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Bringing video games to life: Animal Crossing at Shedd

Making your way through the museum, you look up and see a sea of blue, with fish of many colors swirling through the water in a dazzling display. As you head toward the exit to explore more of the aquatic world on your island, a friendly owl named Blathers is there to greet you and share facts about the amazing animals you’ve found. From freshwater rivers to the ocean, there’s plenty to discover.

A video game avatar watches sharks and fish swim in a virtual aquarium.

The delightful, calming video game “Animal Crossing New Horizons” was released in March 2020, a reimagining of the original game and several versions released in the early 2000s. In the game, you work to collect animals and artifacts to build a museum and aquarium to showcase the wildlife on your island.

“Animals Crossing” took the world by storm. Through exploration in the game, players all over the globe learned about new animal species they may never come across in the real world. That awareness can spark further interest in and conservation for the species that Shedd not only cares for, but also works every day to protect in the wild.

Here are a few of the animal species that you can find both while playing “Animal Crossing” and on a visit to Shedd:

Arapaima can grow to prodigious size; some of the arapaima at Shedd are up to five feet long.
A screenshot from the game Animal Crossing, featuring an arapaima info page.

Arapaima

One of the world’s largest freshwater fish, these river giants are found in the Amazon River basin in northern South America. They can grow to be up to 15 feet long and over 200 pounds! Arapaima have a large, bony tongue that, when pressed against the roof of their mouth, acts as a second set of jaws to grind their fish prey.

While most fishes breathe with gills, arapaima use a lung to breathe air. They surface every 5 to 20 minutes to breathe. Check out the arapaima at Shedd in Amazon Rising!

A screenshot from the game Animal Crossing, featuring an octopus info page.
A large red octopus sits in a rocky habitat with its tentacles curled around it.

Octopus

Which animals have blue blood, three hearts and jet propulsion? Giant Pacific octopuses! With eight arms, the giant Pacific octopus has the best grip of any animal at Shedd. They have 250-280 suction cups per arm that they can move individually to feel, grasp, release, rotate, taste and smell their environment. They are masters of camouflage, blending their color, texture and shape into the seascape to ambush fishes, crabs and other prey. Octopuses are also incredibly intelligent, with the ability to navigate mazes, solve problems, remember, predict, use tools and take apart just about anything.

Learn more about these boneless wonders!

A blue spotted stingray pup, its body roughly triangular, rests against the bottom of its habitat.
A screenshot from the game Animal Crossing, featuring a ray info page.

Ray

Several species of stingray call Shedd home, including an Indo-Pacific marine species called the blue-spotted stingray. You can visit blue-spotted stingrays in Wild Reef, but it might be hard to tell them apart from another animal that shares the habitat, the ribbontail stingray! Both have blue spots but can be distinguished by their shape. The ribbontail stingray has a round shaped body with brighter blue spots while the blue-spotted stingray has more of a diamond shape with lighter, paler blue spots.

Stingrays are close relatives of sharks. They are in a group called “elasmobranchs” that includes sharks, rays and skates which all have cartilaginous skeletons.

A screenshot from the game Animal Crossing, featuring a puffer fish info page.
Porcupinefish have long, round bodies covered in small, stubby barbs.

Puffer fish

The animal at Shedd most like the one found in “Animal Crossing” is the porcupinefish! Unlike most species of puffers which have smooth skin, porcupinefish, burrfish and balloonfish and have spines covering their bodies. These spines become even more pronounced when they inflate and act as a form of added protection to prevent predation from other animals.

Puffers typically inflate themselves with water but can also inflate with air if they are at the surface. This is a defense mechanism to make themselves appear larger and more difficult to eat!

See the porcupinefish in Wild Reef!

An alligator snapping turtle in the Great Lakes exhibit.
A screenshot from the game Animal Crossing, featuring a snapping turtle info page.

Snapping turtle

The alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle species in North America, and one of the best ambush predators. These well-camouflaged giants sit and wait on the bottom with their mouths open, wriggling a pink filament on the tongue that looks like a juicy worm. When prey happens by, the turtle snaps its mouth closed on lunch with amazing force.

Read more about this incredible species and its protected status in Illinois.

A screenshot from the game Animal Crossing, featuring a catfish info page.
A grey fish with long pointed whiskers.

Catfish

One of North America’s most common catfish, channel catfish thrive in freshwater systems throughout southern Canada, much of the central and eastern U.S. — including the Great Lakes — down to northern Mexico.

This scaleless fish has a very keen sense of smell and taste. Hunting at night, they use their long whiskers called barbels to easily sense and find small fish, crustaceans like crayfish, clams, snails and insects to snack on in the dark. This popular fish is the official state fish of Nebraska and Missouri, the state commercial fish of Tennessee and Iowa’s unofficial state fish.

See them at Shedd in the At Home on the Great Lakes gallery.

The red bellied piranha has sharp teeth and a strong jaw for preying on other fish.
A screenshot from the game Animal Crossing, featuring a piranha info page.

Piranha

Red-bellied piranhas are found throughout much of South America in the Amazon basin. Despite myths that these fish are consistently aggressive pack hunters — which can happen when food sources are scarce in low water seasons— red-bellied piranhas are primarily omnivorous scavengers, feeding on a mix of carrion, plants, insects, crustaceans and other easy targets. Individuals will often travel in groups called shoals not to hunt, but as a predatory defense.

Check out the red-bellied piranhas at Shedd in Amazon Rising.

A screenshot from Animal Crossing, featuring a Ribbon Eel info page.
A closeup of the head of a ribbon eel. There is no visible transition between the eel's head and neck, though the bright yellow coloring around its mouth and eyes stands out against the light blue color of its body.

Ribbon Eel

Ribbon eels, related to moray eels, are found in lagoons and reefs in the Indo-Pacific Ocean and get their name from their thin bodies and ribbon-like swimming pattern. Ribbon eels spend their time hiding in holes or burrows in sand and among rocks and rubble, often with only their heads visible.

The translucent bells of moon jellies undulate in dark blue waters.
A screenshot from the game Animal Crossing, featuring a moon jellyfish info page.

Moon Jelly

Moon jellies are named for their translucent, moonlike bells. These intriguing creatures have no brain, blood or bones, and instead are made up of 95 percent seawater. Instead of long, flowing tentacles like some other species of jellies, moon jellies have a short fringe of hairlike tentacles along the rim of their bell, and frilly “oral arms” that dangle from the bell's center to help sweep in food.

A screenshot from the game Animal Crossing, featuring a sea anemone info page.
The narrow channel of a tide pool is shown from above, many anenome, seastars and urchins clinging to the sides of the rocks underwater.

Sea Anemone

Although you might think they are plants, sea anemones are marine animals related to jellies and corals that live attached by their “foot” to the surface of rocks or coral reefs. They use stinging cells at the end of their tentacles, each with a barbed or coiled thread that can be projected, in self-defense or to stun and catch unsuspecting prey.

Some species of anemones serve as homes for fish and other creatures that are not affected by their sting, most famously the clownfish. In particular, the candy-striped shrimp has a mutually beneficial relationship with the painted anemone.

Check out painted anemones in Polar Play Zone where they live in chilly waters at about 48-49 degrees Fahrenheit!

A mantis shrimp stands on sand near a rock.
A screenshot from the game Animal Crossing, featuring a mantis shrimp info page.

Mantis Shrimp

Mantis shrimp aren’t shrimp at all! They're stomatopods, distant relatives to crabs and lobsters. Mantis shrimp have complex eyes, with the ability to see more colors than humans. They also have a lightning-fast punch, some say quicker than a bullet, that they use to stun and catch prey.

See their eyes when you visit Underwater Beauty!