Glass-Wing Butterfly at Rest. Photo by Christian Ziegler.


Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.

In the tropical forest, a colony of ants continues its age-old relationship with a Cecropia tree. The tree’s nectar and hollow stems provide the ants with food and shelter. In return, the ants attack any animal that so much as brushes against the Cecropia.

Tropical forests sustain a diverse and interconnected community of plants and animals. Scientists believe these forests may account for as much as 50 percent of the Earth’s biodiversity. In this rich environment, plants, animals, and other organisms have developed fascinating behaviors and physical attributes that help them compete for light, space, nutrients, and other resources. Like the alliance between the ants and the Cecropia, the tropical forest ecosystem reveals itself as a complex “magic web” of interactions—mutualisms, predator-prey relationships, seasonal changes, and species’ adaptations—that maintains the viability of the environment.

A Magic Web: The Tropical Forest of Barro Colorado Island explores a prime example of a tropical ecosystem through the brilliant photography of ecologist Christian Ziegler. The 40 detailed images featured in the exhibition were captured during 15 months of intensive fieldwork with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) on Panama’s Barro Colorado Island. Thousands of scientists from around the world have conducted research on the island since 1923.

The vibrant large-format photographs, coupled with engaging bilingual text (English/Spanish), provide a glimpse of this ecosystem’s riches and illuminate the nearly invisible relationships that exist among the thousands of plants, animals, and other organisms that live in tropical ecosystems. Through this lens on a world few are fortunate enough to visit, the beauty of the tropical environment comes into clear focus. Ziegler’s work combines his scientific knowledge with an acute artistic awareness to provide an intimate view of the individual organisms that make tropical forests such treasured places. A Magic Web was organized in cooperation with STRI and the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park.

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Exhibition Specifications

Contents 40 framed large-format color photographs, bilingual text panels (English/Spanish), labels

Companion book, educational resources, PR materials, DVD video program, virtual gallery program on CD-ROM, bibliography, speaker list

Participation Fee

$2,500 for an 8-week booking period


250 running feet (76 running meters)

Crates 6

635 kg (1,400 lb.)

Category Science & Natural History
Security Moderate
Shipping Outgoing; host museum arranges outgoing shipping and pays carrier directly
SITES Contacts Ed Liskey, 202.633.3142 (Scheduling)
Toured Through 11/23/08
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Tour Itinerary

Dates   Host Institution Status
11/3/03 5/31/03 Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington, DC Booked
7/3/04 8/29/04 Majorie Barrick Museum of Natural History, Las Vegas, NV Booked
9/18/04 11/14/04 Flint Public Library, Flint, MI Booked
12/04/04 1/30/05 Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, Providence, RI Booked
2/19/05 7/3/05 Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago, IL Booked
7/23/05 12/4/05 University Museum, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA Booked
3/11/06 5/7/06 Virginia Museum of Natural History, Martinsville, VA Booked
5/27/06 7/23/06 Spartanburg County Public Library, Spartanburg, SC Booked
8/12/06 10/8/06 North Carolina Museum of Life & Science, Durham, NC Booked
10/28/06 1/1/07 Rolling Hills Wildlife Museum, Salina, KS Booked
1/20/07 3/18/07 State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens, GA Booked
4/7/07 7/5/07 Stauth Memorial Museum, Montezuma, KS Booked
9/8/07 11/4/07 City of Baldwin Park, Arts and Recreation Center, Baldwin Park, CA Booked
11/24/07 1/20/08 California University of Pennsylvania, California, PA Booked
2/9/08 4/6/08 World Forestry Center, Portland, OR Booked
4/26/08 6/22/08 Dane G. Hansen Memorial Museum, Logan, KS Booked
7/12/08 9/7/08 Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, Santa Cruz, CA Booked
9/27/08 11/23/08 Georgia Highlands College, Rome, GA Booked
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Related Publicaitons

A Magic Web: The Tropical Forest of Barro Colorado Island by Christian Ziegler (Photographer) and Egbert G. Leigh; Oxford University Press, 2002; Hard Cover; $40.00

 "You will learn more reading this volume than on a personal visit to the tropics. . Both your sense of beauty and your thirst for understanding will be satisfied abundantly."-- Ernst Mayr

In A Magic Web, photographer Christian Ziegler and ecologist Egbert Leigh invite readers to enter the marvelous world of Panama's Barro Colorado Island. This book provides a unique combination of spectacular photography and clear, engaging text. The vibrant, full-color photographs provide views of the forest and its amazing diversity of inhabitants, and show many of the activities that give the forest its character and lend structure to its community. Drawing on decades of work on Barro Colorado Island, Egbert Leigh explains how the forest works. This book is a must for anyone planning to visit a tropical forest, and for all those who only wish they could.







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Press Release


The Beauty and Complexity of Panama’s Barro Colorado Island Explored in Smithsonian Photography Exhibit

The tropical forest of Panama 's Barro Colorado Island is a luxuriant community of plants and animals, pulsating with life and offering an astonishing view of nature's myriad processes. What does the forest look like? How do the activities of this forest's plants and animals create a community? A new traveling Smithsonian exhibition answers these questions through the vivid photography of tropical ecologist and nature photographer Christian Ziegler.

“A Magic Web: The Tropical Forest of Barro Colorado Island ” will be begin a national tour at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History in Las Vegas on July 6. The exhibition will be on view through Aug. 29. Following its showing in Las Vegas , the exhibition will continue touring through 2008.

The 40 large-format color photographs featured in the exhibition provide views of the forest and its spectacular diversity of inhabitants, and show many of the activities that give the forest its character and lend structure to its community. The photographs and bilingual text (English/Spanish) reveal the many ways its plants and animals compete with, but also depend on each other. Examples include the contrasts between solitary cats and intricately organized armies of ants, the different ways plants struggle for a place in the sun, and the ways these plants attract animals to pollinate their flowers.

“Rainforests are fantastic, wondrous places,” said Ziegler. “Step into one and you are immersed in a complex web of life like no other on earth. My hope is that people understand not only the beauty, but also the necessity to preserve these unique habitats that are under so much pressure and will be lost in just a few years if we don't act."

Text panels arrange the framed photographs into six sections — an introduction to the tropical forest ecosystem, diversity, mutualisms, the roles of plants and animals in the food chain, predation and the preservation of these environments. Ziegler captured the images during 15 months of fieldwork in Panama and this vibrant exhibition gives visitors an illuminating glimpse of a tropical rainforest through the combined lenses of art and scientific exploration.

An award-winning companion book by the same title is available from Oxford University Press (2002). The book features Ziegler’s engrossing photography and authoritative text written by ecologist Egbert Leigh, an active scientist who has spent half a lifetime exploring tropical forests.

“A Magic Web” was organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), in cooperation with the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).

The National Zoological Park was created in 1889 “for the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people.” The National Zoo’s scientists conduct research in animal behavior, breeding, genetics, anatomy, medicine, and nutrition.

Headquartered in the Republic of Panama, STRI is the foremost center for scientific investigation of tropical organisms and communities and their roles in the biology of our planet. With an international staff of more than 40 scientists and some 500 visiting scientists and students each year, STRI research projects target important issues facing the world’s tropics in conservation science, animal behavior, plant ecology and physiology, paleoecology, archeology, evolution, genetics, marine ecology, anthropology and other fields.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington , D.C. for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play.

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