Tropical Encounters Animal FAQ

Just like the rainforests it’s meant to recreate, Tropical Encounters is teeming with equatorial animal species. As the immersive plant and animal habitat celebrates its 10th anniversary at Como this season, Como Friends has collected the answers to just a few of the most frequent questions visitors have about the ambassadors that swim, slither, crawl, and hop far below the forest canopy.

fishPiranha or Pacu?: Many visitors mistake the large gray fish in the freshwater exhibit for piranha, but they’re actually a close cousin—the pacu. Piranha usually have a pronounced underbite and razor-sharp teeth, while pacu have square, straight teeth, more like humans. The aquarium is home to dozens of other freshwater fish species native to the Amazon Basin including silver dollars, redtail catfish, ripsaw catfish, flagtail fish, tiger shovel-nose catfish, midas cichlid, leoparinus, plecostumus, and orange and white spotted freshwater stingrays.

colorful-bird2How Many Birds Live at Como?: Tropical Encounters is home to more than 10 different free-flying bird species—but the dense tree canopy makes them impossible to count. Como Zoo keeper Jennifer Gleason says the most prolific are the saffron finches, “which seem to have had a little population explosion this year. I bet there are nearly 40 of them right now.” Visitors will also notice dozens of blue-gray tanagers, turquoise tanagers, silver-beaked tanagers, and rufous-crown tanagers, but only the most seasoned birders are likely to spot a reclusive sunbittern, who lives in the habitat but is rarely seen. As the tropical palms in the habitat approach the glass roof, Gleason and Como’s horticulture staff work closely on pruning strategies that protect the birds and any nests they may have built at the top of the canopy.

Did You Know?

  • This story is an excerpt from “Tropical Encounters at 10,” an exclusive feature story available only in our quarterly newsletter Como Friends Insider. Become a Como Friends member today to receive your subscription and enjoy behind-the-scenes coverage and breaking news about Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, Minnesota’s most visited cultural destination as well as invites to supporter-only events like the Tropical Encounters 10th anniversary bash.

trantulaTarantula Twins?: Tropical Encounter’s tarantula recently molted, leaving behind an exoskeleton that looks almost like a twin tarantula. “We keep it in the display just so visitors can see what it looks like for a few days, but sometimes people worry that it’s a second spider that’s stopped moving,” says Gleason. Since spiders don’t have skeletons, many species need to shed their exoskeletons in order to grow larger.

frogNot-So-Poisonous Dart Frogs?: These colorful amphibians aren’t as scary as they sound. Since their zoo diets don’t include the rainforest prey and other toxins the frogs’ bodies use to build a chemical defense against predators, they’re not actually poisonous. Like all amphibians, these dart frogs have permeable skin, putting them at greater risk from human contaminants and other pollutants.

ants-1Fungus Farmers?: Like all leaf-cutter ants, Como’s colony actively cultivates a fungus, feeding it freshly cut plant material. The ants can carry more than 5,000 times their body weight in vegetation, and form some of the largest and most complex animal societies on earth.

mattamatta2 Mata Mata Meal Prep?: With a shell that looks like bark, and a head that resembles fallen leaves and rotting meat, the mata mata turtle lies in wait until small fish come near to investigate. Then it stretches its neck out and opens its mouth wide, creating a slow pressure vacuum that sucks prey into the turtle’s mouth whole. The unusual name “mata-mata” translates as “kill-kill.”

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