Samwise Gamgee What exactly is a rain forest, you say? Well, on the outside, a rain forest has a wall averaging 20 feet thick that is made of a tangle of vines that love light. This wall seals off the interior creating the illusion that the whole jungle is this thick. But if you find an animal path or stream to follow, you can slip through and enter this mysterious world. Once you’re inside, you can look up and see a tree canopy that’s as high as a 17 story building! And it’s pretty dark too, a perpetual twilight. Only 1% of the sunlight ever actually touches the floor of the forest.
And moonlight, even a full moon, doesn’t get through at all. You’d better have a flashlight with you if you plan on reading any comics. Rain forests have different layers that support different animals and insects. Some plants and animals occupy specific layers, while others live and feed wherever they can. I live in the lower canopy of the South American rain forest because a lot of the fruit I like to eat is found there.
The tallest trees in the canopy layer grow up to 200 feet high. Some of the trees that poke through (called the “emergents”) have been known to grow as high as 270 feet. It is not uncommon for the expansive umbrella crown of an emergent tree to cover an entire acre. Now there’s a good spot for a treehouse. Many types of indigenous people live in rain forests.
The environment is perfect for tribes of hunter-gatherers. Local materials are used to make their blow guns, spears, and arrows. The forest also provides building and roofing materials, wild cotton for clothing, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and more. In fact, just about every need can be met by the rain forest. For these people, the rain forest is like living in a gigantic mall.
Amazonian deep-forest Yanomamo are a group of forest people that can literally run up heavy trunked emergent trees (over 200 feet) without breaking a sweat. It’s because of their remarkably wide feet, which also have advantages running around the muddy rain forest floors. The Pygmies are a tribe of honey gatherers that rely almost exclusively on the help of a bird called the Greater Honeyguide to direct them to the beehives. This little bird leads the Pygmies with its rasping, churring chatter and its white outer tail feathers to point out the proper tree. The bird lives on beeswax, so after the Pygmies climb the tree with a bundle of smoking leaves to put the bees to sleep, they take the honey and leave the beeswax behind as a reward for the bird.
Here you’ll find bats with wingspans up to 5.5 feet, moths with wingspans of 12 inches, frogs so big they could eat rats, and rats themselves weighing up to 100 pounds. Let’s take a closer look at just a few of the interesting animals and insects that live in the rain forrest. Piranha, The piranha is a small fish that is activated into a feeding frenzy by the smell of blood. Their teeth are so sharp that they can strip a 100 pound animal to the bone in a minute. No telling what they could do to a person unlucky enough to go for a swim at the wrong time! Large electric eels live in tropical rivers. Their bodies can generate enough electricity to knock a person senseless and, in some cases, can cause drowning. “Shocking” ..
but true. Anacondas can even swallow a crocodile. The anaconda is a water boa and it is the largest snake in the world at 37.5 feet long and weighing over 500 pounds. They’ve been known to eat people now and then, although they don’t make a regular diet of humans. Boa, oh boa that’s a lotta snake! In every rain forest there are many kinds of plants. Many, many, many kinds of plants. In fact, inside a single hectare (2.47 acres) you can find up to 750 types of trees and 1,500 types of plants! But this entire range of species can easily be broken down into four categories, grouped by how they take up nutrients: * Carnivorous plants eat small animals. * Saprophytic plants eat decaying matter.
* Parasitic plants take nutrients directly from other living plants. * Autotrophs take nutrients from the soil. Bamboo is a giant grass found in the rain forest and can grow up to 120 feet high and have stems 12 inches in diameter. One Bamboo plant was recorded growing at a rate of 36 inches in 24 hours. I could plant some today and by tomorrow it could be taller than me! Now you know why they say “bamboo shoots!” Rafflesia is a parasite that has the world’s largest flower.
It’s over 3 feet across and can hold several gallons of water. When it opens, the rafflesia makes a hissing sound like a cobra. It also has the strong odor and color of rotting meat, which attracts flies that pollinate it. Sometimes the smartest thing to bring with you into the rain forest is a noseplug! The giant water lily (Victoria Amazonia) has leaves that can grow over 5 feet across. It is actually strong enough for a kid to stand on although your feet will still get wet.
That’s one big water lily! There are a lot of reasons why the Earth’s rain forests are important to us all. * Fifty percent of the medicines used in the world every day come from rain forest plants. And 25% of all prescription drugs have their origins there too. * The Amazonian garcinia punctata tree is used as a cure for diarrhea. * The Mexican yam is used to manufacture cortisone and hydrocortisone. * The rosy periwinkle contains a drug that fights some forms of childhood leukemia.
And not just medicines, but almost all food originates from hybridized wild plants .. so most of us enjoy food originally grown in the rain forest every day. Just think of breakfast. When you eat a bowl Corn Flakes, you’re eating part of the corn plant, which originally came from Mexico and South American rain forests. The rice in a bowl of Rice Krispies has its origins in Asian rain forests. Orange juice, tea, eggs, and bananas all originated from plants and animals of Asian rain forests as well.
Sugar originated in the rain forests of India, while pineapple from Venezuelan rain forests. Cocoa and chocolate both originated in Central and South American rain forests. And coffee’s origins can be traced to an Ethiopian rain forest. Over 50% of the fruits you eat regularly originally came from tropical rain forests. We are only beginning to find out what great riddles can be solved here.
Medicines, prescription drugs, plants, animals, food sources .. it’s hard to tell just how many more discoveries are awaiting us in this mysterious world. But there’s no doubt about it, the rain forests rank as some of the Earth’s most precious natural resources. Now you can see why rain forests should be protected.