Down by the river

Interactive touring exhibit of the Amazon River comes to Florida Museum of Natural History

In one area of "Amazon Voyage," which opens Saturday at the Florida Museum of Natural History, visitors can wrestle with a life-size, soft anaconda model like researchers in the Amazon.

Published: Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 11:05 a.m.

Take a trip to the Amazon without leaving town. "Amazon Voyage: Vicious Fishes and Other Riches" opens at the Florida Museum of Natural History on Saturday and will run through Jan. 27.


'Amazon Voyage: Vicious Fishes and Other Riches'

WHAT: Interactive touring exhibit in which visitors journey down the Amazon River to learn about the rainforest and its plants, animals and people.
WHEN: Opens Saturday with special activities 10 a.m.-4 p.m., runs through Jan. 17; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 1-5 p.m. Sundays.
WHERE: Florida Museum of Natural History, S.W. 34th Street and Hull Road.
ADMISSION: $8 adults, $7 Florida residents, $6 college students, $5.50 ages 3-12, museum members free.

Opening Day Events:
Saturday's events for the new "Amazon Voyage" exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Mouths and Tools: Compare household tools to mouths of fish to understand adaptations for different diets and feeding methods in this matching game for all ages. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Amazon Touch Table: Learn how imprint fossils develop and make your own piranha rubbing. The table also will feature preserved specimens, a piranha skeleton, and anthropological artifacts and replicas. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Amazon Shadow Art: Create a masterpiece on the wall with this fun project featuring art from the "Amazon Voyages" exhibit. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Amazon Patchwork - The River, the Forest and the People: Simone Athayde, a University of Florida doctoral candidate in ecology, provides an overview of the native Brazilian Amazonian lifestyle and how it links with rivers and forests. Learn about current challenges Brazilians face in keeping their cultural identity and control over their natural resources and territories. 1:30-2:30 p.m.

The exhibition is arranged to tell the story of the seven perilous animals of the Amazon, with exaggerated versions of seven species native to the area, from the perspective of a riverboat trip. Its interactive exhibits are geared toward families with children.

"Much of the content is layered in ways that the child can enjoy, hands-on physical activity, while the adults can watch a film that allows them to delve into the topic more deeply," said Sean Duran, lead exhibition developer for "Amazon Voyage" and vice president for exhibitions and programs at the Miami Science Museum, which created the exhibit.

"All of the exhibition is meant to be a light, fun experience," Duran said.

The exhibition premiered in Miami in October 2005 and was featured at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. in 2006.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the exhibit was inspired by two trips Duran took to the Amazon. In that time, he worked with Kirk Johnson, a researcher studying the cycle of water in the Amazon.

Duran also worked with ichthyologist Paulo Petry, who was investigating species of fish that survive the large swings in river water-levels by burying themselves deep in layers of rotting leaves. This work can be seen in one of the exhibit areas at "Amazon Voyage."

"Visiting the Amazon and seeing it through the eyes of Kirk Johnson and Paulo Petry ... the exhibition was an obvious result," Duran said.

Duran also was inspired by the art of Ray Troll, whose fish mural is a centerpiece in the exhibition. "For all his (Troll's) whimsy, the fish are still drawn with great accuracy," Duran said.

The exhibition features eight different areas, each focusing on a different landscape found in the Amazon:

Captain Mo's Boat Area: introduces visitors to the exhibition and the seven perils.

Piranha Area: lets visitors compare a fossil cast of an extinct ancestor to the skull of the current species of this tooth fish to learn about the differences.

Flooded Forest Area: features a film in which ichthyologist Petry guides visitors in how to search leaf litter for fish. The area also has a metal conductor that shocks those willing to experience a small electric eel.

Floating Home Area: offers an exhibit based on the floating homes of those native to the region and teaches how locals look for caimins' (alligators) eyeshine via a simulated nighttime environment.

Sandy Bank Area: has a freshwater stingray tank in which visitors can watch live freshwater rays swimming over a sandy bottom. There's also an interactive computer simulation of how the continents shift over 80 million years.

Deep Channel Area: features a life-sized cast of a giant catfish in which visitors can reach into its belly to find what's part of its diet.

Floodplain Lake Area: shows visitors how water levels periodically rise and fall in the Amazon and lets them lift an anaconda model to get a feel for the snake's size and weight.

Encante Stage Area: replicates the realm of pink dolphins with visitors welcome to try on costumes and dance to Brazilian music.

The exhibition is fully bilingual, in both English and Spanish. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for Florida residents, $6 for UF and other state college students and $5.50 for children ages 3-12.

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