Carnivores feed off other animals in the rainforests and usually prey on herbivores. The most specialized carnivores are the cats with their retractable claws and acute senses. Carnivores don’t simply prowl the rainforest floor for their prey but are also found in the trees like the tayra of the Amazon Rainforest, a weasel-like efficient hunter. Carnivorous animals are also found in the skies like rainforest birds of prey. Some hunt living animals while others scavenge the forests for carrion, for example the vultures that I will mentioned below.
- 5 Species
There are five subspecies of tiger (Panthera tigris) living from India through to Indonesia and up to eastern Russia. Tigers occur in the rainforests of India, South East Asia and Indonesia, and all of the subspecies are threatened by hunting and habitat loss. Tigers are the largest of the living cats and it’s thought that larger tigers live in eastern Russia, whereas the smaller tigers are found on the Sunda Islands.
Tiger numbers are decreasing and have been reduced from up to 100, 000 cats in the 1900s to only 3,000 free roaming individuals today. Within this time, the Bali (P. tigris balica), Caspian (P. tigris virgata), and Javan (P. tigris sondaica) tigers went extinct. The fragmented populations that do exist means that local extinctions of each population can happen very quickly and easily if hunting and habitat loss are not strictly and efficiently controlled. A day when it’s announced that tigers are extinct in the wild is looming ever closer unless something is done. To take action, you can head over to Panthera.org to get involved.
- Ancient predator
- 23 Species
The crocodilians are a top predator in all tropical rainforests. There are 23 species of living crocodilians and to give examples of the dominant species, in Africa lives the Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus), in Australia and the Indopacific realm live the saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus), and in the Amazon lives the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger), which are in the alligator family. These species are all of a similar size and grow to about 5 meters in length, but saltwater crocodiles of over 7 meters were not unheard of.
Salt water crocodiles do have a high tolerance for salt water accounting for their range from Sri Lanka, through Indonesia, to the city of Mackay, which is about midway up eastern Australia. Contrary to popular belief, which can prove life saving, salt water crocodiles are commonly found in fresh water habitat. Crocodilians are usually ambush predators laying in wait at the water’s edge for an animal to wander within striking range. The smallest species and juveniles feed on insects and small fish, and as size increases with species and with age, they take fish, reptiles and even mammals, such as large buffalo and young hippos. Some crocodilians have more specific diets whereas others seem to consume any manageable animal.
- Most Abundant in Canopy
Ants are very abundant in rainforests and particularly abundant in the rainforest canopies. Here, many ants farm different insects for their sugary secretions the adults consume. Their larvae, however, are ravenous growing grubs that require protein, which is the main reason many ants hunt the rainforest floor and trees for whatever animals they can catch. Once caught, the ants break up the prey into smaller, more easily carried pieces using enzymes like the South American species Eciton burchelii or with strong jaws like the Dorylus driver ants of Africa. After the enzymes have played their role, the ants pull off pieces carrying them back to the nest to feed their young. Roaming the Amazon, you will find these Eciton burchelii army ants, which nest in living balls made from ant workers. They move out daily consuming the same weight of prey as larger mammalian carnivores.
In tropical Africa, Asia and Australasia live the weaver ants as a dominant species that nest in the tops of trees. They glue together foliage to form hollow balls the ants nest inside. They then move out in a seemingly continual flow down the trees, over branches and across the ground to bring back an incredible diversity of different animals.
You will find the driver ants (Dorylus spp.) in the African rainforest patrolling the forest floor. Unlike certain picky army ants that only seem to prey on things like wasp larvae, African driver ants have been regarded as eating more species than any other animal on Earth. Years ago, driver ants were used to execute adulterers by some African tribes and a respect for these ants can prove life saving. They can swarm the face entering the windpipe and suffocate anyone who can’t move away. Although a generalist carnivore, driver ants seem to have a preference for other social insects.
- Rainforest Mustelids
- Weasel Family
The most diverse group of mammalian carnivores, the weasel family (Mustelidae) includes several rainforest species such as the pictured tayra (Eira barbara). Tayra are proficient carnivores from Central America to southern Brazil and are opportunistic hunters with an apparent preference for small mammals.
Another rainforest mustelid, the greater grison (Galictis vittata) is a similar looking species to the Tayra but with a longer body and more pointed head. They also have a silver coat with a dark underside. Greater grisons feed on a diversity of animals as well as fruit.
Honey badgers (Mellivora capensis) are also in this family and live in rainforests of Africa and south Asia, as well as other habitat. Despite their docile-sounding name, honey badgers are anything but. Even when compared with Africa’s top carnivores, honey badgers are very aggressive and tough with a thick protective skin. These animals can challenge Africa’s most fearsome creatures if cornered. They also regularly feed on dangerous animals like venomous snakes, scorpions and porcupines.
Pictured is one of the most attractive vulture species, the king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa). King vultures are a large bird that often follow the smaller greater-yellow-headed vultures (Cathartes melambrotus) over the Amazon Rainforest canopy to find carrion. The king vultures lack the keen smell of the other species but the relationship benefits both birds. The greater yellow-headed vultures sometimes find they lack the beak strength required to tear open larger carcasses. It helps, therefore, to be accompanied by the largest vulture in the New World.
Books on Wildlife
Here is a selection of good books and guides on wildlife to help you learn more about animals and plants in their natural environment.
- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide
- Natural History (Smithsonian)
- The Encyclopedia of Animals
- Wild Amazon: A Photogapher’s Incredible Journey
- The Diversity of Life
Photography: Contact Björn Adolfsson