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 

March 15, 2010

Rainforest FAQs

If you’ve ever had any questions about our rainforest and the organisms that live there, this is YOUR blog post! The following questions are some of the most common that our biologists hear:

What is the temperature and the humidity in the rainforest?
We aim to keep temperatures between 75-80 F and humidity between 65-80%. The plants and animals in our exhibit depend on it!

Are the two strawberry dart frogs (Oophaga pumilio) next to the railing real?
Next to the railing: no. In our dart frog exhibit on the Costa Rica level: yes! As you walk up the rainforest ramp from the Borneo to the Madagascar level, you will see a mini exhibit which demonstrates how some animals in the rainforest have adapted to live amongst bromeliads. As the sign states, animals such as monkeys, birds and strawberry dart frogs utilize the water that accumulates in their cup and leaf axils. With a focus on strawberry dart frog reproduction, the exhibit shows that those small pools of water in bromeliads serve as excellent nursuries for strawberry dart frog tadpoles. During the Academy’s brief period at Howard Street, our strawberry dart frogs successfully bred that way!

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Here is a picture of one of our live strawberry dart frogs, which you may be able to find with a keen eye in our dart frog exhibit on the Costa Rica level:

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Why are there different types of animals in one tank? Are the smaller animals food for the bigger animals?
Many of our exhibits house multiple species because that is how they occur in the wild. Although many animals have adapted to live in specific areas in a rainforest, there is usually overlap between different species. This is what allows them to be compatible in an exhibit. As long as those animals have enough space, hiding places, food and water, they seem to live just fine together. The animals in our terrariums are typically fed fruit flies, crickets, kingworms, silk worms and hornworms. The snakes in the rainforest are fed anoles, mice and young rats. The animals in our aquariums and the Flooded Amazon are fed fish flake and pellets, algae wafers, black and blood worms, brine shrimp, chopped fish and produce.

What do you feed the birds and the butterflies?
Our birds are fed a variety of fruits and vegetables, insects, pellet bird diet, seeds and nectar. Our butterflies drink nectar as well, which you can see when they insert their probosics into our flowers and nectar feeding stations. They use their proboscis like a straw to draw out liquids. Some of our butterflies also eat pollen. There are five feeding stations throughout the exhibit which we change twice daily. Check out this enthusiastic bird diet:

Photo by: Rachael Tom

What do the bats eat?
Our Lesser Dog Faced Fruit Bats (Cynopterus brachyotis) are provided with nectar, as well as a variety of fruits which include: bananas, melons, grapes, apples, pears and oranges. We also throw in a couple of veggies which they occasionally munch on. You may see them eating throughout the day on large chunks of fruit which hang from the vines in their cave, or using their furry bellies as plates to rest pieces of fruit on them as they hang and eat.

How long do the butterflies live?
Our butterflies live approximately 1-2 weeks as adults, but our Longwing species will live up to a few months as long as they have a pollen source.

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Why do the macaws bicker with each other?
This is the case with all animals that establish hierarchy and territory, and parrots are one group of animals where bickering is a common and completely natural process. For the most part, these scuffles last only a couple of minutes and then both our macaws will resume preening, chewing, eating, etc. Often times you may see them preening each other or even regurgitating into each other’s mouths which is a sign of companionship:

Photo by: Rachael Tom

How many species of plants are in the rainforest?
There are several hundred species of plants in our rainforest… and counting!

What kind of tree is the one with green fruit?
We have two Saba Nut trees (Pachira insignis) in our rainforest exhibit which produce green football shaped fruit year-round. In its native habitat (Central and South America), the fruit are a food source for people and animals. It is said to have a mild peanut and chestnut flavor.

Photo by: Rachael Tom

What do you feed the Tropical Pitcher Plants?
We actually don’t feed them; our pitcher plants are trapping insects all on their own! Carnivorous plants have adapted to survive in low-nutrient environments and consume insects to obtain the nutrients they need. To learn more about how they trap prey, be sure to check out our enlarged pitcher plant replica across the elevators on the Borneo level.

Photo by: Rachael Tom

That fish is huge! What kind is it?
The largest fish we have in the Flooded Amazon is the Arapaima (Arapaima gigas). Ours are 6-7 feet long, although they can reach lengths up to 10 feet long. The longest lived Arapaima at the Academy lived to be 18 years old. Despite a diet primarily composed of fish, they have been known to be opportunistic predators and will eat just about anything that can fit in their mouths. An interesting fact about Arapaimas is that they are air breathers, and must come to the surface for oxygen every 10-20 minutes.

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Photo by: Rachael Tom

We hope this gives you a little more insight about our awesome rainforest and those that dwell in it. If we haven’t answered one of your questions, please leave us a comment here and we’ll do our best to answer it!

Filed under: Birds,Butterflies,Fish,Herpetiles,Plants — rainforest @ 6:16 am

February 20, 2010

Surprise chick in the rainforest!

Even the best of birders have difficulty finding bird nests and the biologists at the Academy are no exception. Despite our best daily observations, our birds are masters at keeping their nests and chicks hidden from us! Occasionally we learn about these chicks after they have already started learning how to fly.

A few weeks ago one of our biologists was in the rainforest when he noticed a big ol’ yellow puff ball accompained by our blue and pink banded bananaquit pair (Coereba flaveola). They were hidden in the plants on the borneo level of the rainforest. Our biologist quickly realized that it was a bananaquit fledgling that was being closely monitored by its parents. One of our other biologists has decided the most fitting name for the little bugger is Omelette (please see the yellow ball in the middle):

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Birds carefully choose places to nest that are hard for other animals to find, which is crucial to ensure the survival of their future chicks. Birds will also avoid going into their nest if they feel they are being watched. Nothing is worse than leading a potential threat right to your babies! For these reasons, it can be difficult to spot these nests in our own rainforest dome. Bananaquit eggs take approximately 12-13 days to incubate and chicks begin to fledge after 17-19 days. By this time, the chick still has most of its down feathers so it appears fluffy. Its parents will continue to feed it for about another week, and teach it where to get food and how to eat on its own. Omelette’s parents were sexually mature at around 6 months old.

Photo by: Rachael Tom

As of right now, Omelette is familiarizing itself with its new home and learning to eat solo. It is the only bananaquit that has a purple band on one of its legs, so you can tell Omelette apart from the other four we have. Come by and hi to the little ball of fluff!

Filed under: Birds — rainforest @ 1:52 pm

February 14, 2010

Love is in the air…

The macaws wanted to wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day, but less than an hour after this photo was taken our scarlet macaw (Ara macao) had ripped off the “Happy” sign and chewed it to smithereens!

Oh well, hope everyone out there has an awesome day anyway!

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Filed under: Birds — rainforest @ 11:51 am

January 24, 2010

Meet our Psittacines!!

If you’ve been through the rainforest you’ve most likely seen our two macaws climbing, chewing, and socializing in their tree on the main level. These birds are in the parrot family, and are referred to as Psittacines. They are known for their extraordinary coloration along with their social and verbal skills.

The macaws are given enrichment several times per day to keep things interesting for them. Here they are checking out their fruit kabob.


Photo by: Rachael Tom

Our blue and gold macaw (Ara ararauna) and our scarlet macaw (Ara macao) are young males that have pair bonded to each other. You will see them exhibiting behaviors that are very typical among parrot species – preening themselves and each other, imitating behavior and sound, and yes – squabbling! Here is the scarlet macaw wondering why we are pointing a camera at him:


Photo by: Rachael Tom

Filed under: Birds — rainforest1 @ 2:06 pm

January 18, 2010

Return of little Miss Grosbeak

Last Thursday marked the return of our female yellow-green grosbeak (Caryothraustes canadensis) to the rainforest bola after an absence of nearly a year. She’s been doing great; she joins the tanagers for their morning bath and then picks her favorite treats from the breakfast platter.

Photo by: Rachael Tom

A change in the dynamics of the saffron finches (Sicalis flaveola) in our rainforest allowed us to try releasing her again…they previously bullied her too much. Here is a photo of the main culprit: saffron finch with the yellow band on its left leg.
saffron finch

Photo by: Rachael Tom

After discussing it with our veterinarian Dr. Dunker, we placed her in a “howdy cage.” This is a cage within the rainforest where she can sit and observe what’s going on and the other birds can check her out. After a day in the howdy cage, we released her.

It was a tense couple moments knowing her history with the finches, and it didn’t help that saffron finch-yellow band immediately began displacing her. But after about 15 minutes the finches grew bored and she gained confidence. Now they just ignore eachother and she gets to hang out in peace. On your next visit to the rainforest, keep an eye out for the grosbeak and welcome her home!

Filed under: Birds — rainforest1 @ 2:14 pm

January 8, 2010

Behind the scenes in the rainforest

There are many different aspects to the work that we do in the rainforest bola. Click below to check out a fantastic video produced by our Science In Action team and hear what the biologists have to say about the circle of life in this exhibit.


Behind the Scenes of the Academy’s Rainforest Exhibit from Science in Action on Vimeo.


Filed under: Birds,Butterflies,Fish,Herpetiles,Plants — rainforest1 @ 10:07 am

December 30, 2009

Violaceous euphonia nest

Yesterday was day 22 for our violaceous euphonia (Euphonia violacea) nest. With a typical incubation of 12-14 days, these eggs were assumed infertile, but we let the female sit on them a bit longer so that she would gain some experience going through the incubation process. But, alas, after sitting in a tropical rainforest for three weeks, they can begin to go bad, so we pulled them yesterday.

Below is the euphonia pair drinking their morning nectar; the male is the yellow/purple one on the left and the female is in her fabulous camouflage green on the right.
euphonia pair

Photo by: Rachael Tom

They chose a precarious nesting site, in the root ball of an orchid about 5 feet above the Amazon fish tank. You can see the dark entry to the nest in the crotch of the tree branch, right behind the vine. Both the male and female build the nest, and they like sites where they can create a little dome around the nest.
euphonia nest

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Euphonia eggs are about 1 cm long and look like those little Easter egg chocolates. Mmmmm…chocolate. Clutch size is 3-5 eggs, laid on consecutive days.
euphonia eggs

Photo by: Rachael Tom

So how do we determine the fertility of the eggs? We carefully hold a light source to the egg in a dark room, and then can see what’s going on inside. This egg is infertile as you can clearly see the yolk floating around with no veining or any chick development. You can even see the air pocket in the upper 1/4 of the egg. Thanks to Rachael for taking this amazing photo:
candling egg

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Filed under: Birds — rainforest1 @ 11:12 am

December 16, 2009

Welcome to the Rainforest Blog

The rainforest bola here at the Academy is full of awesome plants and animals with something always happening. We hope this blog gives you insight into the type of work biologists do and the flora and fauna we work with.

During your visit, you might encounter some of the free-flying birds that live here. One of the liveliest species is also one of our smallest (and has the coolest name): the bananaquit (Coereba flaveola).
bananaquit (Coereba flaveola)

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Another very visible species here are the paradise tanagers (Tangara chilensis). Our paradise tanagers usually hang out at the Costa Rica level (3rd floor) of the rainforest, where they keep an eye on what visitors are up to. Here is one of our female tanagers telling us what’s up:
paradise tanager

Photo by: Rachael Tom

How do we know which bird is which? Most of our birds are banded with their own unique color band. The paradise tanager above, for example, is the only one of her species with a green band on her left leg. This way, we can record all of our observations of what this individual does.

We search for each individual bird every morning to see how they are behaving, what their appetite is like, etc. Some mornings, certain birds are slow to show up for breakfast. This usually means that they have a nest hidden somewhere, so when we do see them, we observe their behavior until we see them going to a nest. Check out this awesome silver-beaked tanager (Ramphocelus carbo) nest:
silver-beaked tanager nest

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Thanks for checking out the Rainforest Blog and we hope to see you exploring the tropics here at the Academy!

Filed under: Birds — rainforest1 @ 1:42 pm
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The Rainforest Team


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

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