What We're Thankful For: Rainforest Staff

Published November 20, 2014

by Ken Howell, Curator of Upland Tropical Rain Forest

In the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, we’re asking various teams from across the Aquarium what they are thankful for this year!

Today we’re sharing an update from our Rainforest team: 

As 2014 begins to wind down, I must give thanks to the Rainforest staff for such a productive year.  

Earlier this year, we reported on the successful hatching of four Amazon big-headed turtles, the first in North America.  

turtle

Our work with poison dart frogs continues with nearly 600 egg masses being produced by our frog collection this year.  Behind the scenes, we continue to be one of the only institutions breeding the kokoe-pa poison dart frog (Oophaga histrionica, also known as the harlequin poison dart frog).  Kokoe-pa frogs exhibit interesting parenting behaviors with females tending their tadpoles and providing them with feeder-eggs, the only food their tadpoles will consume.  Our 13-year-old female kokoe-pa continues to produce eggs and successfully raise tadpoles. Other additions to our exhibit collection include, two young matamata turtles and ten red-bellied piranha. 

On the botanical side of things, we have added a stilt palm, a parlor palm, a pitch apple, a strangler fig, a pink powder puff tree, and several other species to our amazingly diverse plant collection.

The rainforest staff have also been busy with several presentations.  Our Senior Herpetologist, Jessica Nelson presented ‘Trends in Reproduction of Poison Dart Frogs’ and ‘A Case for Managing Amphibians as Individuals’ to the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK).  Deb Dial, our Senior Aviculturist, received AAZK’S 2014 Susan D. Chan Author of the Year award for her paper ‘Supporting Avian Reproduction in a Mixed-Species Exhibit’. Deb also received the Avian Scientific Advisory Group’s 2014 grant award, which allowed her to travel and present another paper at the annual AAZK conference in Orlando.  

In addition, we are excited to be working with several Atlantic puffin research scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic institution. Puffins at the National Aquarium were outfitted with GPS units to better understand correct attachment and placement of these devices on live birds. 

puffin tagging

Information gathered at the Aquarium was used in the Gulf of Maine this summer when GPS devices were placed on wild puffins to better understand adult foraging patterns.  We are currently collaborating with this group of scientists in their quest to better understand the gut microbiome of Atlantic puffins and how the intestinal microbial communities of wild birds might compare with ours here in Baltimore.        

Networking with several of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium's Species Survival programs, this year we have transferred three Atlantic puffins, nine red-capped cardinals, four silver-beaked tanagers, two blue-crowned motmots and two Linne’s two-toed sloths to other institutions. These animals were all born or hatched here at the National Aquarium and are integral to our commitment to maintain diverse, sustainable populations within the accredited zoos and aquariums across the United States.  


What are you thankful for this year? Tell us in the comments section!  

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Ken Howell

Curator of Upland Tropical Rain Forest

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