Tropical rainforests are a 70 million-year-old miracle and are our oldest surviving ecosystem.
They formed naturally in tropical areas that receive heavy rainfall and teem with a large variety of tall trees, beautiful plants, and lively creatures and organisms! They are in fact home to over half of Earth’s ora and fauna!
You will nd rainforests everywhere except the polar region. Not long ago, they covered over 14% of land on Earth but have dwindled already to less than 6%.
Rainforests are to Earth what lungs are to us! Earth’s present ecological situation is therefore like our plodding on with only one of our 2 lungs! Needless to say, the time to Save Rainforests and the Earth is NOW!
All creatures and organisms need oxygen to survive and rainforests give us a fifth of the oxygen we need. They absorb solar radiation that hits the earth and regulate global temperature; they soak up and store carbon emissions – most of them man-made – reduce greenhouse gases and even out climate all over the world.
About half the rain that falls on these forests is retained and returned gradually to the atmosphere to help balance the earth’s water cycle and rainfall. Regardless of where we live, a rainforest somewhere is essential to our existence and well-being.
Indigenous human tribes live in rainforests. Traditionally, hunters, many have taken to agriculture in the later part of their evolution. They play a very important role in preserving the character and pristine nature of rainforests
Rainforests have 4 distinct structural layers – Emergent, Canopy, Understory & Forest Floor.
Emergent is the uppermost layer. Lofty trees as tall as 200 feet (60M) grow to this level and spread out at the sunny tree-top. But they lack branches and foliage at levels below. Waxy leaves help them retain water. Their seeds are light and get carried by strong winds over long distances to extend the forest’s area.
Canopy is the layer below Emergent. It is a broad layer of greenery and dense foliage and shields layers further below from sun, wind and rain. Thus layers below canopy tend to be dark and humid. Seeds of trees at canopy layer occur inside fruits which are eaten by birds who disperse them in their dung in areas they fly over and help extend the forest. Fig is a well known fruit of this layer.
Understory is the next lower level, and it is more leafy, stagnant and humid than canopy level. Palms, orchids and climbers grow here. They have large leaves to absorb sparse sunlight that filters through. These plants tend to have large, fragrant flowers that attract insects to pollinate and propagate them. Most fruits, berries and seeds one finds in this level are edible.
Forest Floor is the lowermost layer in the rainforest. It is pitch dark here and is least suitable for plant-growth. Leaves fall and rot here and organisms in the soil expedite the rotting process. The mulch that results is a good fertiliser and helps plants and trees in this layer to grow.
Do you know that the Amazon River basin of South America is the world’s biggest rainforest?
Another amazing fact is that this rainforest spreads over nine countries and covers 40% of the South American continent!
60% of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil, followed by Peru with 13% and Colombia with 10%. The remaining 17% is spread over Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana. And, Amazon accounts for more than half of rainforests existing in the world!
There are more than 6,000 species of trees in the Amazon Basin. Many of them are enormous and some are quite strange!
The Kapok tree is an incredibly tall (200 feet – 60 M) giant with a girth of 30 feet (10M). Trees in rainforests try to outgrow one another to grab the sunlight they all need to grow. Strangely Kapok’s foul-smelling but lovely-looking pink-white flower attracts bats which eat its nectar and later pollinate other flowers as they go elsewhere to eat. Forest wellers use the tree’s sap, bark and leaves to treat a wide range of minor and major illnesses. It is but natural that locals look upon Kapok as sacred. The Mayans believed that souls of the dead ascended to the next world through the trees’ lofty branches!
Brazil Nut is another well-known tree of the forest! It is also the name of its edible seed. This tree is not only another giant of the forest but lives one of the longest lives in the forest!
Orchids add beauty and color to the forest. Some of them spread their delightful fragrance in the forest air.
Ferns grow on trunks and limbs of trees, and, unlike parasitic varieties, do not steal nutrients from their host trees!
Usually found in large, noisy groups high up on trees in emergent layer, the macaw’s bright colours and loud calls make them noticeable. They eat fruits, nuts and seeds. They gather on cliff-faces to scratch out and eat clay to rid their body of toxic stuff from sees and nuts they eat.
With an unusually big and colorful bill, it is a big bird! Though over 25 inches( 64cm ) long, almost half of it is from the bill. Locals believe the bird is sacred and see them as Passover spirits that take us from this living world to the next.
Also known as the Orange-winged Amazon, it is almost green and over a foot (33 cm) long. It has some blue and yellow feathers on its head and orange ones on its wing and tail. Which are more noticeable when they are flying. They are noisy, gather on palm and other trees and nest in tree cavities.
Also called hyacinth macaw, it is a parrot found in central and eastern South America. About a meter long, it is larger than other macaws and has a powerful bite; so be careful if you happen to be near one! But, don’t worry, they are easy-going and known as gentle giants! They eat fruits, seeds and greens like other macaws as well as snails, roaches and grasshoppers.
A big parrot with a white face, black patch at the throat, blue upper body, yellow underside and long pointed tail. You can find them in twos building nests in tree cavities at the canopy layer. They may be in bigger groups when they visit clay licks or to eat at fruit trees.
Wattle is the colored fleshy part that hangs from the head or neck of some birds. On this bellbird, it hangs down from near the bill and seems like the stems of a plant. The male has a shiny white head and breasts, and a dark reddish-brown body and feathers. It sings loud, clear, bell-like notes that add an interesting dimension to the forest’s cacophony.
Females look different and have dull olive-colored upper bodies with a yellow underside. It is fairly large-sized and plump and has a small round head and plain face. Found usually at canopy level, they are easy to locate when singing.
The Quetzal bird is the national emblem of Guatemala and to currency of the nation is also named after it! It is a splendid bird with a shimmering green or golden-green wing and back, chest and head, and a red belly. Aztec and Mayan cultures used Quetzal tail feathers as symbols of wealth and as currency. Only about 50,000 of them are believed to be surviving now.
Male collared trogon is Kenya’s national bird and its colours are used on their national flag! Trogon is Greek for “nibbling” and these birds may have got their name as they gnaw holes in trees to make nests! Collared trogons perch between the upper understory and lower canopy levels. They often sing singly or in pairs. Small groups gather in some seasons.
Lives in tropical South America and part of the Caribbean. Its brilliant scarlet color makes it unmistakable. Trinidad and Tobago treat it as their national bird and feature it on their coat of arms. The brilliant red color comes from the carotene in crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, etc.) that it eats, and, if their diet does not contain enough pigment, they may appear pinkish.
This is a medium-sized, noisy bird that utters several types of jarring calls. Sexes look similar, but males have a red mustache! Their diet comprises fruits, berries, ants and termites. It usually forages from lower to upper levels in the sub-canopy.
An elegant, glossy bird with a long bill and tail, short legs and feet with two forward-pointing and two backward-pointing toes. There are only minor sex-based variances in plumage. They live in low-altitude woodlands at canopy level at forest edges. They eat insects (some preferring butterflies and moths). They sit on perches and dart towards prey that come close.
The Harpy Eagle is the largest bird of prey in the Amazon rainforest and one of the biggest eagles. There is adequate population of this majestic bird in Peruvian rainforests. And yet, they are difficult to spot, as they reside high up in the Emergent layer of the forest. They annoy farmers by eating crops like cocoa. It is captured for the pet trade because of its good speech capability, capacity to develop a large vocabulary, whistle, and mimic house sounds. It has a life of about 50 years.
A large night bird of prey, named so because of white feathers around its eyes. It has a vibrant call and a cat-like cry. They range in pairs over large areas looking for small rodents, sleeping birds, or reptiles. Most hunting is at the understory layer of the forest, where it can remain unseen for a long time. Nests are located in large tree cavities.
Blue Morpho is a rare butterfly that lives in Rainforests from Mexico to Colombia. One of the largest butterflies of the world its wing spans of 5 to 8” (12.7 to 20.3cm). Its sparkling blue color is not from real pigmentation but tiny wing scales that reflect light and make it look so. The wing’s underside is dull brown, grey, red, or black and has many eyespots. Blue Morpho usually sits with its wings folded and the camouflage protects it from predators like frogs, birds, lizards and insects. As Blue Morpho’s wings are bright blue on one side and drab on the other, when it flies, it creates a confusing impression of the insect appearing and disappearing repeatedly.
They taste with sensors on their feet and sip juices of rotting fruit, tree sap, and so on using a straw-like mouthpart. Blue Morpho has a lifespan of less than 4 months and spends most of its life on forest floors and on plants and trees in the forest’s understory eating and having babies. When looking for mates, they fly through all layers of the forest. These beautiful insects are endangered by deforestation and habitat fragmentation. Locals believe that if you see a Blue Morpho, your wish will come true. Others think of it as a bitter spirit. Anyway, it is one of the world’s most beautiful butterflies.
The brush-footed butterfly is a species of medium to large-sized butterflies. Their species has over 6,000 members and can be found all over the world. It got this name from its short hairy forelegs that appear brush-like. and are not used to walking on. They are comparatively small and have white, brown, or yellow wings that span 1½ to 3½”(3.8 to 8.89 cm). Underwings are uninspiring and seem like dead leaves making it difficult for predators to find them in forests.
Lives in rainforests of Central and South America. They can sit upright and stand erect. They have large brains for their body size and are clever. They can make about 30 types of noisy calls. They are color-blind to red and green. They are small and use their tail to grasp and balance as they move about at the canopy level of rainforests. They eat fruit, nuts and insects and get water from food and water-filled tree-holes. Squirrel monkeys live in large social clans led by an old male. They face deforestation-based habitat loss and capture for pet trade.
These woolly monkeys live in at canopy layer – usually on tall trees – in South America. They are larger than many tree-dwelling primates. They use their thick long tail to grasp and all four legs to walk, run, and climb. Male woolly monkeys are bigger than females and have bigger canines. They prefer fruits high in sugar and water and also eat non-vegetarian food. When fruits become scarce, they eat more leaves and insects. Females nursing babies also eat more leaves for their protein as it helps produce more milk. Woolly monkeys are categorized as vulnerable. Humans building new highways through parts of the Amazon is a big threat to them.
Live at the canopy level of forests of Central and South America. They are small and intelligent. Their primary foods are fruit and insects and they forage to all levels down to the ground. Capuchin monkeys are often seen with raised eyebrows and a toothy grin. But it is not a show of glee, but of anxiety, uncertainty, or fear! They have a high strength-to-weight ratio and can do things you may not think possible. They are smart and make the best use of their strength and agility. These monkeys are critically endangered. Deforestation for agriculture has led to the loss of their habitat and badly fragmented the few that remain.
Four-Eyed Opossum has white to cream-coloured spots above each eye that make them look four-eyed! There are 7 species of 4-eyed opossums – more-or-less same-sized. Their tails are longer than the head and body. They are night creatures that live on the ground. They are solitary and eat fruits, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and so on. Females have five to nine teats in a well-developed pouch similar to kangaroos. Litter sizes vary from two to seven, and grey four-eyed opossum has at least two litters a year.
Three Toed Sloth are tree-living mammals about the size of a small dog. Their front and hind feet have three curved claws that let them hook onto branches and hang upside-down. They can rotate their heads 90 degrees, and their mouths are so-shaped to give them an always smiling look. Long claws make walking on land difficult, but they can swim three times faster. Turtles are slightly faster than sloths. They are color blind, can see only poorly in dim light, and are completely blind in bright light. They smell like the rainforest and it is a great way to hide from predators that how a keen sense of smell. They are vegetarian and get hydration from the leaves and fruits they eat.
This fur ball lives in parts of South, Central, and North America. It is related to the raccoon and like its cousin, this mammal is the size of a large house cat, has a ringed tail, and hangs out in trees. Unlike nocturnal raccoons that are active at night, coati sleep at night. They build twig-and-leaf nests on branches for their babies. When coatis sleep, they tuck their noses into their belly. They use their long, flexible noses to probe gaps in rocks and search under piles of leaves for food. Coatis eat insects, fruit, rodents, lizards, and small snakes. They click, grunt, whistle, and bark as they forage for food. The creature’s scientific name ‘Nasua’ comes from the Latin word for ‘nose’.
Emerald Tree Boa also known as Garden Tree Boa, is a tree-living species found in rainforests of South America. Like other boas, it is not venomous. They have large heat sensors that can sense infrared radiation and detect prey. They use their tails to secure themselves to trees in a distinctive coiled pose. They are aggressive and have long curved front teeth to inflict painful bites.
Emerald tree boas give birth every other year. They go through significant weight loss during pregnancy. Moms must get back to an appropriate weight – often a year-long process – before having babies again.
Adults eat once in three weeks and defecate every two months or so! A stable environment in terms of humidity, temperature, and ventilation is a necessity for them. And yes, snakes have emotions and feelings but show them differently from humans.
Anaconda or water boas are a group of large snakes found in tropical South America. The name is usually used to refer only to one species – the common or green anaconda, the largest snake in the world by weight, and the second longest after the reticulated python! These boas can take down large prey, including jaguars. Anacondas are not venomous and use constriction to subdue their prey. They are at the top of the food chain, being such a huge. strong snake. Anacondas have nostrils and eyes at the top of their heads, which allow them to see above water when they remain submerged.
Green-Iguana is a large tree-dwelling lizard, native to southern Brazil and Paraguay but can be seen as far north as Mexico. It is an herbivore, has a calm disposition and is brightly colored.
The word “iguana” is derived from its Spanish species name: iwana. The green iguana became rare in Central and South America as it is hunted for food (its nickname is (“bamboo chicken”). Though usually found in trees, they are also known as burrowers.
If provoked, they lash with their serrated teeth. Like crocodiles, iguanas’ powerful jaws are designed to tear and not chew; so they clamp down and hold on. They possess atrophied venom glands that produce weak harmless venom. Iguanas have a so-called “third eye” on the top of their heads. It looks like a pale scale and can’t discern shapes or color—but does sense light and movement, helping iguanas to anticipate predatory birds from above.
Iguana has no external ear but has eardrums on both sides of its head, Iguanas are cold-blooded and rely on sun and natural heat from their surroundings to keep warm.
Amazonian tapir (also known as Brazilian tapir) is one of the largest mammals of South America. Tapir is herbivorous, and unusual looking, with a thick neck, stumpy tail, and large ears. They can swim, climb mountains, and pluck leaves and fruit from trees, all thanks to a wiggly nose that can grasp. They can wiggle their nose, and use it as a snorkel when swimming!
A tapir may look like a pig or anteater but is related to rhinos, horses, rhinoceroses, and zebras.
Tapirs are often Called ‘Living Fossils’ as they have changed very little during the past 20 million years. Despite being around so long their future is uncertain. Their calves are camouflaged with markings that give them the look of a fawn and piglet.
They are endangered and in need of conservation. Hunting for their meat is a big threat and so is fragmentation and encroachment of their habitat by humans. Conservation groups are trying to preserve their habitats and protect them from poaching.
Armadillo is Spanish for “little armoured one.” The in shells are made of bony plates covered in scales. The part that covers their barrel-shaped bodies is made of segmented bands and tails have somewhat flexible rings which let it to curl into a ball-like form when threatened.
It lives in forests near swamps in South and Central America to parts of USA – warm areas that have adequacy of food and where soil is suitable to dig burrows. Their long claws are also handy to dig up insects and worms to eat. To reach deep into holes and catch prey, they have sticky tongues like that of anteaters.
Armadillos eat insects and are related to sloths and anteaters. They eat fruit, eggs, and small animals. Armadillos are mammals that produce multiple young from a single egg and feed milk to their young. They have very poor eyesight and hearing but a keen sense of smell to know the environment around them. Armadillos can swim and can walk few minutes underwater. To counter their heavy shell, they gulp air for buoyancy.
Armadillo pup shells are soft when born, with a leather-like texture. Over the next couple of days, their shells will harden into a protective armour similar to that of their mothers.
Ocelot is a medium-sized spotted wildcat with long, ringed tails about the length of its body. They are native to the southwestern USA, Mexico, Central and South America and Caribbean islands. They prefer areas close to water with dense vegetation and high prey density. They are good swimmers active at night, as well as solitary and territorial. Good at climbing and leaping they prey on small mammals.
They mature at about two years and can breed throughout the year. After a gestation of two to three months, the female gives birth to a litter of one to three kittens who stay with the mother for up to two years, after which they leave to establish their own home ranges.
Its population is decreasing as it is also affected by habitat destruction and hunting.
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