“Swarm” has engulfed a gallery at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach

Ripley's Aquarium in Myrtle Beach.
Ripley's Aquarium in Myrtle Beach. Photo by Jack Wilson

The doctor is in – many of them, in fact – for people swarming to a new special exhibit at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach.

Visitors to “Swarm” are welcome to dip their hands into a tank full of garra rufa, better known as doctor fish, where these little, toothless algae eaters are happy to swarm in a group to pick off dead skin. Chuckles emerge from folks who soak their hands to the tiny tickling – maybe even massaging – sensation from as many as 10 or more fish that seek a harmless nibble simultaneously.

Jessica Mula, marketing and public relations coordinator for Ripley’s Attractions in Myrtle Beach, said “Swarm” will continue through at least October, at the aquarium, an anchor of Broadway at the Beach, in the northeast corner off 29th Avenue North.

The critters with orange legs look like they might be in costume for Oct. 31. About 800 Halloween crabs – not all in view at once – captivate guests in their own corner. It appears they have two extra sets of eyes atop their shell, with pairs of yellow and white spots, respectively, behind their baby blues, or blacks, actually. The open-air viewing station lets visitors see the crabs from above and through see-through panels along many crevices where the crabs like to take refuge in bunches.

Read up on the display for these nocturnal crustaceans native to Cuba and Costa Rica display to learn that once a year they leave the safe cover in forests to march to the sea to spawn, with females laying tens of thousands of eggs. That red highway repeats itself in the other direction as the young crabs that hatch and survive later move inland.

A stop by a tank for a few minutes to watch a mindless mob of blue blubber jellyfish might turn into soothing quality time. Sunday afternoon, some of these jellies also looked purple or white. Although sightless, they use their eight oral arms each equipped with multiple mouths to transfer food to its stomach, pulsating their bells to propel rhythmically through the water.

Peer through a tank, almost eye-to-eye with any of at least a dozen American eels. These long, legless fish at least 2 feet long spend solitary lives in freshwater lakes, rivers and streams, but Mother Nature sets some kind of signal to trigger the millions of eels’ eyes to enlarge and their skin to turn thick and leathery before migrating back to their hatching points at sea, maybe as far as 4,000 miles for a final act, mating. Together, billions of eggs result, and when those crack open, glass-like larvae called fry will embark on their own “odyssey” inland, a wall panel states.

Debut in Myrtle Beach

The premiere of “Swarm” this spring in Myrtle Beach marks its first stop, Mula said, before the exhibit moves on to Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Factoids are fruitful in other displays as well, such as a video on leafcutter ants, which notes how a queen, living 15-20 years in a colony lays, 15,000 eggs a day and shows how with buzzsaw-like mandibles, the ants do not eat the leaves they cut. They also are seen as vital to balancing ecosystems in Central and South America.

Among the many awe-striking tidbits touted across the gallery, coral catfish, whose range spans reefs in the Indian and Pacific oceans, provide their own tactics for teamwork, swimming in swarms to maximize their safety and and efficiency when feeding. These saltwater residents coordinate in a pattern so that no stone in their sandbeds goes unturned. They roll across the sea floor by alternating en masse between foraging for food and cycling back up to guard the part of the group descending to eat.

Also, trivia buffs can whet their appetites with some words about collective names for groups of animals identifications that could double as dessert: Bats, the wrongly maligned creatures that are the world’s only mammals “capable of self-powered flight,” live in a colony, such as the estimated 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats that reside seven months a year in Bracken Cave in Texas, a private site owned and preserved by Bat Conservation International.

Also, dial up these words to classify animal groups: a murder for crows, business for ferrets, and look up now, tower for giraffes.