Rainforests are forests that experience a high level of rainfall.
Scientists believe that there may be millions of plant and insect species in rainforests that have yet to be discovered.
Over 25% of natural medicines have been discovered in rainforests.
Rainforests used to cover 14% of the Earth’s surface but due to deforestation now only cover around 6%.
A wide variety of animals live in rainforests, including birds, snakes, insects, jaguars, cougars, chameleons, turtles, frogs, and many more.
There are two types of rainforest, temperate and tropical.
Temperate rainforests lie in the temperate zones (between the tropics and the polar circles) of the globe. They are found in a few regions scattered around the world such as western North America, south-eastern Australia and New Zealand.
Tropical rainforests lie in the tropics (around 28 degrees north or south of the equator). They are found in many areas near the equator such as Asia, Africa, Central America and the Pacific Islands.
The Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world. Read more Amazon rainforest facts.
A number of tribes in areas such as central Africa and Brazil still live in rainforests, having no contact with the outside world.
There are a few rainforests in cooler parts of the world called temperate rainforests. Temperate rainforests still get a lot of rain, but because they aren’t as warm so there aren’t as many plants. Most trees in temperate rainforests will also have needle leaves instead of broad leaves. Temperate rainforests are located along the northwest coast of North America, and in parts of Chile, New Zealand and Australia.
Layers of the rainforest are:
- Forest floor – the ground of the rainforest, with soil and fallen trees and leaves
- Shrub layer – includes shorter plants like shrubs and young tree saplings growing above the ground layer, competing to get the most sunlight and food
- Understory – a layer just below the canopy that includes ferns and vines that start growing above the ground, on trees; this gives them an advantage over plants that start growing on the ground because they have that little bit more sunlight
- Canopy – the top layer of the rainforest where most of the trees have stopped growing, and where 80% of life in rainforest habitats can be found; it can be as high as 100 metres above the ground
- Emergents – describes anything that grows above the canopy, you can see emergents poking out on top of the canopy layer
Animals and reptiles that live in rainforest habitats include:
- boa constrictor
- forest elephant
- giant anteater
- poison dart frog
- spider monkey
- tree frog
Insects and bugs that live in rainforest habitats include:
- clear winged butterfly
- goliath bird eater spider
- leaf insect
- leafcutter ant
- long-horned beetle
Trees and plants that you can find in rainforests include:
- cacao tree (where we get chocolate from!)
- carnivorous plants (plants that eat insects!)
- lianas (vines)
- rubber tree
Rainforest habitats are getting smaller. This is because forests are being destroyed because of mining, cutting down trees to use the wood to make things, building roads and making space for farmland. All those animals and insects who used to live in those bits of rainforest that have been destroyed have had to find new homes, or have died. The plants that used to be there are gone.
We need rainforests because all those trees and plants produce around 20% of the oxygen that we need to breathe. The trees also absorb carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas that the Earth has too much of at the moment. It’s making the planet temperatures get warmer, which is affecting many other habitats around the world. So, it’s very important that we help keep rainforest habitats healthy and growing by caring for the environment and not cutting down any more rainforest trees.
Words to know:
Canopy – the top layer in the rainforest where most of the tree branches and leaves join up to form an umbrella; most life in the rainforest lives up in the canopy
Epiphytes – a plant that grows on another plant; some plants in the understory are epiphytes because they start growing on tree trunks rather than starting on the forest floor, where there’s not much light
Forest floor – the rainforest ground, which is damp and humid; where larger animals live
Understory – the bit just below the canopy where some plants grow and where animals who live in the canopy may look for food, and where most birds have their nests