18 Tropical Rainforest Animals You Should Know

By: Sascha Bos  | 
red-eyed tree frog
This red-eyed tree frog in Costa Rica is just one of the many different animals you can find in rainforests around the world. Dan Mihai / Getty Images

A rainforest is simply a forest that receives a lot of rain. But when you think "rainforest," the image that comes to mind is probably a tropical rainforest: one located near the equator, between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer.

The combination of year-round sunlight, warmth and rainfall is what creates the biodiversity of amazing rainforest animals found in the tropical rainforests of Africa, Asia and Central and South America. From the forest floor to the canopy layer, these regions are full of colorful and curious creatures.


6 Famous Rainforest Species in Central and South America

Central and South America are home to the most tropical rainforests of any region. The Amazon rainforest alone is the largest tropical rainforest in the world, covering about 40 percent of Brazil and stretching into parts of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

Here are some of the region's best-known residents.


6. Red-eyed Tree Frog
Red-eyed tree frog
Red-eyed tree frog.
Michael J. Cohen, Photographer / Getty Images

With its bright green body and red eyes and feet, the red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas) might be what comes to mind when you think "frog." Frogs use their big eyes to spot their prey from all angles.

Red-eyed tree frogs live primarily in Central America.

5. Poison Dart Frog
Poison dart frog
Poison dart frog.
Lillian King / Getty Images

Poison dart frogs (about 180 species in the Dendrobatidae family) get their name from the fact that their poisonous skin secretions were traditionally used to coat the tips of arrows and darts. (They're also known simply as poison frogs.)

Interestingly, all frog species are technically poisonous to the touch, but members of the Dendrobatidae family are the only ones whose secretions are powerful enough for a human to notice. Poison dart frogs can be found in both Central and South America.

4. Blue Morpho Butterfly
Blue morpho butterfly
Blue morpho butterfly.
Mark Newman / Getty Images

With their brightly colored iridescent wings, blue morpho butterflies (Morpho peleides and related species) are some of the most popular insects in butterfly houses at museums and zoos around the world.

But if you want to see morphos in their natural habitat, you'll have to visit the rainforests of Central and South America.

3. Emerald Tree Boa
Emerald tree boa
Emerald tree boa.
© Justin Lo / Getty Images

Emerald tree boas (Corallus caninus) are red-orange at birth; it takes at least six months for these magnificent snakes to mature and turn that bright green hue that gives them their common name.

The scientific name "caninus" apparently comes from the fact that they look like dogs in profile. Whoever came up with that one must have known some pretty unique-looking dogs.

The emerald tree boa is arboreal, meaning it spends almost its entire life in trees. It lives in the Amazon rainforest.

2. Scarlet Macaw
Scarlet macaw
Scarlet macaw.
all images copyright of Jamie La / Getty Images

Unlike most of the animals on this list, "macaws can make wonderful pets in the right household," according to Gregory Rich, D.V.M., an avian and exotic pet veterinarian. "Macaws are playful and seem to enjoy being trained to perform tricks like waving hello or using a skateboard," Dr. Rich told HowStuffWorks.

While riding a skateboard wouldn't be particularly useful in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, macaws' other skills — like their ability to make and imitate a variety of sounds — are crucial for life in the canopy layer.

Scarlet macaws (Ara macao), with their red bodies and rainbow plumage, are perhaps the best-known species of macaw (there are 17 in total).

1. Capybara
Joe McDonald / Getty Images

The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) is the world's largest rodent. But don't let the word "rodent" scare you away — capybaras are famously cute (they look somewhat like hairy pigs).

An adult capybara is about the size of a large dog, and they're found throughout Central and South America.


4 Iconic Rainforest Animals in Asia

In Asia, tropical rainforests are located primarily in South and Southeast Asia, with Indonesia accounting for most of the region's tropical rainforests.

4. Bengal Tiger
Bengal tiger
Bengal tiger.
José Rentería Cobos photograph / Getty Images

The Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is the world's second-largest tiger, after the Siberian tiger. When you think "tiger," the Bengal is probably what comes to mind. This tiger subspecies has a distinctive orange coat with black stripes and white accents.


Bengal tigers occupy wetlands and rainforests of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal.

3. Asian Elephant
Asian elephants
Asian elephants.
wootthisak nirongboot / Getty Images

The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is found throughout South and Southeast Asia. This large land mammal — the continent's biggest — has adapted to live in a variety of environments, from grasslands to rainforest.

2. Red Panda
Red panda
Red panda.
Marianne Purdie / Getty Images

"People think [the] red panda is [a] lesser form of giant panda because of its name," Saroj Shrestha, program coordinator for the Red Panda Network in Nepal told HowStuffWorks. In fact, red pandas (Ailurus fulgens) aren't closely related to giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).

While the giant panda is endemic to China's lowland forests, the smaller red panda inhabits rainforests in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Nepal.

1. Flying Lizard
Flying lizard
Flying lizard.
Rizky Putra Ramadhan / Shutterstock

What would make a lizard grow wings and fly? For flying lizards (any of about 40 species in the genus Draco), the ability to glide between tree tops (they don't technically "fly") provided an evolutionary advantage for life in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia.

Their "wings" are actually scaly membranes located between their front and back legs. Like a butterfly, a flying lizard's wings are often much more colorful than its body.


5 Incredible African Rainforest Animals

Africa is more than just the Sahara Desert. The Congo Basin in East-Central Africa is home to most of the continent's tropical forests and some of its most famous animal species.

5. Gorilla
Paul Souders / Getty Images

There are two gorilla species: the Eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) and the Western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), both of which live in African rainforests. These endangered primates are some of our closest living relatives (after chimpanzees and bonobos).


4. African Leopard
African leopard
African leopard.
Joe McDonald / Getty Images

The African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) is the most numerous leopard subspecies, with around 700,000 individuals occupying Sub-Saharan Africa. The African leopard is suited to a wide range of habitats, including tropical rainforests.

3. Chimpanzee
Chimpanzee baby.
Manoj Shah / Getty Images

The chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) is tied with the bonobo (Pan paniscus) as the primate most closely related to humans. (We share 98.7 percent of our DNA with this member of the great ape family.)

Chimpanzees are found throughout Central and West Africa and are adapted to many climates, but many groups are found in tropical rainforests.

2. Green Mamba
Green mamba
Green mamba.
John Conrad / Getty Images

The black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis), one of the world's deadliest snakes, gives other mambas a bad rap. But the tree-dwelling green mambas (three species of Dendroaspis) have not been known to attack humans. (They are venomous, though, so don't mess around with a green mamba, either.)

Both black and green mambas are native to Africa, but black mambas live in rocky Savannah environments while green mambas prefer rainforest habitats.

1. Okapi
Mark Newman / Getty Images

"The okapi was once referred to as being as 'mythical as a unicorn,' a striped, donkey-like beast of the rainforest," Rick Schwartz, a global ambassador for California's San Diego Zoo, told HowStuffWorks. But the okapi isn't legendary, it's just good at hiding.

Although it looks more like a zebra, the okapi's closest relative is actually the giraffe.


3 Most Endangered Rainforest Animals in the World

It's hard to say which rainforest animals are the "most" endangered species. But these three critically endangered species just might be some of the rarest and most vulnerable animals on Earth.

3. Sumatran Orangutan
Sumatran orangutan
Sumatran orangutan.
Anup Shah / Getty Images

The Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) lives in the rainforests of Sumatra, where it has developed long arms ideal for swinging between trees in the rainforest canopy. Sadly, these special apes are critically endangered due to the conversion of their habitat into palm oil plantations.


2. African Forest Elephant
African forest elephant
African forest elephant.
Robert Muckley / Getty Images

In the early 21st century, researchers discovered that the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) was genetically distinct from the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana). These famously elusive elephants can be found in tropical rainforests from Senegal to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

1. Spider Monkey
Spider monkey
Spider monkey.
©Juan Carlos Vindas / Getty Images

Spider monkeys (genus Ateles) are nimble primates who spend the majority of their lives in the rainforest canopy. Found in both Central and South America, spider monkeys are some of the world's most endangered primates.

"The main threat is habitat destruction," Filippo Aureli, research professor at Universidad Veracruzana, told HowStuffWorks. "In some areas, they are also threatened by the illegal pet trade." (Here's why monkeys should never be pets.)