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Golden Gate Park
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Please note: The Academy will be closing at 3:00 pm on 10/24 (final entry at 2:00 pm). We apologize for any inconvenience.

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Rainforests of the World 

January 25, 2011

Rainforest Refresher!

The rainforest exhibit reopened last Monday after being closed for two weeks for maintanence. Although guests could not enter the dome, they could look through the glass at any time during the day and see staff and volunteers hard at work doing a various range projects that can’t normally get done when the rainforest is open to guests.

During the first morning of the closure, supplies were immediately brought in so the biologists could get right to work. Everyone had big plans for their respective sections. In the picture below, you can see the abundance of plants waiting to be secured in their new home.


Photo by: Kevin Manalili

more plants!

Photo by: Kevin Manalili

The plant collection grew signficantly. Biologists added plants to the ground level, as well as to the trees and walls. They also created a whole new living wall on the Costa Rica level! This process takes a lot of time because the horticulturists had to secure moss on the wall before adding each individual plant. It looks great!

CR wall 1

Photo by: Kevin Manalili

CR wall

Photo by: Kevin Manalili

In order to keep the smaller plants safe on the ground, the horticulturists made paths so that the other biologists wouldn’t accidentally step on anything. The paths look very natural and makes it much easier to get around.


Photo by: Sarab Stewart

Herpetologists also added plants to their terrariums as they cleaned and rearranged exhibits. Almost every exhibit looks a little different with the new plants, substrate and even some new animals! Here is a picture of a volunteer cleaning out one of the Costa Rica exhibits:


Photo by: Kevin Manalili

The biologists were not the only ones working hard. Electricians, engineers and contractors came to help on different projects. One of the more difficult activities was replacing the old and cracked glass panes that make up the outside of the dome. Everyone had to work together to make sure no butterflies or curious birds escaped. You can see the netting that was put over the top of the hole just in case one of the free flying critters did manage to sneak through.

more glass

Photo by: Kevin Manalili

glass pane

Photo by: Kevin Manalili

The closure was an all around success. It allowed everyone to complete some lingering projects that needed to get done in order to keep the rainforest healthy.

You just got a small taste of what you can expect when you visit. Come check out the difference and see what you think in person!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — rainforest @ 12:35 pm

January 12, 2011

Cardinal Tetras at the Academy

One of my favorite tanks that I care for is the Academy’s cardinal tetra display. It is across from the freshwater stingray collection in the Amazon Gallery of our rainforest and looks like this:

Photo by: Brooke Weinstein

Cardinal tetras have the scientific name Paracheirodon axelrodi and are native to the upper Orinoco and Negro Rivers of the Amazon. They are a small, peaceful fish that likes to live in large groups, or shoals.

Many people confuse cardinal tetras with their more notorious counter-part, the neon tetra. However, they are two separate species with one very easily observed difference. In the cardinal tetra the red stripe on the lower half of the body extends the full length of the fish from the eye area to the tail. In the neon tetra the red stripe only begins at mid-body, roughly below the dorsal fin, and extends to the tail.

Here is a close-up of some of our cardinals so you can appreciate how colorful they are:

Photo by: Ron DeCloux

You might think that this fish’s bright, metallic stripes would make it rather obvious to predators. In fact, however, the opposite is true because their colors actually change in response to different lighting and background conditions. Here in our colorless and clear aquarium water their coloration appears shockingly bright. But when viewed through the very dark tannin-stained water they inhabit in the wild, their coloration actually appears quite dark. Furthermore, their metallic stripes reflect light only at a specific angle. When the fish are near the surface, this reflects a bright mirror image onto the underside of the water surface and provides a false target for predators.

In the wild cardinal tetras consume a variety of foods including insects, detritus, eggs, algae, fungus, fruit and fish larvae. Here at the Academy we also offer our cardinals a variety of foods including flake food, brine shrimp, baby brine shrimp, bloodworms, glassworms, and algae wafers.

Our cardinals love to hang out amid the live plants in their exhibit and share their home with a handful of other Amazonian fishes like:

The Amazon puffer Colomesus asellus:

Photo by: Ron DeCloux

The golden pencilfish Nannostomus beckfordi:

Photo by: Ron Decloux

The orange-neon corydoras:

Photo by: Ron Decloux

And the dwarf sucker-mouth catfish Otocinclus affinis:

Photo by: Ron Decloux

Millions of cardinals are caught from the wild and exported from Brazil every year. Despite this, the fishery is widely considered to be one that is managed very well. The fish are not allowed to be caught during the breeding season or shortly thereafter, and the Amazon/Rio Negro area is so vast that fishermen do not go back to the same site for years, thus allowing the cardinals to replenish. Project Piaba is a fantastic organization which works to help educate collectors/exporters and improve the conditions under which the fish from Brazil are caught, conditioned and shipped to the world. Their rallying cry is, “buy a fish, save a tree!” The assertion behind the slogan is that people with a stable economic livelihood from the fishery don’t engage in more ecologically destructive activities, like deforesting. Learn more about it at www.projectpiaba.org.

The next time you visit us be sure to check out this exhibit! Hopefully you’ll love it as much as I do…

Filed under: Fish — brooke @ 4:26 pm

January 7, 2011

The Wondrous World of Glass Frogs

This summer, while in Costa Rica, Steinhart aquarium biologists were privileged to encounter a variety of glass frogs, Family Centrolinidae. These frogs are appropriately called glass frogs because of the see-through nature of their skin. Although glass frogs have some pigment in their skin, mostly green, it is possible to see through their bellies and observe their organs.

Hyalinobatrachium colymbiphyllum

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Above: Hyalinobatrachium colymbiphyllum

Glass frogs breed and lay their eggs on leaves overhanging water, usually streams. Eggs may be predated on by insects and so the male sticks around to protect the eggs.

Cocharanella granulosa

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Above: Cochranella granulosa eggs develop on a leaf over a stream at the Costa Rica Amphibian Research Center, located on Costa Rica’s Carribean slope.

Hyalinobatrachium valerioi

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Above: Hyalinobatrachium valerioi male gaurds eggs on a leaf above a stream on Costa Rica’s Pacific slope.

Snakes also may eat the eggs. We observed this snake, Dipsas longiferis eating the eggs of a granular glass frog, Cochranella granulosa. It is unlikely that the attending male could do anything to protect his eggs in this case. We did not observe him nearby.

Dipsas longiferis

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Above: Dipsas longiferis was seen eating a glass frog egg mass above a rainforest stream.

When the eggs hatch they fall into the stream below. The tadpoles lack pigment and as a result are red in coloration. While many tadpoles are dark in color and active in the water column or on the bottom of ponds or streams, glass frog tadpoles seem to be adapted well to life under rocks and other cover in streams.

Cochranella granulosa

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Above: Cochranella granulosa tadpole. Note the reduced eyes, long , strong swimming tail and lack of pigment.

Just before the tadpoles metamorphose into tiny little frogs their eyes begin to enlarge, their hind legs grow in and their digestive tracks change from one well suited to eating vegetation to one that will exclusively feed on animal prey.

Cochranella granulosa

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Above: Cochranella granulosa tadpole has developed legs, large eyes and the vertebrae are much thicker than those of earlier stage tadpole.

Concharanella granulosa

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Above: Cochranella granulosa tadpoles at different stages of development. Note the one on the left has started to develop the typical characters of a frog, though the mouthparts are still distinctly tadpole. The one on the right is much less developed with its spiral shaped gut being its most obvious characteristic.

Cochranella granulosa

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Above: This Cochranella granulosa has its front legs and is now a terrestrial animal, despite having not yet absorbed its strong swimming tail.

Cochranella granulosa

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth


Above: This Cochranella granulosa has nearly absorbed all of its tail. Within the next several days it will start feeding on bugs—an entirely different diet than it has ever had before.

During our trip we saw several species of glass frog. We were fortunate to bring back two species for exhibit. Currently, we are growing out tadpoles which will be the founders of a captive population that will supply our exhibits in the years to come.

Teratohyla spinosa

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Above: Teratohyla spinosa on the Carribean slope of Costa Rica.

Filed under: Herpetiles — rainforest @ 7:50 am

January 2, 2011

Species profile: bananaquits!

Please Note: The rainforest exhibit will be closed 3 January through 14 January, reopening Saturday, 15 January at 9:30am. This closure allows us much needed time to make repairs and additions to keep this exhibit looking great. We apologize for any inconvenience.

tweeties 004

Photo by Rachael Tom

Upon entering the Rainforest Exhibit here at the Academy, one’s senses are immediately perked up by the sights, sounds, and feel of this habitat. The high humidity, dappled sunlight, flowering plants, whimsical butterflies, and chirping birds are all part of the experience. If you’re one of the many lucky ones, you will have an encounter with one of my favorite species: the bananaquit Coereba flaveola.


Photo by Rachael Tom

These brave, boisterous little birds provide some lively entertainment as they make rounds in their territory, searching for food or something interesting to poke at. Bananaquits are tiny….usually around 12 grams. We are lucky to house two pairs in our rainforest. Pink and Blue (named after their color bands) have made the eastern 4/5ths of the rainforest their territory, leaving just a tiny fraction on the west side for Purple and Red. We acquired our bananaquits about a year ago from the San Diego Zoo, where they were hatched. They have adapted extremely well to our exhibit and are one of the most frequently observed birds.


Photo by Rachael Tom

Bananaquits have an extensive range: nearly all Caribbean islands (except Cuba) along with most of Central America and tropical South America. They tend to stay in lower elevations and avoid expansive forest or desert habitat. Bananaquits have adapted to more open, disturbed, or secondary growth habitat, so they do very well around human habitation. In fact, at many of the Caribbean island resorts, tourists often have close encounters with these curious birds.
Due to their wide distribution over the diverse cultures of the Caribbean and mainland Latin America, these birds have many common names. Some of the more colorful ones are Beeny Bird (Jamaica), See-See Bird (Grenada), and Sucrier (Haiti). Another common name is sugar bird, as bananaquits are sugar feens. Their primary diet is nectar, so a sweet tooth they do have. These birds are also fond of fruit and insects. In fact, our bananaquits are an important predator of some of the plant-damaging insects that inhabit this exhibit.


Photo by Rachael Tom

The taxonomy of bananaquits has been debated for some time now; they have many subspecies over their vast range. They typically lay two, sometimes up to four eggs that hatch after a 12-14 day incubation period.


Photo by Rachael Tom

So stop by when the rainforest re-opens and keep an eye open for these lively little birds!
tweeties 005

Photo by Rachael Tom

Filed under: Birds — rainforest1 @ 4:34 pm

The Rainforest Team


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

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