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

Rainforests of the World 

May 5, 2011

First fruit on the Cacao Tree

Theobroma cacao with ripe fruit 

Photo by Kristen Natoli

Rainforest Biologists were very excited a few months back to discover a new fruit on the Cacao Tree (Theobroma cacao), the first fruit we have had on this tropical tree.  Originating in the Amazon headlands, Theobroma cacao is, of course, the source of one of our favorite foods, chocolate, which is made from the fermented and roasted seeds.

One of the most beautiful specimen plants in our collection, this tree has grown vigorously and flowered prolifically since it arrived but we were not sure we would ever see it fruit.

Lots of flowers on the Theobroma cacao trunk

Photo by Rachael Tom


Cacao trees typically don’t set fruit until they mature at about 5-10 years old.  Most Cacao trees are ‘self incompatible’ meaning they will recognize and reject their own pollen, preventing self pollination in order to maintain genetic diversity.   We were not sure our tree would ever fruit as it is the only plant of its kind in the exhibit.

Theobroma cacao single flower

Photo by Rachael Tom 

In the wild these trees are most often pollinated by midges in the Forcipomyia family.  As we do not have these insects in our exhibit our volunteer James has been patiently and diligently hand pollinating flowers each week.

Pollen collection from the Theobroma

Photo by Kristen Natoli

hand pollinating the Theobroma

Photo by Kristen Natoli

At last we have success.  Amazing to think these large 6-8″ long fruits are produced from one flower only 1/2” in size.  The Cacao Tree produces flowers right off the main trunk of the tree, an adaptation called cauliflory.  This adaptation, mainly seen in tropical trees, likely serves to hold the fruit closer to the ground where the seed disperser animals are most active.

fruit on Theobroma cacao

Photo by Rachael Tom


Besides being delicious the Theobroma cacao is a particularly pretty tree exhibiting many adaptations unique to the tropics.   The new growth on our specimen is a rich burgundy color from the concentration of anthocyanins in the leaf tissue.  This adaptation is likely a means of protecting tender new leaves from the intense tropical sunlight at canopy and deterring insect feeding. The lower leaves are broad and thin to maximize capture of the limited light penetrating the understory.  The smooth surface and vertical drape of the leaves ending in a pointed ‘drip tip’ help shed water during heavy rains.

New growth on Theobrom a cacao

Photo by Sarab Stewart


The seeds from our first fruit will be germinated to produce additional back up Theobroma plants as we are so pleased with how much the parent plant adds to the exhibit.

Filed under: Plants,Uncategorized — Paphiopedilum @ 6:07 pm

April 27, 2011

Hand-rearing baby birds

Photo by Brian Freiermuth

Photo by Brian Freiermuth                                  

Sometimes the rainforest aviculturists have to help to our resident tanager families.  The rainforest can be a challenging place for young birds and their parents.  When we find that tanager parents are unsuccessful at raising offspring on their own, we step in. 

Photo by Brian Freiermuth

Photo by Brian Freiermuth                                  

Pulling a chick and hand-rearing it off exhibit is a delicate and time-consuming process.  We are equipped with both incubators and brooders.  Incubator

  An incubator is used if an egg is pulled before its hatch date.  The incubator can retain the temperature and humidity needed for an embryo to develop.  Like a mother bird in the nest, it also gently rotates the egg periodically.


A brooder maintains the temperature and humidity that a recently hatched baby bird needs to thrive. 

Babies require frequent feeding.  Newly hatched tanager babies are fed 10 times per day.  Aviculturists feed the chicks a formula specific to the needs of nestlings. 

Photo by Brian Freiermuth

Photo by Brian Freiermuth                                  

When the babies reach a certain age, the aviculturists begin feeding them the same foods that the rest of the rainforest flock is fed.  At about two weeks of age the young birds are ready to leave the nest or ‘fledge’.  The aviculturists use this time to reunite the chicks with their parents before the family is put back into the rainforest exhibit.  This decreases the chance of parents considering the newly introduced chicks as a threat.  If the aviculturists feel that the parents will not accept the chicks, or that the chicks would be superfluous in the present population, homes will be found for them at another AZA accredited institution.  Institutions that house similar species often trade offspring in order to prevent inbreeding.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vikki McCloskey @ 8:02 pm

January 25, 2011

Rainforest Refresher!

The rainforest exhibit reopened last Monday after being closed for two weeks for maintanence. Although guests could not enter the dome, they could look through the glass at any time during the day and see staff and volunteers hard at work doing a various range projects that can’t normally get done when the rainforest is open to guests.

During the first morning of the closure, supplies were immediately brought in so the biologists could get right to work. Everyone had big plans for their respective sections. In the picture below, you can see the abundance of plants waiting to be secured in their new home.


Photo by: Kevin Manalili

more plants!

Photo by: Kevin Manalili

The plant collection grew signficantly. Biologists added plants to the ground level, as well as to the trees and walls. They also created a whole new living wall on the Costa Rica level! This process takes a lot of time because the horticulturists had to secure moss on the wall before adding each individual plant. It looks great!

CR wall 1

Photo by: Kevin Manalili

CR wall

Photo by: Kevin Manalili

In order to keep the smaller plants safe on the ground, the horticulturists made paths so that the other biologists wouldn’t accidentally step on anything. The paths look very natural and makes it much easier to get around.


Photo by: Sarab Stewart

Herpetologists also added plants to their terrariums as they cleaned and rearranged exhibits. Almost every exhibit looks a little different with the new plants, substrate and even some new animals! Here is a picture of a volunteer cleaning out one of the Costa Rica exhibits:


Photo by: Kevin Manalili

The biologists were not the only ones working hard. Electricians, engineers and contractors came to help on different projects. One of the more difficult activities was replacing the old and cracked glass panes that make up the outside of the dome. Everyone had to work together to make sure no butterflies or curious birds escaped. You can see the netting that was put over the top of the hole just in case one of the free flying critters did manage to sneak through.

more glass

Photo by: Kevin Manalili

glass pane

Photo by: Kevin Manalili

The closure was an all around success. It allowed everyone to complete some lingering projects that needed to get done in order to keep the rainforest healthy.

You just got a small taste of what you can expect when you visit. Come check out the difference and see what you think in person!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — rainforest @ 12:35 pm

October 26, 2010

Bon Voyage Fruit Bats!!

Next week our lesser dog-face fruit bats, Cynopterus brachyotis, will retire to their new home at the prestigous Lubee Bat Conservancy in Gainsville, Florida. While we will miss working with them and observing their shenanigans, we know they will continue their adventures in the sunshine state.

Our bats have an interesting history. We received them from Swartz Lab, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, where they participated in non-invasive research. The goal of some of the research was to study the mammalian skeleton during flight. Sharon Swartz has published a considerable number of papers utilizing the bats in our exhibit as the study animals, read those papers HERE. Swartz Lab has a lot of bat information and is a good basic resource for bat physiology.

Stop by this week and wish the bats good luck on their move! Read about their future home, Lubee, by clicking HERE. Moving in to the cave to replace the fruit bats will be a large water monitor Varanus salvator. After some changes to the exhibit space, the monitor should take up residence by the end of the year.

Below are some photos of the bats while they participated in the physiology study. All photos are property of Swartz Lab, Brown University.



Filed under: Uncategorized — rainforest1 @ 12:28 pm

August 15, 2010

Meet our rainforest mammals!

Welcome to our first blog post about a mammal (other than people, of course)! There are currently two mammal species housed at the California Academy of Sciences- northern tree shrews, Tupaia belangeri , in the Extreme Mammals exhibit, and our resident bat species, the Lesser Dog-Faced Fruit Bats Cynopterus brachyotis.

Upon entering the Rainforest here at the Academy, there are a series of cave exhibits located immediately on your left side. These are part of the Borneo level. Many visitors are so excited to see the birds and the butterflies of the rainforest they miss these unique and exciting Borneo exhibits. In the first and largest cave exhibit are housed ten female bats.

Bat Group

Photo by: Pamela Schaller

These bats are banded on their left forearm, allowing the staff to keep track of them as individuals. We keep the bats on a reverse photoperiod so they are active while you are visiting. Some of the bats can be seen hanging from their small feet either along the ceiling or on the branches. Their feet are normally held closed so the bat has to physically open the foot to release their hold. This allows them to rest while hanging upside down.

Mr. Bat

Photo by: Pamela Schaller

The bats can also seen flying around or feeding from the fruit kabobs hanging around the exhibit. They are a small species weighing only 28-38 grams. In the wild they are found in rain forests, feeding on fruit, nectar and pollen. These bats are well adapted for vision, as they use sight to locate food. In this photo you can see the bat named “Heather” and her large, well-developed eyes.

Ms. Heather

Photo by: Pamela Schaller

When the lights are bright at nighttime, they roost together in groups of 3 to 5.
Bats Roosting

Photo by: Pamela Schaller

Look for a future bat post where we will share with you where our bats came from and their contribution to studies of mammal physiology and flight.

Filed under: Uncategorized — rainforest1 @ 12:24 pm

August 4, 2010

SCUBA Diving in an Indoor Flooded Forest

flooded forest diver

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Despite the best efforts of our algae-munching Giant South American turtle (Podocnemis expansa) and other fish, the Amazon Flooded Forest windows still need to be cleaned manually to keep them algae-free. Our team of experienced staff and volunteer SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) divers give the Academy’s Amazon tank a nice scrub-down about three days per week. This usually takes place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, although the time of day varies. One or two divers will enter the tank and clean, while another diver serves as a “Dive Tender.” This person monitors the entire process from the surface, ensuring the safety of those in the water.

Here is a brief video of one of our SCUBA divers entering the Amazon Flooded Forest and cleaning the tunnel:


Video by: Rachael Tom

In addition to wiping down the tunnel, divers also scrub the back windows near the elevators and occasionally the “fallen tree” which lies in the middle of the exhibit. Each dive lasts approximately 30 minutes to an hour. It takes quite a bit of elbow grease, but we think the end result is worth it:

flooded forest

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Below is a picture of the gear our divers use when cleaning the Amazon Flooded Forest. These items help our divers see and breathe underwater, and maintain neutral buoyancy so they are not constantly floating or sinking during their dive.

dive gear

Photo by: Rachael Tom

When all the gear is put on, it looks something like this:
dive gear

Photo by: Rachael Tom

In addition to dive gear, communication between divers is also very important. Because SCUBA divers cannot talk underwater, they communicate with hand signals and other body language. You may have observed our divers in the past give the “okay” sign with their hands to let each other know that the dive is going well. As a visitor, you can also communicate with our divers through the glass. They always appreciate a wave to say “Hello!”

Filed under: Uncategorized — rainforest @ 12:40 pm

April 1, 2010

Creating the Forest

Ever wonder what elements makes up an exhibit? The animals and plants are the most obvious component, but there is also an element most people don’t even notice: the exhibit furniture.

All of the stuff in an exhibit that makes it look like a rainforest or helps to accommodate animal husbandry needs are called “exhibit furniture.” At the Academy, these items are created by Exhibits Fabricator Robin Allen. This can be a really big job here, considering the whole rainforest bola is one big exhibit, with three huge “trees” made out of concrete and plastic.

flooded forest tree

It can also be really small jobs, like the two tiny fabricated Strawberry Dart frogs next to the ramp on the second level, or the home for the baby Cave Rat Snakes (Elaphe t. ridleyi). Usually it’s stuff that’s more of middle range: a “vine” for Leafcutter ants (Atta cephalotes) to climb and get their food, like in this photo:

ants on a vine

Also check out this “tree” for the Kuhl’s flying geckos (Ptychozoon kuhli) and Red-Tailed Green rat snakes (Gonyosoma oxycephela) to lounge on near their heat lamps.

two stumps

Next time you visit the Academy try to guess which things are real and which things we made to help make it seem more like a forest for our guests and our animals. As the Exhibit Fabricator, I get the always challenging and really fun job of making the exhibit furniture at the California Academy of Sciences. I hope you enjoy looking at our exhibits as much as I enjoy making them!

Filed under: Uncategorized — rainforest1 @ 12:39 pm

The Rainforest Team


Academy biologists share the inside scoop on the Academy's 'Rainforest of the World' exhibit.

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