Trees in Washington State’s Hoh Rain Forest can live to be a thousand years old.
Photography by 2009fotofriends, Shutterstock
Poison dart frogs live in the rain forests of Central and South America.
Photograph by Dirk Ercken, Dreamstime
When startled, the green basilisk lizard of Central America can run across the water's surface.
Photograph by Visuals Unlimited, Inc./Joe McDonald, Getty Images
Living in rain forests from Mexico down to South America, a kinkajou uses its long tongue to reach inside beehives and flowers to retrieve tasty snacks.
Photograph by Photoshot License Ltd, Alamy Stock Photo
Northern Brazil is dominated by the Amazon River and the jungles that surround it.
Photograph by Jaysi, Dreamstime
Adult red-eyed tree frogs are bright green with many other colors mixed in.
Photograph by Dirk Ercken, Dreamstime
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Racing for Light
Rain forests are lush, warm, wet habitats. Trees in the rain forest grow very tall because they have to compete with other plants for sunlight. Kapok trees, which are found in tropical rain forests around the world, can grow to 200 feet. The tallest trees spread their branches and leaves blocking the light from the trees below, and creating a canopy over the forest. When one of the big trees dies and falls, the opening lets in more sunlight so that a smaller tree can grow and take its place.
The rain forest has four layers. The emergent layer is made up of the very tallest trees that rise higher than the rest of the forest. In the next layer, the canopy, the leaves and branches of the trees all touch one another or are connected by vines. Most animals in the rain forest live in the canopy. The layer below the canopy is called the understory. Small trees and plants that do not need much light grow here. The last layer is the forest floor where only a few plants grow because it’s so dark.
Famous Rain Forests
There are rain forests in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Central and South America. The biggest rain forest is the Amazon rain forest. It’s about the size of the contiguous United States, which doesn’t include Alaska or Hawaii. More than half of it is in Brazil, but parts are in several other South American countries, including Ecuador and Bolivia. The next biggest rain forest is the Congo in Africa. Parts of the Congo can be found in several other countries too, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.
Most rain forests are found along or near the Equator, where it tends to be hot. But some rain forests grow in temperate regions where it’s cooler. Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park on the Pacific northwest coast of North America is an example of a temperate rain forest. Like tropical rain forests, temperate rain forests get lots of, well, rain.
Not Just Trees
Many kinds of plants grow in rain forests. Lianas are thick, woody vines that grow up the trees. When these vines get to the top of the trees, they spread to other trees and form a network of vines over the forest below. Orchids, bamboo, and bromeliads are other rain forest plants.
Trees and other plants release water into the atmosphere—something called transpiration—then the water falls back to Earth as rain. Rain forest trees can release a lot of water, up to 200 gallons each year. The water forms a thick cloud-cover over the rain forest, so it is always warm and humid.
In some rain forests it rains more than an inch every day! Rain forests help to stabilize the climate of the world not only by making rain but also by absorbing carbon dioxide. That’s good because too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can make the planet too warm.
An Abundance of Animals
More than half of the world’s animals live in the rain forest. Vampire bats and anacondas live in the rain forests of South America. Bengal tigers and orangutans live in Asia’s rain forests, and chimpanzees live in the rain forests of Africa. Lots of smaller animals live in rain forests too, including dragonflies, tree frogs, and at least hundreds of species of ants. Many of the plants and animals in the rain forest haven’t even been discovered yet!
Text by Avery Hurt
Nature Boom Time
Hoh Rain Forest - Ep. 7
In this episode of "Nature Boom Time," Charlie and his team spend a few days in the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. Explore with them to find out why a rain forest exists in the United States!