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Fly on the Wall 

September 21, 2010

Claude’s Birthday Bash

Claude the albino alligator was the lucky recipient of 15 fish-flavored cupcakes last Wednesday, in honor of his 15th birthday. In the aquarium prep kitchen, local birthday boys Dominic (turning 6), and Matthew (turning 15) joined biologists to decorate the cupcakes with colorful hummus “frosting,” and a confetti of flowers, berries, shrimp and fish.

After putting the finishing touches on the platter of treats, the party moved up to the Swamp for a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday to Claude” by visitors and staff. Biologists Brian and Nicole then climbed into the exhibit to toss the gator his cupcakes one by one. He snapped them up eagerly. As appetizing as fishy cupcakes are for alligators, they are decidedly less appealing to people. Dominic and Matthew received people-friendly cupcakes inspired by the reptilian star (vanilla cake with vanilla frosting, of course). Scroll down to check out both cupcake recipes.

Over the course of the week, Claude also received several birthday cards from fans, and a shiny new whistle for his training sessions from 6-year-old Dominic. On Claude’s behalf, thanks to everyone for your warm wishes! You can check out party highlights at http://www.ktvu.com/video/25024901/index.html.

Cupcake decorationsFeeding Claude

Albino-alligator-inspired Cupcakes for People
Recipe provided by the Academy Cafe

Vanilla Cupcakes (makes 12)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Line 12 muffin cups (½-cup-sized) with cupcake papers.
• In a small bowl, combine the flour with salt and baking powder. Set aside.
• In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
• Combine the eggs and egg yolks together, then incorporate them one at a time, beating well after each addition.
• Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not over-beat.
• Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full.
• Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.
• Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Vanilla Frosting (makes enough for 24 cupcakes, or one 9-inch layer cake)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6 to 8 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

• Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and beat together until fully combined.
• Then gradually add the milk and vanilla while on medium speed of an electric mixer. Beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes.
• Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the frosting is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar.
• Add lemon juice and salt and continue to mix until fully blended.

Frosting can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. (Use and store the frosting at room temperature because frosting will set if chilled.)

“Cupcakes” for Claude the Albino Alligator
Recipe provided by Academy biologists
2 C hot water
2 2/3 C ground gator chow (available from exotic animal food suppliers)
12 oz capelin
6 oz prawns
4 oz spinach
1 C parsley
2 oz grated carrots
1 2/3 cups phytoplankton
2 T marine fish flakes
2 oz omega-3 fatty acids
2 T gelatin
2 C Hummus
Food coloring
Berries, flowers, silverside fish and shrimp to garnish

• Grind gator chow pellets to a powder using a food processor.
• Place capelin, prawns, spinach, parsley, grated carrots, phytoplankton, fish flakes, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins into a food processor and grind until smooth.
• Stir gelatin into hot water until completely dissolved.
• Add gelatin liquid to blended capelin, prawns, etc. mixture.
• Stir in ground gator chow.
• Mix to a spackle-like consistency, adding more water if needed.
• Spoon into molds.
• Refrigerate overnight to let gelatin set.
• If desired, separate the hummus into four batches and color each with a different shade of food coloring.
• The next day, remove cupcakes from molds, and decorate with hummus frosting, berries, flowers, and small fish and shrimp.


Filed under: Aquarium — Helen @ 1:50 pm

September 13, 2010

A Flamboyant Courtship Results in Flamboyant Babies

Credit: Brian Freiermuth

Photo credit: Brian Freiermuth

In recent months, the Academy’s flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) successfully bred and produced eggs. These animals are often found in muck habitats (sandy mud) and tend to “walk” over the sea floor because they’re too plump to really swim. They perform this feat using their outer pair of arms and unique lobes on the bottom of their body. They are one of the most desired and beautiful of the cuttlefish, but also the most difficult to obtain and keep. Because of this, little is known about their husbandry and captive life cycle.

After eight years of trying, one of our biologists was finally able to get a group of brood stock. In the past, only single animals have been available. We are fairly certain that our eggs resulted from mating that took place here at the Academy. The mating was captured in this YouTube video.

Since Metasepia pfefferi often lay their eggs in coconut shells in the wild, Academy biologists cleverly put coconut shells in their tank, and the critters then laid their eggs inside. There is nothing like providing a comfortable environment for the fundamentals. Happy cuttlefish get on with making more cuttlefish. It’s the way of nature.

Recent research indicates that the flesh and bite of Metasepia are extremely toxic. Their flamboyance may be an aposematic (warning) coloration. Despite their small size and tiny tentacular clubs, their diet consists of fish and crustaceans, including the aggressive mantis shrimp.

Steinhart Aquarium is currently displaying a flamboyant cuttlefish in the Water Planet exhibit. It’s in the short corridor between the moon jellies and the Philippine Coral Reef, and it shares a tank with the featherduster worms. Come say hello to this spunky little cephalopod!

Do you like cephalopods as much as we do? What’s your favorite cephalopod? Post your comments below.

Filed under: Aquarium — Greg Farrington @ 2:02 pm

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