To be categorized as a rainforest, a biome must have more than 200 days of rain per year or as much as 240 inches of water accumulation. Most of the world’s rainforests are found along the equator, where temperatures range from 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and sometimes warmer. At least fifty percent of the northern region of South America is comprised of the rainforest. Most of Central America and parts of Africa, southern Asia, and northern Australia are also home to rainforest areas. Combined, rainforests make up about seven percent of the Earth’s land surface.
The Importance of Rainforests for Animals and the Earth’s Climate
It is believed that some rainforests have been in existence for 100 million years. The rainforests play a vital role in the habitat of the living species, as at least half of the world’s plants and animals find their homes in this type of land. For example, at least 1,600 birds and about one million kinds of insects live in the largest rainforest near the Amazon River in South America. The Amazon rainforest is approximately 2.5 million square miles in size, about two-thirds the size of the United States. It also comprises about half of the entire rainforest land in the world. Some experts estimate that ninety-five percent of all the species on Earth are found in the rainforest. This diversity makes rainforests truly unique around the world.
Beyond the importance of the rainforest to animals and plants, the rainforest plays a vital role in the planet’s climate. Plant species and trees grow in dense populations in the rainforest. This vegetation absorbs the water from the soil and returns it to the air through transpiration. At least half of that water is returned to the rainforest as rain. The rest of the water travels the warm currents of air to cooler sections of the Earth. Plants in the rainforest also use carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while releasing large amounts of oxygen back into the air. More about different and weird rainforest animals that kids can learn about.
The Layers of Life in the Rainforests
Rainforests are usually divided into horizontal layers according to the plants and animals into these different strata. The top-most layer includes the tallest of the trees, called emergents. Trees in this layer typically grow to be around 300 feet tall, extending beyond the next layer of growth, the canopy. This is the most productive layer of the rainforest and includes trees from 60 to 150 feet in height. They often have long branches and leaves that extend over one another, creating an umbrella over the lower parts of the forest. The leaves, trees, and branches grow so close together that the rainfall only reaches the ground by running down the tree trunks and plant stems. This canopy area is home to many rainforest animals, including tree frogs, monkeys, bats, birds, and reptiles.
Below the canopy is the area of rainforest called the understory. This area is home to many smaller trees, ferns, vines, and bushes. The upper canopy of the rainforest traps a lot of the heat and moisture, and as a result, the understory is extremely hot and humid. The canopy is so thick that the understory doesn’t get much light, so flowering plants are not commonly seen below the canopy level. The lowermost layer, the bottom layer, is the floor of the rainforest. This layer is filled with mosses, herbs, fungi, and decaying plants and animals. This layer decomposes quickly, acting as a natural compost rich with nutrients for the roots of the tall plants above. Thousands of insects that feed on decaying matter live on the floor of the forest.
The Three Types of Rainforests Around the World
There are three primary types of rainforests around the world: tropical, mangrove, and temperate. Tropical forests are like the ones found in South America, near the equator, and are the wettest regions in the world. Some tropical rainforests have wet and dry seasons, while others are situated at the top of tropical mountains. Mangrove rainforests are found along the ocean coasts in tropical regions. Temperate rainforests are found in cooler climates along the western coasts of North and South America. They can also be found in Australia and New Zealand. Temperate rainforests are home to many of the “old growth” forests. Some of these old-growth forests, like the sequoia trees of northern California, have been around for more than 1,000 years.
The Threats of the Rainforest and Why it is Important
Many small tribes have made their homes within the boundaries of the rainforests. Many of them have lived within those areas for thousands of years. However, developers who are encroaching upon the rainforests pose both an ecological and anthropological threat to the tribes that live in the area. About 50 million acres of rainforests disappear each year. That is the equivalent of 90 acres every minute. The trees are harvested, and the land is cleared for farm development or new road construction. In many cases, trees are cut down and burned, a process called “slash and burn.” This process creates smoke pollution and releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, contributing significantly to global warming.
The decrease in the amount of vegetation in the rainforest areas also increases the likelihood of flooding and the erosion of valuable topsoil. In addition, animals, who make their homes in the trees, leaves, and shrubs, no longer have a place to go. As a result of the deforestation process, significant numbers of species become extinct each year.
Weird Animals of the Rainforest
The rainforest is home to half the world’s animals. So it’s only natural that a handful (or quite a bit more) is a bit odd. Check out the following list of animals that hang out in the rainforest and have developed some interesting physical or other characteristics that set them apart from what might be considered ‘normal. Read more about why rainforests are an important part of the ecosystem.
1. Pygmy Marmoset
The pygmy marmoset is one of the smallest marmosets in the rainforest. It is an omnivore, and its diet consists of fruit, leaves, insects, and small reptiles. However, its primary food intake consists of tree sap, as the animal has special teeth for digging into tree bark to extract the sap.
Typically, this species lives between 11 and 12 years in the wild and longer if kept in captivity. They live in families of a male and female and their offspring.
2. Thersphosa Blondi
Also known as Goliath Birdeating Spider
Native to: Rainforests of South America
Size: 120-140g, full-grown
The Goliath Birdeating Spider received its name from Victorian-era explorers who saw one of the tarantulas consume a hummingbird. Frightening. At up to 11 inches long, it’s no doubt that this carnivorous arachnid consumes small mammals such as rodents, lizards, bats, and snakes regularly. However, more commonly their diet consists of insects and invertebrates.
They typically create their home near swamps and burrow underground, creating their own tunnels or inhabiting abandoned burrows of other animals.
An unforgiving species, the females, mature and mate in 3 to 4 years and kill their male companion shortly thereafter. The female then lays between 100 and 200 eggs and lives between 15 and 25 years.
Lucky for humans, the tarantula is relatively harmless and has only been known to bite when provoked. However, the venom in the Birdeater’s fangs is similar to that of a wasp or bee’s sting.
Also known as Lemur
Native to: Madagascar
The Aye-aye is part of the lemur family. Its defining characteristic is the unique way in which it forages for food. The animal has a long, thin finger on each hard, which it uses to peck holes in trees that it climbs and clings to. Its goal is to drive grubs out of their homes in the trees and eat them.
Because its diet is found in the trees, the Aye-aye typically resides at the tops of trees, up to 700m above the rainforest floor. A nocturnal creature, it typically sleeps during the day and emerges at night to hunt for grubs.
They are typically solitary, searching for food alone. However, those in overlapping territories are not hostile towards either other. Male aye-ayes typically occupy about 80 acres, while females roam about 20 acres on average.
After two Aye-aye’s mates, the male often remains close by to ensure the safety of their offspring until the baby lemur has reached a certain maturity. After that, the infant is typically closer to their mothers, who wrestle, chase, and play peek-a-boo with their child to teach basic coordination and motor skills.
Also known as Zebra Giraffe, Rainforest Zebra
Native to: Ituri Rainforest, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Size: 4.9 to 6.6 feet tall (440 to 660 lbs)
Let’s face it; the Okapi looks like an unfortunately confused mating of a zebra and a giraffe. The animal resembles a giraffe with a short neck that stepped in zebra-striped paint.
The animals are primarily a solitary species, living between 500m and 1000m above sea level. Mating is brief, and the mother then raises the offspring on her own or with other mature females.
To find food, the animal typically follows packed trails through the rainforest. They are herbivores and primarily feed on leaves, buds, grass, ferns, fruit, and fungi. The animals also feed on reddish clay near rivers, satisfying their nutritional need for sodium and other minerals.
Also known as Hoactzin, Stinkbird, Canje “Pheasant.”
Native to: Amazon and Orinoco Delta, South America
Size: 25″ long
The Hoatzin is a tropical bird that lives in rainforest swamps in South America. It has a characteristic long neck and small head and is brown with lighter feathers on its chest. One unusual trait is that the bird has claws at the ends of four of its wing feathers.
The Stinkbird is an herbivore and primarily feeds on leaves, flowers, and fruit, and due to its unique digestive system, it gives off a foul-smelling odor when eating. Lucky for the bird, its unattractive smells wards off potential predators, who will only choose to eat the bird under the direst circumstances.
Hoatzin birds bread during the rainy season in the rainforest, and they nest in small colonies above swamps, feeding their chicks regurgitated food. The baby birds have a unique defense mechanism, and when threatened, they will drop out of their nests to the water below and climb back up the tree with their clawed wings.
6. Birds of Paradise
Native to: New Guinea
Size: 5.9 inches to 17 inches
Birds of paradise are an extremely varied species and a relative of the crow and jay families. The smallest type is the King Bird-of-paradise, and the largest is the lack Sicklebill. The length of the tail, the shape of the wings, the capacity of wings to make sound, and bills are all different based on the specific type of Bird-of-paradise.
The birds typically live in rainforest swamps and moss forests and feed on fruit and arthropods.
Birds of paradise are most well known for their elaborate mating rituals and dances. An otherworldly event, the transformation from bird to seemingly alien-like species, is quite unbelievable.
7. Probosci’s Monkey
Also known as Monyet Belanda, Bekantan, Dutch Monkey Long-Nosed Monkey
Native to: Southeast Asia, Borneo Island
Size: Males: 28″ in length; 53 lbs
Females: 23″ in length; 28 lbs
The Proboscis Monkey’s most striking characteristic is its obnoxiously large nose. This appendage is assumed to be attractive to females and can reach up to 7 inches. The females have large noses as well, but not quite as dramatic as their male counterparts. In addition to this, the nose swells with blood when the animal is angry or alarmed, causing its calls to be louder and reach further.
The animals live in small groups between 10 and 32 strong. A friendly species, the monkeys, regularly transfer between groups throughout their lives.
Because of a unique digestive system, the Proboscis Monkey cannot digest ripe fruit and feeds instead on a diet of seeds, leaves, mangrove shoots, and unripened fruit.
Although they only exist in Southeast Asia at present, Tarsier fossils have been found in Asia, Europe, and North America. Their most unique physical characteristic is their enormous eyes, each as large as their brain. In addition, their hind limbs, for which they are named, are twice as long as their body and head.
The animals are nocturnal, but they do display some activity during the daytime as well. They are the only entirely carnivorous primates and typically eat insects, small birds, snakes, lizards, and bats.
Mature Tarsier females give birth to a single infant at a time. Young Tarsiers are quick to learn to climb and are nimbly jumping between trees within a day of birth.
As it is commonly known, the flying snake is a mildly venomous snake that is not harmful to humans. They received their nickname based on a misconception. The snake cannot actually fly. However, they do glide from tree to tree. The snake pushes against the tree bark and poises itself at the end of a tree branch, aiming at its target. It hurls its body up and away from the tree while flattening its body to make it twice as wide as normal. They curl their body in a concave c-shape, which increases the air pressure below the snake’s body, increasing lift.
10. Three-Toed Sloth
Three-Toed Sloths are tree-dwelling mammals and move between trees up to four times a day. This occupies most of their day, as their maximum speed, from which they derive their name, is 0.15 miles per hour! The sloths are excellent swimmers and maintain a faster speed in the water.
Female sloths give birth to one offspring at a time and typically rear the baby sloth for up to a year.
They dwell in low-lying shrubs and lower tree layers. Their fur typically has a green hue because algae grow on the long strands. This doubles as a camouflage for the sloth, which blends well into the tree it hangs onto with its extremely long claws.