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.
The Academy is home to the world’s largest collection of skulls, skeletons, and other preserved samples of the southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis). Research collections like ours are valuable resources for scientists studying California marine ecosystems, and informing conservation strategies. Southern sea otters live along the coast of California (mostly between Monterey and Big Sur), and are classified as threatened on the U.S. Endangered Species List.
From September 28 – October 3, 2009, stop by the Research Lab to see select specimens on display. Sea otter-themed books and resources will also be available in the Naturalist Center. For those ages 21 and up, stop by the sea otter table at NightLife on October 1 to talk to biologists about how these creatures are faring in the wild.
Vibrantly colored sea urchins (below, left) are a favorite food source among sea otters, and individuals who eat a lot of them over the course of a lifetime can end up with purple-tinted bones and teeth. Read more about their behaviors in this archive issue of California Wild.
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.
The Academy’s “Chief Penguin” Dr. Greg Farrington is one of a handful of San Franciscans selected to participate in Google’s new Favorite Places campaign, which launches today. Unlike his cousins in African Hall, this “penguin” needs a dry cleaner’s help to keep his tux looking tidy…via the map below, you can check out his favorite spots in San Francisco (restaurants, venues, local businesses, etc.), all marked with custom penguin pins.
View Greg Farrington’s Favorite Places in San Francisco in a larger map
Next time you pass through the Academy’s Islands of Evolution exhibit, take a peek at a few new additions by the wall of colorful Frans Lanting photographs. Touch a 221-pound iron meteorite (below, left), and check out an actual moon rock (below, right), collected on the last manned lunar mission, Apollo 17, in December, 1972. The rock was collected from the Taurus-Littrow Valley, between the Sea of Serenity and the Sea of Tranquility, and is on loan to the Academy from NASA. Alongside those extraterrestrial specimens, you’ll also see a sampling of incredible fossils from Earth—up to 900 million years old.
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and to celebrate, staff from Morrison Planetarium will be on hand at the Science in Action exhibit to show video footage of the of the Apollo 11 landing, and introduce the moon rock to visitors on the weekend of July 18-19. Stop by at 1:30 pm either day to check it out.
There aren’t many people out there who would feel honored to have a foul smelling, two-inch, phallus-shaped fungus named after them – but herpetologist Bob Drewes is an exception to the rule. On a 2006 expedition to São Tomé, which involved Drewes (below, left) and researchers from a variety of scientific disciplines, Academy research fellow Dennis Desjardin discovered a new species of stinkhorn mushroom, and after a few jokes, the name Phallus drewesii stuck. Read more about it in the July/August issue of the journal Mycologia , or for more casual fungus fans, in the San Jose Mercury News.
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.
The Academy’s mammalogy department recently acquired a mounted tiger specimen that was confiscated by officials at San Francisco’s SFO airport. Tigers are listed as endangered species under the Federal Endangered Species Act, and are also protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna (CITES).
When U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials confiscate an animal skin or other such material that has crossed the border illegally, they contact institutions like the Academy that maintain research collections. This particular tiger is not well-suited for exhibit display, so it will remain in collections storage, as part of the Academy’s library of life (below, left). These research collections are of great value to the scientific community; they document the diversity and evolution of life on our planet, helping us understand how to sustain it.
On occasion, a confiscated specimen can become part of an educational exhibit seen by thousands of people every day. That’s exactly what happened when officials confiscated a mounted leopard during the Academy’s rebuilding project – they called the Academy and we were able to incorporate it into African Hall, where it now sits perched in a tree above the double-wide open diorama (below, right).
The weather stations on the Academy’s living roof are an integral part of our building’s natural ventilation system. The stations gather data all day long, and feed it into a computer which controls when the various windows and skylights open and close, among other functions. The entire system is automated, and allows the building to work in harmony with the surrounding environment to cool all of the public spaces without air conditioning.
Each station packs five different instruments into one unit, and can measure solar radiation, rainfall, wind speed and direction, temperature, and humidity. As for which instrument is which, see the caption below this photo to find out.
1. Rain gauge
2. Solar radiation sensor
3. Wind direction
4. Anemometer (wind speed)
5. Temperature and humidity gauge
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.