- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2000

Huge anacondas live next to river turtles in the Amazon River forest. A white-spotted stingray probes the river floor while caiman lizards swim on the surface and 20 types of catfish dart by.
This is the habitat that has been re-created at the National Aquarium in Baltimore in its new exhibit, "Amazon River Forest."
The permanent exhibit, designed as a companion to the existing Tropical Rain Forest section, opened March 3. Its goal is to show an Amazon tributary at the beginning stages of its flooding into the surrounding forest.
"Some areas in the Amazon go from no water to 40 feet of water during the rainy season," says Sarah Cloherty, an educational specialist at the aquarium. "There could be birds nesting in the tree half the year, and catfish swimming around the tree the other half.
"This exhibit finishes the picture of the rain forest. The flooded forest is sort of an unknown idea to a lot of people, the idea that water covers the banks of the Amazon for miles from February to August."
The exhibit shows how the various reptiles, fish, amphibians, birds and mammals coexist when the water rises. A 57-foot stretch of riverbank has been constructed, and 20,000 gallons of 84-degree water have been pumped in. Eighty-six-degree mist is blown into the air to mimic the rain forest's steamy conditions.
Trees have been re-created exactly as they would be in South America, right down to the moss and twisted roots that provide a natural underwater nesting area for many species.
"It is identical to the rain forest," Miss Cloherty says. "We wanted it to be the natural environment for nesting and mating."
The exhibit features some 100 species. It is tough to estimate how many animals are in the exhibit, because some of them quickly reproduced, she says. The latest estimate is 4,000 from the 185-pound, 14-foot green anaconda to the tiny tadpoles of the Brazil-nut poison-dart frog.
Most of the animals were found during a two-week trip to the Amazon basin, says senior aquarist Stuart Keefer.
"I think this exhibit is something the aquarium can be very proud of," he says. "The Amazon basin is three-fourths the size of the United States. There is still a lot we don't know about the area. We came back with several species not yet identified to scientists."
Some of the known species in the aquarium tanks include:
The tambaqui, a large fish that has teeth like a horse's and crunches on fruits and nuts.
Freshwater stingrays, which are similar to their cousins that live in the saltwater ocean.
The snowball suckermouth catfish, which feasts on sticks and branches.
Amazonian vine snakes, tree-dwelling snakes that camouflage themselves to look like vines to kill birds, mammals and lizards with their venomous fangs.
The orbweaving spider, which weaves a web so strong that birds can become entangled in it.
The splashback poison-dart frog, whose brilliant colors warn predators of their toxins.


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