A Sampling of Tropical Rainforest Animals Rainforests are very dense, warm, wet forests. They are havens for millions of plants and animals. Rainforests are extremely important in the ecology of the Earth. The plants of the rainforest generate much of the Earth's oxygen. These plants are also very important to people in other ways; many are used in new drugs that fight disease and illness. Where are Rainforests? Tropical rainforests are located in a band around the equator, mostly in the area between the Tropic of Cancer (23.5° N latitude) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5° S latitude). This 3,000 mile (4800 km) wide band is called the "tropics." Tropical rainforests are found in South America, West Africa, Australia, southern India, and Southeast Asia. Go to a rainforest map printout to color. Strata of the Rainforest Different animals and plants live in different parts of the rainforest. Scientists divide the rainforest into strata (zones) based on the living environment. Starting at the top, the strata are:
EMERGENTS: Giant trees that are much higher than the average canopy height. It houses many birds and insects.
CANOPY: The upper parts of the trees. This leafy environment is full of life in a tropical rainforest and includes: insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, and more.
UNDERSTORY: A dark, cool environment under the leaves but over the ground.
FOREST FLOOR: Teeming with animal life, especially insects. The largest animals in the rainforest generally live here.
Animals that Live in Rainforests: Ridiculously huge numbers of animals live in rainforests, including microscopic animals, invertebrates (like insects and worms), fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. The different rainforests of the world support different populations of animals. A few animals from each rainforest are listed below:
Click on an animal or other rainforest topic for a printout or information on that animal: Rain Forest Animals Book A short book about rain forest animals to print (for early readers), with letters to fill in. There are pages on the morpho butterfly, toucan, anaconda, sloth, howler monkey, kinkajou, tarantula, piranha, capybara, poison arrow frog, and giant anteater.
AGOUTI The agouti is a large, short-tailed rodent from rainforests in the Americas.
ALLIGATOR Alligators are large reptiles. Primitive alligators evolved during the late Triassic period. AMPHIBIAN Amphibians (meaning "double life") are vertebrate animals that live in the water during their early life (breathing through gills), but usually live on land as adults (and breathe with lungs). There are three groups (orders) of amphibians: newts and salamanders; frogs and toads; and caecilians. Anaconda The biggest snake in the world.
BINTURONG A dark, furry mammal from rainforests of southeast Asia. BIRDS Many birds live in the canopy of rainforests. Birds have feathers and wings. Birds may be the descendants of theropod dinosaurs.
BONGO The bongo is a large, striped antelope from African forests.
BONOBO Bonobos are closely related to chimpanzees. They are very intelligent, peaceful primates.
BUTTERFLIES Butterflies are flying insects with two pairs of wings, a proboscis, and clubbed antennae. They belong to the Order Lepidoptera and the Family Rhopalocera. Many butterflies thrive in tropical rainforests.
CAIMAN The caiman is a widely distributed, medium-sized crocodilian. It is about 6.5-8 ft (2-2.5 m) long. The caiman is widely distributed in Central America and northern South America, ranging from southern Mexico to Peru and Brazil. The caiman is the most widely distributed of the New World crocodilians; it is found in almost all of the lowland wetlands and riverine habitats in its range. It prefers still, fresh water. Juveniles are yellow with black spots and bands; adults are a dull olive green to black with a paler belly. These carnivores eat fish (including piranha), amphibians, reptiles and water birds, using their 72-78 teeth. Females lay about many eggs in late summer in soil-and-vegetation nests. CAPYBARA The capybara is the world's largest rodent. It has no tail and partially-webbed feet. It lives on river banks.
CASSOWARY A huge, flightless bird from Australian rainforests. It has a helmet-like crest on its head.
CATERPILLAR A caterpillar is the larval stage of butterflies and moths. Caterpillars eat almost constantly and molt many times as they grow.
CHIMPANZEE Chimpanzees are very intelligent mammals (primates).
CHLAMYDOSAURUS Chlamydosaurus (meaning "caped lizard") is a rare, modern-day frilled lizard native to New Guinea and North Australia. Its frill is a 7-14 inch (18-34 cm) flap of skin that completely circles its head. It opens this brightly-colored frill to frighten enemies. Adults are over 8 inches (20 cm) long. These climbing lizards live in trees in humid forests and eat cicadas, ants, spiders and smaller lizards. It can run quadrupedally (on all four legs) and bipedally (with the front legs off the ground). Adult females lay 8 to 14 eggs per clutch in spring and summer. Classification: Class Reptilia, Order: Squamata, Family: Agamidae, Genus Chlamydosaurus, Species kingii (named by Gray in 1825).
COATI (pronounced ko-WAH-ti) Coati (also called coatimundi) are long-nosed, long-tailed mammals from the Americas.
COCKATOO Cockatoos are birds with a large, feathery crest and a hooked bill.
COYPU. Coypus (also called nutrias) are semi-aquatic rodents that are originally from South America
CROCODILIAN Crocodilians are the order of archosaurs that includes alligators, crocodiles, gavials, etc. They evolved during the late Triassic period and are a type of reptile.
CUCKOO The cuckoo is a bird whose call sounds like its name. Many cuckoos live in rainforest canopies throughout the world.
DODO The dodo is an extinct, flightless bird that lived on an island in the Indian Ocean near Africa. DRAGONFLY Dragonflies are primitive, flying insects that can hover in the air. They evolved during the Mississippian Period, about 360-325 mya. Huge dragonflies with wingspans up to 27.5 inches (70 cm) existed during the Mesozoic Era (when the dinosaurs lived).
ELECTRIC EEL A fish that can generate electricity, the electric eel lives in the Amazon River basin of South America. EMERALD TREE BOA The emerald tree boa, Corallus caninus, is a green snake with white bands. It grows to be up to 7.25 feet (2.2m) long. It lives in trees and shrubs near water (like swamps and marshes in rain forests) in the lower Amazon basin (in Brazil) and in Guyana and Suriname. This snake catches food with its long teeth then squeezes it. It eats birds and rodents. This snake is nocturnal (it is most active at night) and bears live young.
FOSSA The fossa is a meat-eating mammal from the island of Madagascar.
FRILLED LIZARD Chlamydosaurus (meaning "caped lizard") is a rare, modern-day frilled lizard native to New Guinea and North Australia. Its frill is a 7-14 inch (18-34 cm) flap of skin that completely circles its head. It opens this brightly-colored frill to frighten enemies. Adults are over 8 inches (20 cm) long. These climbing lizards live in trees in humid forests and eat cicadas, ants, spiders and smaller lizards. It can run quadrupedally (on all four legs) and bipedally (with the front legs off the ground). Adult females lay 8 to 14 eggs per clutch in spring and summer. Classification: Class Reptilia, Order: Squamata, Family: Agamidae, Genus Chlamydosaurus, Species kingii (named by Gray in 1825).
FROG Frogs are amphibians. They start out as gilled, swimming tadpoles, but grow to be air-breathing adults.
Fruit Bat Fruit bats are large bats that eat fruits and flowers.
GECKO Geckos are the only lizards that make noise. Some geckos live in rainforests.
GOLIATH BIRDWING BUTTERFLY The Goliath Birdwing (Ornithoptera goliath) is the second-largest butterfly in the world. This brightly-colored butterfly is poisonous and has a wingspan up to 11 inches (28 cm) wide. It has black, yellow and green wings and a yellow and black body. This butterfly in found in tropical forests in Indonesia. Family Papilionidae.
GORILLA Gorillas are large primates from Africa. They are in danger of extinction.
GRAY PARROT The African Gray Parrot is an intelligent, talkative bird from rainforests in Western and Central Africa.
GREATER APES The great apes (family Pongidae) include the gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans.
HARPY EAGLE The Harpy Eagle is one of the largest eagles in the world. It lives in rainforests of Central and South America.
HOWLER MONKEY The loudest monkey and the largest New World monkey. HUMAN BEING A human being is a mammal (a type of primate). Some people live in rainforests INSECTS Insects have an exoskeleton, a three-part body, and six legs. They evolved during the Silurian Period, 438 to 408 mya, long before dinosaurs existed. Insects are the most numerous animals in rainforests.
JAGUAR The jaguar is a large, spotted wild cat from South and Central America.
JULIA The Julia is a yellow-orange tropical butterfly from the Americas, about 3-4 inches wide. It belongs to the group of Heliconians, tropical butterflies that have a bad taste and smell, and a large head. The eggs are round. The pupa is angular. The Julia feeds on passion flowers (Passiflora). Julias are found from South and Central America to the southern USA.
KAKAPO A large, flightless, nocturnal, solitary parrot from New Zealand.
LIZARD There are 2,500 types of lizards, many of which live in rainforests around the world.
MAMMAL Mammals are warm-blooded animals with hair. They nourish their young with milk. Mammals evolved during the Triassic period. Many mammals live in rainforests, including gorillas, sloths, jaguars, and people.
MANDRILL Mandrills are large, brightly-colored monkeys.
MILLIPEDE Segmented plant-eaters with many, many legs.
MONARCH BUTTERFLY The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) is a common poisonous butterfly found worldwide. It eats milkweed in its larval stage and lays eggs on the poisonous milkweed plant. Monarchs have a wingspan of 3 3/8 - 4 7/8 inches (8.6 - 12.4 cm).
MONKEY There are two types of monkeys: Old World monkeys from Asia and Africa, and New World monkeys from the Americas.
Morpho Butterfly The Blue Morpho is a brilliant blue butterfly from rainforests of South and Central America.
MOSQUITO A small flying insect that is a carrier of disease.
MOTH Moths are winged insects that belong to the Order Lepidoptera. Moths have feathered antennae (not clubbed antennae, like butterflies), a frenulum or jugum, and are generally dull colored. There are over 100,000 moth species alive today.
MOUSE Mice are small rodents with long, hairless tails.
NUTRIA. Nutrias (also called coypus) are semi-aquatic rodents that are originally from South America
POISON ARROW FROG Poison arrow frogs are poisonous frogs from rainforests of South and Central America. Some South American Indians apply the poison to the tips of their hunting arrows and blow-gun darts. PRIMATE Primates are mammals that include monkeys, apes, lemurs (prosimians), and people. All primates have 5 fingers on each hand and 5 toes on each foot. They have color vision.
QUEEN ALEXANDRA'S BIRDWING BUTTERFLY Queen Alexandra's Birdwing is the biggest butterfly in the world, with a wingspan up to 1 ft (30 cm) wide. The female is brown with cream spots and larger than the male. The male is brown with blue and green markings; it has a bright yellow abdomen. The caterpillar is black with red tentacles, and with a cream-colored spot in the middle of its body. This rare butterfly is found in the lowland forests of northern Papua New Guinea (east of the Owen Stanley Mountains). QUETZAL A quetzal is a beautiful rain forest bird with very long tail feathers.
QUOLL The Quoll is a cat-sized carnivorous marsupial from the islands of Tasmania and Australia.
RED-EYED TREE FROG A small rainforest frog with bright red eyes. REPTILE Reptiles (meaning"to creep") are a group of animals that have scales (or modified scales), breathe air, and usually lay eggs. The term reptile is loosely defined in everyday English to mean scaly, cold-blooded, egg-laying animals. In cladistics (a way of classifying life forms), the reptiles are more strictly defined as: all the descendants of the most recent common ancestor of the turtles, lepidosaurs (lizards, snakes, tuataras), and archosaurs (crocodilians, dinosaurs, and birds). The maintenance of body temperature (cold- vs. warm-blooded) is not a factor in this classification, but skull and egg structure are.
SATURN BUTTERFLY The Saturn Butterfly (Zeuxidia amethystus) has a wingspan of about 3.9-4.3 inches (10-11cm) and lives in the shady forest understory. The female is paler than the male (above). The Saturn Butterfly is found in Malaysia, Borneo, the Philippines, Burma, and Sumatra. It was named by Butler in 1865. Classification: Family Nymphalidae (Subfamily Morphinae).
SCARLET MACAW A brilliantly-colored parrot from Central and South American rain forests.
SCORPION A venomous arachnid with a large stinger on its tail. Found worldwide except in Antarctica.
SIAMANG The siamang is a rare, black, long-armed ape, a type of gibbon. SKIPPER Skippers (family Hesperiidae) are drab-colored, moth-like butterflies that are distinguished by the hook at the end of their antennae (instead of a club, like other butterflies have). These antennae are also farther apart at the base than other butterflies. There are about 2,000 different species of Skippers. They fly in a darting fashion (hence their name) and hold their wings in a moth-like fashion when at rest. The Australian Skipper also has a humeral lobe (a frenulum-like projection on its hind wing which holds the forewings and hind wings together during flight).
SLOTH The sloth is a slow-moving mammal that lives in trees. Sloths spend most of their lives hanging upside-down from tree branches; they eat, sleep, mate, and give birth upside-down in the trees. They hold onto tree branches with strong, curved claws that are on each of their four feet. These plant-eaters are more active at night; they eat leaves, tender young shoots, and fruit. Sloths have a thick brown (and slightly-greenish) fur coat and are about the size of a cat (roughly 2 feet = 61 cm long). Their coloration and their slow actions make them almost disappear in the forest canopy. Some sloths have colonies of green algae encrusting their fur, both adding to the camouflage effect and providing some nutrients to the sloths, who lick the algae. These mostly-quiet mammals live in the tropical rainforests of South and Central America. Sloths may live 10-20 years in the wild. Sloths are hunted by jaguars, eagles, and man. Classification: Class Mammalia, Order Xenarthra, Family Bradypodidae and Megalonychidae.
SLUG The slug is an animal that lives in moist areas. SMALL-EARED ZORRO The small-eared zorro is a dog-like fox from South American rainforests.
SNAKE A snake is a reptile with no legs. Its skin is scaly. There are many snakes in rainforests.
SPECTACLED CAIMAN The Spectacled Caiman is a common meat-eating reptile from fresh water habitats in South and Central America.
SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY Swallowtail butterflies (family Papilionidae) are strong fliers with three fully developed pairs of legs. Many swallowtails have distinctive tailed wings (hence the family name). They lay spherical eggs. These butterflies are found from the tropics to more temperate regions.
SUGAR GLIDER This small marsupial (also known as the lesser flying phalanger) glides from tree to tree in Australia and nearby islands.
TAPIR A plant-eating, hoofed mammal with a small trunk.
TARSIER Tarsiers are small mammals with enormous eyes.
THREE-TOED SLOTH The sloth is a slow-moving mammal that lives hanging upside-down from trees.
TIGER Tigers are large, fierce Asian cats that have stripes. They live mostly in forests in India, Sumatra, Indochina, and Siberia. Tigers are threatened with extinction due to loss of habitat.
TOAD Toads are amphibians with poison glands. They usually have warty skin.
TOUCAN A South American rainforest bird with a huge, colorful beak.
TURTLE Turtles have a protective shell on their body. They are anapsids, having no extra holes in the sides of their heads. Turtles evolved during the late Triassic period, roughly 220 million years ago, about the same time the dinosaurs and mammals evolved. Proganochelys is the oldest known turtle.
UMBRELLABIRD A bird with a large tuft of feathers on its head.
WHITE-TAILED DEER The White-Tailed Deer is a shy, fast-moving plant-eater. XENOPS The Xenops is a rainforest bird from the Americas. ZODIAC MOTH The Zodiac moth (Alcides zodiaca) is a large moth that looks like a swallowtail butterfly (but like all moths, it rests with its wings outspread). Its rounded wings have large brown and cream/purple stripes. This moth lives in Australian tropical rainforests. It drinks flower nectar through its proboscis. The Zodiac moth is diurnal (most actice during the day). ZORRO The small-eared zorro is a dog-like fox from South American rainforests.