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 

July 29, 2010

Tambaqui: Flagship Fish of the Amazon

Look at our 110,000 gallon Amazon Flooded Forest display and one of the first fish you are likely to notice are the tambaqui–we have about fifty of ‘em! They are commonly, yet erroneously, called pacu in English and are in the same family as the infamous piranha. Tambaqui can reach over 3 feet in length, over 60 pounds in weight and are widely distributed throughout the Amazon and Orinoco basins.

Photo by: Ronald DeCloux

These fish display distinct countershading; they’re black ventrally and yellow to olive-green dorsally. However, the most characteristic feature of these gentle giants is the amazing dentition they have evolved. Their teeth are cuspid, resemble human molars and, along with their powerful jaws, allow them to crush the fruit, nuts and seeds on which they heavily feed.

Look head-on at one of our tambaqui and you’ll notice that it appears to have two protrusions on the upper part of its snout kind of like the headlights on a sports car. These are actually nasal flaps that raise, allowing more water to flow past the olfactory cells of the nose and helping the fish locate fruit that has fallen into the water from overlying trees.

Here at the Academy we feed our tambaqui daily “fiestas” consisting of assorted fruits and a small amount of greenery. Organic only, of course! The photograph below depicts an average daily meal consisting of apples, pears, bananas, figs, honeydew, cantaloupe and grapes:

pacu fiesta

Photo by: Brooke Weinstein

They are voracious feeders!

Photo by: Brooke Weinstein

In the wild, tambaqui are key seed dispersal agents and are critical to the regeneration biology of Amazonian floodplain forests. They are also prized for their uniquely mild, sweet flavor and are one of the most heavily exploited food species in the Amazon. Considerable economic importance for commercial fishing and for breeding in captivity (aquaculture) has placed a lot of attention on this species; it is exemplary of a tropical rainforest resource that can be managed in the wild.

Filed under: Fish — brooke @ 3:30 pm

July 19, 2010

Busy busy summer!!

Wow- the monthy of July is just flying by! Between all the happenings in the rainforest and staff coverage during summer vacations, your rainforest biologists have been staying active. So what’s been going on? Well, let’s see:

Last weekend we had two successful bird fledglings leave their nest and take flight. First we had a silver-beaked tanager (Ramphocelus carbo) fledge, bringing our population for that species to five birds. For some reason our female red-legged honeycreepers (Cyanerpes cyaneus) have taken an interest in silver-beaked tanager juveniles. Here are some fun photos of one of the honeycreepers with the last batch of silver-beaked juvies:


Photo by: Rachael Tom


Photo by: Rachael Tom

Just a couple days after that, a bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) decided to fledge as well, bringing our total population to six birds (two pairs and two offspring). Here’s a photo of the adult female taking a break from her parental duties to take a sip of nectar:


Photo by: Rachael Tom

On July 12 we received 3.1 paradise tanagers (Tangara chilensis). Nope, it doesn’t mean we received three and a fraction of birds. In zoo/aquarium speak, that first number is the number of males and the second number is the number of females. So we received three male paradise tanagers and one female paradise tanager. We also received 2.2 (two pairs) black-faced dacnis (Dacnis lineata). We currently have several female paradise tanagers like the one below that we hope will be excited to have three new males to choose from!


Photo by: Rachael Tom

What happens when we receive new birds from another facility? First, the animals are placed in quarantine and receive extensive medical check-ups from our superb veterinary staff. This ensures that they do not have any communicative diseases. After a minimum of 30 days in quarantine and several clean fecal samples, our veterinary staff will evaluate whether these individuals are healthy enough to incorporate into our resident bird community.

If they get a clean bill of health, we place the new birds in a “howdy cage” in the rainforest for 12-24 hours. This gives them a chance to greet the resident birds (and vice-versa) with the safety of some physical seperation. Kind of like an icebreaker. It also gives them the chance to look around and take in their surroundings. The howdy cage is hidden on the main level of the rainforest:

howdy cage

Photo by: Eric Hupperts

After some time acclimating, we will open the howdy cage door and let them leave at their choice. Typically they fly out of the cage pretty fast and head up into the trees, where many of our resident birds fly down and everyone chatters for a bit. We do have a couple individuals that are a bit bossy, so we keep an eye on how they’re treating the newbies. Our primary bully is currently our male rufous-crowned tanager (Tangara cayana):


Photo by: Rachael Tom

And finally, some of you may have seen the red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) who recently fledged from a nest on Academy property. While technically not part of our rainforest exhibit and therefore not really under the scope of this blog, the juvies have been observed sitting on the living roof above the rainforest, so there’s the connection! It’s been fun observing them as they gain confidence in their flying abilities and manouver around in the sky above. Look for them on your next visit!


Photo by: Rachael Tom

Filed under: Birds — rainforest1 @ 12:12 pm

The Rainforest Team


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

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