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Naturalist Notebook 

December 24, 2008

Trek through a Rainforest October 2008

Swing through the trees with monkeys. Listen to the sweet songs of birds. Find out just how long an anaconda can be. Check out the following books, DVD and specimens in the Naturalist Center, as well as other resources. Then experience what its like to walk through the different layers of a rainforest in our Rainforests of the World exhibit.

Book and Media Reviews

Yolen, Jane. Welcome to the Green House. Illustrated by Laura Regan. 1993. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Nat. Ctr. Juv. QH541.5 .R27 Y65 1993

Over the course of Welcome to the Green House, we are invited to become immersed in the ‘green house’ that is a rainforest. We start on the outside looking in, and are quickly taken inside to meet the animals and plants that call the rainforest home. Laura Regan’s lush, realistic paintings suggest the rich green of a rainforest from the canopy to the ground. The vivid colors of the birds, frogs and butterflies that live there sing out against a detailed backdrop of plants. Jane Yolen’s rhythmic text is ideal for reading aloud and meshes perfectly with the beautiful illustrations. The languid prose evokes the sights and sounds of a rainforest by day and night. At the end, we have a better understanding of the patterns of life in a rainforest and the balance achieved by its inhabitants. The final page sounds a warning note about deforestation.

Children’s writer Jane Yolen and San Francisco artist Laura Regan have collaborated on several other Welcome to… books including Welcome to the Ice House and Welcome to the River of Grass. Recommended for kindergarten to 3rd grade.

Really Wild Animals: Totally Tropical Rain Forest. DVD. (40 minutes). National Geographic Nat. Ctr. Media QH541.5 .R27 .T67 2005.

What animal is related to both the horse and the rhino? And just how dangerous is a piranha? These questions kick off this kid-friendly DVD before we’re whisked off onto a fun-filled exploration of tropical rainforests. Our host on this tour is Spin, an animated globe who takes us to the different layers in a rain forest and shows us many of the different bugs, birds and animals that live there. The DVD is educational in the sense that much interesting information is given, but the learning sits lightly and never gets in the way of close up shots of the creatures. There are songs along the way and snippets from old black and white movies and these both support the messages of the DVD. ‘Let’s eat lunch’ is a particularly funny song, which takes the first steps towards explaining the web of life accompanied by many unsentimental shots of creatures chowing down on each other. The final section touches on deforestation and shows children and scientists working together to halt it. As Spin says, the rain forest is a weird and wonderful place, full of unforgettable and unbelievable species and it’s a place worth trying to save.

Extras on this DVD include a National Geographic feature called “Far Out Families” and some quizzes and fun facts.

Newman, Arnold. Tropical Rainforest: A World Survey of Our Most Valuable and Endangered Habitat with a Blueprint for its Survival.New York: Facts on File, 1990. Naturalist Center QH541.5.R27 N49 1990

Arnold Newman is a science writer and conservationist, as well as a superb photographer. He starts this book with a lively and detailed description of the rainforest and follows this with a section looking at the inhabitants of the rainforest and how their lives are inter-related and interdependent. Newman’s main theme, however, is the human threat to the rainforests from timber extraction, slash and burn agriculture, fuel wood collection, cattle grazing, mining, and pollution. He looks at each of these in some detail and vividly creates a picture of what we lose if these activities are allowed to continue without restraint. In the final section of the book, Newman gives a ‘blueprint for survival’ with some well-argued proposals for managing the forests without further destruction through use of sustainable production techniques.

The early descriptive sections of the book are well written and packed with many gorgeous photos. The latter part of the book is much more text heavy, with some photographs and many charts and diagrams. However as Newman clearly feels passionately about the destruction of the rainforest and possible solutions to this, it remains very readable.

Read an engaging book or seen a fabulous movie about rainforests? Share the title and why you liked it with us below in our comments section.

Featured Creatures

anaconda
Photo: M. Flannery

Green Anaconda Skin

Found in the Amazon basin and other parts of South America, green anacondas (Eunectes murinus) sport blotched scales that camouflage them against rainforest vegetation. These ambush predators lie in wait along the shallow waters of swamps and flooded forests for prey that includes fish, birds, reptiles . . . pretty much any animal with a backbone. Despite their formidable size and notorious onscreen reputation, these large boas only have received a few authenticated reports of eating humans. They can grow up to 9 m (29.6 ft), but the average adult length is 5 m (16.5 ft). The Naturalist Center’s snakeskin is 3.62 m (11.9 ft) and lost its green coloration during preservation.

Don’t forget to visit our live anaconda curled up in the Flooded Amazon Exhibit in the Steinhart Aquarium.

blue_morpho

Photo: G. Sharlow

blue_morpho_back
Photo: G. Sharlow

Blue Morpho

Now you see ‘em, now you don’t. At rest, the earth-toned undersides of blue morpho butterfly (Morpho species) wings make them difficult for birds and other predators to detect. Eyespots along wing edges also create the illusion that a bigger creature is staring back at them. Blue morphos’ flashier side is revealed when they take flight. The backs of their wings are a brilliant aqua blue with the wings of males being particularly iridescent. As they open and close their wings, the butterflies’ bright blue and dull-brown colors flash, creating the illusion that they are disappearing and reappearing.

Watch blue morphos and a variety of other Costa Rican butterflies flutter about the Academy Rainforest.

Want to find out more about rainforests and their inhabitants? Visit:
Amazon Interactive

http://www.eduweb.com/amazon.html
Passport to Knowledge: Live from the Rainforest
http://passporttoknowledge.com/rainforest/intro.html
PBS Journey into Amazonia
http://www.pbs.org/journeyintoamazonia/index.html
Rainforest Alliance Learning Site
http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/education.cfm?id=kidsmain


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