Find the froggies

This month, there’s lots of beauty to be found in the Hortus Botanicus. Sometimes, you have to look well, though.

By Bart Braun

This month, the Hortus has been renamed “AquaHortus” and features a two-kilometre stroll past five hundred aquariums and terra­riums full of piranhas and poison dart frogs.

Leiden is a great little town, precisely because it’s so small. It has all the fun of canals and Rembrandt but no tourists; it has lots of students but no football hooligans. However, its cosy dimensions mean that Leiden is missing one really important thing: a zoo.
Nonetheless, every now and then, an exhibition with live animals comes to the Hortus Botanicus (botanical gardens) and Leiden can play at being a fully-flegded city. The last exhibition was held in 2011, when Delft’s Reptile House Serpo visited while its accommodation was being rebuilt. But this month sees AquaHortus, an exhibition of aquariums and terrariums. It has snakes and chameleons, redbellied piranhas and poison dart frogs, but also includes slightly subtler things, such as a swamp aquarium with species of fish from Borneo in tea-coloured water.
It’s the seventeenth AquaHortus; the first was held in 1933. The Hortus organises the show with Leiden’s aquarium club, De Natuurvriend, and some seventy other parties and sponsors. That means that anyone visiting the Hortus will encounter an abundance of ugly advertising for terrarium accessories, reptile food and clubs. On the other hand, it means no extra charge has been added to the entrance fee for the botanical gardens, and there is a lot more to see now.
At least, there is if you take the trouble to have a good look. The tropical greenhouses now mainly house tree-frog terrariums, and tree frogs are small.
Moss frogs supposedly dwell in a terrarium stuffed with moss. After staring for a while, your brains kicks in and you can see the creatures, in plain sight, on the wall.
The outdoor aquariums focus on Dutch waters. Leiden’s canals are home to more animals than you would imagine: rudd, ruffe, carp. Bright-red crayfish tumble over an old till retrieved by a diver. The eels are kept in a carefully sealed container: one decided to go AWOL and was eaten by a hedgehog.
The nearby saltwater aquariums contain some miserable-looking crabs, starfish and hermit crabs; the anemones seem a bit droopy and one or two of the creatures are lying upside down.
Better views of Dutch saltwater can be found in the pictures of the North Sea taken by Cor Kuyvenhoven, an underwater photographer from Hazerswoude. The pictures are displayed in the carnivorous-plants greenhouse.
Unhappily, many of the photographs feature animals entangled in old nets, rope from ships and other rubbish left by humans. It’s called “Ghost fishing”: creatures are still dying from fishing long after the fishermen have left. The Dutch foundation Duik de Noordzee Schoon make an effort to clear up the mess by collecting old nets on their dives, but their part of the exhibition is housed three greenhouses further on, for unknown reasons.
A two-kilometre walk will lead you around a total of five hundred containers with plants and animals. It’s a zoo for connoisseurs – but that’s alright if you are, by chance, a connoisseur.

AquaHortus Leiden
5-27 September 2015
Free entry for students and Leiden University staff

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Find the froggies

This month, the Hortus has been renamed “AquaHortus” and features a …