When people speak of tropical forests, many think of tropical rainforests, but most tropical forests on earth are tropical dry forests, naturally found in India, Australia, Central and South America, Mexico, Africa, Madagascar and the Caribbean. The most diverse dry forests are found in southern Mexico and the Bolivian lowlands, and though less biologically diverse than rainforests, tropical dry forests are home to a vast variety of wildlife including monkeys, large cats, rodents, bats, amphibians, reptiles, insects, parrots and other birds.
Less than two percent of tropical dry forests remain and many of their animal species are endangered.
Primates and Sloths
Some of the monkeys found in dry tropical forests are the black howler monkey, white-fronted capuchin, brown capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys, gray-necked night monkeys and bearded saki monkeys. Monkeys feast on fruit trees in the Mato Grosso tropical dry forest. Tropical dry forest primates "show a remarkable degree of mobility during the dry season, retreating to damp areas such as stream beds, where year-round moisture enables them to survive," according to the Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation.
Also found in tropical dry forests are brown-throated sloths that crawl through canopies of cecropia trees.
The tropical dry forest supports a great diversity of rodents, many of which have adapted to life in the hot, arid environment. The Cape region of Baja, California is home to the Sierra de la Laguna tropical dry forest and Merriam's Kangaroo rat. These small rats are nocturnal and gather their food during the cool night, which helps them conserve water. They have large ears that help to dissipate heat, and, like other dry forest creatures, the Merriam's Kangaroo rat burrow underground during the day to escape the sun's heat.
In Madagascar's tropical dry forests, "giant jumping rats about the size of rabbits search for fruit and seeds among the dry leaves," explains the National Geographic's WildWorld Ecoregion profile of Kirindy, Madagascar.
Dry forests may not be as biologically diverse as rainforests, but many rare or endangered species, such as tigers, leopards, jaguars, sloth bears and maned wolves are not found anywhere else. Among the species of carnivores found in tropical dry forests are coyotes, foxes, ringtails, raccoons, skunks, badger, bobcat and mountain lions.
The dry tropical forests of Ecuador are home to unique species of birds and high biological diversity. In some dry forest areas, such as Machalilla National Park, 270 bird species have been counted, including the little woodstar, Esmeraldas woodstar, saffron siskin, pale-browned tinamou, gray-cheeked parakeet and the ochraceous Attila. The Nature Conservancy warns, "All of these species are only found in Ecuador's dry forests and are at risk of extinction."
Other birds found in tropical dry forests include kingfishers, flycatchers and harpy eagles, as well as parrots, such as the hyacinth macaw and the yellow-naped parrot.
Amphibians and Reptiles
Reptiles' hard-shelled eggs and dry skin give them an advantage over amphibians, and help them more easily tolerate dry forests. Some tropical forests are home to various lizards, geckos and snakes. The Mato Grosso tropical dry forests are home to Paraguayan caymans and anacondas, both very large reptiles.
Animals have some unusual adaptations to the dry forest's many rainless weeks and months. A major adaptation is called "estivation," which is a summer-time equivalent to hibernation, during which time many frogs and insects burrow into damp mud and go to sleep, slowing their metabolism and reducing their water needs. When the dry season ends, the rains awaken these animals, and they emerge to breed.
- Photo Credit tropical forest image by Mirek Hejnicki from Fotolia.com Capuchin Monkey in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica image by Oren Sarid from Fotolia.com
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