been released back in the greenhouse. The successive breeding of two ecologically demanding frog species makes us particularly enthusiastic. The vault of the greenhouse is inhabited by a couple of Livingstone’s turacos (Tauraco livingstonii), very curious birds that eat mainly bananas, apples and papayas but also buds, leaves and flowers that they naturally find in the greenhouse. Finally, a small lake hosts a group of Oreochromis tanganicae born in the museum and two individuals of Auchenoglanis occidentalis.

The need of organising and managing fish aquaria and terraria for amphibians and reptiles has led to the realisation of an ancillary room where animals are kept for rehabilitation, food is prepared, insect are bred for feeding fish and reptiles and all the tools used for maintenance are kept.

All the animals have been bought from licensed Italian breeders. The only exception is represented by the Livingstone’s turacos, species included in Appendix II of CITES, bought from a German breeder because no other option was available. The colonial scleractinian Pocillopora damicornis, included in Appendix II of CITES, has been donated by the Natural History Museum of South Tyrol (BZ).