The Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit is temporarily closed through Fall 2022.

Food For Thought

Get to know 10 National Aquarium animals whose common names are more sweet than salty.

  • Animals

Each month, the National Aquarium produces about 150,000 gallons of salt water at its main building and another 15,000 to 20,000 gallons at its Animal Care and Rescue Center in Jonestown. So, it's safe to say the Aquarium a pretty salty place. These 10 animals, though, bring some sweetness with their common names.

"Animals have one accepted scientific name," says National Aquarium General Curator Jack Cover, "but they can have multiple common names, which vary from region to region and culture to culture and are often related to their coloration or markings."

That's the case with almost all of these animals. See how many you can find the next time you visit the Aquarium!

Piece of Cake

Milk, butter, eggs, cocoa and peppermint sound like the makings of an amazing cake, but some animals at the Aquarium share names with these dessert-y ingredients.

Butter hamlet

The butter hamlet is a type of sea bass found in tropical waters. They are (surprise!) yellow in color. They also have iridescent blue markings on their head and around their eyes, and a black spot near their tail. At the Aquarium, this fish can be seen in the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit.

Cocoa damselfish

Another coral reef resident found in warm, tropical waters, the cocoa damselfish is primarily a dark chocolate-brown color, although it can have a bright yellow tint on its underside and bright blue coloring along its back and sometimes on its head and tail. Like the butter hamlet, find the cocoa damselfish in Atlantic Coral Reef.

Egg yolk jellyfish

Related to the lion's mane jelly, egg yolk jellies have a clear to milky white bell with a bright yellow center. Their coloring and shape look remarkably like a raw chicken egg, but they can grow bigger than even the jumbo-est jumbo egg—adults' bells can reach 2 feet in diameter and their tentacles 29 feet in length. See them at the Aquarium in Jellies Invasion.


The milksnake at the Aquarium—whose nickname is Grommet—is an ambassador animal. You can catch him during Animal Encounters, which are held daily in Harbor Overlook. His body is covered in alternating bands of deep, red-orangey brown and thinner white bands outlined in black. These snakes are named for the fact that they were mistakenly believed to feed on cows' milk. In fact, they eat rodents and are a harmless and beneficial species.

Peppermint basslet & peppermint shrimp

The peppermint basslet is a small tropical fish with horizontal red and pale-colored stripes that run the length of its body. Its tail and fins are tipped with black and iridescent blue. There's also a similarly stripey peppermint shrimp. Both the peppermint basslet and peppermint shrimp at the Aquarium are currently in quarantine at the ACRC.

Juicy Fruit

We get it (sort of)—some people prefer fruit over cake. The Aquarium has you covered there, too, with animals named for coconuts, pineapples, strawberries and watermelons.

Coconut lorikeet

The bright, rainbow-colored lorikeets found in Australia: Wild Extremes are hard to miss. Australia is home to seven species of lorikeet, three of which can be seen at the Aquarium—coconut, rainbow and Swainson's. Coconut lorikeets are found throughout New Guinea but not on the mainland of Australia.

Pineapple coral

This is a type of stony coral; its texture vaguely resembles the brown skin of a pineapple, with a repeating pattern of greenish centers ringed in dark red. Coral reefs—which provide habitat for thousands of species—form when stony coral polyps secrete skeletons of calcium carbonate. Pineapple coral has been maintained and growing at the ACRC since 2019, on loan from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as part of an effort to restore the Florida Reef, one of the largest tropical reef systems in the world.

Strawberry poison dart frogs

One of more than 300 species in the poison dart frog family, these are named for their bright red color. Some have black spots on their bodies or black-and-blue mottled feet and legs. While the majority of strawberry poison dart frogs are predominately red, some populations in Panama are blue, green or cream colored. They are small, measuring less than an inch to about 2.5 inches long. Female strawberry poison dart frogs ferry their tadpoles one at a time up tall trees so they can safely develop in tiny pools of water, like those found in the leaves of bromeliad plants growing high up in the canopy. At the Aquarium, strawberry poison dart frogs are in Upland Tropical Rain Forest.

Watermelon pleco

This common name is given by fish hobbyists, likely derived from this fish's consumption of watermelon, which they readily feed upon. A type of catfish found in the Amazon, the watermelon pleco's body is a dark gray-brown with light-colored stripes or dots. It has reddish eyes and a sucker-like mouth. Plecos are omnivores, and they're unique in that they eat and digest wood; it's a staple of their diet. At the Aquarium, you can see a watermelon pleco in the Amazon River Forest exhibit.

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