A sloth hanging on a vine seen here at the...

A sloth hanging on a vine seen here at the “Creatures of the Night” exhibit, which opens June 27 at the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center in Riverhead. Credit: Handout

The new sloth at the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center in Riverhead could learn a thing or two from Java the sea lion.

The hairy, moplike sloth -- which looks like a relative of Cousin Itt -- sleeps in a tree branch as much as 23 hours a day. Meanwhile, Java has used his time as an aquarium resident more productively -- learning to "paint" by blowing air through his nose.

If you're looking for something fun to do to kick off the summer, check out the aquarium. You'll find a few newcomers, and some "old dogs," like Java, who have learned new tricks.


The aforementioned sloth -- named L'Orange -- and two other new species have moved into the aquarium. Their shared exhibit, called "Creatures of the Night," officially opens June 27.

Living in a glassed-in area outside that used to house the aquarium's tortoises are the sloth, two porcupines and 120 bats. They came from the Bronx Zoo. (The tortoises were getting too big for the exhibit, so they were sent to live on a reserve in Texas.)

The exhibit is bathed in a bluish light, simulating nighttime. "We can't have it pitch black in there because nobody will see what they look like," says mammal trainer Erika Culmo. The museum has the nocturnal newbies on an opposite schedule, turning on a bright white light at 10 p.m. so the animals, which normally sleep during the day, will think it's daytime. The blue lights come on again at 10 a.m., so the animals will be active when visitors are at the aquarium. "We kind of tricked them," Culmo says.


The bats flit around at a dizzying speed, stopping to take a bite of a hanging slice of melon or sip at organic pear nectar mixed with Ensure for added nutrition. They are nectar bats, which help pollinate plants, not vampire bats, so they are smaller and seem like hummingbirds. Be sure to look up, because some of them will be hanging from the ceiling.

The sloth, who is 26 years old, sleeps in the exhibit's branches. "The only times the sloth comes out of the trees is once a week to go to the bathroom," Culmo says. Sloths are solitary animals, she says: "If you see two sloths together, it's usually mother and baby."

And the porcupines -- a mother and daughter named Jackie and Flora, respectively -- also spend much of their time up in the trees, but are more likely to climb toward the glass and show their faces. They spread their quills -- black spokes with white tips -- only when they're upset, Culmo says.


The "Creatures of the Night" animals join the older aquarium residents, including Java the sea lion. Visitors interested in seeing Java paint have to sign up for the aquarium's Trainer Program. "They gave us a little canvas on a clipboard," says Matthew Siepinski, 11, of Shirley, who attended a recent program. Then, participants put blobs of paint on the canvas. "I used black, blue and green," Matthew says. "We went over to the sea lion and he blew on it, and the paint spread all over the canvas."

The trainers taught Java to exhale forcefully on cue (when a trainer says, "Breathe") and got Java adjusted to the paint smell, says senior trainer Candy Paparo.

"I thought it was going to take the paintbrush in its mouth and dip it in the paint," says Julia Weeks, 10, of East Quogue. Still, she says of the artwork, "I thought it was good for a sea lion." Each participant takes home a piece of Java's masterpiece.

WHAT Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center

WHEN|WHERE 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 431 E. Main St., Riverhead

INFO (AQUARIUM ONLY) $22.50 plus tax for adults; $19.50 plus tax for children ages 3 to 12 and seniors 62 and older; free for children 2 and younger; Trainer Program: Participants must be at least 10 years old, and the session costs $150, register by calling 631-208-9200 or at longislandaquarium.com


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