Tropical Rain Forest
- LESSON -
El Yunque is the local name for The Caribbean National Forest in Puerto Rico.
A tropical rain forest is found in warm climates in the tropics close to the equator. There are many tropical rain forests around the world. El Yunque is the only Tropical Rain Forest in the United State's National Forest System.
A rain forest is a quiet place. The ground is wet and muddy and is shaded by tall trees. The trees have huge trunks with small plants growing on them. There are vines hanging from their branches. There are small insects flying amidst the rain, fog, or mist. On the trees you might see colorful birds, and butterflies. Many other animals hide in the branches and even under leaves on the ground. The abundant rainfall is shed through rocky rivers creating many cascades of waterfalls and pools. Everywhere you look, is green. Orchids (some only the size of a fingernail) and bromeliads perch in the trees.
"Yuke" means white lands and refers to the mountain tops usually covered by clouds. The Taíno Indians of Puerto Rico considered their mountain range sacred. Taíno petroglyphs are sprinkled throughout the sacred Luquillo mountain range. El Toro, at 3533 Ft is the tallest peak.
Up to 240 inches of rain per year have been recorded on the higher peaks. More than 100 billion gallons of rainwater fall on the Forest per year. Here it rains about 4 times a day. The result of such heavy rainfall and the warm tropical climate is a dense evergreen forest containing 240 native tree species (26 found only at El Yunque), and masses of vines, 50 native orchids, epiphytes, giant ferns, and mosses. Air plants such as orchids, grow on the trunks and branches of the trees. Woody air plant vines called, lianas, hang from and often wrap around tree trunks and limbs.
The roots of rain forest trees do not go down very deep, so they can take up only water and food found near the top of the soil. The thick parts on the tree trunks are called buttresses keep the large trees from falling over.
The top layer of a tropical rain forests is called the canopy. The canopy is the tops of the trees which are the branches and leaves. Many rain forest animals live in the canopy. Below the canopy is the layer called the understory. This layer is made up mostly of tree trunks, young trees and air plants. The bottom layer of the forest is called the forest floor. The forest floor has few plants growing because the soil is very thin. It is made up mostly of dead plant parts, fallen tree trunks covered in with moss, ferns, and fungi.
The rain forest is home to many species of animals. Frogs and spiders hide under leaves. Ants, spiders, beetles, and even termites live under tree bark or in the soil. Snakes slither along the ground or wind around tree branches. Rodents and other small animals abound. Here you can find snails with shells as big as a child's fist. At night the forest comes alive. Millions of insects fill the air. Moths suck nectar from flowers, bats fly out of their nesting place to feed. Millions of coquíes climb tree branches to feed on the insects. The forest is lit by thousands of cucubanos. Bats and owls fly from their nests.
At El Yunque there 50 species of birds, 11 species of bats, 8 species of lizards, and 13 species of coquí (a tree frog). Also found here are several species of shrimp and fish. Snakes are rare. The Puerto Rican Boa, which can reach a length of 90 inches, can be found. El Yunque is a small rain forest and there are no large primates such as gorillas or monkeys. There are no wild pigs or alligators.
The Puerto Rican parrot is a small amazon parrot, about 11 inches in length and weighing about 10 ounces. Its tail is a short and squared-off, as opposed to the long, pointed tail of a parakeet. The overall color of the Puerto Rican parrot is green. The wing tips are blue and usually are visible only when the bird is in flight. It has a white ring around the eyes and a red blaze above its beak.
"Higuaca" is the name given by the Taíno Indians to the native parrot. The parrots are usually heard before they are seen as they emit loud repetitive bugle-like call when they fly. The Puerto Rican parrot is the only endemic or native parrot in Puerto Rico. One of the rarest birds in the world.
Tropical rain forests provides us with beautiful woods such as mahogany, teak, and rosewood. At El Yunque, majestic tabonuco trees drape the lower forest while giant tree ferns fan in the wind. Rain forests are also important for the environment by taking large amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air and giving us fresher cleaner air.
El Yunque Tropical Rain Forest is in danger of being destroyed. Too many trees have been cut. Civilization is getting too close to the forest. When the forest disappears the animals that live there will also disappear.
* Recommended reading "El Yunque" Exploring the rain forest of Puerto Rico. Written and Illustrated by: Lisa Johnson Vargas, Editorial Cordillera, Inc. This is a neat bilingual book (2 columns English and Spanish side by side) - a beautiful descriptive narrative our Puerto Rico's rain forest.
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