Bamboo groves flourish along the banks of the Tambopata River. Bamboo is a type of grass and some species are among the world’s fastest growing plants. Remarkably, some species of bamboo can grow more than a meter in just one day. Many species can grow to the size of a large tree.
In common with all grasses, bamboo stems are hollow and jointed. In the world’s largest species, these stems can measure up to one meter in diameter. While some species of bamboo flower and produce seeds annually, others may only flower once every fifty or sixty years. In the short term, bamboo species are able to reproduce without seeding by growing new stems, with a single root capable of producing up to one hundred stems.
Because it is both flood and drought resistant, bamboo flourishes throughout a number of ecosystems, and across the world there are around five hundred species. In South America, bamboo can be found from southern Argentina and the forests of central Chile, all the way through the continent’s tropical rainforests, to the foothills of the Andes in Ecuador at around 4300 meters above sea level.
Traditionally, human groups on many continents have used bamboo to build their homes, fashion musical instruments, or as food. Fabric made from bamboo is remarkably soft, and possesses natural antimicrobial properties, making it odor resistant.
In Amazon rainforests like those of Tambopata National Reserve, bamboo groves provide shelter for entire ecosystems of other species. They are home to significant populations of ants, beetles, frogs and snakes, with some amphibians known to live inside hollow bamboo stems.
Aquatic insects such as mosquitoes and crane flies lay their eggs in the water contained in bamboo stalks. One rainforest grasshopper is known to possess a long, sharp egg-laying organ, or ovipositor, shaped like a knife, which it uses to cut into the bamboo and lay its eggs. As the bamboo grows at its characteristically rapid rate, these holes become stretched and enlarged, thereby providing access to other rainforest insects looking for a place to lay their own eggs.
In turn, these bamboo-dwelling insects are fed upon by the Amazon’s birds. For example, the rufous-headed woodpecker (Celeus spectabilis) will make holes in bamboo in the hunt for insects, while monkeys will enlarge the holes drilled by grasshoppers in order to forage. Other rainforest creatures such as poison dart frogs and lizards will use those same holes to feed on insects and lay their own eggs. Within this self-contained world created by the bamboo grove, in their turn tree snakes will feed on the frogs and lizards they find there.