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11:00 am – 5:00 pm
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10:00 – 11:00 am

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Rainforests of the World 

February 25, 2010

Wagler’s Pit Viper

Wagler’s Pit Vipers live in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. They find their food—mainly small mammals and birds—using heat sensitive pits located between their eyes and nostrils. The receptors in these pits are associated with the visual processing center of the brain which allows them to literally see heat emitted from their prey.

Wagler's Pitviper

Photo by: Brian Freiermuth


Visitors rarely get an opportunity to see our snakes feed. So here is your chance. Click below to see our Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) eating her weekly meal. Don’t worry, it wasn’t alive when we gave it to her. We feed previously frozen mice that are thawed and warmed just before feeding.


Video by: Richard Ross

Filed under: Herpetiles — vultures are friendly @ 1:25 pm

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

February 9, 2010

The Return of the Chameleons

The New Year has brought the long awaited return of our Madagascar panther chameleons to the rainforest. While their exhibits were being structurally improved, the chameleons were housed in our Rainforest Holding room.

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Panther chameleons are native to the island of Madagascar, and have been introduced to the nearby islands of Mauritius and Reunion.

You may notice that our two panther chameleons look quite different from one another. While structurally, they look the same, they differ greatly in their coloration.  This is because these two individuals are from different locations or “locales” in Madagascar. Our red panther chameleon originates from animals that were collected in Sambava while our blue panther chameleon hails from animals that were collected in Ambilobe.  Although the two chameleons we have on display were bred in captivity, their coloration carries with it the unique regional variation of their wild forbearers.


Photo by: Rachael Tom


Photo by: Rachael Tom

 A popular misconception is that chameleons change color to match their surroundings. While chameleons can in fact, change color, they are limited by a natural range of color unique to each species and, in the case of the panther chameleon, unique to the locales within the species. Color change occurs based on temperature, lighting, time of day, and the individual’s mood. It is also a way for the chameleons to communicate with one another.


Photo by: Rachael Tom

Over time, chameleons evolved to be very visual creatures. They live solitary lives, but when they do encounter another member of the same species, some of the most dramatic color changes can be observed. This type of communication can convey territorial aggression, whether a female is carrying eggs, or whether a female is receptive to breed.

Filed under: Herpetiles — rockclimber @ 3:50 pm

February 3, 2010

Art, our rainforest turtle

One of my very favorite animals here at the Academy is Art, our Giant South American turtle (Podocnemis expansa). Her name is an acronym for another common name given to this species: Arrau river turtle. Reaching over 3 feet long and weighing over 150 pounds these turtles are the largest of the South American river turtles and the largest members of the side-necked family Pelomedusidae. This means they have an extra-long neck that, instead of pulling straight back like most other turtles, they must fold sideways under their shell for concealment.

Below is a picture from last summer of Biologists Nancy Levine and Brooke Weinstein releasing Art into her new home here at the Academy:

nancy levine brooke weinstein art arrau river turtle release new academy home

Photo by: Charles Delbeek

This species is widely distributed in Amazonia, yet centuries of exploitation for their meat, eggs, leather, oil and supposed medicinal importance have rendered it Endangered. Their meat is so highly regarded in the local cuisine that hunters and fishermen will go to great lengths to capture them; in the illegal game market a single large specimen can fetch as much as would normally be earned over several months. Like the giant marine turtles they migrate in large numbers to specific beaches to lay eggs in the sand, making them particularly vulnerable to poaching. Below is a graphic picture of an Arrau head and meat for sale at a traditional market in Peru, taken by Biologist Brian Freiermuth:

arrau river turtle head meat sale Peru market

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Other factors negatively impacting this species in the wild include habitat destruction from both urban and industrial development, alterations to the water cycle from logging and damming, and climate change.

Art is on a temporary loan to us from another AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) facility so don’t miss the chance to see this amazing and rare animal! A powerful swimmer, she can usually be seen cruising around or foraging for algae and plant detritus on the sandy bottom.  She seems to be really loving life in her new 110,000 gallon home!

art arrau amazon river turtle new academy home

Photo by: Charles Delbeek

Filed under: Herpetiles — brooke @ 11:40 am

The Rainforest Team


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

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