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Golden Gate Park
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Fly on the Wall 

January 6, 2010

Frog breeding program celebrates first anniversary

Aquatic biologists at the Academy first began breeding Asian horned frogs (Megophrys nasuta) in captivity one year ago, and have now successfully raised over a dozen tadpoles into young frogs. Even after a year, around 40 of the frogs are still tadpoles, but more metamorphose every week, and seem to be in excellent health. The young frogs and tadpoles are being raised behind the scenes in the aquarium’s amphibian holding room.

Very few zoos and aquariums have been able to breed this species successfully, so our biologists have been learning as they go. One of the discoveries they made was that the size of an egg clutch can actually be as large as 1,400 eggs – a figure much higher than the popular literature suggested.

Native to the rainforest floors of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, these frogs are not currently threatened in the wild, but are vulnerable to habitat destruction and exploitation by the pet trade industry. At the Academy, several adult Asian horned frogs can be seen on the Borneo level of the rainforest exhibit, blending into their leafy surroundings.
Photos: (c) Brian Freiermuth/California Academy of Sciences

Left: The much smaller male holds on to the large female in amplexus, the typical grasping behavior many frogs engage in prior to egg laying and fertilization.
Center: Tadpoles have upward turned mouths that allow them to filter feed at the water’s surface.
Right: A newly metamorphosed froglet still has some tail left, but already has tiny projections over the eyes like its adult counterparts.

Filed under: Aquarium — Helen @ 11:21 am

October 6, 2009

Turtle on a log

Next time you visit the Academy’s rainforest exhibit, look carefully at the fallen tree under water in the flooded Amazon level – it’s a favorite hangout spot for our visiting Arrau turtle (a.k.a. Giant South American river turtle, Podocnemis expansa), currently on loan from the San Francisco Zoo. It weighs approximately 45 pounds, and its sex and age are unknown. Native to South America, this species has been over-harvested by humans and is now classified as Endangered by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This particular turtle was confiscated in Miami more than 10 years ago, and now acts as an Amazonian ambassador of sorts, reminding us that we need well-informed conservation strategies in place to protect river turtles and the other threatened species who share its habitat.

Filed under: Aquarium — Helen @ 3:09 pm

September 21, 2009

38,000 animals and counting

As the Academy approaches its one year anniversary in the new facility, it seems appropriate that our cuttlefish have begun laying eggs. After all, our opening last September was just the beginning. These dwarf cuttlefish (sepia bandensis) are located in the Water Planet exhibit. You’ll have to look carefully for them, since they are able to change color, and can be tough to pick out of their surroundings. There are two in the photo below, plus a large cluster of dark eggs. The species is native to reefs in the Indo-Pacific region, and they feed on small mollusks, crabs, shrimp and fish, using a pair of feeding tentacles.

On September 26-27, to celebrate the Academy’s first anniversary in our new building, we have put together a fantastic lineup of cultural music performances and live animal demonstrations (including big cats). This weekend also marks the debut of our new planetarium show Journey to the Stars. Click here for a full schedule of events.

dwarf cuttlefish

Filed under: Aquarium,Exhibits — Helen @ 11:00 am

April 28, 2009

Baby Jackson’s chameleons

Behind the scenes at the Academy, biologists are caring for fourteen baby Jackson’s chameleons, each about the size of your pinky finger. The exhibit where they were born (yes, born–the Jackson’s chameleon is one of the few reptiles out there that gives birth to live young) is not “baby-proofed,” so to feed and keep an eye on them, they’ve been moved out of African Hall and into a holding area. They’re on a diet of fruit flies, and once they are mature enough, some members of this group will be sent off to other institutions.
Baby Jackson's chameleon

Filed under: Aquarium — Helen @ 10:32 am

January 16, 2009

Claude is on hiatus

Like all of the animals at the Academy, Claude, our albino alligator, receives regular check-ups from our animal health staff. Last week, during one of those exams, staff noticed that Claude had some swelling in one foot, and suspected it was due to an infection. This week, he was taken out of his regular Swamp exhibit to spend some time behind-the-scenes, where our animal health staff can treat him more effectively. His transfer to the holding tank was uneventful (always a good thing when you’re moving an alligator!), and his medical treatment has started. We all wish him a speedy recovery.

Filed under: Aquarium — Helen @ 1:29 pm

January 13, 2009

Learning to Fly

In the past two months, two Silver-beaked Tanager chicks have hatched out in the Academy’s rainforest exhibit. Right now, they are honing their flying skills in the exhibit, and Academy biologists are monitoring their progress daily. For this species, it takes just four weeks from the time the egg is laid to when the bird is self-sufficient. The timeline goes something like this:

1. The parents select a nesting site, build a nest, and lay 2-3 eggs. Our biologists have been collecting valuable information about successful nesting/fledging sites in the exhibit, which they hope can be applied to other species.
2. Incubation of the eggs lasts about 12 days.
3. After hatching, the chicks stay in the nest for about 10 days.
4. After the chicks are able to leave the nest, the parents continue to feed them for another 5-7 days, while their tail feathers grow. This is the fledgling stage. At this point, they’re not strong fliers yet. They have short stumpy tails, but are still quite mobile.
5. Once they have the feathers and wing muscles needed for flight, the chicks are basically on their own and considered juveniles. This is the stage these two chicks are in now – they are fully-flighted and self-sufficient, but not sexually mature.

Silver-beaked Tanagers at the AcademySilver-beaked Tanager fledgling
In the left-hand photo, the fledgling is on the left, next to an adult female Silver-beaked Tanager. In the photo on the right, a closer view of one of the fledglings.

Filed under: Aquarium,Exhibits — Helen @ 1:44 pm

December 30, 2008

Aquarium tanks find new homes

875 Howard Street – the staff has moved, the research collections have moved, the animals are out, so what’s left at the Academy’s temporary home? A few odds and ends in the basement, and until recently, hundreds of empty aquarium tanks, cages, and terrariums.

Now, those pieces are on their way to new homes. The largest tanks, at 20 feet across (below, right), had to be cut in half to fit out the door. Some of the equipment is being re-used behind-the-scenes at the new Academy. And just about everything else has been donated to other institutions in the Bay Area, which will re-use the equipment for their own exhibits and educational programs. Read more here.

aquarium tankaquarium tank

Filed under: Aquarium,Sustainability — Helen @ 4:39 pm

August 18, 2008

Snapping turtles enter Swamp

The Swamp tank is starting to fill with life. The first fish and the alligator snapping turtles were introduced this week, in advance of the alligators, which will be arriving shortly. Each turtle traveled from Howard Street in its own crate, and they all received physical exams and x-rays before the biologists lowered them into the Swamp. Snapping turtle video clip.Stay tuned for an update after the “big guys” arrive.

aquarium animalsaquarium animalsaquarium animals

Filed under: Aquarium,Great Migration — Helen @ 9:38 am

July 15, 2008

Giant sea bass arrives

What does it take to move a giant sea bass? For starters, seven aquatic biologists, excellent pallet jack maneuvering skills, and a willingness to get a little wet.

The sea bass waited patiently as the biologists steering the transport container navigated some complicated turns and a few obstacles (like cords, in the photo below, left). After getting acclimated to the water from its new habitat, and splashing around a bit, the large fish was positioned in its sling. Then the biologists hoisted it up and into the tank (below, right), where it joined five California moray eels and a pair of horn sharks.
Headed to the tankInto the slingReady to hoist

Filed under: Aquarium,Great Migration — Helen @ 4:52 pm

June 11, 2008

Large leather corals arrive

Our biologists expected that moving the three large leather corals (Sarcophyton sp.) would be the most challenging move yet for the Philippine coral reef exhibit. In the years since they first arrived at Howard Street (where they lived in a 20,000-gallon coral reef tank), the coral colonies have grown considerably, making them rather awkward to handle. They had also become attached to some very heavy rocks, so before bringing them up to the surface to move, a biologist detached some of the heavier rocks, making the rest of the process more manageable.

To keep them comfortable, the corals were loaded into a transport container that was kept nice and moist throughout the trip. The individual coral polyps closed up to protect themselves, secreting a mucus to help conserve moisture during the transition.

Four hands are better than two when it comes to moving heavy, delicate living things, so the biologists worked in pairs to get them into their new 212,000-gallon home (above). Now the polyps are opening back up, and they are adjusting as expected. When the new Academy opens, you’ll see them in front of the largest underwater viewing window in the Philippine coral reef tank – they’re the ones that look like giant chanterelle mushrooms.

Filed under: Aquarium,Great Migration — Helen @ 12:34 pm
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