What Animals Live in the Rainforest Canopy?

Updated April 17, 2017

The canopy is a layer of the rainforest high above the forest floor, between the understory and the tops of emergent trees. More animals live in the canopy than any other part of the rainforest. The canopy is humid with little wind and dark with dense foliage. Plants rely on animals to disperse their seeds, so they produce tasty fruits for canopy animals to feed on.


Spider monkeys and howler monkeys are New World primates that live in the rainforest canopies of the western hemisphere. They use their prehensile tails to hold on to branches while they use their hands to pick and eat fruit. Howler monkeys use their booming voices to locate each other because the dense vegetation screens them from view. Orang-utans are apes that inhabit the canopy of Asian rainforests in Sumatra and Borneo.


The canopy of the Amazon rainforest is home to one-third of Earth’s birds. Toucans use their large, colourful beaks to pick and eat fruit. The Harpy eagle is a raptor that preys on canopy dwellers, including monkeys, sloths, lizards and smaller birds. Macaws travel throughout the Amazon rainforest, seeking out burriti trees for food, shelter and nesting.


There are more insect species in the rainforest canopy than any other type of animal. According to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, more than 950 species of beetle were found on a single tree in Panama. Leaf-cutter ants play an important role in the canopy of many rainforests. These ants prune vegetation and transport the cut leaves from the canopy to their underground tunnels, where a fungus breaks down the leaves and provides food for the ants. Other insects in the canopy include bees, wasps and butterflies.


Reptiles of the rainforest canopy include snakes and lizards. Iguanas live in Central and South American rainforests; adults feed on the dense canopy foliage. Many canopy snakes, such as the parrot snakes of Central America and green vine snakes of India, feed on tree frogs.


The gaudy leaf frog of Central America lays its eggs on leaves in the canopy and hides its brightly coloured toes and eyes to blend in with the leaves as it sleeps. Other canopy frogs, such as the blue-jeans dart frog, place their tadpoles in water that pools in the cup-shaped leaves of bromeliads, which grow on tree trunks in the canopy.

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About the Author

Alissa Pond Mentzer worked in biotech research and educational publishing before becoming a freelance writer in 2005. She has contributed to textbooks for The Mcgraw-Hill Companies and National Geographic School Division and writes science articles for various websites. Mentzer earned a Bachelor of Arts from Rutgers University in anthropology and biological sciences.