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Up Close: Into the Jungle

Yisrael Rutman

What goes on in the jungles of the world? So much goes on that nobody, not even the scientists who study them, knows the whole story. We’re learning more every day!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

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What goes on in the jungles of the world? A lot, of course. But nobody, not even the scientists who study them, knows the whole story, because jungles are distant, hard-to-get-to regions, and are difficult to explore because of dangerous plants and animals. Little by little, though, hundreds of species of plants and animals are being discovered, not to mention new materials, cures to diseases, and thousands of other neat things. Welcome to a new world full of life.

How Big? How big is a jungle, or rainforest? It varies a lot. The smallest is the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, about 25 acres, in the city of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The Amazon rainforest in South America, on the other hand, is so big — over 2 million square miles — that if it were a country, it would be the ninth biggest in the world.

Emergent Layer This is the topmost part of the jungle, or rainforest, where the tallest trees, up to 240 feet high, tower above the canopy and everything else. Eagles, butterflies, bats, and some high-flying monkeys live up here.

Canopy The roof of the jungle, where the tops, or crowns, of trees come together in a dense layer. Most of the plants are here, but because it’s so high above the ground, much of it remains unexplored. Imagine a canopy, 100 to 200 feet high, stretching over thousands of square miles, like a whole other “continent of life” suspended in the air!

Exploring the Canopy It wasn’t until the 1980s that scientists invented ways to reach the canopy, like firing ropes into the trees using crossbows, and building cranes and walkways anchored on the forest floor. They also used balloons and airships to get a look at things from the outside.


Understory This is the layer between the canopy and the jungle floor. Dark and dangerous. The canopy above blocks out 95 percent of sunlight, making the area underneath so dark you might need a flashlight in the daytime. Watch out for snakes, lizards, jaguars, and leopards.

Species You won’t even know the names of all the animals here, as many new species are discovered every year. Between 1999 and 2009, for example, more than 1,200 new species of plants and animals were seen for the first time in the Amazon. That’s about a new species every three days!

Spiders In 2016, scientists discovered eight new whip spiders in the Amazon. Actually they’re a cross between a scorpion and a spider. No poisonous fangs like a scorpion, and they don’t make silk like a spider. The “whip” comes from the long, whip-like front legs, which give them a spidery look.

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