The Amazon rainforest, covering much of northwestern Brazil and extending into Colombia, Peru and other South American countries, is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, famed for its immense biodiversity. It’s crisscrossed with thousands of rivers, the most exceptional being the powerful Amazon.
Amazonia: Largest rainforest in the world
The Amazon basin is the part of South America drained by the Amazon River and its tributaries. The Amazon drainage basin covers an area of about 40% of the South American continent. Indeed, the Amazon rainforest is so large that it spans nine countries: Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.
Most of the basin is covered by the Amazon Rainforest, also known as Amazonia. With a 5,500,000 km2 area of dense tropical forest, this is the largest rainforest in the world.
The amazon river
The Amazon River is the principle path of transportation for people and produce with transport ranging from balsa rafts and dugout canoes to hand-built wooden rivercraft and modern steel hulled craft.
The Amazon river has over 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are longer than 1000 miles. It is longer than any river but the Nile. The Amazon River is therefore the second longest river in the world.
The Amazon River carries more water than any other river in the world.
Animal and plant diversity
The Amazon rainforest is home to over two and a half million different species of insect, more than forty thousand varieties of plant, one and a half thousand bird species and over two thousand fish species.
The Amazon rain forest has one of the greatest levels of biodiversity on the planet, if not the greatest. It is estimated that 1 in 10 of all animal species lives in the Amazon rain forest. On top of that, just one hectare of the Amazon rain forest can contain up to 750 species of trees and 1,500 species of higher plants.
The reason for such high diversity is the age of the forest which is around 100 million years old. Also the stable climate has allowed life forms to fill and create more niches in the ecosystem. But most of all is the relation with insects and plant, insects are almost inseparable from plants because they require each other to survive.
The largest river dolphin species in the world is the Amazon River dolphin or Boto. It’s a freshwater dolphin that lives in the waterways of the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers in South Amercia.
There are over 3000 known species of fish that live in the Amazon River, with more constantly being discovered. The Amazon River is also home to the piranha, a meat eating type of fish. The number of species of fish in the Amazon exceeds the number found in the entire Atlantic Ocean!
Common types of monkeys in the Amazon rain forest include tamarins, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys and marmosets.
The Amazon Rainforest is a birder’s paradise with over 1500 described species of rainforest birds. Amazon Rainforest birds include famous species like the brilliantly coloured scarlet macaws, iconic toucans, and powerful harpy eagles. Most parrot species rely on seeds as food. Others may eat fruit, nectar, flowers or small insects. Some species are known for imitating human voices.
There are more than 450 species of lizards, snakes, turtles, tortoises, and caiman in the Amazon Basin. Reptiles are an important food source for people in the Amazon.
Sadly many reptiles species are illegally collected an exported for the international pet trade. Live animals are the fourth largest commodity in the smuggling industry after drugs, diamonds, and weapons.
This is the icon of the Amazon Rainforest. Scarlet Macaws are a predominantly red, large macaw with stripes of blue and yellow across their feathers. They feed on nuts, seeds, and fruit, and range from Central America down to the Bolivian Amazon.
Geckoes the scaly-footed lizards are closely related and unlike other lizards they have no eyelids and clean their eyes by licking them. Both are nocturnal and lay only two eggs. Geckoes have several leaf-like pads on their toes that allow them to climb almost any surface. The scaly-footed lizards resemble snakes and are often mistaken as one. Unlike snakes, they have two flaps where their hind legs used to be.
More than 1500 bird species are found in the Amazon Basin, while South America as a whole is home to roughly one-third the world’s birds. Many birds found in the Amazon are northern or southern migrants, wintering in or passing though the rainforest at certain times of the year.
A single square mile of rainforest often houses more than 50,000 insect species.
Amazon Rainforest spiders have fascinated people for centuries. Charles Darwin wrote of social rainforest spiders that form huge colonies, sometimes engulfing entire trees. In fact, if you are going to the Amazon Rainforest and shining your light to spot nocturnal wildlife, the forest floor may resemble the night sky with the twinkling of stars from the undergrowth. These are of course not stars but the twinkle of tropical rainforest spider eyes.
In the northern Amazon & Orinoco Basin you can find the largest tarantula in the world, species of the genus Theraphosa aka the goliath tarantula. With a leg span of 30 cm the spider is, the size of a dinner plate. Tarantulas are found in the rainforests and jungles of South and Central America, in Africa and in the southern part of North America. Many Tarantulas live in burrows underground.
Blue & Gold Macaw – These beautiful Macaw parrots are found in South American rainforests such as the Amazon Basin. Ideal habitat for these birds is forests areas that are dense with 3-4 layers of tree coverage from top to bottom. Their natural diet include fruits and seeds only and their favourite fruit is guava. It is very difficult to gender identify them, because they look similar and there are few differences only that a professional bird watcher can only tell. it’s a big bird with long and wide colorful feathers. Their number is slowly declining and they may soon declared endangered species. Reason for that is mainly loss of habitat and people buying them as pets. BTW Macaws, like other parrots, mate for life!
The insects in the Amazon, like all tropical biomes, are larger and more colorful than their temperate counterparts. Amazon Rainforest insects are exceptionally diverse and insects are often regarded as the most successful animals to have lived on Earth. There are more different insects than in any other class of animals. It is not surprising that the Amazon Rainforest, a place containing more diversity than anywhere else, contains a fantastic assemblage of colorful, strange and interesting insects.
A caterpillar before morphing into a beautiful butterfly. A butterfly’s life begins with a very tiny egg laid on a leaf. From this develops a larva, the butterfly’s caterpillar stage. Eventually, the larva makes a cocoon or chrysalis. Safe inside, it develops into a pupa. Eventually, a beautiful butterfly is released from this container, flying heavenward, fully-developed. What an astounding transformation, from a humble, earth bound worm-like creature to a delicate flying wonder.
Green Iguanas are the largest lizards living the Amazon rainforest. They are fairly typical animals that we encounter quite often. Most of the time they can be spotted catching the sun’s hot rays from a tree branch that hangs over the river.
Most iguanas live in the rainforests of Central and South America but some come from drier areas and along the ocean’s coasts. Young iguanas are a very light green and blend in well with their natural habitat. As they grow older, iguanas become darker and live almost exclusively in the rainforest’s trees.
Iguanas are masters of camouflage. Their tail is striped, helping to them blend in with the rainforest. Older iguanas live high up in the trees. All iguanas are excellent climbers. They are amazing to watch as they quickly scurry from branch to branch. They are also great swimmers.
Green iguanas have good senses of hearing and smell, and unbelievable eyesight. Their eyesight is their best defense against predators.
Tucan: Loudest animal!
The Toucan, the loudest creature in the Amazon rainforest, can be heard from a distance of half a mile away! The bright orange beak is about one third of the bird’s total length. It’s also interesting that although they spend a lot of time in trees, they are not very good at flying. Toucans mainly travel among trees by hopping.
These iconic birds are very popular pets, and many are captured to supply demand for this trade. They are also familiar commercial mascots known for hawking stout, cereal, and other products. Indigenous peoples regard the bird with a more sacred eye; they are traditionally seen as conduits between the worlds of the living and the spirits.
Fruits in the rainforest
Most of our food originally comes from the rainforests of the Amazon. Amazon derived products include bananas, black pepper, chocolate, coffee, corn, pineapple, rice and tomatoes. There are around 3000 fruits found in rainforests, and in the west we make use of around 200 of them. However, indigenous tribes make use of over 2000!
When we see the word “cacao” we associate it with chocolate, but it’s a little more complicated than that. The cacao tree is an evergreen, which grows a pod containing 20 to 60 reddish-brown cocoa beans. When harvested, it takes anywhere from seven to 14 pods to produce one pound of dry cocoa beans, which is turned into delicious chocolate. It’s important for cacao to be harvested sustainably, since chocolate is in very high demand.
Grows below altitudes of 1,000 feet in an area that receives about 4 inches of rain per month, originated in the lowland rainforests of Amazon River basins and can now be found in southern Mexico.
Papaya is the giant tropical plant which grows very fast, bearing flowers and then fruit within a year of planting. It is usually eaten fresh as a finger food and sometimes off the tree. It is considered a health food because of its abundance of vitamins A and C. Papaya is also a good source of fiber, lowering cholesterol levels and easing constipation issues.
It’s best to consume a Carambola fruit when ripe. An unripe fruit will appear green, while a ripe Carambola will display colors of bright yellow with a light shade of green. It will also have brown ridges at the five edges and feel firm. An overripe fruit will be yellow with brown spots. Starfruit is one of the “superfruits” – it is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, and low in sugar, sodium and acid. It is sweet without being overwhelming and extremely juicy. The taste is difficult to compare, but it has been likened to a mix of papaya, orange and grapefruit all at once.
The first coffee was drunk over a thousand years ago by Arab traders. According to legend, it was discovered by an Ethiopian shepherd who saw his goats were unusually frisky after eating the caffeine-rich coffee berries.
It can grow as tall as 30 feet, but is considered a bush or shrub. From the picture they look like grapes, but those are berries containing two coffee beans inside. It takes an amazing six to eight years for the plant to be in full production and coffee plants can live up to 100 years old.
The avocado is sometimes referred to as the alligator pear. It is an evergreen, tropical fruit tree that can grow up to 80 feet tall. It is native to the rainforests of southern Peru and Mexico, and blooms in mid winter. The flowers grow in clusters of 200 to 300 yellow to green blooms. The fruit is large, pear-shaped. Avocado trees are emergent trees in a rainforest. Although the trees will grow in shade, they prefer full sun and will often choke out other trees in order to get adequate sunlight.
Bananas are indigenous to the tropical portions of India, Southeast Asia and northern Australia, and were brought to South America by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. Today, banana plants grow in the humid, tropical regions of Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia where there are high temperatures and rainfall.
Even though they grow on trees, bananas are not trees, but giant herbs. After a year, they reach their full height of anywhere between 10 and 20 feet. The blossoms eventually bloom into a fruit, where they then ripen and are used for sustenance.
Although in Europe we only eat this one variety, 40 wild banana species exist and over 300 varieties are grown.
The amazon forest
This area of immense natural beauty is sometimes referred to as ‘the lungs of the Earth’. This is because the rich vegetation takes carbon dioxide out of the air, and releases oxygen back in. In fact, more than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon.
Water droplets in the morning mists of the Amazon jungle condense around aerosol particles. In turn, the aerosols condense around miniscule salt particles that are emitted by fungi and plants during the night.
Very little sunlight makes it through the dense canopy of trees and foliage covering the Amazon rainforest. Down on the ground, it is nearly completely dark. In fact, if it started raining, it would take ten minutes before you even got wet!
Plants in the rain forest grow very close together and contend with the constant threat of insect predators. They have adapted by making chemicals that researchers have found useful as medicines.
The Amazon is responsible for 25% of the fresh water that flows into the world’s oceans.