With warm temperatures, water and an abundance of food, tropical rain forests support thousands of wildlife species. The competition means organisms must adapt or develop specialized traits to compete for environmental resources. Many rain forest animals use adaptations to carve out their own niches and protect themselves from predators.
Being invisible to a predator or to prey is an advantage in the tropical rain forest. One animal -- the tree sloth -- combines expert cover with slow-motion movement to dodge predators such as the jaguar. A sloth's fur is covered with green algae so it blends with the environment. It is the world's slowest moving animal and takes up to a month to digest its food, so it doesn't need many resources to survive. The boa constrictor uses its camouflaged invisibility to sneak up on prey, while tiny rain forest grasshoppers have developed near-transparent coloring to blend in with leaves.
Prime Real Estate
The ground floor and lower canopies of the rain forest bustle with wildlife. The aptly name spider monkeys adapted to live at the top of the tree canopy where they have little competition for food, and the spider monkey's prehensile tail gives it the ability to swing gracefully from tree to tree.
Some animals in the rain forest have adapted to a limited diet so they don't face competition for food. Toucans snag hard-to-reach fruit -- inaccessible to other feathered flyers -- with their long, narrow beaks. Parrots have incredibly sturdy bills to crack nuts and dig out hidden food. Leaf cutter ants put in a hard day's work for a meal. They carry bits of leaves 50 times their weight from high branches to the ground. They bury the leaves and eat the fungus that grows as the plant matter decomposes.
If a sign next to a cake said, "This dessert was made with Brussels sprouts," you probably wouldn't take a slice. Some rain forest animals use a similar ploy to convince predators they aren't worth eating. Poison dart frogs have brightly colored skin to warn predators that they would make a deadly meal, although some species of dart frogs aren't poisonous at all; they adapted to mimic their relatives' poisonous nature.
Size and Stature
Large animals, like lions and elephants, live on the plains for good reason. Size is no advantage in the rain forest where a dense understory makes movement difficult. Jaguars adapted with a small but stocky build that makes them speedy hunters and small enough to sleep in trees.
Creatures of the Night
When the sun goes down, some animals bed down. Others -- including the flying fox bat, the leopard cat and Wallace's flying frog -- are bright-eyed and on the lookout for a meal. The adaptation to night hunting gives nocturnal animals the benefit of reduced competition for food.