Amazing Amazon Animals

By Duffy, Alison | The World and I, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Amazing Amazon Animals


Duffy, Alison, The World and I


Of all the hidden corners and vast stretches of land on our Earth, the most untamed, diverse, and even alien to us might be the mysterious jungle of the Amazon. Blanketed with more than six million square kilometers of thick vegetation and thousands of bird, mammal, and insect species, it is home to 20 percent of our living organisms. Hiding among these creatures are cures for disease and endangered species that are quickly running out of survival space due to humans' gross deforestation practices. In addition to jeopardizing the wildlife, deforestation contributes to global warming and the pollution of our air due to the loss of trees, therefore increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, an introduction to the jungles of the Amazon and its invaluable wildlife supply may encourage further knowledge and protection of our largest source of nature.

Fish

Although the surface of the Amazon River Basin is relatively calm, there is an enormous world to be discovered underneath. If a trip to Brazil and the Amazon has ever crossed your mind, probably the first species you've thought about was the fearsome piranha. Allegedly ferocious, this fish has been said to eat humans bite by vicious bite. To the contrary, these fish are not the man-eaters they are made out to be.

Of the twenty species of piranha found in the Amazon, most are vegetarian and of no danger to humans. Their exaggerated reputation precedes them, but upon inspection, the fish are rather small, ranging from eleven to twelve inches in length. Their gold bodies with reddish underbellies are covered in taste buds, which can detect the presence of worthy prey. Their razor sharp teeth are made for slicing through meat easily, and they are drawn to blood. Usually they travel in packs of up to thirty piranhas. Only one of over two thousand species of fish in the Amazon, they live among electric eels, which can deliver a shock of up to 650 volts; the giant pirarucu, which can weigh in at over 330 pounds; stingrays; and over a hundred species of catfish. Most of the fish species of Brazil are vegetarian and migrate toward riverbanks with low-hanging trees, so that they may eat fruit that has dropped and floats on the surface of the water.

Primates

Of the 250 primate species in the world, about 75 of them can be spotted along the Amazon. The howler monkey is an example of a primate that is distinguished by a loud, guttural howl used to protect its turf. In places where the howler monkey population is more abundant, significantly more shrieks can be heard due to a greater competition for space.

Squirrel monkeys can also be seen in the Amazon, and are thought to be one of the most peaceful mammals in the wild. Unlike howler monkeys, whose main source of food is leaves, squirrel monkeys feed on mostly insects and fruit. Attractive and small, squirrel monkeys are white around the eyes, and have short soft black fur around the head.

A third example of an Amazonian primate is the uakari monkey, which is sometimes nicknamed "English monkey" since its red complexion and bald head resemble a sunburned person. These monkeys are endangered, living in rapidly declining areas of flooded swamp forest.

Mammals

The largest mammal species found in the Amazon area is the jaguar. Jaguars can be spotted or solid black, and can weigh up to 260 pounds and span about eight feet in length. They prey on other mammals such as the capybara, monkey, sloth, and deer, hunting at night and usually alone. Classified as "Near Threatened," less than fifty thousand still exist in the wild. Other wild cats include the endangered puma, which is slightly smaller than the jaguar, the ocelot and the jaguarundi. The latter can be spotted more easily due to its daytime hunting patterns.

Another mammal found in these rainforests is the slow-moving sloth. Sleeping eighteen hours a day, sloths creep from tree to tree hanging and climbing up the branches.

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