The Amazon occupies about one-half of the world's remaining rain forest, about 2.5 million square
miles, a size that would equal two-thirds of the United States. It is the home of more than one-third of all living species
many yet still undiscovered. The plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria in the rain forest are useful to humans for food, medicines,
the environment and many other products from rain forest species. The rain forest teaches biologists from its great diversity
and interaction between so many different types of species. Zaire (formerly Congo) hosts about 20% of the world's remaining
rain forest. Another 25% of the world's remaining rain forests are in southeast Asia. Indonesia (10%), Malaysia, the Philippines,
Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) are other countries that contain sizeable pieces of rain forest.
Layers of the Rain Forest
The top layer of the rain forest is the emergent layer (usually 130 feet or higher)
of the tallest trees in the forest. The canopy (60 to 90 feet tall) follows consisting of a contiguous layer of the crowns
of trees. Beneath the canopy is the understory (extending from the ground up to about 45 feet), which hosts a variety of
young trees and shade tolerant plants. And the bottom story is the floor of the forest where a thin soil filled with shallow
roots and buttresses very quickly soak up the nutrients of decomposed dead animals and plants by the assistance of termites,
earthworms and soil fungi.
Tree Pollination and the Importance of Interdependence
The brightness of the
flowers of the rain forest are essential for attracting birds, bats, and insects to pollinate the trees. When the animals
take nectar from a flower, a portion of pollen dust sticks to their bodies and then is passed on to the next flower the animal
visits. The trees of the forest make this necessary pollen exchange via interdependence. The strangler fig, known in Spanish
as matapalo or "tree killer", starts high in the canopy of another species of tree, drops root to the ground, and
proceeds to strangle the life out of its host. After the host tree decomposes the fig remains as a hollow and healthy tree
which may become a home for a variety of animals. The dependence of the rain forest trees on fish who transport their seeds
during flooding, and animals that eat their fruit and then defecate or regurgitate the seeds after they have moved away from
the tree, ensure the new saplings survival as it is allowed to grow outside of the shade of its progenitor. Otherwise the
young tree would die from depletion of sunlight and nutrients. Nature again reiterates the wisdom of interdependence and
mutual cooperation versus self-indulgence for survival.
Life Forms in the Rain Forest
Epiphytes are plants
that live high in the forest with no roots connecting them to the forest floor. These species include mosses, lichens, ferns,
orchids, bromeliads, and even cacti. Living high gives them more light and wind necessary for spreading seeds and pollen.
Most of the animals species of the world are insects, which by their sheer number have more impact on the forest than any
other group of animals. Reptiles and amphibians are abundant in the warm rain forests. The high humidity keeps their soft
eggs moist, so their young will hatch. The rain forest hosts many more types of birds than any other forest such as flycatchers,
warblers, parrots, hornbills, ant birds, and toucans. These beautiful and rare species are endangered both due to rain forest
destruction and hunters. Mammals of the rain forest include at least 125 different types in a typical four square mile patch
and those are most closely related to man: chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas. Additionally, fruit bats, sloths, jaguars
and many more animals are all in danger due to deforestation and slash and burn farming, poaching, and the gathering of fuel
wood. Products from the rain forest including foods, medicines, rubber, and fuel wood will all be lost within 30 years if
we do not do something about the current rate of destruction. Some of the most endangered forests are the Ivory Coast and
Nigeria of Africa; Asia's Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand; and Latin America's Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Paraguay.
If we continue to raise awareness through rain forest art and education we will help not only our generation to survive but
also more importantly, our children to breathe deeply and love the nature that surrounds them.
A few good reasons to protect wild places
Saving Wild places is the best way to protect the most wild plants and
Many wild places contain plants that are--or could be--valuable medicines, foods, and other products
Wild places help make the world more liveable. For example, rain forests absorb lots of carbon dioxide and
turn it into breathable oxygen.
Earth would be much less interesting without its wilder corners!
A Big Forest!
The Congo Basin rain forests cover more than 300,000 square miles, which is bigger than the state of Texas
and about four times the size of New England.
What a Nose!
Polar bears have a great sense of smell. A hungry bear
may pick up the scent of a dead whale or seal and then walk and swim up to 100 miles until it reaches its meal.
No Leopards Like Snow Leopards
How does a snow leopard keep from sinking into the deep winter snows? By wearing snowshoes,
of course! The big cats' paws have thick cushions made of fur that keep them safely on the surface of deep drifts.
If you were a bowhead whale swimming under a thick sheet of ice, how would you get a breath of fresh
air? You'd just smash right through--that's how! Bowheads can break through more than a foot of ice when they need to take
a breath. Now that's using your head!
It may be as tall as a tree and as big around
as a tree, but bamboo is actually a kind of grass. The stiff, woody stems are hollow inside and have been used for centuries
to make houses, musical instruments, and even paper.
Now You See It, Now You Don't
What would you get if
you crossed a giraffe with a zebra? You might end up with something like an okapi. A close cousin of the giraffe, the okapi
has a dark upper body and long, zebra-striped legs that help it blend in with the thick vegetation of the rain forest. In
fact, it has such good camouflage that European explorers didn't even see the animal until 1901.
Monkey See, Monkey
How would you like to have a chimpanzee for a teacher? While chimps usually stay in separate groups of 50 to 100,
scientists have seen a chimp from one group teaching members of another group how to use a stick as a tool for catching and
Which of these creatures do you think really exist?
The purple-tongued owl
The white-lipped deer
The ribbon seal
The goliath beetle
The pink elephant
A forest buffalo
A polar gorilla
A whale that's smaller than a bread box
A salamander that's longer than a Labrador retriever
A bald baboon
A bearded vulture
b, i, and k all live in the temperate forests of
Southwest China; c lives in the Bering Sea ecoregion; d and f live in the Congo Basin rain forests; and a, e, g, h, and j
live only in your imagination!