55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
Regular Hours:


9:30 am – 5:00 pm


11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:


8:30 – 9:30 am


10:00 – 11:00 am

The Academy will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Planetarium will be closed Sep. 22, 23, 24

Naturalist Notebook 

June 3, 2011

Ask a Naturalist: Rattlesnake Roundup

Visitors at the Naturalist Center are interested in all kinds of things. Rattlesnakes seem to be a perpetual fascination.

Visitors often ask about the differences between a rattlesnake and its look-alike, the gopher snake. The two snakes have similar colors and patterns. Gopher snakes also exploit this morphological similarity by imitating rattlers, even shaking their non-rattle adorned tails to make a buzzing noise.

So how do you tell them apart?

California Herps is one of our favorite sites for snake info. They have a link to this sign by the East Bay Regional Parks District which says that a rattlesnake has a triangular shaped head, which is bigger than its neck, a thicker body and a blunt tail with one or more rattles. Gopher snakes have heads that are not triangular and only slightly larger than the neck. They also have pointy tails, rather than rattles.

Photo: Know Your Snakes. G. Nafis. California Herps Website

Would the rattlesnake would ever attack or try to eat the gopher snake?

According to one of our biologists, in the wild rattlesnakes are primarily rodent and sometimes lizard eaters. They simply don’t recognize other snakes as potential prey items. Interestingly, in the U.S. the non-venomous kingsnake IS a snake eater (along with rodents and lizards) and often will eat rattlesnakes.

John Kipping © California Academy of Sciences
Photo: Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. John Kipping © California Academy of Sciences

And the million dollar question, what do you do if you see a rattlesnake? Do you run? Do you try to scare it away?

According to the Tuscon Herpetological Society:
“If you encounter a rattlesnake, keep in mind that once it senses you it will be just as nervous as you are. The snake has good reason to be afraid. By sheer size alone, you are much more of a threat to the snake than it is to you. Move slowly and deliberately when close to a rattlesnake and back away to a safe distance. Usually, the snake will either hold its ground or move away from you. The rattlesnake will not chase you. If the snake moves toward you, back away; it’s probably just trying to get to a secure location just behind where you were standing. Keep tabs on the location of any rattlesnake and alert people in the area to be cautious. Pets should be restrained until the snake moves on.”

The California Department of Fish and Game, also recommends keeping your distance when encountering rattlesnakes and states that they are not normally aggressive, unless provoked, so throwing things at them probably would not be the best idea. Their website also has tips on what to do if you are bitten by a rattlesnake and ways to avoid encounters with rattlesnakes in the first place.

David M. Green © California Academy of Sciences.
Photo: Great Basin Rattlesnake. David M. Green © California Academy of Sciences.

Any other rattlesnake questions? Feel free to post them in the comments, or send them to us at Naturalist@calacademy.org. In fact if you have any other reference questions, an unidentified natural history specimen or need some assistance finding an awesome science book to impress your friends with, we’d love to help. We’re available by phone, email, and of course in person on the third floor of the Academy of Sciences.

Filed under: Ask a Naturalist — nature @ 12:02 pm

April 12, 2011

Ask a Naturalist: Dino Spotting

At least once a week in the Naturalist Center someone, usually a small boy or the representative of a small boy, will ask “Do you have any dinosaurs in here?”

While we don’t have anything as big as the T-Rex in the Academy’s foyer, we do have several dinosaur-related or otherwise prehistorically interesting items.

We have a half-size model of a Velociraptor.

Half Size Velociraptor

Photo: S.Sumrall

Did you know that Velociraptor was about the size of a large dog or wolf?

We have  a horseshoe crab that’s the size of your head.

Horseshoe Crab

Photo: S. Sumrall

Although horseshoe crabs can be found scuttling around on beaches today,

members of their family existed as early as the Paleozoic era, 540-248 million years ago.

We have  a model of an Archaeopteryx fossil.


Photo: S. Sumrall

Archaeopteryx represents a physical (and chemical) link between dinosaurs and birds.

We’re crawling with trilobites.


Photo: S. Sumrall

Trilobites were arthropods that lived from 550 to about 250 million years ago.

Their heyday was about 500 million years ago, at the end of the Cambrian period.

And we have stacks and stacks of great books (as well as DVDs and VHS tapes).

Dinosaur Books

Photo: S. Sumrall

The call numbers QE760.8-899.2 are the Library of Congress call numbers for Paleozoology.  At the Naturalist Center, Academy Members and California teachers can check out five books for three weeks and two DVDs or other media for one week, with one renewal possible. You can search our catalog by call number, as well as by author, title, subject, and key word.

If you have a question or an unidentified natural history specimen or need some assistance finding an awesome science book to impress your friends with, we’d love to help.  You can contact us via email at naturalist@calacademy.org

Filed under: Ask a Naturalist — nature @ 11:02 am

March 1, 2011

Ask a Naturalist: How Can I Make My Own Living Roof?

Living Roof
Photo:Living Roof at the California Academy of Sciences

We love our living roof for lots of reasons, but one that really stands out is its power to inspire.  Visitors often come into the Naturalist Center wondering how they can recreate this green design in their own homes.

Luckily, we have some great resources for using your roof, whether you are interested in a full-scale remodel or in just discovering a few things you can do to better utilize this space.


Building Green: A Complete How-to Guide to Alternative Building Methods: Earth Plaster, Straw Bale, Cordwood, Cob, Living Roofs / Clarke Snell & Tim Callahan. New York : Lark Books, c2005. Naturalist Center TH4860 .S63 2005
This book is a primer for owner-designed building and includes more than just living roofs.

Green Roof Plants: A Resource and Planting Guide / Edmund C. Snodgrass, Lucie L. Snodgrass. Portland, Or.: Timber Press, 2006. Naturalist Center SB419.5 .S66 2006
Intended for a broad spectrum of readers, from architects to home gardeners, this book discusses greenery for a green roof.

Green Roofs: Ecological Design and Construction / Earth Pledge. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub., c2005.  Naturalist Center SB419.5. G73 2005.
For a little lighter reading, take some time to enjoy this book’s beautiful photographs.

Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls
/ Nigel Dunnett and Noël Kingsbury. Portland, Or.: Timber Press, 2008. Naturalist Center SB419.5 .D85 2008
Comprehensive and a little technical, this book provides an overview of the how and why of green roofs and living walls.

At the Naturalist Center, Academy Members and California teachers can check out five books for three weeks and two DVDs or other media for one week, with one renewal possible. For more information, visit us at http://www.calacademy.org/science/naturalist_center/

Organizations, Businesses and Web Resources

Rana Creek Nursery in Carmel Valley prepared the plants for our living roof, so they may be able to help with finding suitable plants: http://www.ranacreeknursery.com/contact/

The SWA Group (Sausalito) built our roof. Their clients do seem to be mainly on the institutional level, so they may not do work for individuals: http://www.swagroup.com/

Bay Localize, an Oakland-based nonprofit, has resources and a guidebook for a project called Use your roof!  They specifically talk about rooftop gardens, capturing rainwater and generating solar power: http://www.baylocalize.org/programs/rooftop-resources

REGREEN is a non-profit that provides guidelines and resources for Green Remodeling projects: http://www.regreenprogram.org/about

Although Chicago Green Roofs provides a guide geared specifically for that city, the advice is adaptable for Californian needs. The site also has a great links page: http://www.artic.edu/webspaces/greeninitiatives/greenroofs/main.htm

Finding More

Most of our books use the term “green roof,” but resources are also findable by using the keywords “living roof.” In any library catalog, the subject headings “Green roofs (Gardening),” “Sustainable architecture” and “Building — Environmental aspects” should be useful.
And you can always ask for advice from people sources!  In fact, we’d like to hear from you.  Do you have any recommendations for resources about living roofs?  Leave a comment below!

If you have a question or an unidentified natural history specimen or need some assistance finding an awesome science book to impress your friends with, we’d love to help.  You can contact us at Naturalist@calacademy.org

Filed under: Ask a Naturalist,Research Guides — nature @ 2:58 pm

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