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 

February 26, 2011

Rainforest Soil Check-up

The plants in the Rainforest are looking nice and healthy lately but it doesn’t hurt to do a check-up on the soil now and then to make sure.   Plants rely on healthy soils to provide them with water, nutrients, oxygen to produce more roots and structural support.  Taking a close look at the soil allows horticulturists to anticipate problems and head them off before they affect the plants.

Photo by: Sarab Stewart

Amazon Exhibit forest floor.

Biologists Sarab Stewart and Horticulture Intern Patrick Carter took some samples of the soil in the Rainforest and Mangroves this week to send to a local lab for analysis.  The lab will send information back about the levels of nutrients in the soil and the overall condition of the soil along with recommendations for improvements.

Photo by: Patrick Carter

Sarab collecting and bagging soil samples for the lab.

They use a use a soil probe to make sure the samples are deep enough to reflect the entire soil profile.   This is a good opportunity to look at soil moisture and see if we are watering correctly and check on the health of the roots systems.

Photo by: Patrick Carter

Collecting deep soil samples.

Photo by: Patrick Carter

Sarab uses the soil probe to check the soil moisture in the Costa Rica planters.

Healthy soils support lots life in addition to plant roots.  This earthworm is our main composter in this Costa Rica level planter.

Photo by: Patrick Carter

Earthworm peeking out of the soil sample from Costa Rica planters.

Kristen Natoli, Assistant Curator is also sending some leaf samples of some of the larger specimen trees to the lab.  This way we can compare nutrients in the leaves to that of the soil and make sure the plants are getting everything they need. 

Photo by: Patrick Carter

Kristen collects leaf samples from the Peach Palm (Bactris gasipaes).

Photo by: Patrick Carter

Kristen collects leaf samples from the Mahogany tree (Swietenia mahagoni) while Vikki McCloskey puts out food for the birds.

The lab results will help us make decisions about how we provide nutrients to the plants from the diversity of methods we currently use, everything from the natural waste from our free flying birds and butterflies, mulch from excess Leaf Cutter Ant fungus, worm compost, bat guano, water soluble fertilizers and just letting the fallen leaves naturally decompose in the planters.

Photo by: Sarab Stewart

Patrick Carter adds worm compost to the planters in the Madagascar exhibit.

All this to make the Rainforest flourish!

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Healthy Forest.

Filed under: Plants — rainforest @ 4:26 pm

February 12, 2011

Love is in the air (literally!) and on the rocks, and in the water….

So, for all the single ladies who:
• don’t like being inconvenienced by trite ‘pillow talk’ – take a page out of our  Ghost Mantid’s (Phyllocrania paradoxa) book and consume your partner post-amour.

mantid mating

Female mantids often eat males after copulation.

• are interested in guys from South America who can co-parent might want to meet our Turquoise Tanager (Tangara mexicana).


Photo by Rachael Tom

Male tanagers help feed chicks and protect the nesting site.

• feel it’s always good to have a ‘spare’ might be interested in our Machete Savane snake (Chironius carinatus).

Photo by Brian Freiermuth

Photo by Brian Freiermuth

Snakes and lizards have a bi-lobed reproductive organ called the hemipene.

• don’t trust a guy with a wandering eye should avoid entanglements with our Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis).


Photo by Rachael Tom

Chameleon eyes are mounted on turrets that can move independently of each other.

are suckers for sweet talk and don’t mind carrying extra baggage should visit our  Slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum transvaal).

BO02 Paphiopedilum transvaal

Photo by Rachael Tom

The slipper-shaped pouch traps insects so they are forced to climb out collecting and depositing pollen that fertilizes the flower.

try not to get involved with guys that just can’t let go should keep their distance from our Red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas).

Photo by Brian Freiermuth

Amplexus is a form of pseudocopulation in which the male amphibian grasps the female with his front legs while fertilizing her eggs.

• prefer regurgitated fruit over a dozen roses might want to give our Blue and Gold macaw (Ara araruna) another look.


Photo by Rachael Tom

Parrots exchange food via regurgitation as part of a courtship ritual before breeding.

Filed under: Birds,Butterflies,Fish,Herpetiles,Insects & Arachnids,Plants — Vikki McCloskey @ 1:52 pm

February 9, 2011

Meet the Monitor!

Water monitors (Varanus salvator) range throughout Southeast Asia. As their name implies, they are often found in and around water. They can stay submerged for up to 30 minutes and have been known to swim great distances. This ability probably contributes to their extensive range.

Water Monitor

Photo by Rachael Tom

Among lizards, they are second in size only to the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis.) Reportedly, they can get up to 10 feet long, however they more commonly grow to 5-6 feet in length.

They are powerful hunters and their diet consists of just about anything they can catch and eat- birds, small mammals, fish, eggs, crustaceans, lizards, snakes, frogs, small crocodiles, turtles, carrion, etc. They are good climbers and may take to the trees to escape danger but will more readily escape into the water.

Water Monitor

Photo by Rachael Tom

Our water monitor is the newest resident on the Borneo level of the rainforest exhibit. She came to us from a zoo in New Jeresy and has been settling in well. As she is very new to the exhibit, she does spend a fair amount of time hiding but can typically be seen basking in the late morning and early afternoon. Her diet here at the academy consists of mice, chicks and fish.
While most water monitors are greenish black with yellow to cream colored markings, she is completely black and patternless. It is a naturally occuring color pattern for this species, but not one that is commonly seen.

Water Monitor

Photo by Rachael Tom

Filed under: Herpetiles — vultures are friendly @ 3:42 pm

February 8, 2011

Aliens of the Rainforest

Of all the animals displayed in our Rainforest Exhibit, none convey a sense of other-wordliness quite like our Madagascar ghost mantids (Phyllocrania paradoxa).

adult ghost mantid

                                                                                                     Photo by Rachael Tom

Above: an adult Madagascar ghost mantid.  


These alien-looking insects hail from the island of Madagascar and other areas on the continent of Africa.  They sport projections off of their exoskeleton that offer an excellent camoflauge in the leaf litter and twiggy vegetation where they live out their short lives.

Like all mantids, P.  paradoxa are carnivorous, feeding stealthily on a wide variety of insect prey.  Here at the Academy they feed on crickets, soldier flies, fruit flies and silkworms.

The ghost mantid lifecycle begins in an ootheca or egg-case.  After mating, the adult female will lay 4-35 eggs in this ootheca.  She attaches the well camouflauged ootheca to a tree branch, rendering it virtually invisible amongst the forest foliage.

mantid egg cases

                                                                                                    Photo by Rachael Tom

Above: a cluster of ghost mantid egg cases layed on a branch.


After about a month the egg case hatches, releasing tiny baby mantids, also called nymphs.  The nymphs differ from adults not only in their small size, but they also lack wings.  The nymphs are independant and begin feeding almost immediately after hatching.  Since they are so tiny, we start our nymphs out by offering them fruit flies which are about the size of a pinhead.

ghost mantid nymph

                                                                                                    Photo by Rachael Tom

Above: A Biologist carefully moves a ghost mantid nymph.


As the mantids eat and grow  they will shed their exoskeleton.  This process is called molting.  In about three to six months the mantids will go through their final molt into adulthood.  It is at this stage that the mantids develop their wings.  The adult males possess longer and more well developed wings than the females.  It is thought that this allows the males to disperse greater distances in order to find receptive females and begin the cycle all over again.

ghost mantids mating

Filed under: Insects & Arachnids — rainforest @ 3:24 pm

The Rainforest Team


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

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