The California Academy of Sciences Presents


Beginning November 19, discover just how cool California really is . . .

The Mountain yellow-legged frog is one of California's endangered and endemic species. Live frogs are on display in the exhibit. Credit: David Liittschwager. For a high-res version of this image and others, email

SAN FRANCISCO (September 16, 2005) For most people, the word “California” conjures up images of surfer-studded beaches, hyped-up Hollywood stars, sun-drenched strawberry fields, and carb-counting health nuts. However, California is much more than all this. Besides hosting a diverse population of people, the state is also home to one of the most diverse collections of plant and animal species on the planet. This rich diversity has earned California a title as one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots. Unfortunately, membership in this exclusive club is a dubious honor. Hotspots are selected not only for the number of endemic species they contain (plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth), but also for the amount of stress they have suffered from habitat loss. Experts estimate that less than 25% of the state’s habitat remains in pristine condition, due to the impacts of farming, urban expansion, and pollution. The pristine land that does remain in California is a largely unsung – but incredibly important – international treasure. In HOTSPOT: California on the Edge , visitors can explore this tremendous terrain, marvel at the unique plants and animals it supports, and learn what they can do to help keep this hotspot healthy. The exhibit opens November 19, 2005 and runs through August 6, 2006.

California is home to nearly 7,000 species of plants and vertebrate animals, and about a third of these species are only found here. Why do so many species live in one state? One reason is that California contains a remarkably wide variety of habitats. The HOTSPOT exhibit brings habitats from six different areas together in one large room: Central Valley vernal pools, Mediterranean shrublands, the high Sierra-Nevada, Cascade Range volcanoes, Coast redwood forests, and the Klamath-Siskiyou wilderness. Within each of these areas, kids and adults alike can learn about the landscape through interactive displays, examine walls of scientific specimens, meet live animals (or, in one case, carnivorous plants), and find endangered species. Visitors will leave the exhibit with a new appreciation for just how cool this hotspot really is.

Live tiger salamanders are on display in the Vernal Pools section of the exhibit. Credit: Gerald & Buff Corsi, California Academy of Sciences.

Central Valley Vernal Pools

A 240-square-foot projection screen allows visitors to enter the ephemeral world of vernal pools and experience the seasonal shrinking and expanding of these temporary bodies of water through time-lapse photography . Near the screen, vernal pool explorers can meet live tadpole shrimp and tiger salamanders, which are endangered species, and discover some of the amazing adaptations these animals have evolved to survive in their ever-changing ecosystems. A large specimen wall displays some of the other unique organisms that live in or around vernal pools, including the endangered Delta Green ground beetle. At an interactive hardpan spinner, visitors can see how water percolates through some types of soils but not others while learning about the types of soil necessary for the creation of vernal pools.

Mediterranean Shrublands

Next, visitors can travel to California ’s Mediterranean shrublands, where the summers bring wildfires and drastic droughts. A “scent garden” allows guests to smell some of the aromatic oils that plants in these habitats produce to reduce their dependency on water during the hot summers. Under the branches of a 15-foot tall Manzanita tree, visitors can examine the waxy leaves that help these plants seal in moisture and survive droughts. Kangaroo rat specimens tell another summer survival story – these endangered rodents survive raging fires by taking refuge in underground burrows. At the specimen wall, visitors can view dozens of other scientific specimens from the state’s Mediterranean shrublands, including one of the world’s largest crystals of benitoite, California ’s state gem. The highlight of this section of the exhibit, however, is the display of live Jerusalem crickets – nocturnal insects that lack ears and sense vibrations through organs on their legs. These fascinating crickets communicate by drumming their abdomens against the ground. Academy research associate David Weissman has identified four different drumming songs for courtship behavior and mating alone. Recordings of these unusual songs can be heard in the exhibit.

Live Nebria beetles are on display in the Sierra Nevada section of the exhibit. Credit: Dong Lin, California Academy of Sciences.

The High Sierra-Nevada

After surviving the hot shrubland summers, visitors can immerse themselves in a Sierra-Nevada glacier by walking through a towering replica into the next section of the exhibit, where they will find a number of impressive specimens, including a California condor and Monarch – California’s last grizzly bear. Here, visitors can also find live Nebria beetles, which can produce their own version of antifreeze to survive subzero winter temperatures, as well as live Mountain yellow-legged frogs, which survive beneath frozen lake surfaces for nine months of the year. An underwater video reveals the reason these frogs are now endangered – non-native sport fish that have been introduced to Sierra-Nevada lakes in recent years are eating all of the unsuspecting tadpoles. The specimen wall in this section displays a number of native Sierra-Nevada animals, along with California gold nuggets and Miwok baskets. A scientific illustrator will be set up in the exhibit on a regular basis, teaching visitors how to draw the animals and plants that live in this habitat.

Cascade Range Volcanoes

In this section of the exhibit, visitors will learn that California is a hotspot in more ways than one – it is home to four different types of volcanoes as well as a slew of bubbling mud pots. After passing through large pillars of volcanic rock, visitors can use petrographic microscopes to examine thin slices of lava and learn how to identify different types of rocks. Curious guests can also learn about the tiny organisms that survive in boiling mud pots. Those hoping to study a larger specimen can examine a wolverine – the largest and rarest member of the weasel family. This ferocious animal is now almost extinct in California due to habitat loss. Visitors can also find a number of other cascade animals at the Cascade Range specimen wall, including a long-toed salamander and a peregrine falcon.

Live Banana slugs are on display in the Redwoods section of the exhibit. Credit: Gerald and Buff Corsi, California Academy of Sciences.

Coast Redwood Forests

Next, visitors can drive through a redwood forest, using a track ball to navigate their way through towering trees. Guests can also use a moveable magnifier to count the rings on a Giant redwood round that measures 13 feet in diameter. Nearby, a redwood nursery log hosts bright yellow banana slugs, which pave smooth paths over rough ground and stick to slippery surfaces by producing a super-strong slime. Besides banana slugs, redwood forests also support many threatened and endangered species, including the marbled murrelet, which nests in the branches of old-growth trees. Specimens of these fish-eating birds and their nests, which were not discovered until 1974, are both on display in the exhibit. More redwood forest specimens can be found at the specimen wall, including the Northern flying squirrel.

The Klamath-Siskiyou Wilderness

Finally, guests can explore the Klamath-Siskiyou wilderness, which hosts the largest concentration of rivers in the United States and the richest assemblage of conifers in the world. Here, visitors can view live carnivorous plants called cobra lilies, which live in nutrient-poor soils. These plants trap and digest insects to compensate for the lack of nutrients in the soil. Visitors can also examine specimens of some of the 155 endangered plants and animals that live in this region, including the spotted owl and the Northern California Coast Coho salmon . Nearby, guests can learn to sort and identify cones from many of the region’s 31 species of conifers and study a specimen wall that includes endangered salamanders and Mardon skipper butterflies.

Help a Hotspot

Between each of these California habitats, visitors will pass through “issue areas” where they can learn about the threats to the state’s biodiversity and discover ways to help protect it. At the end of their journey through California , guests can also learn about a few of the other biodiversity hotspots in the world, including Madagascar and the Philippine coral reefs.

HOTSPOT Programming

The Academy is planning an array of public programs, courses, lectures, and other special events to complement the HOTSPOT exhibit. A few special events are listed below. For more programming information, please call (415) 321-8000.

Hotspot Opening Ceremonies
Saturday and Sunday, November 19 and 20 from 10:30 am - 5 pm
Celebrate the opening of the Academy’s new exhibit, HOTSPOT, with a weekend of special programs. Explore basket weaving, jewelry, games, and other cultural traditions of the California Indians through an ongoing demonstration by Julia and Lucy Parker, world renowned artists and descendants of the Yosemite Indians. The mother-daughter duo will perform a traditional Yosemite Miwok ceremony at 10:30 am both mornings. Additionally, watch as naturalist and artist Jack Laws illustrates a field guide to Sierra Nevada wildlife and try your hand at scientific illustration. Free with museum admission.

Jack Laws will demonstrate scientific illustration techniques in the exhibit. For a high resolution version of this image and others, email Stephanie at

Illustrating the Sierra Nevada: The Artist's Studio LIVE!
Tuesdays - Fridays from 10:30 am - 5 pm
November 29 - December 21, and January 11 - February 28
Witness the process of illustrating a field guide to the wildlife of California's Sierra Nevada region, and enter the studio of naturalist and artist Jack Laws. Jack will create scientific illustrations inside a specially-designed exhibition studio within the HOTSPOT exhibit. Free with museum admission.

Key To California Creatures
Wednesdays and Sundays in December at 1:30 pm
Have you ever wanted to identify a spider that you found outside your window, a shell on the beach, or an ant in your kitchen? Come see and touch some of the Academy’s California specimens while you practice using keys to identify various plants and animals . Bring in your own treasures from the natural world, and we’ll help you figure out what they are. Free with museum admission.

California Arachnids
Sundays, December 4 and 18 at 11:30 am & 2 pm
Get up close and personal with live tarantulas and scorpions, and discover the fascinating secret lives of these misunderstood arachnids. Free with museum admission.

California Ethnobotany
Saturday, January 14 from 10 am - 4 pm
After exploring the rich diversity of California's plant life in the Academy's new HOTSPOT exhibit, join us for a day of special programs to find out how California Indian tribes used these plants to provide shelter, clothing, food, and everyday utensils. Watch as Ruth Orta (Ohlone) grinds acorns into coarse flour for use in acorn soup, once a nutritional food staple of California Indians. Admire the artistry of David Snooks (Washoe) as he decorates gourds with painted designs and beading. Learn how to make brushes from the soaproot plant with Mona Garibay (Ohlone) or how to make rope from dogbane fibers with Sabrina Gaibay (Ohlone). Additionally, Kathy Wallace (a member of the Hoopa Valley tribe) will demonstrate basket-making techniques, and Paul Stone (Paiute/Washoe) will fashion flutes from cedar and elderberry wood. Free with museum admission.

It's Cool to Be Organic
Saturdays in January from 2-4 pm
Fridays in February from 3-5 pm

After witnessing California's stunning biodiversity in the HOTSPOT exhibit, learn how to help protect it by eating sustainably-harvested organic foods. Taste a variety of local organic foods and beverages, including baked goods, produce, ice cream, wine and beer. Free with museum admission.

Coming Up Next…

After the HOTSPOT exhibit closes, prepare to be amazed… DINOSAURS: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries will open at the Academy on September 15, 2006 and run through February 4, 2007 . This groundbreaking exhibition will present the most up-to-date look at how many of the most persistent and puzzling mysteries about dinosaurs – what they looked like, how they moved, and even whether or not they are really extinct – are being reinterpreted by scientists as recent discoveries are brought to life using the latest technology.


The California Academy of Sciences, including Steinhart Aquarium and the Natural History Museum, is open to the public at 875 Howard Street, Admission to the Academy at 875 Howard Street is: $7 for adults; $4.50 for youth ages 12 to 17, Seniors ages 65+ and students with valid ID; $2 for children ages four to 11; and free for children ages three and younger. Hours are 10 am - 5 pm every day. (415) 321-8000.

The California Academy of Sciences, the fourth largest natural history museum in the United States, is home to Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and the Natural History Museum. The Academy is beginning an extensive rebuilding project in Golden Gate Park. Pritzker prize-winning architect Renzo Piano is designing the new Academy, which is expected to open in 2008.

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