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Ecology

Eyes Are Watching Me

The tropical rainforest looks like a ghost house. As you walk, you hear hundreds of faint noises all around you. It takes patience, stillness, and a watchful eye to detect the eyes, hidden and watching you, among the leaves. When you meet the eyes of your subject, as an expeditionary explorer you can’t help but make a triumphant expression, a cry of eureka, as you click the camera.

Text and Photos: Javier A. Pinzón

Around 40% of all plant and animal species reside in rainforests. However, unlike the great African savannas that house megafauna, for the most part rainforests are home to small creatures that hide among the abundant vegetation.

It is estimated that in two and a half acres of rainforest you can find 42,000 species of insects; more living species reside in a single rainforest tree than in an entire forest in Canada.

More than half of the mammal species are bats and most of the others are climbers. There are over 2,500 species of birds living in the rainforests, some of which are quite large, such as toucans, turkeys, and eagles. Thousands of flyers of unusual shapes and colors hide among the branches, while hundreds of butterfly species try to camouflage themselves among the flowers.

Ocelot

At night, ocelots venture out in search of food. They are forest predators, but have been greatly affected by hunting and the destruction of their habitat. It is estimated that in mature forests there are around five ocelots for every sixty miles of forest land.

Toucan

There are about 2,500 types of birds in the jungle. One of these is the majestic keel-billed toucan, which travels in small groups of six to twelve and moves by jumping from branch to branch, since it does not fly very efficiently.

Sloth

It’s not a bear but a sloth. It’s so slow and spends so much time hanging from the trees that it lives in symbiosis with algae that grows on its fur. Several species of insects and fungi also make the sloth’s fur their home. The algae gives the fur a green color, which helps sloths camouflage themselves from predators, such as the eagle.

Iguanas

An intense green color when they are young, iguanas become darker as they grow older. They are masters of disguise, since their color allows them to be perfectly camouflaged by the surrounding vegetation.

Snakes

There are snakes of all sizes that thrive in the humid, warm rainforest. They hang from the branches, slide on the ground, and swim.

Trogon

The trogon is one of the most beautiful birds in the rainforest. The Neotropical zone is home to around twenty-four species. They lay their pastel-colored eggs in termite nests.

White-Faced Monkey

When the tree branches move abruptly it is likely because of a group of white-faced monkeys on the canopy. These monkeys usually run in family groups of about twenty individuals and are so intelligent that they can create and use tools as a defense or for obtaining food.

Spiders

Spider webs make walking through the jungle very challenging. Thanks to a few small hairs and a chemical coating on their legs, the spiders themselves are the only ones that don’t get stuck in the webs and therefore are always prepared to catch their food.

Agouti

Known in Central America as “ñeque,” the agouti is a small rodent that wanders through the forest eating some seeds and burying others to feed on later, although many are forgotten, allowing them to sprout. That is why this ñeque is called the gardener of the forest.

Tapir

Although tapirs weigh more than 330 lbs., they are some of the most difficult animals to spot. They usually live around rivers or lagoons, eating fruits and dispersed seeds. By digesting the seeds, they increase the seeds’ chances of germinating.

Crocodiles

Having been on this planet for more than two hundred million years, the crocodile has evolved into a perfect predator. It has one of the most powerful jaws in the animal kingdom and can measure up to six meters long. You can find it hanging around rivers and lakes, its natural habitat.

Butterflies

Butterflies dance in the air with their thousands of colors. When threatened, some close their wings to confuse their enemies, like the beautiful butterfly specimen commonly called the owl butterfly for the large spots on the back of its wings, which look like eyes.

Cricket

Millions of insects watch us from every corner of the jungle. One example is the yellowish-green cricket that has a membranous structure on its legs that it uses to detect and communicate with its same-species companions.

Eagles

These forest hunters have incredible strength and eyesight, in addition to a curved beak and sharp talons to capture their prey. The harpy eagle is the largest in the northern hemisphere.

Jaguar

This feline, the largest in the Americas, prowls the jungle in search of food. His hunting requires large tracts of forest and due to indiscriminate logging, the jaguar is listed as a near threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).