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Top 10 Fascinating Animals You Can Spot in the Amazon Rainforest

by Maryna Lus

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As the world’s largest tropical rainforest, the Amazon is famed for its biodiversity. The warm climate and a variety of available ecosystems have all contributed to the abundance of wildlife here.

From the world’s most dangerous predators to the most exotic birds, Amazon attracts adventure travelers and animal lovers from all around the world.

In this article, we are featuring some of the rainforest’ most interesting creatures, so that you get a sneak peek into Amazon’s rich fauna.

The good news is that most of these animals (unless specified otherwise) can be found in the most popular countries of the Amazon basin: Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador.

The Hyacinth Macaw

Two Hyacinth Macaws

Macaws are the largest parrots in the world - and the Hyacinth Macaw is the largest of all macaws. This long-tailed parrot typically grows to 3.3 feet (1 meter) from head to tail with a vast wingspan approaching 5 feet (1.5 meters). Their noble cobalt-blue plumage makes them easy to tell apart from other macaws.

These smart birds fill the canopy of Amazon rainforest with a variety of sounds. They communicate vastly in order to mark their territory and to advertise their presence to their flock. Macaw also has a superior ability to mimic human speech including correctly using words and crafting creative expressions.

Did you know? One study even found that macaws can speak more than 6,000 variations of expressions!

As monogamous birds, macaws typically mate for life. You’ll have great fun observing these charming birds sharing food, grooming each other, and flying around almost touching each other, side-by-side.

You might be surprised to learn that some of macaws’ favorite foods are poisonous, but luckily they have developed immunity to most of them. To neutralize toxins in their food, macaws eat clay from clay licks along the riverbanks.

Some clay licks, particularly the ones in Tambopata, Peru, gather even hundreds of macaws daily which is a spectacle not to miss! While macaw has grown immune to some of the world’s most dangerous toxins, the seemingly harmless foods like cherries, avocados, or chocolate are still poisonous to them.

The Hyacinth Macaw’s largest populations live in the three main locations in Brazil: the Pantanal region, the Cerrado region (eastern interior), and the eastern portion of the Amazon Basin. In smaller populations, they can also be found throughout the Amazon.

The Hyacinth Macaw is listed as critically endangered mainly due to illegal trapping for the pet trade, deforestation, and habitat degradation.

Beware:  You might be approached by people selling macaws in markets in Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador. Remember that this illegal trade may lead to their extinction.

Even if you release the bird after purchasing, the very fact of purchase will only further encourage the illegal activities. The best thing you can do to protect these creatures is to inform local authorities.

The Jaguar

The Jaguar

No trip to Amazon is complete without catching a glimpse of the majestic jaguar, the king of rainforest! The jaguar is the largest cat in the Americas, and the third-largest cat in the world, after the tiger and the lion. They typically grow up to 67 inches long (170 centimeters) not counting their massive tails which grow up to 32 inches (80 centimeters).

Jaguars are known for their rose-shaped spots (often called ‘rosettes’), which unlike leopards’ spots are fully colored (leopards spots have a smaller spot inside them).

In the Amazon native language, 'yaguar' means 'he who kills with one leap' which perfectly characterizes these fearsome predators. Out of all wild cats, jaguars have the strongest jaw which allows them to easily bite through the thick hides of crocodilians and the hard shells of turtles. Spoiled with an abundance of prey, they’ll hunt and eat anything from frogs and fish to cows or deer.

Black jaguars are common in the Amazon, although you might need to spend more time by the water in dark rainforest in order to spot them. The darker trees create the perfect background for these magnificent cats to camouflage themselves.

Jaguars can be spotted in most of the countries of the Amazon basin, excluding El Salvador and Uruguay.

Due to poaching, deforestation, and habitat loss, jaguars are considered near threatened.

The Amazon Pink Dolphin (also known as Boto)

Amazon River Pink Dolphin

Image Credit: Jorge Andrade, Wikimedia Commons

These river dolphins are endemic to Amazon rainforest. They are the largest among freshwater species, typically measuring at up to 9 feet (2.7 meters) long and weighing around 400 pounds (181 kilograms). Botos also have remarkably large brains that have 40% more brain capacity than human brains.

These creatures are known for their pink color and come in a variety of shades. They are born gray and slowly turn pink as they grow up. Adult individuals can turn up in any shade from mostly gray with sparse pink spots to intense, almost-flamingo pink.

Male dolphins are usually bigger and pinker than the female which can be explained by their belligerent temper. They tend to engage in fights and often get wounded; hence their grey skin gets almost fully replaced by pink scar tissue. When these river creatures get excited, they tend to blush almost like humans, turning bright pink.

Even more extraordinarily, these cetaceans can turn their heads 180 degrees. This allows them to easily maneuver around tree trunks, rocks, and other large objects found in the rivers.

When exploring the waters of Amazon, you’ll get a one-of-a-kind opportunity to observe these creatures in their habitat! They are friendly, playful and often engage with canoes that swim by them. Be careful though, as part of their play they can even grab a hold of your paddle with their beaks and swim away with their prize.

Botos are relatively abundant, yet in some areas they’re classified as vulnerable due to the dams that threaten their population and contamination of rivers and lakes.

The Tapir

The Amazon Tapir

Another animal to not miss out on, the tapir is similar in shape to a pig with a short elephant-like nose trunk. Surprisingly, despite their looks, their closest relatives are horses and rhinos and not pigs.

The tapir’s shouts that resemble elephant trunks allow them to easily grasp tasty leaves or put fruit in their mouth. When swimming, they may even poke their snout out of the water and use it as a snorkel.

You might notice that tapirs often make funny-looking faces, curling their lips and raising their snouts. This way they’re using their ‘superpower’, a powerful sense somewhere between taste and smell that allows them to easily detect possible threats.

Tapirs are crucial to Amazon’s ecosystem. They eat a variety of plants and fruit, the seeds of which survive through their digestive systems. As they wander through the forest, they spread the seeds of various plants to new locations. The research found that feces of tapir can contain as much 122 plant species!

Unfortunately, today most of the tapir species are classified as endangered or vulnerable.

The Red-faced Bald Uakari monkey

The Red-faced Bald Uakari monkey

Image Credit: Ipaat, Wikimedia Commons

The Red-faced Bald Uakari monkey is also local to Amazon rainforests. This rare monkey is easy to recognize due to the bald head and pink face. Their bright face serves as a signal that the monkey is healthy and available for mating as sick monkeys get pale.

These primates are typically small ranging from 14 to 22.5 inches (36 to 57 centimeters) in length and 4.4 to 7.7 pounds (2 to 3.5 kilograms) in weight. Uakaris have long, furry coats and come in a variety of colors, from brown and red to white or black.

These pinky creatures are very cautious and hence more difficult to come by, making it even more rewarding to spot them during your trip!

Uakaris are classified as near threatened due to the destruction of their habitat, hunting, and the pet trade. Because female Uakari can only give birth to a single infant once every two years and their reproductive age is short, the population of these primates cannot be increased rapidly.

The Bald Uakari is native to the Western Amazon – residing in the countries of Peru and Brazil.

The Amazon Black Caiman

The Amazon Black Caiman

Image Credit: David Stanley, Wikimedia Commons

The Amazon Black Caiman typically grows up to 14 feet (4 meters) and 800 pounds (362 kilograms) which makes them the largest among their caiman cousins and the largest of all alligators.

These predators are semi-aquatic, living in and out of the water, but the latter is definitely their preferred environment. As skillful swimmers, they use their strong tails to propel in the water with no need to engage their legs whatsoever. This allows them to reach a speed of around 30 miles per hour (50 kilometers).

Caimans have potent bodies covered with hard, armor-like scales. Their massive size coupled with an excellent sense of hearing and eyesight makes them an apex predator, the top of the food chain in Amazon!

While the smaller caiman species feed of fish or birds, the Black caiman hunts only large prey such as boars, otters, armadillos, horses, deer, or even jaguar. That said, these predators are a keystone species, a type of species that is crucial to maintaining the structure of Amazon’s ecological community. They preserve the balance by decreasing populations of animals which destroy crops and attack cattle.

Here’s one peculiar fact about the caimans –  they are incredibly fertile and have developed efficient routines to protect their offspring. Their females can lay up to 65 eggs at a time. These intelligent reptiles know that warmer temperatures in their nests produce females, while colder produce males. That’s why they typically make layered nests to ensure even gender distributions.

Moreover, while caimans are typically ‘lone wolves’ and only gather up during the mating season, they can take care of another caiman’s babies shall such need occur.

Although they were close to extinction in the 70s, today these species is classified as conversation dependent mainly due to habitat loss and poaching.

The Golden Lion Tamarin (Golden Marmoset)

The Golden Lion Tamarin

The Golden Lion Tamarin is a small monkey covered with fur ranging in color from golden-yellow to red-orange. Their fluffy manes frame their hairless faces and make them look similar to lions.

These primates can reach around 10 inches (25 centimeters) in length and 24 pounds (11 kilograms) in weight. They live in the groups of 2-8 individuals that typically have a one mating couple which is dominant in the group. Once the happy couple has a baby, the group’s life centers around the newborn.

Golden Marmosets live in trees. A group typically occupies the territory of around 100 acres (400 square meters). They use various signs such as smells and songs to scare off intruders to their territory.

During the day, they travel from branch to branch looking for food. Despite their cute looks, as omnivores, they don’t limit their nutrition to plants but can also attack amphibians, reptiles, and birds.

At night, they sleep in the holes in trees or dense vines. Curiously, they never sleep in the same place which protects them from overlapping with other tamarin groups (as mentioned, tamarin groups are highly territorial).

Golden marmosets maintain their bonds via grooming and food sharing. Older group member typically share their supplies with the younger members, either by offering a bite or letting the food to be stolen (this is called passive sharing).­­

This type of primates is seriously endangered with around 1,500 individuals left in the wild. Their population has been mainly preserved due to captive breeding in zoos and reintroduction into their native habitat.

The Golden Lion Tamarin is endemic the Atlantic coast of Brazil and can be found in the following areas: Poço das Antas Biological Reserve, Fazenda União Biological Reserve.

The Green Anaconda

The Green Anaconda

Thanks to their impressive physique, the Green Anaconda is Earth’s most massive snake. Large anacondas often weight as much as 200 pounds (90 kilograms).

When they hunt a smaller meal, these massive predators eat up to 40 pounds of food per day and typically hunt fish, turtles, caimans, capybaras, pigs, jaguars, or deer. On rare occasions, they might engage in cannibalism. A large meal can keep them full for a couple of weeks during which they will not hunt.

Despite the common mass culture myths and although they have physical abilities to do so, there is no verified evidence of anaconda eating a human. While these predators can easily hunt prey with more than 120 pounds (54 kilograms) of weight, man-eating anacondas can be considered a myth.

Currently, anacondas are not endangered and have no special status, although they do face a threat due to the loss of their habitat and poaching.

The Piranha

The Red-bellied Piranha

The word ‘piranha’ translates as ‘tooth fish’ in the Brazilian language Tupí. This ferocious freshwater fish is known for their razor-sharp teeth and relentless bite. Similar to sharks, the shape of their teeth is akin to the shape of a blade.

The largest of modern piranha species, Black piranha, can bite with a maximum force of 72 pounds (32 kilograms) which is three times their own bodyweight! Despite their small size (17 inches or 43 centimeters), their jaw is powerful enough to crush a human hand in just 5-10 seconds. Don’t worry though, piranha are not known to bite humans.

Today, there are more than 60 known species of piranhas which have various colors including yellow, grey, bluish to partly red to almost black. Black and red-bellied piranhas are considered the most dangerous and aggressive.

Piranhas usually eat snails, fish, aquatic animals, and various plants and fruit. Despite their grim reputation, some piranhas are herbivores. That said, many piranha species are known to occasionally cannibalize their own! There are also cases of piranhas devouring capybaras or other large mammals but only if the prey is already dead or dying.

If you hear ‘dogs’ barking while you are exploring the Amazon, that might be a sign that there are piranhas nearby. Red-bellied piranhas are known to make three distinctive types of bark-like sounds, each with their own meaning.

Today, piranhas inhabit the freshwaters of South America from the Orinoco River Basin in Venezuela up to the Paraná River in Argentina.

The Sloth

The Sloth

These cute, hairy animals are typically found hanging on trees. While often considered slow or lazy (even their name translates as ‘lazy’), sloths actually have many impressive ‘superpowers’!

As sloths have been on this planet for about 64 million years, their slowness has developed as a survival mechanism. Comparing to other mammals, they have a reduced ability to regulate their body temperature. Moving in a slow pace allows them to burn less energy and avoid overheating. As a bonus, they can consume fewer plants than other herbivores.

The impressive biology of sloths allows them to spend 90% of their life hanging upside down. They can breathe freely when hanging down as their organs are attached to their rib cage and don’t burden their lungs.

Sloths are also superior swimmers. Moving up to three times faster when they swim, they can also hold their breath for the whole 40 minutes and adjust their heart rate a third of its normal speed.

Finally, sloths are able to turn their head on a 270° axis obtaining an almost 360° view of their surroundings.

Unfortunately, some of the sloth species are classified vulnerable and some are endangered.

Beware: Sloth selfies are popular among tourists, but most people don’t know that these captive animals are often severely mistreated. When not used for photos, they might be left tied up on the floor which makes them vulnerable and stressed.

It’s also very stressful for them to be held by humans or to be held just by their arms (a popular position for a photo). The best thing you can do is to not partake in such activities and take photos of these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat instead.

Excited to get close and personal with some of Amazon’s amazing animals? Check out our hand-picked selection of wildlife tours in Peru!

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