Backyard Scientists at the Tennessee Aquarium. (Photo: Contributed)

From the agile aerobatics of American kestrels and the nocturnal adventures of opossums to the spring migrations of spotted salamanders, the Southeast is teeming with animals engaging in incredible behaviors.

While exploring two buildings filled with fascinating creatures from around the world, guests visiting the Tennessee Aquarium between March 9 and April 8 can also enjoy Backyard Burrowers (daily at 11 a.m.) and Backyard Scientist (daily at 1 p.m.), two new programs celebrating the plants and animals living right on their doorstep. In addition, visitors arriving the week of March 30 to April 6 can get an even closer look at native animals through a Backyard Critter Close-up hosted daily at 12:30 p.m.

Through these programs, younger visitors will learn how to view native wildlife from the perspective of a scientist. In the process, they’ll gain a deeper appreciation for animals they might otherwise overlook and better understand the role they play in the ecosystem.

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“So many times, people think about nature as being the mountains or the beach or a state park, when really, there is a huge variety of wildlife and plants and amazing ecosystems right in your backyard,” Aquarium Director of Science Education Dr. Brooke Gorman said. “I think providing opportunities to get up close to native animals really gives people a deeper appreciation of what’s around them and helps them to connect with nature in a way they might not have expected to.”

These special spring break events are offered in addition to the Aquarium’s popular slate of Extraordinary Experience programs. Free with admission, guests can enjoy more than a dozen Extraordinary Experiences every day, including dive programs, animal close encounters and keeper-led presentations of Gentoo and Macaroni Penguins, North American River Otters, American Alligators and Ring-tailed and Red-ruffed Lemurs.

Extraordinary Experiences help guests make connections with animals from all over the world, but the new spring programs will open their eyes to amazing wildlife they can encounter just outside their door, according to Guest Engagement Manager Susie Grant.

Young guests meet an owl during an Extraordinary Experience program. (Photo: John Bamber)

“A lot of times, people think of cool animals as being from somewhere else,” Grant said. “We sometimes forget that we have some amazing animals that live in our backyard. Over Spring Break, we’ll try to highlight and focus on some things you may not have seen that are sharing your habitat with you.”

The films screening at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater offer giant-screen entertainment that builds on and amplifies the experience of seeing and learning about native wildlife at the Aquarium.

The newest addition to the theater’s schedule  “The Wild Around You 3D” opens on March 16 and offers an intimate perspective on animals living in and around the home of a modern suburban family. Daily screenings are available at 11 a.m. and 1, 3 and 5 p.m.

Unbeknownst to their human neighbors—excepting one girl whose eyes are steadily opened to the wonder around her—the woods near the family’s home teeming with incredible wildlife. Viewers will gasp at the daredevil free-fall exit of wood duck hatchlings from treetop nests, the mass migration of spotted salamanders back to the forest pools from which they hatched and the monumental power of a single raindrop to turn an insect’s world upside down.

Also showing at the theater, guests can learn about all manner of natural aviators in “Conquest of the Skies 3D,” screening daily at noon and 2, 4 and 6 p.m. Through April 12, giant-screen cinema lovers can catch daily 7 p.m. screenings of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Viewed on the theater’s six-story screen and rendered in pristine detail by a state-of-the-art IMAX with Laser digital projection system, each screening of this sci-fi epic is a thrilling audio-visual experience that comes closest to matching the vision of writer/director Rian Johnson.

Guests can save on a full-day of fun by purchasing combination tickets to the Aquarium and an IMAX screening. Combination tickets are $37.95 for adults and $26.95 for ages 3-12. Click here for more details about Spring Break programming.

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