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Italian translation at

Reprint from Germany’s Datz Magazine, May 2001 ;English translation published in the Apisto-Gram Volume 19 No.4 Issue# 77 December 2002


The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland (NAIB) has an Amazon tropical rain forest exhibit under its futuristic glass roof for over 20 years now, including it’s habitants. What was missing before was an exhibit showcasing the fascinating underwater world of the Amazon and its tributaries.

By Max Gallade
English language content edited by Lois Gallade

The National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD opened in March 2000 the first new permanent exhibit in nine years: Amazon River Forest. The new exhibit gives visitors a fantastic view of this critically endangered habitat of South America. The exhibit consists of three different parts. The first part, the main exhibit shows a 57 foot stretch of a typical Amazon tributary at the beginning of the rainy season. The two smaller exhibits illustrate the difference in rain forest living between the rainy and dry seasons in the same forest sections.

Here you will find two identical decorated tanks. The only differences between them are the inhabitants. The first tank houses various Symphosodon discus, Paracheirodon axelrodi, Dicrossus filamentosus and Carnegiellas trigata as the main habitants of the flooded forest floor.

Poison dart frogs of the Dendrobates castaneoticus and D. Galactontus species among other snake and spider species are the main habitants of the dry season forest floor.

Dendrobates castaneoticus was bred successfully in this environment. Look closely and you will find the tiny tadpoles in little puddles in water filled tree holes.

The big attraction is of course the 57 foot Main Exhibit. Here are just a few numbers for you to digest:

Capacity 20.000 g filtered through a closed water filtration system. The whole exhibits size is over 1200 square feet, the water part alone is over 300 square feet in size.

To build such an exhibit was not an easy task.:

“First the old exhibit had to be removed and steel reinforcement rods and a layer of concrete were added to strengthen the floor so it would support the weight of 20,000 gallons of water. Then the concrete tank wall was poured and waterproofed with successive layers of epoxy and fiberglass matting. Large acrylic panels for the viewing window were ordered from Japan,” says Director of Exhibits Allan Sutherland.

Meanwhile, the Aquarium Life Support Department was busy installing the exhibits plumbing. “There is a spaghetti bowl of pipes under the mudbank” adds Sunderland. They are connected to pumps and biofilters in an adjacent back up space.

At the same time in Seattle, a landscaping construction team was building a full-scale model of the exhibit in their shop to begin work on habitat elements such as trees, vines and land forms. The rough fiberglass forms were then shipped to the National Aquarium where habitat artists textured them in epoxy to recreate natural surfaces. The exhibit is designed not only to give the look and feel of the habitat but to provide the animals with their preferred living conditions. The finishing touches include live plants, a background, mural dramatic lighting, and ambient sounds of the Rain Forest. “It is a complex exhibit because we are recreating a very dynamic ecosystem and because we have to make it habitable for a wide variety of animals”, Allan Sunderland comments.

Although the main exhibit will appear to visitors as a continuous stretch of flooded forest, it is actually partitioned into three sections, with trees and acrylic panels separating predators from potential prey.

The main exhibit is absolutely breathtaking! You will find reptiles and over 50 fish species in the water from the giant Tambaqui (Colossoma macropomum) to a gigantic school of Cardinal tetras swimming among Pseudoras niger, Peckoltia sp. , Corydoras sp., Satanaperca sp., Osteoglossum bicarrhosum, Pygocentrus natteri, Potamotryon henlei, and of course for the reader of the Apisto-Gram, most important, the exhibit also includes the wild forms of Apistogramma cacatuoides, A. bitaeniata and Dicrossus filamentosus. We saw quite a lot of Apistogrammas, fighting and showing breeding activities around a large tree stump in the middle of the water.

Surprising for me to see a pair of medium sized cichlids protecting a large school of tiny fry against the huge Peacock Bass in the exhibit. There were also countless huge Sailfin and Plecostomus species roaming around the entire exhibit.

The decoration of the underwater exhibit will make every hobbyist envious. Roots and tree branches reach deep into the water and offer the fish many hiding spots. You will find live and artificial Palm trees and thick bushes around many of the mudbank areas. A closer look will reveal the abundance of beautiful birds and reptiles. The visitor really finds themselves transferred into an Amazonian rain forest, with a tiny difference: You will not find screaming children in the Amazon scared of the 200 pound Anaconda (Eunectus murinuss) hiding in the mudbank.

My wife Lois, a passionate bird watcher brought her binoculars to our visit. This was a good idea. We got a really close look of a pair of tiny fist-size pygmy marmosets (the smallest species of monkey in the world) that were enjoying themselves in one of the many live trees in the exhibit.

All the fish in the exhibit were caught in October 1999 during an excursion to the Rio Negro by a NAIB team. The team caught over 1000 fish from 20 different species in the main river and its tributaries in one weeks time. Some of the species were scientifically undescribed and will be evaluated by the NAIB biologists. Later they will become a part of the exhibit.


You should not miss the 3000 gallon planted South American tank at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore adjacent to the NAIB while in Baltimore.

This tank is maintained by the National Aquarium and according to the NAIB’s press release, is the largest planted tank in the United States. It also houses over 1000 South American fish.

The tank is located on the 2nd floor at the top of the escalator.


The bookstore alone is worth the visit. The city of Baltimore brought back an old power plant to accomodate several new businesses such as ESPN Zone, Hard Rock Cafe and Barnes & Noble Bookstore.

Translated by Max Gallade
All photographs by the author.

National Aquarium “Amazon River Forest” Press Release Kit
Watermarks: Member Magazine of The National Aquarium Spring 2000 issue
National Aquarium in Baltimore Website
Fish Identification was made with the help of: Aquarium Fish of the World by Atusushi Sakurai, Yohei Sakamato and Fumitoshi Mori


They are not really choreographed to music, but the dozens of stingrays in this exhibit gliding and turning look as if they are. The rays share the 265,000 gallon pool with several species of small sharks. Some of the sharks are collected from the ocean, and after a year in the exhibit are tagged and released as part of the Cooperative Shark Tagging Program of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

This gallery traces the water cycle from a freshwater pond in the mountains of western Maryland through the Tidal Marsh, into the Coastal Beach and out into the deeper, darker waters of the Atlantic Shelf.

In the open Allegheny Pond exhibit (where it just might be raining!), visitors with sharp eyes can spot bullfrogs, painted and softshell turtles, and an assortment of small fish. The fresh water flows from ponds and streams to tidal marshes on the coast, where it mixes with salt water from the sea. In the tidal marsh are blue crabs, diamondback terrapin and a variety of fish and invertebrates. (No rods and reels allowed!).

In the Coastal Beach display are tropical fish that are commonly carried along the mid-Atlantic coast by ocean currents. Needlefish, Lookdowns and Spadefish are among these species.

Under shallow seas off the coasts are extensions of the continental land mass - the continental shelf. The Atlantic Shelf portrays this area where run-off enriches the waters with nutrients which encourage the growth of tiny plants - phytoplankton - on which the food chain is based. Consequently, fish are abundant here.

Everyone has a favorite place to linger in this gallery! It might be with the electric eel, an Amazon animal with shocking tendencies. A light system shows the voltage the ell is generating, and an amplifier enables visitors to hear it too. Another favorite is the giant Pacific Octopus, a nocturnal hunter with thousands of suction cups on its eight arms. Lucky visitors might see an octopus eating its favorite snack - blue crabs.

Patient people in this gallery are rewarded by a sight of tiny Jawfish which live in small burrows that they dig. They may dart out to grasp passing food items - or to steal stones from the burrow of another Jawfish. Still others are captivated by sturgeons, paddlefish and gars - primitive fishes which have not changed or evolved in more than 70 million years. Sea Urchins which scrape algae, tubeworms which filter food from the water with feathery tentacles, enemones which sting their prey, Lionfish with venomous spines, and Clownfish witch live among the tentacles of anemones without getting stung are just a few of the surprising and diverse species found in this exhibit.

Puffins, Razorbills and Black Guillemots - all North Atlantic birds frolic and swim in this frosty recreation of a seacliffs habitat.

The Aquarium’s newest permanent exhibit recreates a section of a blackwater Amazon River tributary and the forest floor that it seasonally floods. Along a 57 foot long acrylic wall, visitors can see schools of dazzling tropical fish as well as giant river turtles, dwarf caiman lizards, pygmy marmosets (the smallest species of monkey in the world) and a giant anaconda. Interactive computer stations explain the ecology of this unique rainforest and how human activities can protect or damage it.

Keen-eyed observers may spot colorful birds, golden lion tamarins (monkeys), two-toed sloths, red-bellied piranhas, iguanas and other lizards, and even poison dart frogs, as they wander on pathways through the dense tropical foliage.

Visitors are surrounded by a rainbow - hundreds of vividly colored tropical fish, schooling and swimming on the most accurate coral reef ever fabricated. Wafer thin lookdowns, spiny porcupinefish, striped sergeant majors, silvery bonefish and many other species are at home in this 335,000 gallon tank. Divers hand feed the fish several times a day.


You can come nose-to-nose with large sharks - if you dare! Sand tiger, lemon, sandbar, and nurse sharks encircle visitors in this darkened 225,000 gallon exhibit.

First, you may notice Ike and Lady. These grey seals are hard to miss, because together, they tip the scales at more than half a ton. Seven harbor seals also live in this free outdoor exhibit. Most of these seals have been rehabilitated but cannot be returned to the wild because of the nature or extent of their injuries. Mammal trainers feed and train the seals several times a day.


National Aquarium in Baltimore Website
National Aquarium in Baltimore’s phone is 410.576.3800
TTY/TDD: 410.625.0720