The Brazil-nut tree soars above the canopy in the rainforest. It is over 160 feet tall. The photo shows the inside of the Brazil-nut pod. Inside the pod, there are about 20 to 30 seeds. The pod is hard as a rock! When they fall from such heights to the ground they can be going around 50 mph and they might even hit an animal. Peruvian botanist, Enrique Ortiz said, "You sometimes see animals staggering around with large welts where they've been struck."
There has been only one animal, the agouti, a large rodent with sharp, chisel-like teeth, that can crack open the pod. They hide the seeds in the ground like squirrels do with acorns. They do this to keep them away from rivals such as porcupines. A few of the seeds will germinate into the Brazil-nut trees. So without the agouti, there would be no more Brazil-nut trees. Thus, we can only find Brazil-nut trees where there are agoutis.
People have wondered why the Brazil-nut tree usually don't exist outside the forest. Now, we know why. The Brazil-nut tree could grow out of the forest, but not the orchids which are needed for the male orchid bees which in turn is needed by female orchid bees. So, this big tree is dependent on such a small creature to survive.
The pods crash to the forest floor during the wettest times of the year. After the agoutis open the pods, the empty pod husks remain on the forest floor. There are some unique mosquitoes and damselflies that are found nowhere else that use the remains of the pod to lay their eggs. There is a species of a poison-arrow frog that uses the pod almost exclusively to get water in order to go through the tadpole stage. This is an animal that is dependent on the Brazil nut tree to survive.
The relationship between the Brazil-nut tree, the agoutis, and the female orchid bees is really unique! However, we don't know all the interconnections that exist in the tropical rainforest. Sometimes, in the rainforest, all the connections are not known until one of the species is gone, then we see the effects. This is another good reason to preserve the tropical rainforest.
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