The Rain Forest
A rain forest is a thick jungle which gets an unusually large amount of rain. Rain forests cover about 6% of the earth's surface. They hold about one-half of the world's plant and animal types. The four layers of a rain forest are the emergent layer, canopy layer, understory layer and forest floor.
The emergent layer is made up of very tall trees up to 200 feet high. They are usually evergreens. There is good sunlight there. The canopy layer forms a roof over the 2 remaining layers. Animals like snakes, toucans, and tree frogs live in this layer. Not much sun reaches the next layer, the understory layer. Plants then have to grow larger leaves to try to reach the sun. Jaguars, leopards and many insects live here. The final layer, the forest floor, has almost no plants. Many leaves decay quickly there due to the darkness. Giant anteaters live in this layer.
Rainforests are found in five major areas of the world. Central America is famous for its brightly colored birds. The Amazon jungle in South America is the world's largest rainforest. It has the greatest variety of plants and animals of any other place on earth. Central Africa contains the world's second largest rainforest. The rainforests of Asia stretch from India in the west to the islands of Java and Borneo in the Pacific Ocean in the east. Australia's rainforests are very dense and lush.
Fifty million tribal peoples live in the rainforests of the world. Much of their living space is being destroyed by logging, mining, and slash and burn farmers. These people are losing their food and shelter. Three of the larger tribes are the Pygmies, the Huli, and the Yanomani. Pygmies live in Central Africa. The Huli live in Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean. The Yanomani live in South America.
The plants that live in the rainforests provide shelter and food for the animals. They also participate in gas exchanges, and provide much of the world's oxygen supply. Plants compete for sunlight on the ground so some plants live on the branches of other plants. Aerial plants can get food from the air itself using air roots.
Some interesting animals live in the rainforest. Spider monkeys are very large, almost two feet tall. They like to hang upside down from a tree with four limbs and a tail. They look like a spider and travel at a very high speed through the trees. These monkeys have only four fingers and no thumb. Spider monkeys eat fruits and seeds from high up in the canopy. Unfortunately, hunters are killing many of these monkeys so they may become extinct.
Toucans are colorful birds with short and thick necks. The bright colors on their bill help attract a mate. Their bills are sharp and can tear off pieces of big fruit. They eat lizards and small birds and live in holes in trees. Toucans live in the canopy layer in South and Central America. They are important because they help to scatter the seed from the fruit they eat.
A poison-arrow frog is found in Central and South America too. Its poison is very powerful and can cause paralysis or death. One of these frogs has enough poison to kill one hundred people. Native hunters put the poison on the tips of their arrows.
In summary, rain forests cover about one-sixth of the earth. They receive abundant rainfall each year and the foliage is thick. The rain forests contain many of the plant and animal species of the world. They have four layers. Each layer has its own characteristics, plants, and animals.
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