Children's Tropical Forests (U.K.) Fact Sheet

Rainforest Animals

QUETZAL The rainforest is an ideal place for many types of animals to live. There is plenty of water, shelter and food, and it is warm all year. These conditions mostly benefit the insects which can grow and reproduce the year round, unlike the annual cycle in colder climates. Some insects grow very large. "Walking sticks" reach lengths of over 300mm. Beetles can be as large as your hand and some moths are the size of small birds. But the really amazing thing about them is their variety. One tree in the Amazon can house 200 different types of insects; not 200 insects but 200 different types! Scientists believe many insect types have yet to be named and catalogued.

Tropical birds are also very numerous. Over 500 species are found in one small reserve in Costa Rica which is almost as many as the entire number of bird species found in the United Kingdom. The Toucan is one of the best known tropical birds with its huge and colourful beak for picking and eating fruit. Other fruit eaters are parrots, macaws, lorikeets and hornbills. These birds are all large, colourful and noisy, and the rainforest echoes with their calls. Less obvious, but also very colourful are the small hummingbirds that buzz like bees through the forest gathering nectar.

SNAKE Many reptiles and amphibians also live in the forest. The most spectacular is the anaconda which can measure 9 metres. Others include the colourful, but deadly poisonous coral snake, the python and the carpet snake (a delicacy according to the natives who eat it). The amphibians are best represented by the frogs many of which are brightly coloured, a warning that they are poisonous to eat. They are very vocal, and their songs permeate the forest. An unusual amphibian of the tropics is the blind salamander that has no legs and lives under logs and moss like a giant worm.

Many mammals thrive in the rainforest and bats are among the most common. However unlike their northern cousins (who eat insects) they feed mostly on fruit and nectar, although some prey on frogs. Rodents are almost as numerous as bats. The capybaras is found near rivers and is the largest rodent in the world. It is almost as big as the pony-sized tapir. another resident of the rainforest which has a long snout-like nose. Both these animals are the natural prey of the jaguar the largest South American cat. Other rainforest cats include ocelot, margay and the largest of them all, the tiger.

The rainforest is home to monkeys and apes. Long tailed monkeys like the howler and spider live in Central and South America. They stay in the forest canopy and eat fruit and leaves. The howler has a very loud call that can be heard for miles.

SLOW LORIS Gorillas and chimpanzees are apes which are only found in Africa. The gorilla stays on the forest floor and its favourite food is fresh bamboo, whereas the chimpanzee is equally at home on the forest floor or in the canopy. It will eat just about anything, fruit, leaves, insects and small animals. The other great ape is the orang-utan which only lives on the Asian islands of Sumatra and Borneo and has an exclusive fruit diet. In contrast to gorillas and chimpanzees, which are gregarious, the orang-utan is a solitary beast.

It is important to understand that the rainforest animals play a vital role in maintaining their habitat. Because there is no wind in the lower layers to carry pollen from one flower to another, many plants depend on insects for pollination. The 900 varieties of fig tree is a good example of this process as there are 900 different kinds of wasps that pollinate them. Spreading plant seeds is necessary for their survival, and fruit eating birds, mammals and even fish help to accomplish this task.

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