The tallest layer of the rainforest, the emergent layer, is home to giant, flowering trees and diverse animal species. Animals that live in the emergent level of the rainforest must quickly adapt to dry conditions, rough winds, airy spaces and bright sunlight, and be capable of mastering branch balance and tree travel at heights as high as 250 feet. Many animals that live up on the tallest trees must have wings (such as a butterfly or bird) or excellent climbing skills (like a monkey or insect). These animals often seek shelter and food supply in the towering trees.
One of the tropical birds that lives in the emergent level of the rainforest is the hummingbird, a brightly-colored creature smaller than eight-and-a-half inches in length. A hummingbird can flap its wings as fast as 75 times in one second--an auditory reference to its given name--and up to 40 miles per hour. Because a hummingbird quickly burns its energy, it can be seen flying from flower to flower in search of food.The hummingbird seeks shelter in tree leaves at the top of the rainforest, drinking nectar from blooming flowers with a thin, needle-like beak and a long tongue. A hummingbird will often dip its entire head into a flower during a feeding. During this process, pollen from the flower is transferred onto the hummingbird, and therefore, a hummingbird serves as an important pollinator in the emergent level of the rainforest.
A harpy eagle is a feisty, 20-pound predator that lives in the emergent level of the rainforest. The harpy eagle has plumage of muted colors, allowing it to camouflage against a backdrop of green and brown plants and trees. Its stout wings and long, thin tail are physical features that contribute to its fierce hunting abilities. A harpy eagle has a seven-foot wing span and can dive and drop in the air, swiftly capturing prey in strong, outstretched talons. Its flying strengths and excellent hearing capabilities enable this bird to seize unsuspecting prey (such as a sloth, monkey, opossum or snake) after carefully surveying the emergent layer from its perch (for sometimes many hours). Harpy eagles are rarely spotted in the wild, as they nest high up in kapok trees, sometimes as high as 140 feet above the ground.
Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula
Imagine a prickly, hairy spider as large as a pizza. High up in the emergent layer of the rainforest, such a species exists, called the Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula. While generally a digger in the forest floor, these spiders head to the trees during months with heavy rain. With eight individual legs that can grow up to a foot long, one-inch long fangs and toxic venom, this spider feasts on small birds, frogs, lizards and bats that live high up in tropical trees. Although the Goliath does not weave a web, its sheer strength, aggression and size enable it to stalk prey and pounce at an opportune moment. This tarantula will release almost-transparent spiny hairs from its body when it feels threatened; these hairs can cause irritation on a predator's eyes, skin and mouth. This spider can enjoy a life span as long as 25 years in the wild; however, local populations in South America consider the Goliath a delicacy, and will roast them for a treat.