Archive for the ‘Rainforest Pyramid’ Category

Don’t Worry, There Are No Count Dracula’s Here

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

With Halloween fast approaching, Moody Gardens® is here to celebrate one of the holiday’s most recognizable creatures- the bat. In the newly renovated Rainforest Pyramid® there are three different exhibits that allow you to get a little closer to these mythical mammals and learn the truth about bats.

The first type of bat you will encounter at Moody Gardens® is the Rodrigues fruit bats. This species of bat are located in the treetops of the African section of the Rainforest Pyramid® for public viewing. The way these bats navigate and find food is different from the other species of bats in the pyramid. Instead of using echolocation, the rodrigues species use their large eyes and hearing to find their way. They also have a keen sense of smell that allows them to find their food.

As you continue through the Rainforest, you will come across another type of fruit bat, the Egyptian fruit bat. Just as the name states these bats survive on a daily balance of fruits prepared by our biologists. These fruit bats originate in areas of Africa and can live up to 22 years while in captivity.

Finally, you’ll be able to watch our smallest and most notorious species of bat–the Vampire bat. Unlike the stereotype that Halloween places on these mammals, the vampire bat does not want to turn you into a vampire. These nocturnal bats sleep throughout the day and come out at night to feed upon the blood of horses, pigs and cows otherwise known as bovine blood. These types of bats are the only known mammals that can survive exclusively on blood. The reverse habitual pattern can be seen when visiting the exhibit and also a new exciting surprise. Recently, two of our older vampire bats have added a baby to our vampire bat family!

If you want to get yourself in the Halloween spirit then come to Moody Gardens® to see all of the different species of bats. Also, celebrate our Ghostly Gardens on October 30, 2011. The property will offer free trick-or-treating, creepy crafts, face painting and other fun activities for children and their families. The event will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and will also include a kid’s costume contest for children 12 years old and younger with prizes for the participant with the best costume. The costume contest will kickoff at 3 p.m. in the Garden Lobby of the visitor’s center. All other activities will be held in various locations throughout the Moody Gardens® complex. Guests of all ages are encouraged to dress up in their favorite Halloween costume the day of the event to receive $5 admission to each Moody Gardens® attraction.

For more information on the Rainforest Pyramid and other attractions visit www.moodygardens.org 

RAINFOREST PYRAMID AT MOODY GARDENS® TAKES ROOT

Friday, May 20th, 2011

When the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid opens May 28, both first-time guests and regular Rainforest Pyramid patrons will marvel at the $25 million in enhancements that have transformed the attraction into a tropical paradise unlike any other in the nation.  The bright green leaves, colossal trunks, multicolored flowers and fresh fruit of more than 1,000 species of exotic flora will flourish inside the pyramid.  Free-roaming mammals, colorful birds, insects and reptiles will help propagate the forest, assisting with pollination.  What was once a botanical garden is now a living, breathing rainforest.

As educational as it is entertaining, the Rainforest Pyramid is designed to inspire guests to join the ongoing race to save the rainforest.  This one-of-a-kind attraction is central to the Moody Gardens conservation and education mission, and it is an expression of gratitude to the disappearing rainforests of the world.

Despite their unique beauty and ecological importance, rainforests of the world are vanishing quickly.  More than 12 million acres are being stripped every year for cattle farming, logging, and other trade and development.  In a single century, 90 percent of West Africa’s coastal rainforests disappeared.  Without tree cover, the once-moist soil of the rainforest turned quickly into dry, loose sand.  This human-induced change in land cover converted countries like Nigeria and Ghana into desert, causing decades of drought, famine and death that persist today.

Nearly half of all prescription drugs in the United States have active ingredients derived from rainforest plants, treating maladies like gastrointestinal problems, arthritis, menopause, high blood pressure and even the common headache.  One rainforest plant from Madagascar yielded compounds for two important anti-cancer drugs that helped increase the 5-year survival rate of childhood leukemia from 10 percent to nearly 90 percent.

As one of the few authentic indoor rainforest replicas in the world, the Rainforest Pyramid at Moody Gardens hosts myriad plants and animals commonly found in African, Asian and American rainforests.

“Biodiversity is important in the rainforest, so we wanted to deliver an accurate representation of what would be found in these environments,” said Donita Brannon, Horticultural Exhibit Manager of the Rainforest Pyramid®.

Each plant within the Rainforest Pyramid has its own story to tell.  Here are a few:

  • The Brazilian Beauty Leaf (Calophyllum brasiliens) is identified by distinctive white flowers and leaves.  But humans have another reason to admire this tree—the latex in the leaves contains three potent HIV-1 inhibitors.
  • Ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata) is a tree treasured for its delicate scent.  The flowers contain essential oils that are commonly used in skincare and aromatherapy products and also serve as the top note in Chanel No. 5, one of the best-selling perfumes in the world.  Besides its unique fragrance, ylang-ylang is used to treat motion sickness, lower high blood pressure and calm anxiety.
  • The largest plant in the Rainforest Pyramid is a 30-foot Sacred Fig (Ficus religiosa). The tree weighed approximately two tons when it was delivered and took three days to plant inside the pyramid.  Hindus and Buddhists consider the plant sacred because Siddhartha Gautama is believed to have been sitting under a Ficus religiosa when he achieved enlightenment.
  • The carnivorous Pitcher Plant uses a deep, liquid-filled sac to capture prey.  Bright colors lure insects into the “pitfall traps,” where they are drowned and dissolved by enzymes, then absorbed by the plant for nutrition.  Some larger species of Pitcher Plants even feed on reptiles and small mammals.
  • Other plants like cocoa, the cola nut, tapioca, vanilla, cinnamon and allspice are indigenous to the rainforest but end up in pharmacies, refrigerators and spice cabinets across the United States.

“Seeing all these plants in person is a truly unique opportunity that we hope will encourage visitors to help protect our rainforests as much as possible,” Brannon said.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the plants that live in the Rainforest Pyramid® or click here if video below is not functioning:

RAINFOREST PYRAMID® UPDATE: Prehensile Tailed Porcupine

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

On May 28th, come “hang out” with Bobby-Sue and Bono! These two Prehensile Tailed porcupines (Coendou prehensilis) are just a few of the critters you’ll encounter in the nocturnal gallery at the Rainforest Pyramid® at Moody Gardens®.

Prehensile Tailed porcupines are found in the wild in Central and South America. These vegetarian, tree-dwelling rodents usually weigh between four and eleven pounds and their tails are almost as long as their whole body! They are covered in short, thick spines and their body color runs from yellowish to orange to brown. One of their defining characteristics is a small head with a round, bulbous nose which is covered by short and fine hair. They also have whiskers on the face and feet that help in maneuvering around at night.

This species is named for their unique tail, which is used a fifth hand to help hold onto branches as they climb throughout the canopy. The last 1/3 of the tail is spineless, enabling the animal to get a better grip on the tree branches. The front and hind feet are modified for grasping, which makes them excellent climbers. One thing they cannot do however is jump. While they will rarely descend to the ground, these porcupines will go to the forest floor if they need to cross a gap between trees.

A porcupine diet consists of twigs, leaves, fruits and vegetables. Like most rodents, their teeth will continue to grow throughout their lifetime so they will gnaw on hard things to file their teeth down. At night they will move around foraging for food and will spend most of the day sleeping.

These animals are not very well studied in the wild because they stay high in the trees and are slow moving and largely immobile during the day. It is known however, that these porcupines can be found in small social groups when sleeping, otherwise they are solitary or paired.

Porcupines have a built-in defense. While most of their body is covered in sharp quills, they are incapable of throwing them, which is a common misconception. These quills will detach easily when touched and imbed into the skin of an enemy. They have also been known to hit and bite their attackers and curl up into a ball when caught. When provoked, they will stomp their hind feet, sit on their haunches, shake their quills and emit deep growls and high pitched cries. These defenses are so formidable that Prehensile Tailed porcupines have the luxury of a longer lifespan and slower reproductive rate than most rodents.

After a 202 day gestation period, a female porcupine will usually give birth to a single offspring that will be covered in reddish-orange hair. This soft hair will eventually harden into quills. The baby will weigh around 14 ounces and can climb at birth.

Prehensile Tailed porcupines are not endangered, but face loss of habitat due to deforestation.

Watch the following video to learn more about Peter and Egon and come meet them in person May 28th at the Rainforest Pyramid®!

(Click here if the following video is not functioning)

RAINFOREST PYRAMID® UPDATE: Prevost’s Squirrel

Friday, May 6th, 2011

On May 28th, Experience Life in a whole new way and meet Peter and Egon, two Prevost’s squirrels (Callosciurus prevostii) who will be free-roaming in the Rainforest Pyramid® at Moody Gardens®.

These two brilliantly colored squirrels are actually the offspring of squirrels who were evacuated out of the pyramid due to Hurricane Ike and were relocated to the San Antonio Zoo. The S.A. Zoo had success in breeding the squirrels, so Moody Gardens decided to not interfere with the program, but to take some of the offspring.

In the wild, Prevost’s squirrels are found in south-east Asia. They are the most colorful of all squirrels. Their back and tail are glossy black in color and their belly and legs are bright, chestnut red. They also have a white band that extends along the sides from the nose to the base of the tail. Prevost’s squirrels have short forelimbs with a small thumb and longer hind limbs. They have sharp claws for clinging to tree branches and soft pads on the soles of their feet.

These small creatures are active during the day and dwell in the tree-top canopies. A hollowed out tree or a nest of leaves high in the canopy is usually where the squirrel will make its home. They are excellent at jumping and climbing and can jump considerable gaps between the trees. Their long bushy tails help them balance when they run and climb and they also act a rudder when they jump. On the ground, Prevost’s squirrels move in a sequence of graceful leaps, often pausing to raise their heads and look around.

Their diet consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sometimes bugs and small eggs. They have a single pair of chisel shaped incisors in each jaw and a large gap in front of the premolars due to the absence of canine teeth. These teeth will grow continuously throughout their lives, so the squirrels will gnaw on wood to file them down. When feeding, they will squat on their haunches while holding the food between their front paws. They will also carry fruit far from the tree of origin and drop seeds when they are finished with their meal. With the seeds far from the parent tree, there is a decreased likelihood of the seeds being eaten by other animals and a good opportunity for a new generation of trees to be produced.

Prevost’s squirrels are sexually mature at one year of age and females will give birth to a litter of two to three pups after a five week gestation period. Infants are born naked, toothless and helpless. At about six weeks of age the offspring will be fully furred and will start to venture out of the burrow.

While these squirrels are not endangered, they are threatened due to loss of habitat and pet trade. So, come meet Peter and Egon when the Rainforest Pyramid® at Moody Gardens® opens on May 28th!

Fun facts:

  • Unlike their ground squirrel cousins, Prevost’s squirrels do not hibernate.
  • Their generic name Callosciurus means “beautiful squirrel”.
  • Prevost’s squirrels use their tails to communicate.

Watch the following video to learn more about Peter and Egon and come meet them in person May 28th at the Rainforest Pyramid®!

(Click here if the following video is not functioning)

RAINFOREST PYRAMID® UPDATE: African Palm Civet

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Don’t call her a weasel!  Come meet Zinga, our African Palm Civet who lives in the nocturnal animal exhibit at the Moody Gardens® Rainforest Pyramid®. The African Palm Civet (Nandinia binotata) is a small cat-like relative of weasels and mongooses and is one of the many mammals you’ll meet on your adventure when the Rainforest Pyramid® reopens on May 28th.

African Palm Civets are found in the forests of eastern and central Africa and are threatened due to loss of habitat. They will usually weigh between 3.7 to 4.6 pounds and are brown to light tan in color with a mottled series of darker brown spots. The fur is darker on the top half of the body to help the Civet stay camouflaged in the trees. The Civet also has bare pink pads on its feet to help provide cushioning and friction while they move and hunt. It also has a thick, muscular tail which helps with balance.  These omnivores (both meat and plant eating) will use its back feet and tail to grip and balance on branches while using its front feet to grab and manipulate prey. It will then finish off its prey with a series of fast bites. If the prey is small enough, it may swallow it whole.

Civets are arboreal (tree dwelling), solitary and crepuscular, meaning only active at dawn and dusk. Females will usually give birth to up to four young after two months of gestation. Also, the female’s mammary glands secrete an orange-yellow liquid that turns the mother’s belly and the offspring’s fur orange-yellow. It is thought this is a deterrent for males wanting to mate and to protect the young from attacks. An adult male African Palm Civet may occupy a territory of over 250 acres with up to three females occupying the same territory. Each female will have her own patch of land and will only share it with their offspring. Adult male and female civets hardly socialize, but they will keep track of each other using siren-like calls.

Smell something? Civets have scent glands on their feet and tail that secrete a fruit-like smell. These scents are used for a variety of purposes.

Watch the following video to meet Zinga and come see her and her friends on May 28th at the Rainforest Pyramid®!

(Click here if the following video is not functioning)

RAINFOREST PYRAMID® UPDATE: Giant Otters

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

You “otter” see this! Come meet the newest residents of Moody Gardens® when life emerges on May 28th at the Rainforest Pyramid®. On your adventure you’ll meet Dru, Ella and Yzma, three Giant Otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) who came to Moody Gardens® on December 17 of last year.

Giant Otters are a carnivorous mammal native to South America and found mostly in the Amazon River and the Pantanal, which is an area of tropical wetland in Brazil. Otters are members of the weasel family (Mustelidae) and have the longest body length in the species. In some cases, males have reached reported lengths of over seven feet. Males in general will be about 4.9 to 5.9 feet, while females will reach lengths of about 4.9 to 5.6 feet.

These noisy mammals have the shortest fur of all otter species and it’s usually chocolate-brown, reddish or fawn in coloration. This fur is extremely dense so much so that water cannot penetrate to the skin. Guard hairs trap water and keep the inner fur dry. These hairs are about one third of an inch long and are twice as long as the fur of the inner coat. Giant Otters also have unique markings of white or cream colored fur on the throat and under the chin, which allows individuals to be identified from birth. It is believed that these markings are used by the otter to identify each other. When meeting each other for the first time, otters will engage in a behavior known as “periscoping”. When “periscoping”, otters will pop their heads and chests out of the water to display their markings to the other. They are also characterized by their small, rounded ears and their short and stubby legs that end in large webbed feet equipped with very sharp claws that help them catch prey.  Giant Otters also have highly sensitive whiskers (vibrissae) that track changes in water pressure and currents, which aids in detecting prey.

Giant Otters are diurnal, which means they are active exclusively during daylight hours. They are excellent hunters and have extremely keen senses of smell and sight. They are apex predators, meaning they have no serious natural enemies. A Giant Otter’s diet usually consists of fish, but they have also been known to eat crabs, snakes and even small Caimans. These natives of South America like to talk too.  They are the noisiest of any otter species and they have vocalizations that indicate alarm, aggressiveness and reassurance just to name a few.

This species of otter is unusually social for a member of the weasel family. In Spanish, they are known as Lobos Del Rio(Wolves of River) and Perro de Agua (Water Dog) because they live and hunt in packs like canines. They can live in groups of anywhere from two to twenty, but the average group size is three to eight. These groups are strongly cohesive. Members will sleep, play, travel and feed together. Group members will share roles, structured around a dominant breeding pair. This species is highly territorial and they will mark their territory with latrines, gland secretions and vocalizations. Dens are built into the riverbanks and are usually equipped with multiple entrances and chambers. After a 65-70 day gestation period, females will give birth to around one to five pups. After two years the young otters reach full maturity and will leave the family group permanently.

Giant Otters have been categorized as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 1999 as a result from poaching and loss of habitat. Moody Gardens® is one of six zoos and aquariums in North America that feature Giant Otters.

Watch the following video to learn about Dru, Ella and Yzma’s journey and see how they are adapting to their new home here at Moody Gardens. (Click here if the video below is not working.)

RAINFOREST PYRAMID® UPDATE: White-faced Saki monkeys

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

At Moody Gardens, we don’t monkey around. But, we have some residents of the rainforest who do. White-faced Saki monkeys will be roaming the tree tops of the rainforest along with many other fascinating creatures when the Rainforest Pyramid opens May 28th.

White-faced Sakis (Pithecia pithecia) are found in Brazil, French Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela and Guyana. These small monkeys are usually about two to three pounds and can measure up to 29 inches long. They are arboreal (tree living), active during the day and rarely go to the ground. Some have even been found 2,300 feet up in the canopy! These monkeys are fast moving and shy, so very little is known about their behavior in the wild. What we do know is that they eat fruit, leaves, flowers, small birds and small mammals and they move mainly in leaps. Jumps of over 32 feet have actually been recorded by these tiny leapers!

Adult male Sakis are black with a white face and females are a brownish gray color with a narrow stripe on their face between the inner eye and mouth. These monkeys are dichromatic (males are different colors from females) which is a rare trait among Central and South American primates. They have long shaggy coats that protect them from rain and non-prehensile, bushy tails.

These monkeys live in small family groups consisting of the parents and usually two to three offspring. After a 146 day pregnancy, the infant Saki will be born and males and females will have the same brownish gray coloration of the mother. After two months, males will start to take on the coloration of the father. The infants are carried in the flexure of female’s thigh for the first few weeks, but will gradually be carried on the back of the mother.  Sakis communicate by bird-like chirping sounds and they display aggression by fluffing up their body hair and vigorously shaking their body while stomping their feet.

The status of these animals in the wild is vulnerable. Deforestation leading to loss of habitat, as well as these animals being hunted has led to them being threatened. So, come see Frankie, Clyde and Lionel when life emerges on May 28th!

Please see the video below to learn more about these interesting inhabitants of the rainforest (or click here if no video below).

RAINFOREST PYRAMID® UPDATE: Pygmy Slow Loris

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

My, what big eyes you have! While you won’t find Little Red Riding Hood in the Rainforest Pyramid, you will find the Pygmy Slow Loris (Nycticebus pygmaeus). This prosimian (before the monkeys- or primitive primate) is just one type of the many primates you will encounter when life emerges at the Rainforest Pyramid on May 28th.

Pygmy Slow Lorises are found in the rainforests of Cambodia, China, Laos and Vietnam. They are extremely endangered in Vietnam, where decades of military activity have damaged their habitat. (as well as more recent habitat destruction)  These nocturnal, tree dwelling primates survive on a diet of insects, fruit, slugs and snails. During the day you might see one curled into a tight ball clinging to a branch high up in the rainforest canopy.

These small creatures (18-21 cm long) are characterized by their round head, large eyes, small ears, stumpy tail and their short and wooly fur. The Pygmy  Slow Loris also has front teeth that are arranged to provide a comb like structure called a “tooth comb” that is used to scrape resin from a tree and to clean its fur.  In addition to the tooth comb, they also have an under tongue that contains hardened points of horn. This second fleshy comb is used to clean the tooth comb.

Lorises are mainly solitary animals, only coming together to mate. The female will usually give birth to one or two babies every 12 to 18 months after a gestation period of 190 days. For the first seven months, the youngling will cling to its mother and it will nurse for six weeks. Young lorises may call to their mother using a series of clicks and squeaks when in d istress. For the most part, vocal exchanges are limited to remain inconspicuous and communication is mainly carried out by scent marking.

People say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Pygmy Slow Loris must be out to flatter reptiles. When threatened, they will imitate an angry cobra by hissing, whistling and moving in the deliberate manner of a serpent. If the threat continues, they will deliver a toxic bite to its aggressor. The bite is toxic due to glands inside of the elbow that secrete a toxin. The loris will lift its arms up and lick up the toxin before delivering the painful bite.

Another interesting fact is that lorises have specially adapted blood vessels in their hands and feet that allow them to hold onto branches tightly for many hours at a time, even when sleeping.  They will walk slowly (thus the name) but surely on the branches, carefully putting one foot in front of the other. As sluggish as they appear, they are excellent climbers and very quick and accurate when hunting prey.

The name “loris” is believed to be derived from the Dutch word “loeris”, which means clown because their eyes and facial markings resemble a clown’s makeup.

Check out our video featuring the Pygmy Slow Loris!

RAINFOREST PYRAMID® UPDATE: Birds

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Has the rainforest gone to the birds? You might think so after you meet some of our winged friends who will call the pyramid home when it re-opens May 28th.

First, let’s forage the forest floor with the Victoria Crowned Pigeon (Goura victoria). This relative of the now extinct Dodo makes its home in the Asian rainforests in Indonesia and Papau New Guinea. It is the largest living pigeon and can be just as tall as a turkey!  This bluish bird has a large crest of feathers on its head that can be raised, that’s where “crowned” comes from in its name. To find food, they forage the rainforest floor for fruit, seeds and snails. Victoria Crowned Pigeons are monogamous and mate for life. They lay one single white egg each year and it’s incubated by both mom and dad. This pigeon, along with flamingos produce crop milk to feed their young.

Now, let’s soar the canopy with Crested Oropendola (Psarcolius decumannaus). These birds are native to South America and are quite small compared to the Victoria Crowned Pigeon. They will usually about 13 to 17 inches long when fully grown. The Crested Oropendola will nest in large colonies of about 100 or more to stay protected from predators. Their main food sources include: grain, seeds, fruit and nectar. In order to protect their babies, these birds weave a spherical nest made of grass and palm that can be three to six feet long!

Next, we’ll listen to the call of the Blue Bellied Roller (Coracias cyanogaster). These small, agile flyers dwell in western and central Africa, from Senegal to the southern Sudan. These social birds live in small groups of three to seven and hunt their prey by dive bombing them from about 30 feet up in the trees. You can spot the Blue Bellied Roller by its distinctive blue, black, pinkish cream and teal coloration. They get their name from the rolling pattern of flight used during courtship.

Did you know that in spite of its name, the Speckled Pigeon (Columba guinea) also called a “rock pigeon” does not need cliffs for nesting? This African pigeon is bluish-gray in coloration with cinnamon-brown on some parts of its neck, mantle and wing coverts. It gets its name from the white speckles on its wings. They breed all year long and often live in pairs, but they are also known to flock together with more than 100 others when not breeding.

Finally, we’ll take a look at the striking red patch on the chest of the Bleeding Heart Dove (Gallicolumbia luzonia). This shy bird is native to the forests of the Philippines and it spends most of its time searching the forest floor for seeds, berries, insects and other invertebrates. This dove builds its nest about three to five feet above the ground and both the male and female spend time incubating the eggs. Did you know pigeons and doves drink differently than most birds? They submerge their beak in water, suck up the water and swallow, without the need to raise their head between sips.

Check out our video featuring some of the birds you just read about!

RAINFOREST PYRAMID® UPDATE: Northern Tree Shrew

Monday, March 7th, 2011

The Northern Tree Shrew (Tupaia belangeri) is believed to be the closest relative of some of the earliest mammals. These cute little guys are just one of the many species of animals you will encounter when you “Experience Life” in the Moody Gardens® Rainforest Pyramid®.

This type of shrew is found in the forests of Southeast Asia, from India and southwestern China through Malaysia, Borneo and the Philippines. These omnivores (both meat and plant eating) will usually live about two to three years in the wild, but some have been known to live 12 years. The female shrew will usually give birth to two to four youngsters and they will actually build a nest for them in addition to their own! This animal is rare because the mother doesn’t spend a lot of time with the babies. She will not groom them, clean the nest or retrieve them if they are in distress. In fact, experts say she only spends about 90 seconds with her babies every two days!

They are constantly active and must eat often due to their very simple digestive system and because of the amount of energy used throughout the day.  These little creatures (5.5 inches from nose to tail) have an extremely keen sense of sight, smell and hearing and they use these to avoid predators. They are one of the few small mammals who have all highly evolved senses.

Looks aren’t everything; these small mammals have brains too! The Northern Tree Shrew has the highest brain to body ratio of any mammal. Talk about smart! They also have eight different sounds in their vocal repertoire which alarm sounds, defense sounds, etc. Scent marking is also very important to the shrew. They use this to communicate social standing and to mark their territory.

Check this video featuring the Northern Tree Shrew