Ranger Rick Rainforest December January 2015

Visit a Rainforest

By Kathy Kranking

It’s steamy. It’s sticky. And it’s totally drippy. A rainforest is one of the wettest, wildest places on Earth!

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If you could visit a tropical rainforest, what would it be like? Well, here’s one right in front of you. Come on in and see!

As you walk deep into the rainforest, you notice how warm and moist the air feels—kind of like your bathroom after you take a shower. Looking around, you also notice the light is pretty dim in here. That’s because not much sunlight can get through the leaves of the trees towering above you.

But maybe what you notice the most are the sounds—and sights—of the rainforest animals. The place is alive with them! Birds sing and squawk. Monkeys howl from above. Branches rustle as animals climb  through them. Bats fly. Frogs peep and hop. Insects flutter and buzz.

And now there’s another sound: the pitter-patter of raindrops. It rains almost every day here—sometimes as much as two inches in just an hour!

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Check out the rainforest facts splashed all over these pages.

  • The rainforests in this story are tropical rainforests, because they’re close to the equator (see map).
  • The average temperature in tropical rainforests is between 70°F and 85°F.
  • Rainforests get more than 100 inches of rain a year. Lots of evaporated water in the air makes them feel steamy.
  • South America’s Amazon rainforest is the biggest in the world. It covers an area about the size of the “lower 48” states.
  • Rainforests cover only about six percent of the Earth, but they contain more than half the world’s plant and animal species.
  • Chocolate, bananas, nuts, tea, spices, rubber, and woods such as teak and balsa all come from  rainforests.
  • Rainforests absorb carbon dioxide in their tree trunks and leaves. When they’re cut down, the carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, which can increase global warming.
  • People cut down rainforest trees for lumber or to clear the land for farms and ranches. Each second, an area of rainforest the size of a football field is destroyed. But many people are working hard to protect rainforests.

Hundreds of rainforest plants are used to make medicines. Chemicals in the Madagascar periwinkle (far leftphoto), for example, are used to treat diabetes and some kinds of cancer.

A work day for these scientists means climbing high into the treetops, where they collect insects to study.

The species of insects, spiders, and their relatives in one rainforest were found to outnumber mammal species by about 300 to 1!

The rainforest has four main layers, each different from the next. Many animals spend their whole lives in the same layer. Others move among different layers.

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This level, the lowest of the forest, gets little light. Because of all the moisture, fallen leaves and trees  decay quickly. A leaf that might take a year to decay in your backyard could disappear in six weeks on the rainforest floor! These are some animals you might meet here.

The tapir (TAY-pur) (top left photo) is a land animal, but it spends lots of time in the water, too. See its little “trunk”? It works as a finger to grab leaves, fruits, and other food. And when the tapir is underwater, it uses the trunk as a snorkel to breathe!

The male cock-of-the-rock (middle left photo) is famous for putting on a show to attract females. Each male has a spot on the forest floor where he puffs up his feathers and “dances,” while calling and making other sounds. If a female is impressed with a certain male, she’ll choose him as her mate.

Be careful not to step on this green anaconda (an-uh- KON-duh) (bottom left photo). It blends in with the leaves on the forest floor. But these snakes often hang out in the water, too. Like its relative, the boa, an anaconda squeezes its prey to suffocate it. This snake’s prey includes turtles, fish, wild pigs, tapirs, and even deer. The biggest anacondas can be almost as long as school buses!

The trees here are small-to medium-sized. They have big leaves to absorb more of the tiny amount of light that passes through the leaves of the taller trees above.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a . . . lizard? (middle right photo) When a flying dragon wants to get from place to place quickly, it has a great trick. It fans out two flaps of skin on its sides and leaps. It doesn’t really fly, but glides through the air—sometimes as far as half the length of a football field.

Check out the world’s tiniest farmers: leafcutter ants. (top right photo) These ants grow their own food. First they use their sharp jaws to cut pieces of leaves from trees. Then they carry the leaves back to their underground nest. They chew the leaves into a glop. Eventually, fungus grows on the glop. Then the ants eat the fungus!

Shhh! This brown capuchin (kuh-POO-chin) (bottom right photo) is having a snooze—a rare quiet moment. Soon it will be awake again, noisy and busy as it climbs through the trees looking for food with the other monkeys in its troop.

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Canopy trees grow about 60 to 150 feet tall. They form a leafy “roof” over the forest. More species live at the top of the bright canopy than in any other layer.

The Toco toucan (top left photo) uses its big, colorful bill to pluck fruits from branches. Then it tips its head back, and the fruit drops down its throat. That big bill is lighter than it looks—it’s made of the same stuff your hair and fingernails are made of.

When a three-toed sloth (middle left photo) hangs around the rainforest, it actually hangs around the rainforest! Sloths spend just about their whole lives hanging upside down in trees. Their long, curved claws make handy hooks for branches. Sloths eat, sleep, and even give birth high in the trees.

The bright colors on this strawberry poison frog (bottom left photo) are more than just pretty. They’re a warning to hungry animals. “Don’t even think about eating this frog,” they say. “It’s poisonous!”

Trees in the emergent (ih-MUR-junt) layer poke up out of the canopy, looking like giant umbrellas. They grow up to 250 feet above the forest floor. To keep from drying out in the strong sun and wind at this level, emergent trees have thick, waxy leaves.

At mating time, a male morpho butterfly (top right photo) joins other males to fly above the rainforest trees. If the males are lucky, females will be attracted to their wings shimmering in the sunlight.

This howler monkey (middle right photo) is doing just what his name says: belting out his loud call, which echoes through the rainforest! Only males howl. They do it to tell other howlers to keep out of their troop’s territory. A special bone in a howler’s throat helps make the calls super loud—loud enough to be heard three miles away!

Look out, monkeys and sloths! This young harpy eagle (bottom right photo) will grow up to be one of the rainforest’s super predators. An adult harpy is big, with a wingspan wider than a person is tall. And it’s fast, diving down on prey at up to 50 miles per hour, and then snatching it with long, sharp talons.

Hope you enjoyed your rainforest visit. Now you know why a rainforest is one of the most special places in the world!


“Visit a Rainforest” originally appeared in the December/January 2015 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.
(Click on each image above for a closer view of the story.)

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