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Rainforests of the World 

November 29, 2010

Farming ants and flying snakes, oh my!

Here at the California Academy of Sciences, we are lucky to be able to work with some pretty fascinating species. Recently there were two interesting news articles about some of these species.

Photo by: Rachael Tom

The first article looks at how leaf-cutter ants coevolved with the fungus that they farm, and it turns out they utilize a bacteria as a pesticide to keep their crop intact. The researcher says leaf-cutter ants have been farming for 50 million years! Looks like they got just a little head-start on humans. Read the article HERE.

Photo by: Rachael Tom

The other article looks at the snakes of Southeast Asia that have evolved the ability to glide in the canopy. One of the species they looked at is the paradise flying snake Chrysopelea paradisi , which you can find right here in the Borneo level in the rainforest at the Academy (see photo above). They have some pretty neat video. Read the article HERE.

Here’s a video of some of their research. I thought it was interesting how much of the snake hangs off the branch before it launches itself into the air.

Filed under: Herpetiles,Insects & Arachnids — rainforest1 @ 3:50 pm

November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from your Rainforest Biologists!

Tis the season to celebrate a bountiful harvest. The rainforest biologists would like to give thanks that we are able to offer a wide variety of high quality food for the animals in our charge. This exhibit contains many different taxa that require many different food items. Here is a sample menu of what some of our rainforest inhabitants will be having for their Thanksgiving weekend….

Their diet consists of fruit, nuts, seeds, pellet, and vegetables.

parrot treats

Photo by: Rachael Tom

bowls of produce

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Neotropical Passerines
Their diet consists of fruit, seeds, vegetables, pellet, and protein items.

passerine diet

Photo by: Rachael Tom

We use several feeder insect species, including the larvae stage of mealworms Tenebrio molitor, waxworms Galleria mellonella, and soldier fly Hermetia illucens
feeder insects

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Carnivorous, herbivorous, or omnivorous; reptile diets are as diverse as the reptiles themselves. Some reptiles even eat other reptiles!

iguana diet

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Below are some of the feeder rodents we utilize. We order these frozen from a company that raises them specifically for food and humanely euthanizes them. They are then thawed out over a 24 hour period and then warmed so that the heat-sensing reptiles find them deliciously attractive.
feeder rodents

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Not as diverse in their nutritional requirements as reptiles, most of our amphibians enjoy insects.

Below is the ubiquitous cricket Acheta domesticus, probably the most popular feeder insect. We feed out various stages, from newly hatched (called pinhead) to adults, like below.

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Most butterflies are nectar eaters, though the owls and blue morphos like over ripe fruit as well. Here is a Heliconicus ismenius drinking nectar from one of the many nectar-producing plants in the rainforest. We also provide artificial nectar daily along with ripe fruit.

Heliconius ismenius_Rachael Tom

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Fish eat almost everything that is dropped into their tank!

pellet feed

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Some of the frozen fish we feed to our collection fish and other creatures at the Academy: capelin Mallotus villosus, herring Clupea spp, and trout Oncorhynchus mykiss.
herring, capelin, and trout, oh my

Photo by: Rachael Tom

It takes quite a bit of research and time to create diets that fulfill so many varied nutritional requirements for our hugely diverse live animal collection. Below you can see one of our paradise tanagers Tangara chilensis next to its diet. Enjoy your Thanksgiving everyone!
beautiful paradise

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Filed under: Birds,Butterflies,Fish,Herpetiles,Insects & Arachnids — rainforest1 @ 1:20 pm

November 17, 2010

Our Pipa pipa are breeding!

You may be wondering what a Pipa pipa is. Well, they are a very interesting amphibian species, Pipa pipa, that goes by the common name Suriname toad. They are an aquatic species native to northern South America with cryptic camouflage. If you look at them, they have little projections around their head and body that make them look a little like leaves. This helps them blend in very well. Even better is some of those little projections are sensitive to movements, which helps them recognize prey that swims too close.

Pipa pipa amplexus

Photo by: Brian Freiermuth

While those characteristics are cool, it is the Suriname toad’s reproductive biology that makes it truly remarkable. After a period of amplexus (as seen in the photo above), the female lays her eggs and the male fertilizes them. But what is different is that the eggs are not laid on a leaf or attached to a stick or under a rock like most frogs. Nope, this is one unconventional frog. Check this out:

eggs in back!

Photo by: Brian Freiermuth

Suriname toad females incubate their eggs in their own backs. That’s right, I said in their own backs!!! With the help of the male and some fancy acrobatics, the eggs are placed on the back of the female. Then they begin to embed into her back and are eventually mostly or entirely covered by a thin layer of skin. If that wasn’t crazy enough, the tadpoles never hatch from the eggs. Instead, they undergo complete development inside the back of the female. When they finally emerge they are little, nearly identical versions of the adult!

Pipa pipa

Photo by: Brian Freiermuth

Thinking to yourself, “Holy flipping frogs, Batman, I would love to see that!”? Well, now is your chance. On November 13th, we observed that one of our females has eggs on her back. Currently, our other female has been in amplexus with a male so it is very likely that she will lay eggs soon. It is expected that the eggs or at least the general position of them will be noticeable for several weeks. So if you want to see one of the neatest things in the natural world, come on in and check them out! They are on exhibit on the Amazon level near the anaconda exhibit.

Filed under: Herpetiles — rainforest1 @ 1:18 pm

November 8, 2010

Life Support System of the Flooded Forest

This posting will give you a glimpse into what it takes to successfully maintain the thriving community of animals that call the Academy’s 110,000 gallon Amazon Flooded Forest display home. Our tank, located at the bottom of the Academy’s rainforest dome, is teeming with hundreds of fishes–pacu, cichlids, leporinus, silver dollars, a giant river turtle, a tarpon, peacock bass and four species of catfish. Most significntly we also display three arapaima, one of the largest species of freshwater fish in the world, two of whom exceed 8 feet in length! 

Fish kept in an aquarium are confined to a very small quantity of water as compared to their natural habitats in the wild. In the wild, fish wastes are instantly diluted. But in an aquarium, waste products can quickly accumulate to toxic levels. These waste products include poop, scraps of uneaten food and plant material. The latter is an especially large factor for a tank sitting at the bottom of a rainforest! Skimmer baskets located in three different spots collect most of the leaves that fall into the water and are cleaned every week by aquarium Biologists.

Photo by: Brooke Weinstein

If left to accumulate this organic material would eventually decay, releasing ammonia. Even small amounts of ammonia are deadly for fish. Fortunately, the world is full of bacteria that want nothing more than to consume the ammonia and convert it into less toxic substances (nitrite then nitrate). All the bacteria require to perform this beneficial function is a surface to attach to and oxygen rich water. For our display we filter our water through three large sand filters (see photo below).

Photo by: Brooke Weinstein

The sand removes any fine particulate matter and provides lots of surface area for bacteria to colonize. Remember that nitrate is only less toxic than ammonia, not non-toxic. Over time the nitrates would accumulate until they, too, became toxic. Also, because nitrate is a fertilizer, high nitrate levels can lead to excess algae growth. Part of our routine maintenance is to “back-wash” our sand filters twice weekly. Our engineers flush 20,000 gallons of water backwards through the sand and into the Academy’s water recycling system. This physically removes any debris from the filters and, when the tank is refilled with fresh water, decreases our nitrate levels by 20% each time.

Like a living organism, the life of our Amazon display depends on its circulation, which is the flow of water through its filters and around the tank. In our system the movement of water through our filters exposes a constantly changing air/water surface interface through which the major exchange of gasses, primarily water and carbon dioxide, takes place. The pumps we use, shown below, are powerful enough to completely turn over the 110,000 gallons in our tank once every hour!

Photo by: Brooke Weinstein

For all the inhabitants of the Flooded Forest here at the Academy it is, fundamentally, the invisible water conditions that make their display a home away from home!

Filed under: Fish — brooke @ 2:57 pm

The Rainforest Team


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

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