National Geographic: Rain Forest


Millions of years ago,

before man, before the ice ages,

when the world was warm and humid,

forests like these covered

much of the earth.

And it was here,

rough eons of geological time,

that a profusion of life evolved.

The remnants of

those primordial jungles

are the rain forests of today.

They are home to half of

all the animal species on earth.

Yet, in the shady depths

of the forest,

there is seldom more than a

fleeting glimpse of this abundance.

When they are seen,

the animals are often revealed

as strange

and splendid examples of

natural perfection and adaptation.

Myriad in their diversity

and sometimes bizarre in form,

these creatures give

the somber forest

a special mystery and splendor.

Endless rains and high temperatures

create the steamy atmosphere

in which rain forests thrive.

These conditions occur now only in

a narrow belt around the equator

where forests blanket some

three million square miles

of the earth's tropics.

Within this belt

lies the small Central American

country of Costa Rica,

which possesses one of the richest

natural endowments on earth.

When Christopher Columbus landed

here in 1502,

he found a mountainous land

of rivers

and forests like those he'd seen

ten years earlier in Hispaniola.

Then, in what is perhaps the first

description ever of a rain forest,

Columbus wrote:

"Its lands... are most beautiful...

and filled with trees of

a thousand kinds and tall,

and they seem to touch the sky;

and I am told that

they never lose their foliage,

as I can understand,

for I saw them as green

and as lovely as they are

in Spain in May..."

But it was partly from

the early explorers

that some popular misconceptions


For many, the first glimpse

of a rain forest

was from the rivers

that flowed through them.

The forests seemed impenetrable-

a tangled mass of undergrowth


which a man could only hack

a path with difficulty.

But in reality,

the dim interior is more open

and usually easy to move about in.

Little light penetrates

the dense canopy

and so undergrowth is sparse.

Only a thin layer of leaves

covers the ground.

A coral snake searches

for a place to drink

and finds enough rainwater

in a curled leaf.

The bright bands of color warn

predators that it's poisonous.

Below this thin layer of leaves

lies the forest soil and a paradox.

For the luxuriant vegetation

of a rain forest

is often based

on impoverished soil.

The explanation lies in the way

the forest recycles its nutrients.

Dead trees and fallen leaves rot


and their nutrients are rapidly

reabsorbed by fungi

and tiny roots near the surface.

The entire system is so efficient

that little is lost,

and fully 95 percent

of the rain forest's nutrients

are held in the living vegetation,

hardly any in the soil.

To shed its old skin,

the coral snake rubs its body

against rough surfaces

in the leaf litter.

A male poison-arrow frog is

courting a female.

With his monotonous song,

he will try to entice her

to follow him under a leaf

where they'll mate.

The male leads the way.

She follows. Within the shelter

of a curled leaf,

she'll lay her eggs,

and the male will fertilize them.

She has produced five eggs

in a cluster of jelly

and will stay nearby

until they're ready to hatch.

Workers from a colony

of leaf-cutting ants

are harvesting leaves to

take back to their nests.

With their scissor like jaws,

they easily cut the leaves

to manageable size.

But some skill is needed

for the next stage

when the leaf is hoisted into

position for the journey ahead.

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    "National Geographic: Rain Forest" STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 31 Jul 2021. <>.

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