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Regular Hours:

Daily

9:30 am – 5:00 pm

Sunday

11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:

Tuesday

8:30 – 9:30 am

Sunday

10:00 – 11:00 am
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Notices

The Academy will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Rainforest will be closed Sep. 9 & 10

Rainforests of the World 

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.
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Filed under: Uncategorized — rainforest1 @ 12:28 pm

October 19, 2010

The Bird of Seven Colors

The paradise tanager (Tangara chilensis), known locally as siete colores (seven colors), is one of our most asked about rainforest birds. We currently have three of these little beauties in our Rainforest exhibit and you can often spot them flocking together and chirping away.

Paradise

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Paradise tanagers are found from the foothills of the Andes Mountains throughout most of the Amazon Basin with four subspecies: T. c. chlorocorys, T. c. paradisea, T. c. tchlorocorys and T. c. coelicolor. There is no obvious sexual dimorphism, meaning, differences between males and females. Aside from DNA testing, sex can be determined by observing behavior; males tend to call more often than females.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2009, paradise tanagers were evaluated as “least concern” in terms of future extinction. Although their population size is unknown, they have been decribed as ‘common’ throughout their large geographic range.

Paradise

Photo by: Rachael Tom

These birds are the ultimate eye candy and have a colorful personality to match. Our paradise tanagers are usually one of the first species to appear when biologists feed out nectar every morning. Just like in the wild, our tanagers’ diet is also composed of fresh fruits and small insects here at the Academy. Above is a picture of our paradise tanagers at a nectar feeding station with two female red-legged honeycreepers (Cyanerpes cyaneus) and one female red-shouldered tanager (Tachyphonus phoenicius). Below is a paradise tanager eating a piece of fruit at one of five feedings stations in the Rainforest exhibit:

Paradise

Photo by: Rachael Tom

In addition to being one of the first species to drink and feed every morning, our paradise tanagers are also always front and center for morning bathing. As our horticulturalists spray down tree leaves to remove debris, our paradise tanagers perch themselves in the middle of the spritz and began ruffling their feathers and preening just like their wild counterparts would do in heavy mist and rain. They are so dedicated to their bathing, they seem to only stop when the hose is shut off. Here are two paradise tanagers getting squeaky clean:

Paradise

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Because tropical rainforests are located near the equator, this type of habitat does not experience as many seasonal fluctuations that other parts of the world do from the tilt of the Earth’s axis as it rotates around the Sun. In general, the tropics experience two seasons: the Dry season and the Wet season. Studies have shown that the greatest number of birds nesting in the tropics occurs between April and June which are the first few months of the wet season. Our paradise tanagers, however, have been nesting throughout Summer and into Fall. This could be because of consistent food availability which aids egg production. Here is a picture of one of our paradise tanagers trying to attract a mate:

Paradise

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Paradise tanagers tend to favor nesting in the canopy of tropical rainforests. In addition to being out-of-reach for most predators, it is also believed that the humidity at the canopy level help their eggs develop properly. Once a nesting spot is chosen, our paradise tanagers will spend the majority of their day searching for nesting material.

Paradise

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Although there is plenty of naturalistic nesting material in our Rainforest Exhibit such as moss, twigs and leaves, sometimes our tanagers get a little carried away. Anything left behind in our exhibit by humans is fair game for nesting material. This includes paper towels…

Paradise

Photo by: Rachael Tom

and napkins.
Paradise

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Check out one of our paradise tanagers sitting in her well-hidden nest:
Paradise

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Paradise tanagers lay 2-3 eggs at once with an incubation period of 13-14 days. At the Academy, we have not yet observed our paradise tanagers incubate more than two eggs at a time.

Paradise

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Although we have many eye-catching birds in our Rainforest Exhibit, the paradise tanagers are by far the most colorful. We are thankful that the species is not yet threatened by extinction and are lucky to have a few of them here!

Paradise

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Filed under: Birds — rainforest @ 10:10 am

October 15, 2010

Pests in the Rainforest? Shocking!

But true… like any planted exhibit or landscape our Rainforest exhibit has its share of unwanted pests. Horticulture biologists have become very creative in figuring out ways to prevent these pests (mostly insects) from damaging our plants without causing harm to the other animals living in our forest like the butterflies, Amazon fish and birds.

Sara Longwing (Heliconius sara) on Senecio confusus flowers

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Amazon fish in the Flooded Forest Exhibit

Photo by: Sarab Stewart

Lucky for us the Rainforest isn’t just a collection of pretty plants, it’s also a complex living system that we can use to our advantage. Of course the best pest prevention is to grow healthy plants. Every day we give lots of attention to all our plants, big and small, to keep them as healthy as possible and catch health problems early on.

Dutchman's Pipevine (Aristolochia elegans)

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Masdevallia erinaceae, Costa Rica Exhibit

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Healthy plants are able to resist pests which reduces pest damage to the plants and slows down the growth of the pest population. When we see pests on the plants in our exhibit we first check to see what might be stressing the plant, making it susceptible to pests.

We also rely on the animals in the exhibit to help us out. We have naturally occurring spiders living in our forest that trap our pests and birds that will pick an insect snack off the plants now and then.

Bananquit cleaning Philodendron leaves

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Daddy Longlegs looking for insects under the Leafcutter Ant mound

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Of course we don’t want to use a lot of pesticide chemicals in the Rainforest that may harm our animals or our visitors so we rely on other strategies to control pests. What’s our favorite tool for pest control? WATER! Hosing pests off of plants is often as effective, if not more effective, than pesticides. Luckily we have volunteers to help us with the task.

Volunteer Mary Ann washes Scale off of Chamaedorea palms

Photo by: Kendra Hauser

In a real tropical rainforest, plants benefit from a diversity of naturally occurring predators and parasitoids that feed on insects in the forest and help keep them in check. We don’t have quite enough diversity of natural predators in our forest to manage our different pests so we have released our own beneficial insects to help keep pests under control.

Horticulturist Kristen releasing Minute Pirate bug onto Salvia coccinea plants

Photo by: Kendra Hauser

Two of our most common pests, scale and mealybug are successfully controlled by our beneficial insects. Scale is a tiny (~1/4″) insect that pierces the plant with a straw like mouth parts. We have controlled scale using a tiny, non-stinging, parasitic wasp. We can tell that the highly magnified scale in the photo below was parasitized because of the perfectly round exit hole where the adult wasp emerged.

Brown Soft Scale (Saissetia coffea) parasitized by wasp (Metaphycus spp)

Photo by: Emily Magnaghi

The mealybug in the photo below was parasitized too. The adult wasp popped the top off the mealybug when it emerged, like popping a lid off a can.

Mealybug (Planococcus citri) parasitized by parasitic wasp (Leptomastix dactylopi)

Photo by: Emily Magnaghi

Mealybug, also feeds on plant sap through its straw-like mouth parts and is under attack from a few predators in our rainforest. The pink/orange pupa to the right in the photo below is the midge Aphidioletes aphidmyza, which was released to control aphids and decided to expand its diet.

Mealybug (Planococcus citri) with predatory midge pupae (Aphidioletes aphidmyza)

Photo by: Emily Magnaghi

And… we release the well named ‘Mealybug destroyer’ beetle Cryptolaemus montrouzieri which feeds voraciously on this pest.

Horticulturist releasing Mealybug Destroyer beetles (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri)

Photo by: Kendra Hauser

Mealybug Destroyer beetle (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri) hunting for Mealybugs

Photo by: Kendra Hauser

All in all, our goal is to have an attractive exhibit with healthy plants and animals. We don’t mind having a few pests around as long as they don’t get in the way!

Amazon exhibit in the Rainforests of the World Exhibit

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Filed under: Insects & Arachnids,Plants — Paphiopedilum @ 4:00 pm

October 12, 2010

In the Field: Poison Frogs

This August several Academy biologists, Brian Freiermuth, Victoria McCloskey, Nicole Chaney and Chief of Public Engagement, Chris Andrews, went to Costa Rica. An important outcome of the trip was bringing animals back for our exhibits. However, trips like this are beneficial to staff for a reason even more important than the individual animals they bring back: these trips allow staff to view how the animals behave in the wild. They give the biologist first hand knowledge about the animals he or she studies or takes care of. It is one thing to read about another person’s experiences with an animal in captivity or even in the wild. It is an entirely different and somehow more genuine experience to find animals and plants where they have evolved, where they persist, where they live.
This post is about our experiences with one very popular group of frogs, the poison frogs and how our experiences in the field may lead us to be better caregivers for our frogs at the Academy.
When many people think about poison frogs they think of bright colors and boldness due to the protection given by the poisons these colors advertise. These descriptions are not always wrong, but they are not entirely correct either. While poison frogs are brightly colored in many cases, there are many cases where the bright color of the species is limited to a few streaks of bright coloration or missing all together. This is true of Costa Rica’s representatives from the genus Phyllobates. While the Phyllobates of Columbia may be solid mint green, solid yellow or even orange, the Costa Rican varieties have thin yellow stripes or orange stripes on black backgrounds. These frogs are often on the ground and when startled, they propel themselves into cracks or deep into holes. They do not just sit out and dare predators (or rather slow handed biologists) to grab them up. When startled, they behave like most animals, they move quickly to a safe spot and wait the danger out.

Dendrobatidae

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

The term Poison Dart Frog is somewhat a misnomer. The name is often used to call out all the colorful frogs in the family Dendrobatidae. However, only three frogs in the entire family are really used to make darts poisonous. This species, Phyllobates lugubris is a member of the genus that contains these three species. However, there is no evidence that P. lugubris has been used by indigenous people for the purpose of increasing the lethality of projectiles.

Phyllobates terriblis

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

The brightly colored Phyllobates terriblis, regarded by many to be the world’s most poisonous animal, is in the same genus as some of the frogs we saw but is found in Columbia, not Costa Rica.

Phyllobates vitattus

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Phyllobates vitattus is found on the western side of Costa Rica.

Possibly the most emblematic of the Costa Rican poison frogs is the strawberry poison frog, Oophaga pumilio. This species has an extremely interesting life cycle wherein the mother of a tadpole brings food in the form of unfertilized eggs to the water vessel where the tadpole lives. In captivity, nobody has been successful in rearing baby strawberry poison frogs on a diet other than frog eggs. Additionally, some forms of these frogs (there are many color varieties which are sometimes associated with a geographic locality) are viewed as difficult to breed. While some forms are rare in captivity, this frog is far from a rare denizen of the deep primary forest. It is extremely abundant where it occurs and is and is more common in fairly disturbed areas than in pristine ones. We found dozens of them in a small area, in a brief amount of time. It was striking how many there were and where they were. I had the best luck finding them in a poorly maintained banana field and around stands of introduced bamboo. It is common dogma that this species requires bromeliads to complete its life cycle. In reality, these frogs will use a variety of water holding plants to reproduce. It is very likely that any small water body will be sufficient. In the localities where we found these frogs there were very few bromeliads.

Oophaga pumilio 'blue jeans'

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

The blue jeans form of the strawberry poison frog is common where it occurs. Many people who keep this frog in captivity find that this form is more challenging than other forms of strawberry poison frogs.

Oophaga pumilio 'red form'

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

The red form of strawberry poison frog was abundant in degraded habitats.

Oophaga pumilio

Photo copyright of: Chris Andrews

In less than an hour our group had captured about 40 strawberry poison frogs in one locality. Most of the frogs were female. We sorted through the group and selected six: three males and three females for transport back to the Academy.

The granular poison frog, Oophaga granulifera, is another poison frog that feeds its tadpoles eggs. This species is found on the west coast of Costa Rica and was also not uncommon, though not nearly as common as the strawberry poison frogs. Unlike the strawberry poison frogs we found, these frogs were much more difficult to catch. Males would sit out in the open on top of rocks and call. However, whenever we would get close, they would dive for cover. In many cases they would crawl into a deep crack or hole to the point where we would lose sight of them.
We found this species is two areas. The first, where we found a red form, was between a road and a stream in an area with secondary forest. The habitat was strewn with boulders and bromeliads were uncommon or absent. The second area was alongside a road but on a steep mountainside. Bromeliads were very abundant in the trees and we could hear the frogs calling from them. This was a higher elevation site than the first one and the form at this location was green, a pleasant surprise.

Oophaga granulifera 'red'

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

One of the target species for our foray to the pacific side of Costa Rica was the red granular poison frog, which we found calling, often on top of boulders, in secondary forest.

Oophaga granulifera 'green'

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Green granular poison frogs were easy to hear from the bromeliads above us and below us. However, I was unable to capture any myself. Fortunately, our guide and operator of the Costa Rica Amphibian Research Center, Brian Kubicki was able to capture two males and a female for us to bring back to the Academy.

Bromeliads

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Bromeliads were common in the roadside habitat where we found the green form of the granular poison frog.

The largest poison frog we found was the green and black poison frog, Dendrobates auratus. This species, like all members of the family, lays its eggs on land. When the tadpoles hatch they squirm onto the back of the adult who takes them to a water containing vessel. Green and black poison frogs were the only member of the family that we found on both coasts. We found them to be fairly abundant in most of the places where we found other species of poison frog.

Dendrobates auratus

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Green and black Poison frogs were found frequently on both coasts of Costa Rica.

The final member of the family Dendrobatidae that we found was the Talamanca rocket frog, Allobates talamancae. The rocket frogs are generally drab in coloration compared to some of the more gaudy members of the family. These frogs aren’t generally kept by hobbyists but they perform many of the same parental care and reproductive behaviors as their more candy-colored relatives. The term rocket frog is definitely applicable to these frogs. The speed at which these frogs hop under cover made them very challenging to try to catch.

Allobates talamancae

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

This male rocket frog was photographed just after calling. Note the slightly inflated vocal sac.

Seeing these frogs in the wild was a very special experience for us. It allowed us to observe things that just can’t be described in books or blogs. The connection to nature is an intangible thing that has to be experienced to understand. Beyond that, seeing these animals in the wild allows us to understand them better in captivity. For example, the populations of strawberry poison frogs that we observed were heavily scewed towards females. We know from studies of this species in the wild that the females feed locations, not necessarily their own tadpoles. Could it be that having more females in a captive group could increase the success of the young because the tadpoles would not have to rely solely on one female to feed them? One thing that we are trying at the academy now is keeping larger groups of strawberry poison frogs together rather than splitting them into pairs as conventional wisdom would dictate. Time will tell if this experiment will bear fruit.


Filed under: Herpetiles — rainforest @ 7:41 pm

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

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