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Tropical Rain Forests
Rain forests were once thought to be little more than bothersome encumbrances to exploration and civilized development. This is no longer the case. Today people throughout the world are beginning to realize that a rich variety of plants and animals are sheltered in the rain forests. Like a desert, a tropical rain forest is a biome with its own unique climate, plants, and animals.
Trees that grow up to 150 feet in height form a canopy that holds most of the food sources for the animals that live in them. Tropical mammals who live at these heights have learned a variety of ways to move about. Gibbons and spider monkeys swing from branch to branch while other animals make stupendous leaps from one tree to another. For extra stability, tropical porcupines and monkeys wrap their tails around branches.
Sandwiched between the forest floor and the treetops is a layer of natural growth called the understory. The dim light at this level has been filtered through the forest’s canopy. Here thin-trunked trees sprout leaves that look like partially closed umbrellas which have been bent to catch the scarce sunlight. Leaf-eating animals forage on these lush, leafy trees. The trees also attract insect-eating birds that travel the tree trunks and ferret out the insects that are dining on the rotting wood.
The cool, dank forest floor is blanketed with moss and wet leaves. Only 1 percent of the sunlight shining on the canopy reaches the ground. The luxuriant vegetation includes rare and strange flowers and other plants, many of which have medicinal value. Two-thirds of the medicines used today were first made from rain forest plants. Many animals lay hidden among the layers of leaves and moss. A close look reveals the natural camouflage that helps conceal them. A leopard’s dappled coat keeps it well hidden in the shadows, while the leafy-looking shell of a matamata turtle blends in with dead leaves floating down a stream.
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