Layers of the Amazon

Rainforest- Teens

The Amazon rainforest is comprised of layers. Each layer receives a different amount of sunlight and rainfall and accommodates different animals and plants (some of which move between layers).

THE EMERGENT LAYER – In this top layer, the treetops of the tallest and oldest trees, such as the brazil nut, ironwood and kapok, stand guard over the rest of the forest. This layer gets the most wind, sun and rain. Animals that live here are either good climbers or can fly, such as harpy eagles, macaws, howler monkeys and butterflies.

THE CANOPY LAYER – This next layer is very dense. The crowded branches and leaves of many trees provide shade for the lower layers. The animals who live here, such as sloths, toucans and tamarin monkeys, spend their time eating the fruits, nuts and leaves of these trees.

THE UNDERSTORY – This layer is where tree trunks, bushes and vines grow. It is sheltered from high temperatures, heavy rains and strong winds, which is why many animals live here, including snakes, jaguars, tree frogs, and spiders.

THE FOREST FLOOR – This ground layer is covered with leaf litter. The animals that live here are usually diggers and do not climb very well; they include anteaters, earthworms, beetles and ants. Ferns, fungi and moss also make their home here.

A story from Jana Bell, Founder & President


In the Amazon rainforest, most monkeys react to humans by fleeing at a high speed through the treetops.  Sadly, many have witnessed the dramatic event of one of their family members being shot down by a hunter, or a baby being stolen for the pet trafficking trade. But there are still some forests left in the Amazon rainforest where the monkeys have not experienced this trauma.

I was trekking through one of these undisturbed forests when I got a glimpse high up in the treetop of a spider monkey. Rather than fleeing, he looked down at me for a very long time. I spoke with a soothing voice to convince him that I meant no harm. I sang a lullaby in hopes that he would be engaged and enjoy my company. But no – he was not impressed. Instead he began breaking branches and throwing them down on me in a threatening display. Sadly, as my friendship advances were not being accepted, I whispered, “be safe my friend” and continued on my way.


Activity 1 - Who Lives Where and How Have They Adapted?

Draw the layers of the rainforest and fill in each layer with the types of species that live there. Can you provide some examples of how a plant or animal of each layer has adapted to their surroundings. For instance, the shrubs and bushes in the understory layer tend to have bigger leaves in order to collect as much of the rare sunlight as possible through the canopy.

Activity 2 - Working Together

Although each layer of the rainforest is distinct, they are interconnected and help sustain the total environment. The animals in the canopy layer disperse seeds to the forest floor and so, the understory is the perfect nursery for small seedlings. Give some more examples of how the layers are interconnected.

Activity 3 - Math in Nature

Look at this sequence of numbers:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…

Can you figure out what the next three numbers in the sequence will be?

(The answer is in activity 4).



Activity 4 - The Fibonacci Sequence

The sequence of numbers in activity three is called the Fibonacci sequence. It’s a series of numbers, starting from zero where every number is the sum of the two numbers preceding it. It’s named after the Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci who explained this sequence in his 1202 book. The sequence looks like this:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144…

The numbers in this sequence appear frequently in nature. For instance, most flowers have a Fibonacci number of petals. For example:

  • Lily and Iris: 3 petals
  • Buttercup, Wild Rose, Larkspur and Columbine: 5 petals
  • Delphiniums: 8 petals
  • Ragwort and Corn Marigold: 13 petals
  • Aster, Black-eyed Susan and Chicory: 21 petals

The numbers in this sequence also form a unique shape known as a Fibonacci spiral.

To make this spiral you will need a sheet of paper, a pencil and a ruler. 

Use a ruler and draw a 1cm x 1cm square at the centre of your paper

Draw a second 1cm x 1cm square right next to it

Above it draw a 2cm x 2cm square

To the left draw a 3cm x 3cm square

Below, draw a 5cm x 5cm square

Draw a 8cm x 8cm square to the right

Draw a 13cm x 13 cm square above the squares you have created

Draw a 21cm by 21cm square to the left of the squares you have created. You should end up with something that looks like this:

Now draw a curved line through the centres of each square and join these curved lines so they form a smooth curve.  

We see this spiral often in nature. For example, in the form of shells, fern fronds, and the shape of hurricanes. Where else in nature do we see spirals?

If inspired, use a compass to find the radius of each curve. What did you discover?


Start an EARTH club at your school. You will need to find about a half dozen other students interested in forming the club and a teacher, parent or community leader who is willing to serve as the adult sponsor.  Once this has been established, you will hold a meeting to determine the purpose of the club and what activities and projects you wish to accomplish. For instance, you may decide to work on some of the EARTH activities together or to hold a tree planting or a river clean up day. You might even decide to undertake a year-long project, in which case you will need a timeline that clearly lists group goals, dates and responsibilities.


Show us your work by tagging us at #ARCearth so we can support you!