Life in the rainforest
From the perspective of a microbe

I am Monty Microbe.

Let us do some Microbiology.

I am a bacterium.
Welcome to my domain.

This is planet Earth from space.  I live way down there, in the Amazon rainforest.
Come and see where I live.

 You can zoom down towards the Earth, through the cloud tops,

and find out how the forest works.

Landsat Image © ESA Eurimage, 1992

Here you can see the Amazon rainforest more clearly.
It is a vast area of tropical forest, rich in biodiversity.

All sorts of creatures live here from big cats to microbes.

People too, but sometimes they harm the forest.

You can  see areas of deforestation in light green and pink.

Not long ago, this was all rich forest, undisturbed and unexploited.

Cutting down the trees hurts my habitat.

Go to the effects of deforestation

From the air © University of Texas

In the past,
the rainforest was often a mysterious and fearful place,

particularly to people from the temperate northern latitudes of Europe.

It was feared most for its diseases.


Below the canopy  © Günther Eichhorn

You are now below the forest canopy.
It is shady down here,

and you can see some of the forest life.

Insects are everywhere.

Mind those mosquitos.

They can carry disease.

In fact, one disease they carried took a terrible toll on the people of America - Yellow Fever.

  On the Ground © Günther Eichhorn

You are now on the ground.
Life is all around.

The rainforest is at work.

It recycles the chemicals of life.


Water Cycle
Carbon Cycle
Oxygen Cycle
Nitrogen Cycle

Down among the leaves
© Marco Bleeker, 1995-1998
 The Tropical Rainforest in Surinam

You are now down to the leaf litter, but to find me you need to go deeper.
What is the environment of a rainforest Microbe like?

To see me you really need a microscope


ActivityUsing Microscopes

Bacteria amongst soil grains © University of Princeton

What do you think I look like? Is it like this?

No, I am nothing like that.
I am very small.
You can't see me with the naked eye.
I have no arms or legs

I cannot walk.
I have no brain.
I cannot think.

I just respond to stimuli.

My place is amongst the particles of soil, feces and dead matter from insects and animals.
These provide me with all the food I need.In return, I break down the complex chemicals in this garbage, use some of them and put the rest
back into the environment as more simple chemicals which other forms of life can use -
including animals, plants and people.

It is wet where I live, you would say muddy.
And I can swim to the places I need to go.

But I find the water is as thick as syrup -

That is what it feels like when you are so small.

I move by waving my tails. But it takes a long time to move even a millimeter.
I am at the mercy of the river, and the raindrop.
I go where the waters flow.
I have no eyes to see.
It is dark down here.

I cannot hear.
But I can sense what is around me by minute vibrations

and by "tasting" the chemicals around me.
I can also sense electric fields and tiny currents.
This helps me find my food.
I can sense magnetic fields and
this lets me know which way is up and which direction

I am moving.
I cannot talk.
But I can communicate with chemicals, too.

I can eject special molecules into the water around me, and other bacteria can "read" them.

I cannot say much, though.

Basically, I can tell other microbes around me that I am here.

But when I meet another of my kind we can link through tubes, me make between us.
We send chemical messages to one another and sometimes we exchange genes

so we can divide and create more of our kind.

I am in danger from above and below.
Protozoa like the ciliates make a meal of 30,000 or more of my kind, each day.

And virus particles - bacteriophages - can latch on to my

cell wall and burrow inside to turn me into more of their kind.

And finally, you should know that I will not harm you.
I am not that kind of bacterium.

In my own small way I benefit you.

But who am I?
I have no name.

Mankind has not yet identified me!

For without me, there would be no rainforest.
I am part of the cycle of life, growth and death that keeps the rainforest, the Earth and

Now take the Microbes in the Rainforest Knowledge Challenge
Teachers Wormhole


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