What are rainforest habitats?
Rainforests are a kind of forest habitat. They are found in warm places, and are full of many tall trees and leafy plants. It’s called ‘rainforest’ because it also gets a lot of rain every year, helping all the plants grow.
Because rainforests are warm, wet and dense, they are full of life – millions of different kinds of plants and animals live there, and some haven’t even been discovered yet! It’s important to protect rainforest habitats for all the creatures who live there, and for humans too; rainforests produce 20% of the oxygen that all of us in the world need to breathe.
Top 10 facts
- Rainforest habitats are forests located around the tropics, which is a zone around the equator.
- Rainforests are different from other forests in the world because they get a lot of rain every year – this makes them damp and humid.
- There are five main spots where rainforest habitats are located – Africa, Asia, Australia, Central America and South America.
- The largest rainforest habitat in the world is the Amazon rainforest in South America.
- Rainforests are full of millions of different kinds of plants, animals and insects – some haven’t even been discovered yet!
- About 80% of life in the rainforest can be found in the canopy, which is where the branches and leaves of most of the trees join up to form a kind of umbrella.
- Other layers of the rainforest are emergents, which are trees that grow a bit taller than the canopy; the understory, which is the bit just below the canopy; then shrubs below that; then the ground.
- Animals and reptiles move around the canopy by flying, jumping, swinging on vines and gliding.
- We depend on rainforests because they are so full of life, and all the plants and trees produce around 20% of the oxygen in the world that we need to breathe.
- There are many things threatening rainforests and actually making them smaller rather than growing larger. It’s important to protect these habitats by caring for the environment.
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Did you know?
- Rainforest habitats can be found near the very middle of the Earth – around the equator. This is also called the tropics, and temperatures never get down to freezing there.
- Rainforests get a lot of rain – at least 200cm every year, and sometimes a lot more than that!
- The Amazon rainforest in South America is the largest rainforest habitat in the world. The Amazon rainforest reaches over many countries, but most of it is in Brazil.
- Other rainforests in the world are in Africa (mostly in the Congo), Asia (mostly in Indonesia), Australia and Central America.
- Scientists think that over half of all the plant and animal species in the whole world live in rainforest habitats.
- Most of the creatures who live in rainforest habitats actually live high up in the trees in an area called the canopy. Up there, it’s hot and dry, while the ground in the rainforest is dark and humid.
- Living in the canopy means you can’t see a lot of what’s going on – there are a lot of leaves in the way. So, some animals rely on sound: they call to each other, and can recognise when another of their species is calling back.
- Even though most creatures prefer living in the canopy, it’s not right for everything. Larger animals live on the ground layer, like tapirs, jaguars, and even elephants. Can you imagine an elephant jumping around in the tops of trees?!
- We get so many things from rainforests. How many of these do you have in your home right now?
- About 25% of the medicines we use come from plants in the rainforest. We only know a little bit about the natural medicines that the rainforest holds.
Have a look through the gallery and see if you can spot all of the following:
- A map showing where you can find most of the world’s rainforests
- A map showing where the Amazon rainforest is in South America
- A diagram of the layers of a rainforest
- Mollem National Park in Goa, India
- A waterfall in the rainforest
- Boa constrictor
- Poison dart frog
- Long horned beetle
- Lianas (vines) in the rainforest
- Cacao tree
Tropical rainforests are found in the hottest parts of the globe: northeast Australia, Amazonia, Central America, Africa, Southeast Asia and New Guinea.
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.
In the rainforest, plants grow fast because it is always warm and there is plenty of water. Hardwood, tall trees like mahogany, rosewood and ebony thrive and lots of smaller plants grow on them like creepers, trying to get some sunlight. Leaves and fruits are produced year-round in the rainforest, which makes it a wonderful place for animals.
Teeming with plant and animal life, the rainforest is the richest ecosystem on Earth.
The rainforest habitat has lots of layers:
- 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 / forest roof – 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; emergents can be seen 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
Just for fun...
- Work out where different animals live in rainforest habitats, and learn how chocolate and bananas travel from rainforests to us
- Print off and colour in these pictures of rainforest plants and animals
- Play Jungle Rangers online
- Explore an Australian rainforest from your home
- Make your own rainforest diorama
- Complete some rainforest activity sheets
Best rainforest books for children
Find out more:
- Watch a BBC Bitesize introduction to rainforest habitats
- Tropical rainforests
- See an annotated guide to the Amazon rainforest
- The National Geographic guide to rainforests
- Discover the rainforest's different layers
- Rainforest animals
- Rainforest Alliance: virtual rainforest visits
- Fascinating facts about the Amazon for kids
- Tropical v temperate rainforests
- Download a fantastic Rainforest Activity Pack from the Rainforest Foundation UK
- Download rainforest maps and rainforest diagrams
- Watch a group of young explorers from the UK visit the rainforest
- Find out about animals who live in rainforest habitats
See for yourself
- Visit a virtual rainforest in Panama from your computer: listen to the animals and explore the lush green plants
- Read about the tropical rainforest biome and see videos of it
- Rainforests are noisy places – which animals make the most noise?
- Learn about the different layers of the rainforest in a DKfindout! guide