A primary tropical rainforest is commonly segmented into three levels: the canopy, the understory and the forest floor.

The canopy is the highest of the three levels, and it is perhaps the most exciting, considering the wildlife which resides there. Normally, vegetation is very dense and is comprised of treetops, vines and other epiphytic plants all competing for sunlight.  Most species of New World monkeys are found primarily in the canopy of the Central and South American rainforests, along with sloths, and the beautiful Scarlet Macaw, and toucans.

The understory of the forest includes the trunks and small branches of trees, and all the plants found in between the ground and the sun drenched treetops.  The lower segments of vines, or lianas (sometimes as thick as a human thigh!), are found hanging throughout the understory along with thousands of other epiphytes which cling to the vines, branches and tree trunks.  At night the understory is alive with bats (the most common mammal in the rainforest!) hunting for insects and fruit.

The forest floor is the lowest of the three levels, and it is home to massive tree roots and buttresses, ferns, and other land plants, like the Heliconia.  It is here that you might be able find the largest animals of the New World tropical rainforests, the Tapir (a relative to the horse) and large cats like the Jaguar prowling around.

Did you know that it may take up to TEN minutes for rain to reach the rainforest floor? 

You may hear it start to rain, but the actual raindrops have a very long journey through the thick canopy. But once it breaks through, prepare to get SOAKED!!!  

photos M. Noonan


CAC is a program of the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.