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Tropical Rainforest vs. Jungle: What’s The Difference?

A tropical jungle lit with sunlight beams.

Tropical Rainforests are vital to life on earth. Not only do they contribute immensely to the ecological health of the planet by absorbing greenhouse gasses, but they also provide specific items that are only found in these types of ecosystems, like specific medicine, chocolate, and exotic spices.

A tropical rainforest differs from a jungle in the amount of vegetation that grows on the ground. It has a hot and humid atmosphere with heavy rainfall all year long and a high tree canopy that doesn’t allow sunlight through. A jungle has thick vegetation on the ground and is mostly uninhabitable.

There is a reason why people compare a problematic route in life to a jungle. A forest floor is thick with shrubs and plant life, and the animals are diverse and dangerous, even for the animals. But what makes the tropical rainforest stand out above a jungle? Here are a few points to consider. 

What Is The Difference Between A Tropical Rainforest & A Jungle?

The attributes which differentiate between a jungle and a tropical rainforest are straightforward. Three characteristics make a tropical rainforest distinctive from a jungle:

TROPICAL RAINFORESTJUNGLE
The rainforest has a thick canopy of trees that prohibits sunlight from reaching the forest floor. For this reason, very few vegetation can inhabit the ground level.The jungle has a much denser forest floor with an abundance of plants and vines. The tree ceiling is thinner and allows in plenty of sunlight. This makes the jungle floor overgrown with plant and animal life, often making it challenging to move through it. 
A rainforest is also known for its great deal of rainfall during the year. It receives approximately 100 inches (254 cm) of rain per annum.Since the jungle is generally close to the rainforest, it also experiences plenty of rainfall but has fewer trees and much more sunlight. The rain can therefore reach the ground to feed the plant life below.
And because it has no dry season, the rainforest is hot, humid, and wet right through the year, making it a hospitable habitat for numerous plants, spices, and animals we can generally only find in this type of ecosystem.Like the rainforest, the jungle is usually found close to the equator and enjoys a balance of the same temperature right through the year. However, Jungles grow along the edges of the rainforests and experience cool nights and misty mornings, unlike the rainforests.

Different Types of Rainforest

There are generally 2 different types of rainforest:

  1. Tropical rainforests
    • They are found close to the equator, where the sun is the strongest and shines equally strong right through the year.
    • Their location keeps the temperature generally high and stable all twelve months of the year.
    • The air is humid and dank, and the soil typically has minimal nutrients as the forest floor is covered with all kinds of leaf debris.
    • The forest floor lacks the live plants which feed the earth.
    • The heat and ample rain keep the air moist and sticky and wash the little nutrients out of the soil.
    • The trees in the rainforest have shallow roots that absorb the fast-decaying nutrients in the decomposing organic matter that fall to the floor.  
  2. Temperate rainforests
    • These border the coastal and mountainous areas, which geographically also maintain high rainfall and milder climate conditions.
    • Unlike the tropical rainforests, it has two seasons, and the weather conditions are supported by the moisture-filled coastal air blown from the sea and the mountains.
    • Temperate rainforests have a long, rainy winter and a short summer, typically dry and foggy.
    • It differs from the tropical rainforest in that it has distinctive trees growing in the area and tends to cool down in the colder months.
    • However, temperate rainforests also receive extensive rainfall that makes the trees grow tall. 

6 Characteristics Of A Rainforest (Fun Facts!)

A tropical rainforest is one of the most diverse and mysterious phenomena on earth. Man is but in the infant stages of discovering all the secrets of this magical ecological wonder.

Here are a few really interesting facts about the rainforest:

  1. Rainforests cover about 4% of the earth’s surface but claim home to half of the world’s plant and animal species.  
  2. A new plant or animal type is found on average every two days!
  3. Since the rainforest floor is so hot and moldy, things decompose at an alarmingly quick rate down there.
  4. Over 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced in the rainforest, and tons of carbon dioxide is stored.  The high canopy roof also absorbs a vast amount of solar energy and helps to balance out temperatures on a global scale. Water that evaporates from trees falls in other areas as rain.
  5. Every minute about 100 acres of rainforest is cleared for industrial or agricultural expansion.  
  6. The atmosphere is filled so thickly with lush greenery that it would take 10 minutes to reach the earth if a raindrop should fall!

Unlike a jungle alive at all its levels, a tropical rainforest has different layers that entertain diverse plant and animal life. Sunlight is only sporadically allowed through the tree crown and hardly reaches the forest floor. 

Tropical rainforests have ‘layers’ that make its contents. Let’s learn about them…

The 4 Layers Of A Tropical Rainforest

A close look at a jungle's thick vegetation.
Tropical rainforests have 4 layers
  1. At the top is the emergent layer where only the tallest trees live and reach 200 feet (60 meters).
    • They monopolize the skyline of the tropical rainforest, where they trap more sunlight for photosynthesis.
    • The only animals brave enough to venture up to the emergent layer are small animals like monkeys, birds, butterflies, and bats. The branches are unsteady, and the distance to the forest floor is very far if they should fall.
  2. The Canopy layer follows below the emergent layer.
    • It absorbs the remainder of the sunlight, and blocks it out, so it doesn’t reach the lower levels of the rainforest.
    • This layer generally reaches lengths of about 100 feet (30 m) above the ground and must endure high temperatures, little water, and strong wind gusts.
    • Hearty and solid trees survive here, and only certain animals can take the conditions of the canopy layer, like small cats, larger birds, snakes, sloths, and lizards.
  3. The overgrown canopy layer leads to the barely vegetated understory layer.
    • Only a small percentage of light seeps through the top layers of the rainforest and feeds saplings, shrubs, and vines that don’t require a lot of light to grow.
    • The trees you will find here usually are undersized because they didn’t grow fast enough to reach the canopy layer, and therefore had to endure with little sunlight. 
  4. The forest floor receives hardly any sunlight and experiences dark, musty and torrid conditions.
    • This environment is only tolerable for large-leafed shrubs and young trees that manage to grow in the patches of sunlight.
    • The remainder of the forest floor is strewn with decaying plant life, animal scat, moss, and fallen trees.
    • The small fauna that can survive on the forest floor is fungi, spiders, beetles, giant centipedes, and animals like anteaters, jaguars, and the agouti (a type of rodent). 

Note: If you’d like to learn more about the types of animals that live in rainforests? Check out our other articles, “18 Most Dangerous Rainforest Animals” and “25 Rainforest Animals that Are Endangered

What Makes A Rainforest Tropical?

The temperature in a tropical rainforest typically reaches between 70 to 85°F (21 and 30°C) and receives rain right through the year, ranging from 80 to 400 inches (200 to 1000 cm).

Due to there being no dry season, the humidity is constant at approximately 77% to 88%. This results in damp, stifling heat beneficial for particular items we only get in tropical rainforests like rubber, chocolate, bamboo, and certain spices (like cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, paprika, and vanilla).

FUN FACT: Because of the moldy atmosphere and nutrient-poor soil, plant life also provided particular medicine only found in the tropical rainforest due to unique fungi and flora.  

What Is A Jungle?

A jungle is a thick tropical forest filled with animal and plant life. At the edges of the rainforests, where the sun’s rays are allowed to shine through, the sunlight reaches the ground and lets dense shrubs and plants grow.

Many would consider a jungle too dangerous to explore with its compact vines and scary animals, but as long as you prepare yourself for the hike, you should be able to wade your path through. (Learn about the Top 10 Most Dangerous Jungle Plants in my article here)

Is The Tropical Rainforest Considered A Jungle?

Even though the tropical rainforest and the jungle have the same type of weather, they’re similarly located near the equatorial belt, and they share heavy rainfalls, they are not quite the same.

The jungle has fewer trees, making its canopy open and sparse and allowing the sun to reach the forest floor and feed plants that grow close to the ground. The tropical rainforest experiences heavier rainfall and a stuffy, humid atmosphere unique to its ecosystem. Where the jungle air cools down during the night and early morning, the tropical rainforest does not. 

Animals in the Jungle vs Rainforest

A look at a Siberian Tiger in the wild.

Lions are the king of the jungle. It is a long-known phrase, but it rings a misconception. Contrary to its title, most lions do not live in the jungle. In fact, only about 10% of the lion species thrive in the jungle of India.

The majority of the lions are living in the grasslands, savannahs, or open woodlands. They are king mainly because of their fearlessness towards other animals, including those in the jungles.

The animal species also identifies the difference in the jungle vs rainforest dwellers. The jungle is littered with animals on its floor. It includes insects, rodents, reptiles, and amphibians. Large animals like the jaguar, leopard, and other mammals live in the jungle too.

Meanwhile, the rainforest houses thousand more species of animals in its canopy and emergent layers. It includes birds and arboreal or tree-living creatures like sloths and monkeys.

Check out our article, “Top 10 Dangerous Jungle Plants you Should Know”

5 Of The Biggest Tropical Rainforests Today

The Amazon rainforest in Brazil

#1: THE AMAZON

The biggest of these is found in The Amazon, which stretches over nine countries and envelopes about 40% of South America, about 2,124,000 square miles (or 5,500,000 square km). The majority of The Amazon is found in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. The Amazon represents over half of the remaining rainforests globally.

#2: CONGOLESE RAINFOREST

Another amazing tropical rainforest is the Congolese rainforest, situated over six countries like Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of Congo, and Equatorial Guinea with about 772,000 square miles (2,000,000 square km). The second biggest rainforest in the world claims home to a traditional tribal people called Pygmies, who are very short in stature; rarely taller than 5 feet (1.5 m).

This section of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo is also known to be the home of the highest population of eastern lowland gorillas. Only about 600 of these species are left on earth today.

#3: NEW GUINEA RAINFOREST

A much smaller tropical rainforest is the New Guinea rainforest that ranges over Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and reaches the width of about 111,200 square miles (or 288,000 square km). It boasts of being the largest rainforest in the Asia-Pacific region.

This rainforest has the most diverse orchid varieties, and two-thirds of the plant life is endemic, meaning that it is only found there. Twenty-four of this region’s bird species are under threat of extinction, and one of the world’s only known poisonous birds inhabits this rainforest. 

#4: BORNEO

The fourth-largest tropical rainforest is the Heart of Borneo, which ranges from 85,000 (220,000 square km) and covers countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, Asia’s last great rainforest.

Borneo is a biodiverse home of approximately 15,000 plant species, including the biggest flower in the world, the Rafflesia Arnoldii flower. The flower is told to smell like rotten carcasses, aptly also named the corpse flower. There are only between 55,000 and 65,000 wild orangutan primates left globally, and they only live in this rainforest habitat.  

#5: SUMATRA

Lastly, in southeastern Asia, in Indonesia, is the Island of Sumatra, where you will find the lowland tropical rainforest, which is currently one of the most threatened in the world. The island is roughly 9,650 square miles (25,000 square km) big and covered with rainforests from coast to coast. But due to illegal logging and palm oil production, there are mere pockets of rainforest still in existence, and the survival of this tiny rainforest and its plant and animal inhabitants depend on the conservation of the remaining parts. 

5 Jungles Of The World  

Like the tropical rainforests, there are numerous examples of the rarest and protected jungles globally—each with its characteristics.

#1: SINHARAJA FOREST RESERVE

In Sri Lanka, you will find the Sinharaja Forest Reserve that withstood millions of deforestation years. Dozens of villages are situated along the border and depend on the edible fruits, nuts, mushrooms, and herbal medicine for their survival.

This forest encompasses a range of about 88,960 acres (360 square km) but occupies a multitude of endemic trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. It is still a significant eco-tourism destination for Sri Lanka, and many campaigns have been undertaken to protect this biodiverse hotspot. 

#2: THE IMPENETRABLE FOREST

The mountain gorilla can be found in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Due to the dense forest of tall bamboo and the ground covered with thick ferns, vines, and other plants, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda earned its name because it is nearly inaccessible to enter on foot. As it hems the Congolese Tropical Rainforest, it also shares residence rights to the endangered mountain gorillas.

#3: THE DAINTREE

The Daintree Forest is located on the northeast coast of Queensland, Australia, and even contains white, sandy beaches inside its borders. This jungle is over 180 million years old, with an array of animals, insects, and prehistoric plants. You are welcome to explore by hiking through the various walking tracks built through it.

It hosts a variety of towns to explore as well as butterfly sanctuaries. Among the most dangerous creatures occupying this jungle, you should look out for crocodiles, snakes, ticks, and the potent Box Jellyfish, whose venom attacks the cardiovascular system and causes the swimmer to drown before reaching land. 

#4: MANU NATIONAL PARK FOREST

The Manu National Park Forest is situated in the southern parts of Peru, ranges roughly the area of 6,630 square miles (17,163 square km), and borders the Amazon Rainforest. The most famous section of this jungle is the Cloud Forest which reaches altitudes of about 4,000 m above sea level and plays host to Peru’s national bird, the Andean cock-of-the-rock. In 1967 the national park was established to promote the protection of the local flora and fauna.

#5: THE KANHA NATIONAL PARK

Lastly, but not the only, is the Kanha National Park in India with its rich bamboo forests and extensive grasslands, home to the Kanha Tiger Reserve. It hosts, among other animals, the Royal Bengal tigers and Indian Leopards within the borders of its 363 square miles (940 square km). This picturesque forest is the inspiration of the well-known novel, “The Jungle Book.”

Conclusion

Many people mistake a jungle for a rainforest. Even though all tropical rainforests are jungles, not all jungles are rainforests.

The most distinguishable fact is that the tropical rainforest’s canopy is closed and blocks out the sun. And because the sun cannot reach the forest floor, hardly any plant life can withstand the dark heat and musty air.

However, the jungle floor is uninhabitable and dense with vegetation, making it difficult for any human being to trek through it. 

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