Rainforests, found on every continent except Antarctica, are epicenters of genetic diversity. Some rainforest insects are pretty typical bugs, while others are the dream or nightmare version of everyday creepy crawlies. Rainforest insects may grow to giant proportions, display gorgeous coloration and markings, terrify with giant pinchers, or congregate in formidable swarms.
South American Rainforests
The world's largest rainforest is the Amazon in South America. The Amazon displays more species diversity than any other place in the world, and of all the species in the Amazon, 90 percent of them are insects. Beetles, butterflies, ants, katydids, grasshoppers, stick insects... there's an almost endless variety of insects here. Even the caterpillars are fantastic, often growing several inches long, and displaying bright colors, spines, fur, and eyespots. These elaborate larvae develop into amazing creatures, such as the clear-wing butterfly (Pseudohaeterea hypaesia), blue morpho butterfly (family Morphidae), leaf-wing butterfly (family Nymphalidae) and owl butterfly (Caligo idomeneus). The Amazon also is home to tough guys, like the horned rhinoceros beetle (subfamily Dynastinae) and the assassin bug (family Reduviidae), which injects poison into its victims. The army ant (Eciton burchelli), a common sight in the Amazon, lives in colonies of 700,000 members.
Nearly all of Central America was once covered in rainforest, but due to human intervention the rainforests have been vastly reduced. Many insects found in the Amazon also populate Central America, like dragonflies, rhinoceros beetles, morpho butterflies, and army ants. Leaf cutter ants (family Formicidae) also live in Central America. These colonizing insects cultivate fungus on the leaves they collect. Other insect species split their time between Central America and the southern United States, such as the zebra butterfly (Heliconiidae family) and the 88 butterfly (Diaethria clymena).
Central Africa is home to the world's second largest rainforest region after the Amazon. Madagascar also harbors some rainforest habitat. Africa is known for its giant insects, like the Goliath beetle (Goliathus goliatus) and the giant stick insect (Bactrododema krugeri), which can grow to almost 12 inches long. A rather odd-looking specimen found in the African rainforest is the lantern bug (family Fulgoridae), which has an elongated snout that serves to ward off predators. Species in this family also are found in Asia, Central, and South America. Many more common insects also can be found in African rainforests, such as katydids, dragonflies, dung beetles, and termites.
Asian rainforests span from India and Burma in the west to Malaysia, and the islands of Java and Borneo in the east. Tropical mangrove forests are common in southern Asia, especially Bangladesh, which has the biggest area of mangrove forest in the world. The Rajah Brooke birdwing butterfly (Trogonoptera brookiana) is an impressive specimen, with black and fluorescent-colored wings that span 4 inches. The Java leaf insect (Phyllium bioculatum) is another stand-out in the Asian rainforests. This expertly-camouflaged creepy crawly really does look like a collection of living leaves crawling about the forest. They're so convincing that these bugs have been known to take bites out of their brethren, mistaking them for flavorful foliage.
Harking back to the times when Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea were conjoined, many animal species can be found in these areas and nowhere else in the world, like the Ulysses butterfly and the peppermint stick insect. The peppermint stick insect (Megacrania batesii) is found only on Pandanus plants in coastal swamps and forests of Australia. These insects actually smell like peppermint, a scent they release when provoked by predators. The Ulysses butterfly (Papilloninae) is another creature distinct to the Australasian region. They are found only in Papua New Guinea, North Queensland, Australia, Indonesia, and the Solomon Islands. The green tree ant (genus Oecophylla) is an unusual character in the Australian rainforests. These insects also are called weaver ants because they use the silk their larvae produce to weave leaves together, building large nests that can span several trees.
- Learning About Rainforests: Where Are the Rainforests
- Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges: Rainforest Insects
- MongaBay.com: Amazon Insects
- PBS: Costa Rica Land of Pure Life -- Featured Creatures
- Animals of the Rainforest: Insects
- ARKive: Rajah Brooke's Birdwing (Trogonoptera brookiana)
- State of Environment Townsville: Green Tree Ants
- Museum Victoria: Stag Beetles
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