Highlights of the Shedd Aquarium: A Chicago Family Day Trip
Where the Rare Blue Iguana, Cute Penguins, and Massive Arapaima Dwell!
The John G. Shedd Aquarium, located right on Lake Michigan near downtown Chicago, is a great and convenient place to spend a day out with your family.
The aquarium claims to have more than 32,500 animals spread out throughout its spaces, and even though it attracts a lot of visitors it's laid out in such a way that the place didn't feel crowded when we were there.
Here are some highlights from our recent visit. The photos here are by us unless otherwise noted.
The Caribbean Reef and the Main Exhibits
the Congo River Puffer, Lungfish and the rare Blue Iguana
In the center of the main floor of the aquarium is a large circular tank called the Pritzker Caribbean Reef, and it is filled with really cool animals including southern stingrays and bonnethead sharks. You can easily get lost just standing and watching the fish in this tank.
The room branches off six wings that include five exhibits: Rivers; Islands and Lakes; Oceans; At Home on the Great Lakes; and Amazon Rising.
Make sure you seek out the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana, which looks about five feet long. It's extremely rare, according to the aquarium, with only about 30 left in the wild (and another 80 or 90 in captivity).
Also be sure to find the Australian lungfish. They are not a particularly exciting animal to look at, but the oldest one, called Grandad, has been at the aquarium since 1933! About four feet long, he has lived longer than any fish in any aquarium in the world, according to the Shedd.
I also liked the sea lampreys in this area, especially the one that had latched onto the glass window so we could actually see inside its mouth. Pretty creepy.
One other thing you can do here is visit the touch tank, which included lake sturgeon (something a bit different than the usually touch tanks). The fish's skin was like felt, I thought.
Amazon Rising, where the Anacondas and Piranhas Play
The Amazon Rising section is big enough that it takes two wings on the main floor, and it is definitely worth the space.
It is a flooded forest recreation of the Amazon River and surrounding jungle, and feels more like being in a zoo than an aquarium because of its anaconda snake, monkeys, spiders, and caimans.
Of course, it doesn't stint on the fish. The aquarium says there are 250 different species represented in the area, including piranha and a large fish called the tambaqui.
Most impressive is the araipama, which can grow to as long as 15 feet and 400 pounds. The aquarium's samples only look to be about four feet long, but they are some of the biggest fish I've seen (I've seen sharks and whales that are bigger, but this is a fish.)
The Best Tour Guide We Used When We Were in Chicago
A 4-D Movie, a Live Show and Penguins!
We attended the aquarium's "4-D Movie Experience," which was a 12-minute show about the habitats of animals stretching from the south pole to the north pole. It was interesting to see the polar bears, penguins and elephants on the screen, and the 4-D effects were pretty neat. The aquarium's shows change regularly so I don't know if this one will still be there if you go, but it is worth seeing.
We also went to the live aquarium show that included dolphins and sea lions and a dog. I suppose that it is a sign of the times that much of the show is dedicated to showing how well the aquarium takes care of animals rather than having them do tricks, which is fine but can be a bit dull.
Afterward, we strolled down the polar play zone on a lower level. There was a young children's area, with plenty of neat things to climb on, and another touch tank. This one was filled with more-common animals like sea stars to touch.
Down here were some of my favorite creatures: penguins. The aquarium has two types. The first are rockhoppers, which have the distinctive fringe at the top of their heads. The others are the Magellanic penguins, which are quite tall at 2 feet.
Jellyfish and the Wild Reef Down Below
After the polar play zone we took in the jellyfish exhibit. There were more than 10 different types on display, including the Egg Yolk Jelly, Moon Jelly and my favorite, the Upside-Down Jelly. The only thing that disappointed is is how small the exhibit seemed, but they are fascinating creatures worth visiting.
We finished our tour by taking the elevator down to the Wild Reef exhibit in the basement. Based on the reef and marine sanctuary of Apo Island in the Philippines, this is the place to go to see sharks, rays and coral. The elevator down to exhibit is right near the front of the Amazon Rising area, so try not to miss it.
One section of the aquarium we skipped was the outside stingray touch tank. This is a seasonal exhibit and it costs extra. The kids have touched rays at other aquariums and just didn't seem that interested.
One other thing to mention. We ate lunch in the aquarium's food court, and there were plenty of choices for everyone in the family. I always expect to pay more at these tourist attractions, but in this case I didn't think the prices were too outrageous.
Some Jellyfish in Action - Video Taken by the Younger Half of Goldenrulecomics
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