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by Timothy, Gr. 5, Cyberstories Editor
As my brother, my sister, and I tore open our Christmas presents, we found plane tickets to Costa Rica to visit the rainforest for New Years Week of 1998. I wasnt very excited, because I was worried about botflies that live in the rainforest. Ill tell you more about botflies later. First, lets find out about the rainforest.
First of all, what is it and where is it? There are five different rainforests in the world located in five different places. The biggest one is the Amazon rainforest in South America. The Amazon is 1,370 million acres. All of the rainforests are all located within the tropics, which are between the two latitudes that are on either side of the equator. Sometimes, there are 1,500 different trees in an acre of rainforest! There are five layers in the rainforest each with its own habitat where different kinds of plant and animals live. Almost 200 feet in the air is the highest layer called the emergent layer where the high flying birds and howler monkeys live. Almost 200 feet in the air is the highest layer, called the emergent layer, where the high flying birds and howler monkeys live. Next down at 130 to 65 feet, is the canopy layer where the liana vines hang down from the sky to collect water either from the ground or from cylinder-shaped plants called bromeliads. The canopy layer blocks 98% of the sunlight from reaching the plants below, but rain can still get through this leafy layer by trickling down the tree trunks. The scarlet macaws like to fly around here and the sloth, the slowest mammal on earth, which can move only 2 to 4 feet a minute, like to live here. Next stop at 65 to 30 feet, is the understory, where monkeys usually sleep and trees block the wind. Falling into the shrub layer already at 30 to 15 feet, you'll see lots of baby trees growing. Anxious to be on the forest floor at 15 to 0 feet, the underbrush is scarce because of such little light getting through. If you're lucky, you might see a hunting jaguar!
On our first day in Costa Rica, we saw iguanas walking around our hotel pool. There were lots of lizards in Costa Rica: big, small, red, gray- you name it, theyve got it! So dont go there if you cant stand lizards. The green iguana is five feet world record long. The older ones eat plants, and the young eat insects and small animals. It lives along rivers and lakes in Mexico to lower South America. It is captured and bred by smugglers who steal their eggs and smuggle them through Belize to sell in pet stores in Mexico and the U. S.and then released in Belize.
One afternoon my parents took us on a long bumpy road to spend the night up in the treetops! I was going to zip-line through the rain forest! Zip-lining is a way to travel through the sky without being in an airplane. First, you put on a lot of gear like a leg harness, a stomach harness, a head strap flashlight, and some gloves. Thats when we met our three guides for the first time: Guanaleese, Chema and Emilio. They showed us a case full of bugs that were found in the rain forestsome of them were the size of my hand!
There are many insects in the rain forest such as the blue morpho butterfly, the Goliath bird-eating spider, the leaf cutter ant, the rhinoceros beetle, and the botfly. The blue morpho butterfly has wings that are blue on top and brown on the bottom. Scientists have found these butterflies that are as big as their hand or as small as tiny moths. The Goliath bird-eating spider is a tarantula-- the spider that preys mainly on young birds. The rhinoceros beetle is named for a horn the males have. Females dont have horns. The botfly lays its eggs on the beak of a mosquito. When the mosquito bites you it leaves the egg inside of your skin to hatch. I was glad that I did not get bitten by a botfly!
Our guide said we had the perfect night to go up in the trees because we had a full moon so we could see and a strong wind so the bugs would stay away. I sure hoped he was right about those bugs! Once we were dressed, we began our adventure by hiking into the rainforest. When I went into the rainforest I saw a lot of leaves but I hardly saw any animals because they were hidden. They were all around us, actually! We came across some leaf cutter ants carrying little pieces of green leaves. Guanaleese explained that leaf cutter ants harvest leaves by taking them into their holes where they chew them into mush, add fungi spores, and grow a kind of fungi never found any were else in the world but their nest. Thats their food. He said that only some ants could mark the path with their smell from smell glands. He warned us that if you smear their path by stepping on some ants that are following each other, the smell that marks the whole path might get lost, and the whole colony may lose their way.
We hiked to a canoe tree, which was 20 feet wide. A canoe tree is hollow inside. The Costa Rican natives named it a canoe tree, because they could cut it in half and make canoes. The tree we climbed up was so big it should have been called a cruise ship tree! The guides hooked me up to a wire leash that prevented me from falling, and I began to climb 85 feet up a ladder in the dark. Once I got up to the top, I found a steel platform that looked like it was made out of really strong chicken wire hanging in the tree.
Chema unhooked my wire leash from the ladder and hooked me to a cable that would let me glide to another tree. I sat down on my leg harness, jumped off the platform, swung out into the air, and slid down to the next platform where Emilio was waiting to catch me. It wasn't very easy because I had to use my gloved hand to brake myself, and I always braked too soon. So I got stuck hanging in the middle and had to pull myself to the next platform with my hands. I could not see the guide, because it was so dark with only my head flashlight, and I got kind of scared. Once I got my head skinned by the wire, but after that I ducked down so that didnt happen again.
We glided through about 11 platforms before we got to a platform where we were going to sleep. I was hoping it would be like the Swiss Family Robinson tree house, but it was just about 8x10 feet wide with wires all around. When we went to sleep, we were still wearing a belt harness and our leash that hooked us up to the tree. Our tree was silent when we went to sleep except for major wind! Little did I know that little white-faced capuchin monkeys came to sleep above our heads!
I woke up to the sound of howler monkey music. They sounded like oooh oooooh ooooh. They are the loudest monkeys in the world and can be heard up to 2 miles away.
We watched as white-faced capuchin monkeys ate and danced in the treetops. One had slept right above me in the treetop and I watched as it climbed over my head. You can only see White-faced capuchin monkeys if you sleep up in the trees, because the noise of the rappelling wires scares them away.
On the drive back to the hotel there was a turtle in the road that we moved to one side of the road so that it would not get squished! It ran across the road to the other side, opposite from where we put it. Believe me when it ran, it ran fast! Turtles are not slow!
There are many mammals which live in the rainforest, most of which I did not see. There are three kinds of mammals: carnivores, herbivores and omnivores. Carnivores are meat eaters, like the jaguar and the ocelot. The ocelot is the most common cat in the rainforest, but it is very rare to see. It is more likely to see its claw marks on a tree. Herbivores eat plants. The black howler monkey is an example. What is an omnivore? It eats both plants and animals. The pygmy marmosets as well as the night monkey, the only nocturnal monkey in the world, are examples. The pygmy marmoset is the world's smallest monkey. Some are only 5 inches long. I saw them in the endangered species building at the Philadelphia Zoo.
There are more birds in Costa Rica than there are bird watchers. One afternoon we were driving along a dirt road that was the bumpiest in the world, because Hurricane Mitch had washed most of it away, when three black and white birds flew right past our windshield. My dad stopped the jeep and we jumped out and ran back to look. We found the three birds perched in a tree. They had big colorful beaks. All together we yelled out, "Toucans!" A toucan saws off berries with the saw-like edge of his beak, balances the berry on the top of his beak, throws it up in the air and catches it. Toucans also use their big beaks for beak fights with other toucans. We didnt see them do this, though. They just sat in the tree, but they were still very cool. Scientists think their beaks are so colorful in order to scare off other birds so they can eat their eggs and their young.
Let me tell you about other birds in the rain forest. The most interesting one is the scarlet macaw which is a red, yellow and blue bird that talks. The blue and gold macaw is the exact same body shape as all other macaws. The hyacinth macaw is plain blue and lives deep in the rainforest. It is rare to see because they are a threatened species and there are only 2,500-5,000 left in the world. Macaws favorite foods are seeds, nuts, and fruit.
The bumpy road where we saw the toucans was leading us to Mount Arenal, which is a big volcano in Costa Rica. It is supposed to shoot hot coals off regularly. We swam at Tabacon Hot Springs nearby, which is a bunch of creeks and a swimming pool heated by the volcano. The water comes up from underground springs that flow past the volcanos magma so that makes the water hot. The creeks are long and have very windy paths and I got lost. It has many waterfalls to play in. If you want a hot bath go there -- but go in mid day because they close at nine and are expensive. The volcano Arenal was supposed to shoot hot coals out. But no, it did not show off. Instead, I got my head bounced to pieces on the bumpy road for nothing.
Costa Rica is pretty much owned by reptiles, birds, and monkeys. In other words, Costa Rica is a great tourist spot.
Rainforest protection to the max; educate yourself on the issues and places.
Rainforests, Diversity and Destruction
Abstract introduces the reader to the rainforests, their importance to the world's ecosystems and the truths behind their destruction.
Rainforest Action Network
The RAN works to protect the Earth's rainforests and their inhabitants. Their colorful, educational Web offering is full of relevant info on the current state of rainforests worldwide, political policies and active campaigns. A Kid's Corner is included.
Indonesian Tropical Rainforest - a tour to the endangered rainforest.
Rainforest of Sarawak - contains information about the rainforest.
Rainforest Workshop - A student and teacher run link to rainforest information on the internet.
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