Rainforest Facts for Kids

The Layers of the Rain Forest
The trees of the emergent layer spread out very thinly with only one or two emergent trees in every acre of forest and are bathed in direct sunlight. When these big trees fall they create a wide clearing, known as a tree fall gap, allowing the sunlight to reach the smaller trees below them. This new area of light (the forest floor is usually pretty dark) cause many new plants to grow and race to reach the canopy first. These smaller trees will grow taller and eventually replace the emergent layer.

The canopy of the tree forest is made up of the limbs and leaves of trees which form a dense platform of vegetation more than 100 feet off the ground. The canopy offers such an abundance of shelter that many of the animals living in this layer never need to descend from it. The trees of the understory layer grow slowly, just waiting for an emergent tree to fall down to give them sunlight to grow larger. Most remain in the shadows, growing tall pointed crowns as they grow upwards seeking light. Others, such as woody vines called lianas, attach themselves to young trees. As the young trees grow, the vines ride towards the light and once they reach the canopy they will spread out among the trees.

Plant life is quite sparse in on the forest floor. The leaves, limbs of trees and remains of animals that fall to the forest floor break down quickly because of the high temperature, humidity, and the activity of termites, earthworms and fungi. This organic material, recycled into nutrients stays on the surface of the soil where it is quickly absorbed by the shallow roots of the many rainforest trees.

Green Iguana
Iguanas are active during the day, feeding on leaves, flowers, and fruit. They live high in the tree canopy. Youngsters establish areas lower in the canopies while older iguanas reside higher up.

No matter where they inhabit, Iguanas prefer to have water around as they are excellent swimmers and will dive beneath the water to avoid predators. They are also tough enough to land on solid ground from as high as 40 feet and survive.

Most disputes between iguanas take place over sun basking sites. Basking is important for increasing body temperature and aiding digestion.

When frightened, an iguana will usually freeze or hide. Like many other lizards, iguanas can drop of part of their tail. This gives them a chance to escape before their predator figures out what is going on.
Their average lifespan is 20 years and they can grow to almost 7 feet in length.

Keel Billed Toucan
The Keel Billed Toucan travels in flocks of 6 to 12 adults. The flocks roost in holes of tree trunks, sometimes with several birds crowding into one hole.

In flight, the Keel-billed Toucan displays a period of rapid flapping and then a glide. It cannot travel long distances, and it is much more agile when hopping around from branch to branch in the trees. Its call is a "creek, creek", which sounds similar to the croak of a tree frog.

Its' diet consists primarily of fruit, but it will also consume the eggs or fledglings of other birds, insects, small lizards and tree frogs. Although the function of the long bill of the Keel Billed Toucan is not fully understood, it does make a very good tool for plucking fruit off branches that are too small to bear the weight of the bird.

Spider Monkey
These Spider Monkeys, are the brown headed variety, and are found in the rainforests of Central and South America. The population of Spider Monkeys has been declining in due to deforestation, which means that forests that once served as their habitat have been cleared of trees.

The majority of the Spider Monkey's time is spent in the uppermost branches of trees, looking for food. Spider Monkeys prefer ripe fruits and leaves, but will eat nuts, seeds, insects, and sometimes eggs.

Spider monkeys are active during the day, sleep at night. They move through the forest using both their hands and feet to swing between trees, and walk in an upright position along branches. They can leap more than 30 feet from branch to branch.

Three Toed Sloth
The three-toed sloth defends itself from predators like jaguars with its long arms, sharp claws, and sharp teeth. The sloth does not leave the forest and moves very, very slowly. It would take nearly a month for this animal to travel a single mile. The sloth sleeps 19 hours a day, hanging upside down from the branches. It also eats, mates, and gives birth in the canopy.

During the rare times (every week or so) it drops to the ground to poop, moving by dragging itself by its hands. The sloth can stand on its feet, but cannot walk on them. Surprisingly though, the three-toed sloth is an excellent swimmer.

The three toed sloth is has almost no tail or external ears, and its head is slightly rounded with a blunt nose. The body is covered with long and course hair.

Blue Morpho Butterfly
You might be surprised to learn that the wings are not actually blue. Their color comes from overlapping iridescent, diamond shaped scales that act like mirrors covering the tops of their wings. The scales reflect the blue spectrum of sunlight and enable them to shimmer. The underside of the Blue Morpho's wings are brown, which provides it with camouflage when seen from below.

As a mature butterfly, the Morpho drinks it food, using its proboscis, which is a tube like structure connected to the Morpho's head, that enables it to suck nectar from fruit and flowers .

Red Eyed Tree Frog
How do the red eyes of this Tree Frog protect it from predators?
Some scientists believe that the bright, red eyes and feet are a form of self defense known as startle coloration. Red-eyed tree frogs are nocturnal, which means they rest during the day and look for food at night. If a predator were to happen upon the frog when sleeping its eyes would pop open abruptly. The sudden brightness of their red eyes and feet might startle the predator enough to allow the frog to jump to safety.

The Red Eyed Tree Frog feeds primarily at night on a diet of insects or other small animals to come their way. Their green color allows them to stay hidden in the leaves waiting for food to come their way and their suction-cup toes allow them to attach themselves to the underside of leaves.

The Margay, also known as the Long Tail Spotted Cat, is an unusual animal and very much at home in the trees where it can live its entire life.

Margays have unique claws and ankle joints which can move through 180 degrees, enabling them to scamper down the trunks of trees head first and run upside down beneath branches. They move almost like monkeys among the tree tops, jumping easily from branch to branch. The Margay generally hunts at night and its prey includes birds, small monkeys, tree frogs and insects which inhabit the forest canopy, however it will also take prey from the ground and has been know to supplement its diet with fruit. At maturity, they are approximately 2 and half feet long and weigh about 8 lbs.

Tamandua Anteaters

Food for these long snouted animals consists mainly of termites, which it obtains by opening nests with its powerful sharp front claws.

The Anteater uses its long, flexible, rapidly moving tongue covered with small spikes and sticky saliva to sweep up the fast moving termites. Their tongue can be flicked up to 150-160 times or more per minute.

Tamandua anteaters have no teeth. Their physical digestion is aided by the sand and gravel that they consume when they are eating their protein-packed meal. Tamanduas are quite clumsy on the ground and amble along. In the rainforest it is typical to see them surrounded during the day by a cloud of flies and mosquitoes and is often seen wiping these insects from its eyes.

Strangler Fig Tree
As you have learned, the life of a Strangler Fig Tree is an amazing story. It begins with a tiny seed deposited on crevice of a tree in the canopy. The seed becomes a vine, and the vine eventually surrounds and overtakes the original tree upon which it began its life. When the host tree dies, the fig tree is left behind with a lattice like hollow trunk that serves an important role in the rainforest.

The hollow trunk with its many nooks and crevices provides a home for bugs, bats, reptiles, frogs and birds. It is also a welcome source of food because of its production of sweet tasting figs.

Protecting Rain Forests
Efforts are underway by governments, non-profit organizations and educators around the world to save rainforests. Six important ways they working to save rainforests are:

1) Establishing new parks and promoting tourism to rainforest locations.

2) Purchasing rainforest land and placing it into conservation areas to protect it from development or farming.

3) Restoring forests (also known as reforestation) by planting new trees where forests have been cut down or cleared.

4) Educating kids and adults about the importance of rainforests to the earth's ecology, climate regulation and plant and animal diversity.

5) Showing support for products and companies that operate their businesses in ways that are respectful of the importance of rainforests and believe in sustaining them.

6) Conducting scientific research on the plant and animal life of rainforests and educating people about their findings.

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