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Tropical Rainforest Food Web

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Author: Tricia Edgar

It’s getting hot out there! Discover the warm, wet world of the tropical rainforest as you create a tropical rainforest food web.

Problem: What plants and animals form a tropical rainforest food web?

Materials

  • 8½” x 11” square piece of white cardstock paper
  • Colored pencils
  • Pen
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Transparent tape
  • Masking tape
  • Books about the plants and animals of a tropical rainforest
  • String
  • Push pins
  • Corrugated cardboard

Whew! The tropical rainforest is a hot topic. Tropical rainforests can be found around the world near the equator, an imaginary line around the middle part of the earth. Areas closer to the equator tend to be warmer. Warmth and moisture combine to make the world’s tropical rainforests home to nearly half of the species of plants and animals on earth.

One of our planet’s tropical rainforests is located in Central America, and has many gorgeous species of butterflies. The Blue Morpho Butterfly eats plant leaves of legumes when it is in its larval state.  When it becomes an adult, it drinks nectar from plants using its proboscis, an appendage that acts like a drinking straw.

Blue Morpho Butterfly

Legume plants:

Legume PlantLegume Plant Detail

Tropical birds like to eat butterflies and other insects. Jacamars are medium-sized birds with long beaks, and they like to eat all sorts of insects, including butterflies, moths, and wasps.

Jacamar

The jaguarondi is a small wild cat that lives in Central American forests. It looks a little bit like an otter. It’s very fast and can easily catch fish and birds. It will even jump up to knock birds out of the air!

Jaguarondi

Can you think of other plants and animals that live in a tropical rainforest? Look up one of your favorite large animals and see if you can find out what it eats.

Procedure

Food chains, food webs, and food pyramids: what’s the difference? In this activity, you’ll build all three.

Creating a Food Chain

A food chain is a simple line demonstrating which organisms eat which. In a food chain, you begin with a plant. In the tropical rainforest, this might be a legume that the blue morpho caterpillar likes to munch on. Along comes a bird called a jacamar, which catches and eats the morpho. Just as the bird is flying away, the jaguarondi that was hiding in the bushes leaps out and catches the jacamar.

  1. To create a food chain, place a foot-long piece of string on the cardboard. Pin it at either end.
  2. Create labels that say “legume plant,” “blue morpho,” “jacamar,” and “jaguarondi” and add these labels to push pins.
  3. Place the legume plant pin at one end of the string, followed by the blue morpho, the jacamar, and the jaguarondi.
  4. You’ve created a food chain—a simple line that shows how plants feed butterflies, which feed birds, which feed larger predators like the jaguarondi.

Creating a Food Web

So do wild cats like the jaguarondi only eat birds? Of course not! Animals often eat a wide variety of other plants and animals—far more than you could fit into a food chain. This is where a food web comes in handy.

Rainforest Food Web Small

  1. Create two more labeled push pins that say “marmoset” and “flower”. Use your string to attach the jaguarondi to the marmoset and the butterfly to the flower. 
  2. This pattern is starting to look more like a web than a chain! Can you think of other animals that might be part of this food web? What else does a Jacamar like to eat, for example? Add your findings to push pins and continue building your web.
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