30 Amazing Natural Wonders of the Amazon
The incredible Amazon Basin covers over 40% of South America. The Amazon rainforest spans more than 2.1 million square miles, making it the largest rainforest in the world, and intrepid explorers can find more than 10% of all the world’s species within it.
This sprawling tropical encyclopedia of flora and fauna stretches far beyond Brazil, extending across parts of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. Here are 30 of the most amazing natural wonders found in the Amazon.
Golden Lion Tamarin
One of the most distinctive looking animals in the rainforest, the golden lion tamarin would not appreciate your lame jokes about gingers. Measuring less than a foot in length without the tail and weighing just one to two pounds, their earnest faces appear to peep out from the thick reddish fur that covers their bodies.
A species of boa, the green anaconda is the largest snake in the world, weighing in at more than 500 pounds, thanks in part to its imposing girth. They can grow to more than 20 feet long, with some even approaching 30 feet.
In addition to being the world's largest living rodent, the capybara is arguably the world's cutest rat. It resembles both a guinea pig on steroids and, bizarrely, tennis legend Rafael Nadal. However, some of the world’s top golfers found the presence of capybaras on the course at the 2016 Rio Olympics a bit disconcerting.
The harpy eagle would be a leading candidate to portray a White Walker if HBO ever makes an all-bird version of Game of Thrones. This bird is named after the harpies of Greek mythology, which are described as bird-like monsters with human faces. Fun fact: the design of Fawkes the Phoenix from the Harry Potter series was based off of the harpy eagle.
Otters are pretty cute, floating on their backs and smashing clams on rocks to open them and whatnot. But the giant otter is downright terrifying, measuring up to six feet in length and weighing more than 75 pounds. Amazingly, a giant otter can eat six to nine pounds of food daily.
As if being called the rhinoceros beetle and having a huge, intimidating horn wasn’t cool enough, these beetles are also known as Hercules beetles due to their amazing strength. With some species growing up to seven inches in length, these are among the largest beetles in the world.
Victoria Amazonica Lily
Monet would have flipped his beret if he saw these water lilies. The Victoria Amazonica is the largest water lily on Earth, with floating leaves up to 10 feet across and a stalk that can extend more than 25 feet below. Guyana claims it as its national flower and features it on its coat of arms, along with a pair of jaguars armed with a pick axe, sugar cane, and rice stalk.
Sure, the boa constrictor can be deadly to humans, but only if you let it coil around you. After all, they make great pets! Just bear in mind, a boa constrictor is a bad choice for households with pets or children. Constrictors can also live for more than 30 years in captivity. So, if you’re not up to snuff on your herpetology and in it for the long haul, just leave these snakes in the jungle where they belong. After all, collection for the pet trade contributes to population decline.
The Amazon rainforest is home to nearly 400 billion trees spanning 16,000 different species, but only about 200 of these are “hyperdominant” species, such as the rubber tree. The tallest of all is a species of kapok tree known as the sumaumeira, which can grow more than 200 feet high and 10 feet across.
Despite the NFL team name, there are no jaguars in Jacksonville – even team mascot Jaxson de Ville retired in 2015 – and they are very rarely seen in the United States. While they are the largest cat in the Americas, it is estimated that only 15,000 jaguars remain in the wild.
The howler monkey gets its name from its distinctive howl, but it’s not the wolf-like call that you might expect. Instead, it’s more like a deep burp after a long drink of soda, a grunt that some say sounds more like Gregorian chant. Now that’s a pretty unpleasant way to wake up at 4 a.m., but fear not, they’re just letting each other know which tree they’re on.
Fun fact: The spider monkey is actually a type of monkey and not a type of spider, which is reassuring. But despite weighing more than 20 pounds, their spindly limbs and long tail can resemble a giant spider hanging across tree branches.
Poison Dart Frog
Poison dart frogs offer dazzling colors that please the eye, but some also pack enough poison to kill multiple humans at a time. In particular, the golden dart frog reigns supreme as one of the deadliest. The BBC cautions that the golden poison frog has “enough poison to kill 10 grown men, making these frogs perhaps the most poisonous animals alive.”
The jaboticaba tree basically looks like it’s breaking out in hives when it bears fruit, because the fruit grows directly on its trunk, known as cauliflory. Understandably, the purple fruit is called tree grapes, as it looks like grapes without the vine.
The puma of South America is technically a subspecies of cougar, sometimes referred to as a mountain lion or panther. With their solid-colored coat, the puma is different in structure and behavior from the large cat species that include lions, tigers, and jaguars.
One of the coolest looking creatures in the Amazon, glass frogs are also known as see-through frogs, because of the transparent skin on their underbellies. Their liver, heart and intestines are all visible through this transparent layer. Talk about feeling naked!
The common bladderwort belongs to the genus Utricularia, a carnivorous aquatic plant similar to a Venus fly trap. It grows in swamps and streams without a root system, and has a long stem that sets clever traps for its unsuspecting prey.
Fun fact: the reptile sometimes called the Jesus Christ lizard is actually a basilisk lizard, and it gets such an exalted nickname by appearing to walk on water – but it’s actually more of a frenetic scamper. Sometimes it helps to be two-feet long and only a few ounces.
Humans love sloths. John Leguizamo voiced one in Ice Age (2002); Chris Sanders voiced one in The Croods (2013); Raymond S. Persi even voiced one that worked at the DMV in Zootopia (2016). Kristen Bell loves them to the point of emotional breakdown. And why not? Sloths are non-threatening, sluggish, and adorable.
The giant anteater has poor eyesight and no teeth, but don’t despair. They have ferocious skills capable of fending off a jaguar attack. Measuring up to four feet long and two feet high and armed with sharp claws, the giant anteater is a force to be reckoned with.
As if the name kinkajou wasn't awesome enough, these tropical mammals have distinctively large eyes and ears that jut out adorably, which give them a keen sense of hearing and the ability to avoid predators. Impressively, kinkajous can run backwards just as quickly as they can move forwards. And their name originates from a translation of honey bear, because they love to drink nectar and honey.
The sundew, of the drosera genus, has small flowers above some innocent-looking leaves. However, there are hairy little trichomes all over the upper leaves that exude a sweet sticky substance that attracts insects. Once insects are trapped in the substance, enzymes work to digest the prey.
Toucan Sam has hoodwinked generations of people into eating the sugar-packed cereal Froot Loops. A real toucan would never do that, but they do tend to “follow their nose” in order to find food. A genetic relative of the woodpecker, the toucan has a massive bill made of lightweight keratin that can grow to be four times the size of their head. The outsized length of their bill allows them to reach into crevices for food, and it’s also thought to intimidate other birds.
If you’re ever in the Amazon or Orinoco River basins and you catch a whiff of something horrible, you might be in the presence of a hoatzin. After all, there’s a reason it’s also known as the reptile bird, skunk bird or the stinkbird.
The Amazon river dolphin, also known as boto, lives in freshwater and turns pink in color as it ages, so it’s no wonder that they are the subject of strange legends. One such legend holds that these dolphins turn into men at night and seduce local women. Another legend claims that these dolphins kidnap those who dare to go swimming alone.
The scarlet macaw is one of the most colorful inhabitants of the Amazon. The scarlet macaw has gorgeous coloration, but they can be difficult to spot high up in the trees nestled into a hollow, or when blurring past in flight at 35 miles per hour.
Caimans are basically small gators, but are they dangerous to humans? While most caiman species are too small to pose a real danger to humans, the Amazon’s black caiman is large enough to be fatal. So give this cantankerous creature a wide berth. Adult males can grow to more than 13 feet long, and they are not to be trifled with.
Piranha translates to “tooth fish” in the indigenous Tupi language, and those jagged teeth are combined with a powerful jaw. Piranhas even have unique sensors that detect blood in the water, making them similar to a miniature shark. But there are dozens of different species of piranha, and some of them are even vegetarian.
The electric eel is not actually an eel, but a relative of the catfish. However, it is very much electric. Electric eels have 6,000 cells called electrocytes that trigger simultaneously when the eel is in danger or attacking prey. They use this incredible ability to stun their prey.
Not only do species of the Amazon’s giant catfish grow more than six feet long, but they also migrate further than any other freshwater fish. Catfish spawn 3,595 miles from the Amazon estuary where they spend most of their lives.