By Amanda Little
Trek through the mysterious and amazing Amazon rain forest. Those seeking adventure in its rawest form should make this trip. Traveling through South America and experiencing the different regions of the Amazon Basin is an amazing journey, topped only by the critters that call the jungle home!
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Famous for being the world's slowest animal, the three-toed sloth (not to be confused for a two-toed sloth) is adored by many for its cute face and relaxed personality. Found in the treetops of the Amazon Rainforest, these mellow animals hang from branches by their powerful claws. When spotting these creatures, it’s very difficult to tell if they’re asleep or not, since they spend most of the day sleeping, and are incredibly still even while awake.
Some of them have a green hue to their fur, because they move so slowly algae grows on them! This hides them from predators, so keep a sharp eye out if you’re trying to spot one.
This crocodilian animal is the largest predator in the Amazon Basin. The black caiman is known for its scaly black skin, which helps it blend into the lazy rivers it inhabits when hunting at night.
They primarily hunt catfish, piranha, turtles, birds, and capybaras, but has also been known to go after tapirs, anacondas, jaguars, and pumas! Be sure to keep your distance from these in the wild, snapping photos from a relatively safe distance, if you see them at all!
Blue and Gold Macaw
This brightly-colored type of parrot is easy to spot among the green life of the forest. The vibrant blue and gold is eye-catching on their own, but these macaws usually travel in flocks of up to 100 birds.
Not only are they easy to spot, but they’re easier to hear! They’re known for being able to mimic any sound they hear, and very often you can hear them screeching through the jungle. Have your camera ready for these beautiful birds, you may just get a shot of the flock in flight!
If you’ve seen any movie that takes place along the watery canals of a jungle, you’ll know that piranhas are vicious predators that will eat anything that falls into the water down to the bone.
Well, not exactly. Piranhas usually feast on insects, invertebrates, other fish, and even plants sometimes. Although that scene of prey being picked clean isn’t unheard of. Schools of near-starving piranhas could go into a “feeding frenzy” and devour a large fish in minutes, but they prefer to be scavengers.
Blue Morpho Butterfly
If you see a blue jewel-like flicker throughout the canopies of the rainforest, then it’s likely you’ve seen a blue morpho butterfly. These butterflies are most active during the day, when the sun is out, making it easy to spot them. Unfortunately, they are on the endangered species list, so coming across the beautiful butterfly is rare. All the more reason to go to the Amazon, before it’s too late!
Often unseen by visitors, the spider monkey is considered the most intelligent of the new world monkeys. They tend to keep to the upper layers of the forest, utilizing their agile limbs and long, flexible tail that acts as a fifth limb.
They usually live in well-organized groups and even have leaders among them, however these cute and intelligent creatures are on the threatened species list because of logging destroying their habitat. You may get lucky and catch a glimpse of these tree-dwellers!
Giant River Otter
What is cuter than an otter? A bigger otter! Well, maybe. These giant river otters can grow up to seven feet long! It's up to the visitor if bigger is better, or scarier. Either way, these otters retain the same cute faces and adorable webbed hands. Because of their size, they have earned nicknames like river wolf and water dog.
Unfortunately, they are also the most endangered species in the Amazon, since they were prized for their pelt and were nearly hunted to extinction. Seeing one of these amazing critters is not only photo worthy, but something to get excited about!
The world’s largest rodent is actually adorable. The capybara can grow up to almost 4.5 feet and are commonly found in groups of 10-20, but can roam in groups up to 100 through the forests and plains in the Amazon. Capybaras are semi-aquatic, and are even kept as pets in some parts of the world.
Among the capybara, you may also see other small mammals, monkeys, and birds. These animals are very relaxed and highly social creatures, which makes them an excellent species for a symbiotic relationship for creatures that eat insects or benefit from the protection of a group. There are even rumors of wild capybaras being found in Florida, suggesting they may be an invasive species in the states.
Poison Dart Frog
While many small creatures opt to camouflage themselves among the greenery of the forest, the poison dart frog has instead evolved to be brightly colored and easy to spot. Its neon skin is a warning to anything that might try to eat it. Its skin secretes a highly dangerous poison that can paralyze and even kill a predator.
With over 100 species of poison dart frogs, climate change and habitat loss threaten their survival. Even though they are considered one of Earth’s most toxic species, variety is what keeps an ecosystem thriving. Plus these amazing, brightly colored frogs make for a pretty sight among all of the green.
This incredibly unique and shy animal lives at the tops of trees and is nocturnal. The kinkajou is also nicknamed the bear-money, honey bear, and lion monkey. This odd little animal is considered a carnivore, even though its diet primarily consists of fruit. They drink nectar from flowers, and are occasionally kept as pets, though this is ill advised, since they carry a potentially deadly parasite called the roundworm.
Any jungle wouldn’t be complete without a wide variety of creepy-crawlies, and the Amazon certainly delivers. The white-knee tarantula is considered medium-sized at 8.5 inches, including its legs. These usually hungry and semi-aggressive tarantulas are venomous, but getting bit by one is similar to getting stung by a bee. However, because of the size of their bite, it can cause some damage. That said, these spiders prefer not to bite, relying instead on their urticating hairs that can cause irritation to human skin. These tend to be nervous spiders, and are much more likely to flee than attack. Because of their coloration and temperament, they are very often kept as pets.
Don’t allow yourself to be mesmerized by the lovely Eyelash Viper, which is by far one of the most beautiful yet dangerous snakes. They have distinctive scales above their eyes that look like eyelashes, which earned them their name.
This snake is has a heavy triangle-shaped head and is usually portrayed as bright yellow, but can also come in various shades of red, brown, green or even pink, all with some sort of black or brown speckling. These pit vipers live and hunt in trees, and are actually mellow in temperament, so long as they are not harassed. Their venom attacks the cardiovascular and nervous system, making them potentially fatal to humans. It's best to observe or photograph this beautiful species at a non-threatening distance.
The world’s largest ant has a bite to match its title, and is roughly the size of your pinky. The vicious sting from the bullet ant is ranked as the most painful insect sting, putting it above even the tarantula hawk sting. They make their nests at the base of trees and tend to be solitary during the day.
Some local tribes have a coming of age ceremony revolving around the bullet ant, where boys put their hands into mitts filled with these ants and are stung repeatedly to become a warrior. The goal is to leave the mitts on for up to 5 minutes.
While seeing a jaguar in the wild may be thrilling in theory, coming face-to-face with the ultimate Amazon predator is a daunting reality. Lounging at the top of the food chain, the jaguar is revered by many local tribes. It prefers to hunt close to the water for larger animals, such as deer, peccary, and capybara.
Jaguars tend to be tan colored with dark spots called rosettes, because of their rose-like shape. Those that are all black are sometimes called panthers, but a panther is simply a versatile word that can actually refer to leopards, jaguars or even mountain lions. Even the dark-colored jaguars have spots on their coat that can be seen in strong sunlight.
Boto Pink River Dolphin
Have you ever encountered a pink dolphin? You may while in the Amazon. These highly mystical animals are beloved for their color, and their endearing personality, similar to other friendly dolphins. These dolphins are a delight to see, and actually have the largest diet of other dolphins, eating 53 different species of fish, including piranha, and are unique because of their river habitat. They are have larger dorsal and front fins, and unfused vertebrae, giving them more maneuverability and an advantage when swimming in tight spaces.
Locals have legends about these pink dolphins being shape-shifters, coming ashore and turning into beautiful and well-dressed young men and women. There are many myths and legends about these unusual creatures, such as eye contact with one will give you lifelong nightmares.