Rain forests are hotbeds of biodiversity -- while the Mississippi River has around 250 species of fish in it, the Amazon has about 2,000 -- and that biodiversity directly benefits people. A quarter of all medicines in the world today, including drugs for leukemia and other cancers, glaucoma, and malaria, come from plants, many of which are rain forest species. Rain forests also serve as the lungs for the planet, with trees that absorb and store carbon dioxide; when these trees are cut down and burned, all of that carbon dioxide is released. Today, rain forests are being destroyed at a rate of more than an acre a second -- and that land is what these exotic creatures call home.
Red-Eyed Tree Frogs
The spectacular eyes of these frogs are meant to shock predators. When the frog is resting on a leaf, it is perfectly camouflaged. If a predator attacks it, its eyes pop open and the color momentarily startles the predator so the frog can get away; this is called "startle coloration." Indigenous to southern Mexico and Central America, these frogs live in lowland tropical rain forests.
Found in the upland, or higher elevation, rain forests of Mexico, throughout Central America, and into the northern half of South America, these beautiful birds have large beaks used for courtship "duels." Cavity nesters by nature, toucanets excavate old woodpecker holes, in which they lay eggs (two to four at a time). With a life span of about 20 years, toucanets travel in small flocks of about five to 10 birds to forage for food. Although they will eat insects, lizards, and other small animals, these birds are primarily fruit eaters who rely on the produce of more than 100 rain forest plants. Toucanets are not endangered but their rain forest habitat is shrinking, in part due to coffee plantations.
Also called a phalanger, the striped opossum is a marsupial like the North American opossum and keeps its babies in a pouch. Although the striped opossum resembles a squirrel or skunk, these animals are not related. The physical similarities spring from a shared habitat: striped opossums live in the trees and have the same kind of body as a squirrel in order to do so. The striping is both camouflage -- it breaks up the body silhouette and confuses predators -- and an indicator to predators that this creature has a rather stinky smell, much like the skunk. Indigenous to the rain forests of New Guinea and northern Australia, the striped opossum is primarily insectivorous, using a special long finger to fish out beetle larvae, ants, and termites from wood. Its jaws are adapted to chew through dead wood to get at these insects.
The rainbow boa is a beautiful animal, drawing its name from the iridescent sheen of its scales. Rainbow boas are not venomous snakes; they hunt warm-blooded prey such as mammals and birds at night using special heat sensors. With a life span of about 20 years, rainbow boas are important predators found throughout most of South America.
Help Protect the Rainforests
Purchasing decisions are the single most effective way that you can help save rain forests.
Buy shade-grown coffee. This preserves rain forest trees, protecting the wildlife habitat while still supporting the coffee industry. It's a win-win.
Buy sustainable wood. Look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification on wood at your local home-improvement store, and request that your builder use sustainable woods. The FSC organization works to certify forestry operations across the globe, making sure any operation is sustainable and not permanently destroying habitat. If you see this label, you can feel confident that you're not contributing to the demise of these wild animals and the rain forest.
Special thanks to David Mizejewski from the National Wildlife Federation for providing this information; special thanks to Green Mountain Coffee for giving National Wildlife Blend Coffee to our studio audience. For more information on FSC certified wood, visit fscus.org. For information concerning the endangered orangutans of the rain forest, watch "Orangutan Island" on Animal Planet, Fridays at 9 p.m. ET.