55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
94118
415.379.8000
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
Closures
Notices

The Academy will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Rainforest will be closed Sep. 9 & 10

Rainforests of the World 

August 4, 2010

SCUBA Diving in an Indoor Flooded Forest

flooded forest diver

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Despite the best efforts of our algae-munching Giant South American turtle (Podocnemis expansa) and other fish, the Amazon Flooded Forest windows still need to be cleaned manually to keep them algae-free. Our team of experienced staff and volunteer SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) divers give the Academy’s Amazon tank a nice scrub-down about three days per week. This usually takes place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, although the time of day varies. One or two divers will enter the tank and clean, while another diver serves as a “Dive Tender.” This person monitors the entire process from the surface, ensuring the safety of those in the water.

Here is a brief video of one of our SCUBA divers entering the Amazon Flooded Forest and cleaning the tunnel:

 


Video by: Rachael Tom

In addition to wiping down the tunnel, divers also scrub the back windows near the elevators and occasionally the “fallen tree” which lies in the middle of the exhibit. Each dive lasts approximately 30 minutes to an hour. It takes quite a bit of elbow grease, but we think the end result is worth it:

flooded forest

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Below is a picture of the gear our divers use when cleaning the Amazon Flooded Forest. These items help our divers see and breathe underwater, and maintain neutral buoyancy so they are not constantly floating or sinking during their dive.

dive gear

Photo by: Rachael Tom

When all the gear is put on, it looks something like this:
dive gear

Photo by: Rachael Tom

In addition to dive gear, communication between divers is also very important. Because SCUBA divers cannot talk underwater, they communicate with hand signals and other body language. You may have observed our divers in the past give the “okay” sign with their hands to let each other know that the dive is going well. As a visitor, you can also communicate with our divers through the glass. They always appreciate a wave to say “Hello!”


Filed under: Uncategorized — rainforest @ 12:40 pm

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:

honeycreeper

Photo by: Rachael Tom

honeycreeper2

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:

bananaquit

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!

paradise

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):

rct

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!

hawk2

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Filed under: Birds — rainforest1 @ 12:12 pm

June 23, 2010

Butterflies at CAS: Celebrating National Pollinator Week

HAPPY NATIONAL POLLINATOR WEEK! Four years ago the U.S. Senate dubbed the final week of June “National Pollinator Week” to bring attention to the issue of declining pollinator populations. Largely due to habitat loss, pollinators such as butterflies and bees have been dropping. Pollinators not only aid many plants in reproduction, but are also food for other animals. The world would be in a very sad state without them! This blog post is dedicated to sharing information about the butterflies here in our Rainforest dome, what the Academy is doing to support native pollinators and what YOU can do at home to celebrate National Pollinator Week to help preserve pollinators!

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Butterflies in the Rainforest Dome
To celebrate the importance of critical pollinators in all living habitats we are turning our attention to some of the loveliest pollinators in our Rainforest exhibit, the butterflies.  Our butterflies come to us all the way from beautiful Costa Rica. Cooperative butterfly farmers in Costa Rica have obtained special permits to allow them to rear native butterflies on their land. 

epiphytes

Photo by: Chris Andrews

epiphytes

Photo by: Meghan Schurfrieder

This program helps support local farmers and encourages them to protect pollinators and their critical host plants in the surrounding rainforest.  Farmers plant host plants on their land to feed caterpillars.  Once the caterpillars transform to pupae the farmers collect some to send to us. Here are some pictures of Costa Rica Entomological Supply staff displaying pupa collected from local farmers:

epiphytes

Photo by: Kristen Natoli

epiphytes

Photo by: Sarab Stewart

Pupa is the name we give that tricky stage when the caterpillar transforms into a beautiful winged butterfly.  This transformation takes place inside a protective casing called the chrysalis.  The chrysalis keeps the soon to emerge butterflies safe as they are shipped to the Academy each week.

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes) pupa:
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Large Owlet (Opsiphanes tamarindi) pupa:
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

At the Academy the pupae are carefully unpacked and placed in temperature / humidity controlled chambers.

epiphytes

Photo by: Sarab Stewart

Each morning biologists check the chambers for emerged adult which are then released into the Rainforest exhibit. Here is a picture of one of our biologists releasing butterflies for the morning:

epiphytes

Photo by: Kristen Natoli

 

By planting native flowering Costa Rican plants and providing various feeding stations throughout our Rainforest Dome, the butterflies here always have nectar and pollen sources.

Golden Helicon (Heliconius hecale) on flowering Hamealia petens:
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Banded Orange Longwing (Dradula phaetusa) on flowering Salvia coccinea:
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Magnificent Owl (Caligo atreus):
epiphytes

Photo by: Sarab Stewart

The butterflies do not reproduce in our exhibit.  We make sure to avoid planting any host plants for their caterpillars to prevent them from reproducing.  Our mini Rainforest is not big enough to accommodate voracious caterpillars munching their way to adulthood!

The Academy and Native Pollinators
In addition to supporting the butterflies on exhibit, the Academy also supports local pollinators in Golden Gate Park. Our Living Roof is home to nine species of native annuals and perennials.

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Although our Living Roof has only been in existence since 2008, a study by San Francisco State University biology students in 2009 showed that Bay Area native insects were already more prevalent on our roof than other areas in Golden Gate Park. Read all about the study HERE.

Our Business Entrance side (along Middle Drive) also has many Bay Area native plants that pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths, flies and hummingbirds love!  Plants which include Lupinus spp., California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) and Monkeyflower (Mimulus spp.) are some of our local pollinators’ favorites!

Here is a picture of one of our many mini gardens along Middle Drive:
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Check out the corbicula, or, “pollen basket” on the leg of this bumble bee at our garden!:
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

What You Can Do
Whether it be in celebration of National Pollinator Week, or because you just love pollinators as much as we do, try planting some flowering Bay Area native plants in your backyard, sidewalk planters, balcony, or front lawn! Planting native species not only attract native wildlife but are also less maintenance compared to plants that are normally grown in different climates. Here are some of the plants that do well in areas of San Francisco:

Bees cannot resist lovely Seaside Buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium):
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Hummingbirds adore Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus ):
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Not just an eye-pleaser, Ceanothus spp. are also loved by pollinators:
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Be sure consider some of the following when choosing your plants:
How much sun/shade does your area have?
What kind of soil do you have?
How hot does your area get?
Pollinator Partnership is a great resource to get started.
With our help, pollinators will be here to stay! In the spirit of National Pollinator Week, meet our butterflies up close in the Rainforest Dome, and put some flowering native plants in the ground for the wonderful pollinators at home!


Filed under: Butterflies,Plants — Paphiopedilum @ 8:57 pm

June 17, 2010

It’s all about Epiphytes

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Epiphytes are amazing. They are prime examples of how adaptation leads to survival in an environment where plants are constantly competing for resources. Plants may not appear to be as active as other organisms, but there is a whole lot going on in their world!

Plants that attach themselves to a host plant (or other object) without parasitizing them are called epiphytes, or, “air plants.” Many orchids, ferns and bromeliads are epiphytes, and there are lots of them in our Rainforest Dome. Although there are countless reasons as to why epiphytes are amazing adaptors, here are my top three:

1. Awesome Design to take Advantage of Fewer Resources
Everything from an epiphyte’s roots to its flowers and fruits are specially designed to help it survive where resources such as water, light and nutrients are scarce. Rainforest canopies are dense with foliage, making it difficult for any new plants to obtain sunlight for photosynthesis. Because epiphytes have adapted to live on the branches of tall trees and vines, they are able to access sunlight that plants on lower levels of a rainforest canopy cannot.

Being able to live on other plants also requires specialized roots. Epiphytes have a strong, thick root system that not only allows them to grow on almost anything, but is extremely efficient in absorbing morning mist, rain and moisture from humidity. Unlike most plants that live in soil, epiphytes’ roots obtain nutrients from leaf litter and other debris that accumulate on the branches and vines they live on.

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

The stems and leaves of epiphytes are also modified. Bromeliads have stiff, upturned leaves that allow pools of water to be stored. Some species of bromeliads can hold up to 2 gallons of water! Other types of modified leaves include our Staghorn fern (Platycerium madagascariense). It has very thick and waxy leaves to retain moisture. Many epiphytes’ stems share similar characteristics.

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

2. Clever and Successful Reproduction Strategies
With so many awesome adaptations, the best part about survival for an organism like an epiphyte is to reproduce! There are so many other plants in a rainforest that getting a pollinator to take notice is a feat in itself. The solution? Get a pollinator’s attention! Take a look at some of the amazing blooms the epiphytes in our Rainforest Dome have produced over the past year:

Masdevallia erinaceae:
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Epidendrum piliferum:
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Bulbophyllum blumei:
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

These pictures were taken just days ago of two Brassia species:
epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

So… did those flowers get YOUR attention? Epiphytes put large amounts of energy into producing breath-taking blooms, fruit, perfume and nectar to lure pollinators. When pollination is successful, many epiphytes produce mass numbers of seeds that can be transported by wind.

3. Relationships with surrounding organisms
The characteristics of epiphytes allow them to play many roles in their environment. Epiphyte pollinators such as insects, birds and other small animals use epiphytes as a food source. In our Rainforest Dome, our Bananaquits (Coereba flaveola) are constantly checking flowering plants for nectar:

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Dead flowers, twigs and leaf litter that accumulate on the roots of epiphytes are a source of nesting material for many of our birds as well. Here is a picture of one of our Saffron Finches (Sicalis flaveola) collecting materials from an epiphyte:

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

In fact, past Rainforest Blog posts have been about this very topic! In Dec. ’09, our second Rainforest Blog post featured our Euphonia (Euphonia violacea) pair nesting in an epiphyte. In March ’10, our blog post described the role of bromeliads in the reproduction of strawberry dart frogs (Oophaga pumilio). Epiphyte adaptation strategies have led to surrounding organisms adapting to live amongst them, bringing coexistence and interdependence around full circle.

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

epiphytes

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Whether you’re admiring an orchid in a store window or all of the epiphytes in our Rainforest Dome, we hope you love and appreciate them as much as we do! They are truly amazing adaptors!


Filed under: Plants — rainforest @ 2:29 pm

June 14, 2010

Warning: Bright Coloration, Sunglasses may be Required!

During our scheduled Rainforest Exhibit closure last week, we were busy improving our terrariums. On the Madagascar level (2nd level) of the Rainforest, look closely for some new additions!

Madagascar Reed Frog (Heterixalus madagascariensis)
Reed Frog

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Madagascar Painted Mantella (Mantella madagascariensis)
Painted Mantella

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

The Painted Mantella is closely related to the Green Mantella and Golden Mantella. These species of frog exhibit Aposematic (warning) coloration. These bright colors serve to warn potential predators that the frog is distasteful due to various toxins located in the frog’s skin. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because most people have heard of an identical scenario with the more well-known Dart Frogs of Central and South America.

Auratus

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

Despite similar looks and behavior, the Dart Frogs and Mantellas are not closely related to each other, but evolved separately, occupying comparable ecological niches, continents apart. This phenomenon is called Convergent Evolution.

Come compare them for yourself as you visit the Madagascar and Costa Rica galleries in the Rainforest exhibit!


Filed under: Herpetiles — rainforest @ 11:35 am

June 9, 2010

What rainforest animal cools off through urohydrosis?

If you guessed Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), you’re absolutely right!

turkey vulture

Photo by: Rachael Tom

If you are a frequent visitor to our rainforest you might be thinking “I’ve never seen a vulture in there.” You’re right again! Our vulture lives out in the West Garden adjacent to the building. However, turkey vultures range from southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. They inhabit a huge diversity of habitats, including tropical rainforests.

They are scavengers that feed almost exclusively on carrion and are one of the few birds that have a developed sense of smell. In fact, that excellent sense of smell allows them to utilize rainforest habitat, as they have an alternative to searching for food by sight only. Other neotropical vulture species that don’t have that developed sense of smell will observe turkey vultures and follow them to food sources.

turkey vulture

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Turkey vultures have a unique defense mechanism – they will regurgitate their meal in an effort to startle a predator and quickly reduce their body weight so that they can fly away faster. Turkey vultures also have an interesting way of keeping cool during hot days – they urinate on their feet! This is called ‘urohydrosis’, and causes the white coloration seen on their legs.

turkey vulture

Photo by: Rachael Tom

You can see the Academy’s turkey vulture on exhibit in the West Garden daily between 10:00 am and 2:30 pm and meet the biologists that care for him Tue-Thurs at 2pm. Here is a picture of him preening his feathers to look his very best for your next visit:

turkey vulture

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Filed under: Birds — rainforest @ 2:54 pm

May 27, 2010

Making Babies

severums

Photo by: Allan Jan

Cichlids are some of the most charismatic and beautiful freshwater fish, with well over 1,000 species spread over 5 continents. One aspect that makes cichlids so special is the evolution of parental care. The severums in the Flooded Forest have been busy recently – pairing up, guarding territory, and cleaning that territory. All this preparation eventually leads to spawning activity and then possibly hundreds of fry. Look carefully in the tank and you may see severum pairs foraging with their fry. The parents have their work cut out for them, living in a tank surrounded with predators. Many fry will be eaten, but the survivors are a testament to the aggression cichlid parents display.

baby severum

Photo by: Allan Jan

Filed under: Fish — rainforest @ 1:47 pm

May 22, 2010

Baby Frogs!

The frogs in our rainforest have been very hoppy as of late. We have been fortunate to breed several species that are on exhibit in the rainforest. Most of our breeding groups are kept in our back of house areas. The reason for this is that frog breeding is easiest to encourage in an area that we have total control of. Environmental parameters like dry/wet cycles, hot/cold cycles, humidity changes etc. are adjusted to get our frogs going.

One of our favorite frog species is the Asian Horned Frog (Megophrys nasuta). The frog is called “horned” because of their supraciliary projections (cool science word for the long tips of skin over the eye brows and extending beyond the nose). These projections help the frog blend in with leaves and debris on the forest floor where it lives. Here is a picture of our Asian Horned frogs:

Megophrys nasuta

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

We got these frogs to reproduce by providing a long misting cycle after some minor conditioning. It is easy to get this species to engage in amplexus (the typical frog grasping behavior where the male rides around on the female’s back) but successful egg laying and fertilization is more difficult. We were fortunate to get this to happen. The result was thousands of surface feeding tadpoles:

Megophrys nasuta tadpoles

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

It can take up to 18 months before Asian Horned Frog tadpoles began to absorb their tails and develop limbs. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait that long to see this process:

tail absorbtion, limb development

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

tail absorbtion, limb development

Photo copyright of: Brian Freiermuth

While our remaining tadpoles and juvenile Asian Horned Frogs are being raised in our back of house areas, our adult Asian Horned Frogs can be seen on exhibit on the Borneo level. They share their display with the Wagler’s Pit Viper on the Borneo level of our Rainforest Dome, and they would love it if you would st-HOP by!


Filed under: Herpetiles — rainforest @ 3:40 pm

May 10, 2010

Surprise!

On any given visit, you may find eggs in the exhibit laid by our Kuhl’s Flying Geckoes (Ptychozoon kuhli.) In the past they never hatched so the assumption was that they were either infertile or, more likely, the conditions in the exhibit were not right for incubation…
Until one day we found a baby in there. He is being raised behind the scenes and when he gets big enough he will make his debut to the public. Until then, here are some pictures.
baby flying gecko 2

Photo by: Rachael Tom

baby flying gecko 4

Photo by: Rachael Tom

baby flying gecko 1

Photo by: Rachael Tom

baby flying gecko 3

Photo by: Rachael Tom

In the pictures above you can see many of the adaptations flying geckoes have that help them survive. They are very well camouflaged and like other geckoes, have intricate toe pads that help them stick to most any surface. In addition, they have skin flaps on the sides of their bodies, webbed digits, and a flattened tail- all of which help them to glide through the air.


Filed under: Reptiles — vultures are friendly @ 12:24 pm
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The Rainforest Team

   

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

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