The emergent layer of the rainforest is the highest in elevation marked by the tallest trees randomly protruding upward from 100 to 250 feet from bases of up to 16 feet in diameter. (See Reference 1) Animals that live in the emergent layer are exposed to more elements than animals protected under the umbrella of leaves and branches. Animals there get around by flying, gliding, or crawling and are generally small, as the tree tops cannot support heavy weight. (See Reference 3)
The sloth, a breed of monkey, and the spider monkey make their homes in the emergent layer tree tops feeding on flowers, leaves and plants.
Appropriately named, the sloth moves so slowly that green algae actually covers its otherwise grey and brown fur. The sloth's economy of movement and food intake impart a slow metabolism, enabling them to survive with little food. There are two species of sloth, the two-toed and the three-toed. They have short, flat heads and are about the size of a small dog, weighing around 9.07 Kilogram. Sloths can stay in the same tree for years and can live up to age 30. They are nocturnal and sleep for up to 18 hours at a time usually hanging upside down. Mother sloths also give birth upside down and their babies cling to them until full grown, as they are prey to harpy eagles who also reside in the emergent layer.
Unlike the sloth, the spider monkey moves flying-monkey fast, swinging from branches at high speeds with all four limbs and a strong tail that give them a spider-like appearance, hence their name. They grow up to 2 feet tall, not including their tail. They spend most of their time high up in the emergent layer feeding on fruits, seeds and plants. They are further distinguished because they have only four fingers and no thumb.
Two varieties of birds that reside in the emergent layer of the rainforest are the macaw and the hummingbird, including the bee hummingbird, which is the smallest bird in the world.
The macaw is the largest of all parrots and there are 16 different varieties. They are considered intelligent, social animals that like to nest in holes in trees in the emergent layer. Their size ranges from 1 to 3 feet, with long, colourful tails. They live on nuts, fruits and seeds and have sharp, hooked bills that enable them to crack open nut pods. They have strong gripping feet with two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward so they can grab their food and bring it to their mouth.
Hummingbirds also reside in the emergent layer. They are tiny birds ranging from 2 1/4 to 8 1/2 inches. They find shelter within the leaves of the high trees and suck the nectar of the flowers found there. Their brightly coloured wings beat 50 to 75 times a second.
The Harpy Eagle
The harpy eagle is an excellent hunter, well adapted to the high tree tops of the emergent layer. It has powerful wings and relies on its hearing to hunt prey, as the tree tops obscure the view directly below. Harpy eagles feed on monkeys, macaws and snakes. Their brown colour disguises them well in the bark and leaves of the emergent layer. When they reach maturity, they weigh about 9.07 Kilogram. They dive vertically, diving and turning through the trees to stab their victim with their claws.
The Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula
Hiding in the emergent layer during the rainy season is the goliath bird-eating tarantula. This prickly haired predator has eight-legs and can grow to be a foot long, the size of a basketball, with one inch fangs that excrete venom. This harry hunter eats small birds, frogs, lizards and bats that live in the emergent layer. The goliath spider does not weave a web, it pounces on its prey, paralysing it with a mouthful of venom. This spider will also release spiny hairs from its body when attacked, causing skin, eye and mouth irritation. It has a lifespan of up to 25 years.
Butterflies, Bats, Snakes and Insects
Butterflies, bats, snakes, and insects also dwell in the emergent layer. Butterflies live in the emergent layer going from flower to flower in the high tree tops. The male morpho butterflies are a brilliant blue and congregate in the emergent layer to attract a mate.