Earth's rainforests are rich in plant and animal life. In fact, the Amazon rainforest alone contains around 10 percent of all known species on earth. Plants and animals living in the rainforest must deal with a host of challenges, including competition for food, near-constant rainfall and the threat of predators. Luckily, rainforest inhabitants have developed adaptations to cope with these challenges. The specific adaptations of rainforest plants and animals depend on the species, with four species in particular standing out for their ability to thrive in such a volatile location.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Rainforest plants and animals have developed adaptations that help them to thrive. For example, some plants in soil that is low in nutrients have adapted to eat meat, while different animals have developed lethal poisons to ward off predators.
The pitcher plant (Nepenthes spp.) is native to the mountainous rainforests of Borneo. Like most pitcher plants, the splendid pitcher plant grows as a vine, which bears purplish-red pitchers. These pitchers look like tall cups with open mouths at the top, and can reach heights of close to a foot.
Most plants get all of their nutrition from soil and sunlight, but rainforest soil is often low in nutrients, due to all of the plant life already growing there and the abundance of fungus that eats organic matter before it can be absorbed into the soil. Rainforest soil also tends to be loose, and small plants can be easily washed away by the near-constant rainfall. To compensate for these issues, the pitcher plant has evolved to eat meat. This makes it one of the few carnivorous plants in the world.
The pitcher plant lures insects and other small animals, such as frogs, with a combination of enticing colors and scents. The lip of the pitcher plant's "mouth" is slippery, causing prey to fall inside, if they come too close. At the bottom of the pitcher is a puddle of sticky digestive juices; prey that falls into the pitcher plant is trapped and digested, providing the pitcher plant with the nutrients that are lacking in the soil.
Silver Vase Plant
Also known as the urn plant, the silver vase plant (Aechmea fasciata) is native to the rainforests of Brazil. This beautiful plant features long, striped green leaves and bright pink flowers. Like the splendid pitcher plant, the silver vase plant has developed a unique adaptation to deal with the low-nutrient soil in the rainforest. They go without soil altogether.
Silver vase plants only use their roots to anchor themselves to trees, rocks, logs or other objects. These plants feed by drawing moisture from the air and digesting decaying matter such as fallen leaves or chips of wood that fall into their upturned leaves and petals. The silver vase plant has adapted to take advantage of the rainforest's heavy rainfall, by catching water in its leaves and petals, and growing in a rosette shape, which draws water down into its body.
Golden Poison Frog
The bright yellow golden poison frog is native to the rainforests of Colombia. This tiny frog is only about 2 inches long when fully grown. Yet it is the single most poisonous animal on earth. The golden poison frog secretes its poison via special glands in its skin. A single drop of this poison is powerful enough to kill 10 fully grown people.
Golden poison frogs are not venomous, the way spiders and some snakes are. Venomous animals have specific ways of delivering venom on target, such as biting with fangs, while poisonous animals, such as the golden poison frog, do not. This means that golden poison frogs cannot use their poison to hunt, although that hasn't stopped others from using this frog's poison to do so. People living in and around the rainforests of Colombia often tip their hunting arrows in the poison of the golden poison frog to help bring down large prey.
For the golden poison frog, the poison serves a different purpose: defense. If a predator licks or bites a golden poison frog, the predator will likely die. The golden poison frog developed its bright yellow color to signal this danger to predators, ensuring that most stay away.
Amazingly, the golden poison frog's lethal poison is the result of toxins in the plants it eats. Golden poison frogs raised in captivity, from birth, never develop poison. By adapting to turn its food into the ultimate defense, the tiny golden poison frog has found a way to outwit the multitude of predators that share its rainforest habitat.
Green Anaconda Snake
Native to the rainforests of South America, the green anaconda is the longest and heaviest wild snake in the world, reaching lengths of up to 17 feet and in many cases, weights of up to 1,100 pounds. Like all rainforest predators, anacondas face fierce competition for food. These snakes adapted by becoming large enough to bring down hefty prey, such as tapirs and deer. Not many animals in the rainforest are large enough to go after such prey.
Green anacondas can also survive for long periods of time without eating. Because it does not have to eat as often as many other rainforest predators, the green anaconda can survive in conditions that could cause other predators to starve.
- BBC Earth: Poison Dart Frogs Are the Most Poisonous Animals Alive
- National Geographic: The Living, Breathing World of Borneo's Carnivorous Pitcher Plants
- Smithsonian's National Zoo: Green Anaconda
- NBC News: A Few Tree Species Dominate Diverse Amazon Rain Forest
- Encyclopedia of Life: Nepenthes Edwardsiana Pitcher Plant
About the Author
Maria Cook is a freelance and fiction writer from Indianapolis, Indiana. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Butler University in Indianapolis. She has written about science as it relates to eco-friendly practices, conservation and the environment for Green Matters.