Dallas World Aquarium offers an indoor walk through a tropical rainforest

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

As temperatures plummet down into the 90s, you may be ready to begin to venture out of your air-conditioned home — just not too much out yet. Dallas World Aquarium may be just what you are looking for, since it offers a walk through a tropical rainforest in downtown Dallas. But it’s an indoor walk.

Aquarium may be a misnomer for this tropical zoo. The main exhibit is a recreation of the rainforest surrounding the Orinoco River, one of the longest rivers in South America. Walk through the canopy of the forest and descend to ground level and underwater — the aquarium.

In the canopy lives a wide variety of colorful birds and a variety of monkeys and sloths.

Among the more interesting birds is the black umbrellabird, with a black plume of feathers that dangles from his neck like an unfurled umbrella. The Guianan cock-of-the-rock is bright orange with a matching comb that runs beak to back of his neck. And the many banded aracari has the beak of a toucan and brown stripes across his yellow breast.


Orinoco crocodile

Saffron toucanette

Most of these birds fly free from an island in the ground-level river to the top of the seventh story canopy.

A red howler monkey swings among the branches, and he can be heard throughout the rainforest. A three-toed sloth can usually be seen hanging from his favorite tree, people-watching or sleeping. And you have to look for them because they’re so small and blend into their environment so well, but worth the search are the pygmy marmosets, the world’s smallest monkeys.

The next level as you walk your way down is filled with another variety of colorful birds including a variety of toucans and the yellow-breasted saffron toucanette. Paradise tanagers have an aqua breast, a green mask and yellow and orange wings.

Golden lion tamarins get their name from their lion’s manes and golden red color.

The diverse wildlife at river level includes a giant otter, two-toed sloths, Amazonian poison frogs (in tanks behind glass) and a dwarf caiman, a type of small alligator.

At the river’s surface lives a very well-fed Orinoco crocodile with an oddly appealing face. Of all croc species, these are the most endangered. Living in his habitat are piranhas and nonaggressive pacus.

Vampire bats hang from the ceiling of a bat cave. While most bats that live here in Texas eat insects, the vampire bat, with its sharp incisor teeth, bites small mammals and lap up their blood with their tongues. They inject an anti-coagulant to make the animal continue to bleed. As gruesome as that sounds, I didn’t see any mammals in the bat cave and, through glass, just got to observe these fascinating mammals close up.

Finally, descend another level to observe the river from underwater. Walk through one aquarium to see sharks and largetooth sawfish swimming above you. Also featured are shovel-nosed catfish, freshwater stingrays and turtles.

One lone Antillean manatee seemed bored, coming up to the window to wave with one flipper while carrying around a board with the other. He posed for pictures and, although he moved slowly, he showed off his charming personality.

Another fascinating array of fish tanks feature environments from around the world — an array of fanciful seahorses that look more like swimming seaweed, garden eels from Japan that seem planted in the ground, swaying as they observed their surroundings, and translucent jellyfish that undulate in their dark world.

One exhibit is outside — the black-footed penguins from South Africa. And while it may seem odd to have a flock of penguins living in downtown Dallas, the climate in their native habitat is similar to ours here, and they seemed less bothered by the heat than people who ducked outside for a few minutes to see them.

Dallas World Aquarium is in the West End. A number of species in the zoo’s collection are threatened or endangered, and the facility works with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and other organizations. It participates in breeding programs with other zoos with the goal of releasing some of the species back into their original habitat.

Dallas World Aquarium is located at 1801 N. Griffin Street and is open daily with entries from 8:30-4:30. Adults $29.95 + tax. DWAZoo.com.