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Some Ways Plants and Animals Adapt in Tropical Rainforests

Angela, an animal lover, has a passion for learning and understanding God's creatures. As a born teacher, she enjoys sharing her knowledge.

A rainforest is a lovely place due to its abundance of plants and animals. Half of all animal and plant species known to man live within the tropical region. It is home to so many animals, plants, and trees, but it is also essential to the functioning of our world. Rainforests regulate the rain patterns for the rest of the world, which is one of the most important reasons why a lot of effort is put into saving the rainforest. Due to the unique climate, animals and plants have adapted to survive.

Adaptations of Roots

Shallow Roots

The rainforest soil does not have very many nutrients like the soil in other parts of the world. In tropical regions, most nutrients are in the ground near the surface, which is why many plants that live here have very shallow roots, like the liana pictured to the right. Regardless of where they grow, many trees root themselves deep into the soil to stay tall and strong. These trees are essential to the rainforest because they allow for plants and trees that do not root deeply to remain sheltered, stabilized, and secured.

Above-Ground Roots

Due to the lack of nutrients deep in the ground, some trees like the mangrove will develop differently. The mangrove roots grow quickly, much faster than the rest of the tree. Although instead of reaching deep into the soil, many of the roots will be above ground. These kinds of roots are called props or stilt roots. It must grow quickly since it does not receive stabilization from burrowing deep into the soil. The mangrove root can grow as quickly as 28 inches in a month. That is more than two feet in one month and almost an inch a day!

Roots Winding Around Other Trees

Although their color and texture are much like a tree, Lianas are vines. They only survive because they wind themselves around neighboring trees to reach sunlight, which allows them to get the needed sunlight and gives these trees support due to their shallow roots. Without the support of a more solid structure, strong wind or heavy rainfall could uproot it. These plants can grow as tall as 3,000 feet. That is more than a half-mile long!

How Trees Adapt in Rainforests

Because the rainforest has a unique atmosphere, the trees develop differently than those that live in more temperate climates. Most places in the US and Europe have trees that have thick rough bark with several branches starting low on the trunk. They need the rough bark to retain moisture due to the dry air and prevent freezing during cold winters. The branches allow the tree to soak up as much moisture and sunlight as possible.

Thin, Tall, Smooth Trees

Where moisture is thick, and temperatures are high, trees do not need this hard covering; therefore, tropical trees have much thinner, smoother bark. Since these trees do not expend their energy developing branches to soak up sunlight and moisture, they grow very tall with little to no branches lower down on the trees.

Waxy, Spout-Like Leaves

Their leaves are also shaped differently since fungi and bacteria grow very well in these warm, humid environments. The leaves are very waxy, growing so that water falls off them much like a spout or drip tip, which prevents the growth of fungi or other bacteria on the tree to protect themselves.

Flowers With Toxic Chemicals

They also protect themselves very well from intrusive insects. Many tropical trees have beautiful flowers that produce a toxic chemical that kills invading insects. Vaccines and medicines against rare diseases contain these chemicals.

Animal Adaptions

A Beak That Cools

Animals have also adapted to the rainforest. One very notable change was within the toucan. They have enormous beaks, which serve as a way to cool down. Since their beak is full of blood vessels, it cools down as blood flows into the beak and then returns to the body, which prevents the toucan from overheating by reducing its temperature by 60 percent. Most birds in tropical regions have larger beaks, while those in colder climates have cute small beaks that won't lose as much heat.

Unique Eating Systems

To consume the assortment of food in the rainforest, many animals developed unique ways to eat. For example, many birds in the rainforest, like parrots, have strong, large beaks that can crush the extra thick shells of nuts. While other animals who live on insects have developed other traits, the anteater has a proboscis-like tongue and can reach into every corner of an insect settlement. Even the insects they eat have developed specialized skills to improve their ability to consume food. Insects in the rainforest are typically stronger than other bugs across the world. Many tropical ant species can carry objects over 50 times their weight, which allows them to carry leaves and small fruit.

Alarm Systems

Poisonous animals like the poison arrow frog are brightly colored, alerting other animals to stay away. If eaten, their skin is poisonous, and the animal who consumes them will die.

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Good Swimmers and Tree Dwellers

The Jaguar is a big predatory cat that tends to stalk prey from trees. It is an excellent tree climber and surprisingly a good swimmer, making it one of the few cats that enjoy the water, although it spends most of its time in trees, hunting for prey, or lazing around. If the rainforest floor floods, they can spend months in the trees, which is one reason it helps that they are smaller than most big cats. Aside from larger prey, they will eat turtles, birds, and reptiles. Since they can swim, this has allowed them to have a broader food selection.

Good Climbers

Another animal often found in the trees is the spider monkey. Its tail is more like a hand than any other monkey, allowing them to hold onto branches while it picks fruit. Their arms are also quite long and will enable them to swing from limb to limb, covering as far as forty feet with one arm swing. They prefer to be away from all other activities; therefore, they rarely come to the ground.


Stick insects are unique tropical bugs that predators often overlook because it resembles a stick. Chameleons are also excellent hiders since they can change color to match their surroundings.

Even larger animals use camouflage as their primary means of protection in the tropics. The three-toed sloth moves seldom, and when it does, it moves so slowly it seems to be part of the tree. Since they do not move much, green algae begin to grow on them, which only helps with their disguise. The Amazon Horned Frog looks like a leaf. Instead of protecting itself from its prey, it uses its ability to hide until it's ready to catch its dinner.

Toucans also blend in very well with their surroundings due to their coloring. The most natural place to hide in the rainforest is holes in a tree. Despite the toucans' large size, they can make themselves smaller by crouching into a feathery ball.

Smaller Plants in Rainforests

Plants That Grow on Trees

Rain forests are rich in vegetation, despite the many harms that can befall a plant in the rainforest, such as mold, soil low in nutrients, and a shaded forest floor. Due to this, many plants grow on trees. This type of plant is called an epiphyte or air plant, which allows them to have more sunlight than they would if they grew on the ground. Some common epiphytes are orchids, cacti, and bromeliads. Other small plants that often grow on trees are called epiphyllous. These more specifically grow on the tree's leaves, including moss, lichen, and liverworts.

Large Leaves Survive in Shade

Although not all the plants live in the trees, some have developed adaptations that have allowed them to live on the tropical floor. These plants grow huge leaves. With large leaves, they can absorb sunlight, even in a more shaded area.

Despite the rich vegetation and animal life found in the rainforest, many adaptations have had to occur to allow these species to remain alive. In the rainforest, it rains anywhere from 50-260 inches per year, which means that the trees and plants need to be able to survive with excess water. The animals that live there also have evolved some of their traits to handle the tropical climate better.

© 2014 Angela Michelle Schultz


George on June 07, 2017:

The toucan was nice

William Lin on April 22, 2017:

This very helpful to me good luck.

Dianna Mendez on January 13, 2014:

Your article is stimulating and so informative. I believe that humans affect the climate with their actions, some good and some bad results. Still, our creator is the one who oversees it all.

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