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A multi-layered forest

Like all forests, the Tropical Forest can be divided vertically into a number of layers, storeys or strata. The amount of sunlight, temperature and humidity vary from ground level to the tree tops, making each layer especially well suited to certain types of plants. For instance, orchids, which are epiphytic (meaning that they grow on trees) herbaceous plants, grow in the upper layers.

To find food or shelter, animals also choose the layer that best meets their needs. That doesn’t prevent them from visiting the other layers from time to time, though.

There are various ways of identifying these layers. Here is a simple three-level method useful for the Tropical Forest at the Montréal Biodôme.

Image: Biodôme’s Tropical Forest
Biodôme’s Tropical Forest

The layers

Tree layer : medium-sized and tall trees.

Shrub layer : shrubs and bushes.

Herbaceous layer : herbaceous plants on the ground.

Video: tree layer

Tree layer

Because of limited space (the glass roof prevents trees from growing any taller), the tree layer at the Biodôme isn’t as well developed as in the wild.

Image: white-tailed trogon
white-tailed trogon

White-tailed trogon

White-tailed trogons are attractive birds that eat berries, insects, lizards and seeds. These birds sometimes dig their nests in termite nests they find on trees.

Image: roseate spoonbill
roseate spoonbill

Roseate spoonbill

Although they feed in the marsh, the roseate spoonbills at the Biodôme spend most of their days resting high in the tall trees.

Image: two-toed sloth
two-toed sloth

Two-toed sloth

Two-toed sloths are camouflaged by the leaves of tall trees. They eat leaves, fruit and small animals.

Image: green iguana
green iguana

Green iguana

These large lizards climb high into trees to eat their leaves and fruit, and to bask in the warm sunshine.

Image: green honeycreeper
green honeycreeper

Green honeycreeper

Green honeycreepers are very tiny, green, blue and black birds. They use their long pointed beaks to sip flower nectar. They also eat berries and a few insects.

Image: green aracari
green aracari

Green aracari

Green aracaris are members of the toucan family. They eat berries and sometimes rob eggs from other birds’ nests. They nest in holes in tree trunks and can sometimes be seen resting there in small groups.

Image: scarlet macaw
scarlet macaw

Scarlet macaw

These large parrots eat the fruit and nuts they find in the forest canopy. They nest in holes in tree trunks left by woodpeckers.

Image: golden-hooded tanager
golden-hooded tanager

Golden-hooded tanager

These birds belong to the tanager family. They eat berries and seeds and insects that they find on tree leaves.

Video: shrub layer

Shrub layer

The shrub layer at the Biodôme isn’t continuous, but is instead made up of several small groups of shrubs growing in those spots where there is the most light.

Image: green basilisk
green basilisk

Green basilisk

These lizards spend most of their time perched on branches hanging over the water, basking in the sunshine. They eat insects and other small animals. When they feel threatened, they let themselves drop into the water and then raise themselves on their hind legs to run away across the surface.

Image: emerald tree boa
emerald tree boa

Emerald tree boa

From its perch in a small tree, an emerald tree boa is able to detect warm-blooded prey, even at night, using the heat-sensitive pits around its lips.

Image: Pallas’ long-tongued bat
Pallas’ long-tongued bat

Pallas’ long-tongued bat

Different species of bats live in the shrub layer, where they can find food and hide under the leaves or inside tree trunks. Pallas’ long-tongued bats hunt for flowers that open at night so they can extract the nectar and small amounts of pollen.

Image: red-eyed tree frog
red-eyed tree frog

Red-eyed tree frog

These tiny frogs with bulging bright red eyes hide under tree leaves during the day. At night, they move around slowly on the leaves and branches in search of insects and other small animals.

Image: blue-crowned motmot
blue-crowned motmot

Blue-crowned motmot

Adult motmots’ tails end in two remarkably long feathers with spatula-like tips. They don’t actually trim them on purpose! The barbs near the tips of their long feathers are loosely attached and come out when the birds groom themselves.

Image: golden lion tamarin
golden lion tamarin

Golden lion tamarin

Tamarins are small monkeys that live mainly in small trees and shrubs, where they find berries, insects and lizards.

Image: brazilian tanager
brazilian tanager

Brazilian tanager

With their bright colours, Brazilian tanagers are easy to spot. They eat fruit and sometimes insects.

Image: fulvous-crested tanager
fulvous-crested tanager

Fulvous-crested tanager

Males and females in this species are very different looking. They hunt for fruit, insects and seeds, mainly in shrubs and bushes. They build their nests in a shrub or small palm tree in the understorey, near water.

Video: herbaceous layer

Herbaceous layer

The herbaceous layer is found in all the terrestrial habitats in the Tropical Forest at the Montréal Biodôme. You can get an especially good look at it near the entrance to the ecosystem and the water.

Image: sunbittern


Sunbitterns get their name from the sunburst of colours on the top of their wings. They are often seen on the ground, near water, eating invertebrates like insects, spiders, snails, crabs and earthworms. They also feed on minnows, tadpoles, frogs, toads and lizards. Sunbitterns often wash their prey, especially before feeding it to their young.

Image: green and black poison- arrow frog
green and black poison- arrow frog

Green and black poison- arrow frog

These frogs from Central America vary in colour depending on their region. The one you see here is black and bright green. They hide under dead leaves on the ground and hunt for small insects, especially spiders.

Image: golfodulcean poison-arrow frog
golfodulcean poison-arrow frog

Golfodulcean poison-arrow frog

These very tiny frogs are easy to recognize, with the two bright orange stripes on their backs. They live on low-growing plants and the ground. Their bright colouring indicates that these frogs are poisonous and warns off predators. They eat small invertebrates, like insects.

Image: red-footed tortoise
red-footed tortoise

Red-footed tortoise

Red-footed tortoises are terrestrial. This means that they are found on the ground, in the understorey. They usually do not venture far from water. They eat leaves, fruit, fungus and live or decomposing animals.

Image: saffron finch
saffron finch

Saffron finch

Although these small yellow birds are often spotted in shrubs and bushes, they find their food—seeds and a few insects—mainly on the ground. They are quite common in several parts of South America, and make popular pets.

Image: tungara frog
tungara frog

Tungara frog

These small nocturnal frogs live amongst dead leaves on the ground. Their bumpy skin makes them look like small toads. Like most frogs, they eat insects and other invertebrates.

Image: black-striped sparrow
black-striped sparrow

Black-striped sparrow

Black-striped sparrows are small semi-terrestrial birds. They often leave the shrubbery to hop about on the ground in search of insects, berries, seeds and spiders.

Image: giant marine toad
giant marine toad

Giant marine toad

Giant marine toads are rather hard to spot. They often hide by burrowing halfway into the soil and lie in wait for prey, including insects, worms and sometimes even mice.

For more information:
Mammals in the Trees | Descriptive records

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