Kelp's beautiful color "with sunlight filtering through, fish swimming calmly between the fronds, creates a very beautiful image," says the museum's Charles Kopczak, aka "Dr. Kelp". Provided to China daily
California Science Center showcases the myriad underwater ecosystem
LOS ANGELES - Watch maggots munch on liver. Stand in the path of a flash flood. Roam around a kelp forest.
Nearly 10 years in the making, the $165 million Ecosystems Experience opened Thursday with its one-of-a-kind view of the world at the California Science Center. And it's free.
Plants, animals and do-it-yourself science take up nearly every inch of the two-story, 45,000-square-foot (4,180-sq. meter) exhibit in Exposition Park, south of downtown. Temperatures, lighting and learning change in the 11 environments on display in this combination aquarium, zoo, school and arcade.
The highlight is a 24-foot (7.3-meter)-long transparent tunnel through a 188,000-gallon (711640-liter) tank that puts you face to face with 1,500 horn sharks, swell sharks, giant sea bass, wolf eels, bat rays and other fish swimming in a kelp forest.
Most people know kelp as the "slimy stuff covered with flies that piles up on beaches," said ecology curator Charles Kopczak, aka "Dr. Kelp." But viewing scores of 20-foot (6-meter) fronds that grow as much as a foot a day is enlightening and awe-inspiring.
"The beautiful golden brown color with sunlight filtering through, fish swimming calmly between the fronds, creates a very beautiful image," he said.
Kids amazed or grossed out to learn that kelp can be found in everything from beer to toothpaste to ice cream may also get a charge out of the Rot Room - with its flesh-eating beetles, maggots, camel crickets, sow bugs, millipedes and roaches.
"These larvae are ravenous," said Shawna Joplin, keeper of the arthropods, as she looked in on beetles. The smallest of her charges is an ant and the largest a "really cool," 8-inch (20-centimeter) giant Sonoran centipede.
Forensic entomology, made popular on US television shows like CSI, NCIS and Bones, is a huge draw for kids. For example, the beetles are the same used by forensic teams to clean skeletons and the flies are those used to determine time of death.
In the desert and flash-flood areas, a "splash zone" puts you in the path - but out of harm's way - of a torrent. It all starts with lightning, thunder and a trickle, then 3,500 gallons (13,250 liters) of water gushes down, smashes into some fake rocks, and flows into a filtering system that prepares it to strike 10 minutes later.
A few feet away, desert tortoises, chuckwallas sitting on heated rocks, and scorpions give visitors a close look at desert dwellers.
The kelp forest was the biggest challenge to create because salt water had to be hauled by barge and truck, but the critters had to clear red-tape hurdles. Most every fish, animal and organism required a permit or license.