Aquarium’s spring break offerings include butterflies, blue lizards, Borneo fish and behind-the-scenes tours

For 30 years, the Tennessee Aquarium has been synonymous with Chattanooga’s bustling waterfront, a skyline-defining landmark that has drawn more than 26 million visitors from around the world to the scenic city.

Yet beneath its iconic glass peaks lies an ever-changing collection of exhibits that are home to thousands of delightfully unpredictable animals. For all the comfortable familiarity of its exterior, every trip through the Aquarium’s galleries is therefore a unique and memorable experience, whether a guest is a first-timer or a lifetime member.

Thanks to the Aquarium’s many recent updates, embarking on an adventure from the mountains to the sea should be an even more appealing proposition for families deciding where best to spend their next spring break.

The Aquarium’s living collection includes more than 12,000 animals representing hundreds of species found on all continents. Nowhere is this cosmopolitan side better displayed than the Rivers of the World gallery in the River Journey building, where Vietnamese mossy frogs are just a step or two from Siberian sturgeon, Fly River turtles, crocodile lizards Chinese and a West African dwarf crocodile.

The newest addition to this collection of exhibits representing waterways around the world is a 2,200-gallon showcase of wildlife from the Kapuas River, Indonesia’s longest waterway. Here guests can see a community of colorful Rasboras, Barbs, Gouramis and Loaches as well as a pair of critically endangered Malaysian Painted Terrapins.

New to the Aquarium adventurers or fans who haven’t been there in a while will find plenty to marvel at in the Turtles of the World gallery. This long-time favorite exhibit space underwent a complete makeover in March 2020 with a refocused focus on turtle diversity hotspots in Southeast Asia and the American Southeast. The gallery’s real must-see attraction, however, is its working turtle nursery where guests can see a rotating cast of dozens of adorable turtle hatchlings. These tiny turtles represent a wide variety of species, many of which are critically endangered or recovered by law enforcement from illegal traffickers.

In Ocean Journey, the small animal excitement continues with a Fish Nursery exhibit recently added to the Island Life Gallery. This habitat is teeming with marine fish that have been raised in-house by aquarists from eggs collected from the building’s massive Secret Reef exhibit. The animals on display vary as the juveniles grow large enough to be moved to other exhibits, but guests can see examples of cherub species such as Bermuda chub, Atlantic spadefish, sergeant majors and even the long-spined porcupines.

The newest addition to Island Life, however, is an endangered tree-dwelling resident of Batanta Island in Southeast Asia, off the west coast of New Guinea. As its name suggests, the Blue-spotted Tree Monitor has beautiful mottled blue and black scales. This large lizard has a tail twice as long as its body and can be found in a species-specific tank near the entrance to the gallery.

From the depths of Ocean Journey to its sun-drenched heights, the additions continue with the recent grand reopening of the Butterfly Garden. After a nearly 20-month closure caused by supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, this visitor-favorite gallery finally reopened last fall with a revamped landscaping that gave its winged residents more opportunities to be seen. At any one time, around 1,500 butterflies fly through this lush tropical garden with the occasional Instagram-worthy pause to land on lucky visitors.

Across the street from the Aquarium, the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater has made a name for itself among moviegoers as a go-to spot for giant-screen entertainment, from thrilling 45-minute nature and adventure screenings to series limited popular feature films.

During Spring Break, moviegoers can choose from a pair of thrilling films that take full advantage of the theater’s six-story screen and state-of-the-art IMAX projection system with laser.

Australia’s Great Wild North 3D takes viewers to the Northern Territory, at the very top of Australia. There, they’ll explore vast swamps and sandstone mountains, where they’ll encounter sharks, poisonous snakes, dinosaur-like saltwater crocodiles and other inhabitants of this little-explored region spanning a footprint twice as large. than that of Texas.

Arrived just before spring break, Ocean Odyssey 3D joins a mother humpback whale and her calf as they merge with the East Australian Current for an 1,800-mile journey from the Great Barrier Reef to feeding grounds off the coast of Antarctica. With stunning underwater footage of amazing marine life including sea lions, bottlenose dolphins, clownfish and white tip reef sharks, the filmmakers show how ocean currents work as a sort of vital circulatory system for life all over the planet.

For more information on Spring Break at the Aquarium, visit tnaqua.org/spring-break.

IMAX 3D theater screening times and schedule are available at https://tnaqua.org/imax