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This week's Live Chat from the Amazon will be on Wednesday, April 23 from 9 AM to 10 AM CST. Log your class in under Teacher Resources. See you there!

Shelter is one of the elements of survival, along with food and water. Shelter offers people safety and security. A person's shelter is often a reflection of their habitat. For instance, a shelter in the rainforest is designed much differently than a shelter in your neck of the woods.

Did you know that plants need shelter too? Plants in the rainforest are generally very particular. Because there are so many species in the rainforest, there is a great deal of competition between plant species.

Just like people and animals, this orchid needs shelter. It would not be able to survive in direct sunlight.

Plants often shelter one another by blocking sunlight. In the tropical rainforest, the understory is dark and wet, receiving less than 5% of the sunlight. The plants and trees above the understory offer shade to the plants below. If many of the plants in the under-story were given direct Equatorial sunlight, they would wilt and die very quickly.

Plants have a number of natural defense mechanisms that help to protect them from predators and outside elements. Some plants have a bad taste, thorns, sticky leaves, poisonous hairs, or even leaves that contain substances like silica inside them. Silica is tiny and hard, like a grain of sand. It acts like sand paper hidden inside the leaf and grinds down the teeth and mouthparts of predators. Animals and insects learn to stay away from leaves like that.

The tropical rainforest provides shelter to over 20% of the world's species of animals. Animals use shelter for two reasons: protection and places to hunt from. Many animals use shelters to keep them from becoming another animal's lunch, while others use shelter to wait for prey to walk by.

Caciques create their shelters high up in the trees to stay safe from predators.

Because there are four layers of the rainforest, shelter in the rainforest takes many different shapes. Most of the arboreal animals, or animals that live in the trees, take shelter in nests or dens carved, dug, and built into the trees. The understory provides excellent shelter for every terrestrial animal, or ground-dwelling animal. Animals are aided by their natural defenses, such as camouflage, when determining the proper shelter. Leaves and plant material are abundant building materials for an animal to construct or manipulate its shelter.

This house is built on stilts but it is still surrounded by dry ground. In another week or two, the floodwaters will probably be up to the steps.

For the people living the rainforest, forms of shelter have remained unchanged for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Living in a habitat that is dependent on the seasonal changes requires a home or shelter to withstand flooding, intense heat, and torrential downpours of rain. As we travel down the river, our primary shelters have been homes on stilts made traditionally with materials from the rainforest. We are also carrying two forms of shelter with us: hammocks and a large tent. Can you think of other animals that carry their shelter with them wherever they go?

This house is on stilts too and the land around it has been completely flooded.

While some larger communities of indigenous, or native, people have access to running water and electricity, most people living along the Amazon River live traditionally. They rely on the rainforest to provide all of the essentials for survival. The rainforest provides medicine, building materials, food, and tools. Although today most indigenous people wear modern clothes, their ancestors made clothing from materials found in the forest. What types of homes would not be adequate shelter in the rainforest? If you lived in the rainforest, what your shelter look like? How would you design your home? What is your house made out of? Why was that building material used?

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