It’s no secret that the Amazon is one of the most fascinating places in the world. It’s home to the piranha with its razor-sharp teeth and impressive bite, the poison dart frog with its array of dazzling colors, the spider monkey with its long and lanky limbs, and much more. The Amazon is practically teeming with biodiversity. At least 40,000 plant species, over 400 mammals, about 1,300 birds, nearly 400 reptiles, more than 400 amphibians, and around 3,000 freshwater fishes have been discovered in the Amazon.
381 new species were discovered over a period of 24 months between 2014-2015. In fact, a new animal or plant species is discovered in the Amazon every other day, the fastest rate ever in this century. As much as we have discovered, we probably have only touched the tip of the iceberg.
The Amazon is an impressive ecosystem that spans 2,700,000 square miles and nine countries. It’s full of mysteries and legends. And plenty of amazing creatures that aren’t as well known as the piranha, the poison dart frog, and the spider monkey. Scientists have made many discoveries in the Amazon that baffled them and still continue to baffle them to this day.
This list contains just some of the impressive creatures you can find in the Amazon, from brightly-colored dolphins to bugs that kill their prey in violent ways. Here are 15 most shocking things discovered in the Amazon forest.
15. Amazon River Dolphin
The Amazon River Dolphin is also known as the pink river dolphin due to its distinctive pink coloration. Depending on the dolphin, the color can range from white/grey to pink on the dorsal surface with a paler color below, and it can vary by age and viewing conditions. Some dolphins have a vivid pink coloration. Out of all five different species of river dolphins, the Amazon River Dolphin is the one most studied by scientists.
And scientists have discovered that they are the most intelligent of all river dolphin species. Scientists think their brain capacity is 40 percent larger than that of humans. These types of dolphins are slow swimmers and aren’t very acrobatic, seen very rarely leaping out of the water. Interestingly enough, they have often been seen swimming upside down due to their “chubby cheeks” which are believed to obstruct their downward vision.
14. Greater Bulldog Bat
The bulldog bat family is comprised of two species—the greater and the lesser bulldog bats. They are known as bulldog bats because they have dog-like snouts, unlike other species of bats. The greater bulldog bat is even more unique in the fact that unlike the lesser bulldog bats that are strictly insectivorous, the greater’s primary source of food is fish.
Using their echolocation abilities, they detect fish by spotting the ripples they make on the water’s surface. Once it finds its prey, the greater bulldog bat swoops down with its long curved talons and grabs its prey hanging out beneath the surface of the water. A bat can catch 20-30 small fish in a single night. And unlike any other bat species, the greater bulldog has cheek-pouches which it uses to store food.
13. Brazilian Wandering Spider
The Brazilian Wandering Spider is one spider you don’t want to get bitten by. After all, it’s one of the most venomous spiders in the world. It’s called a wandering spider because unlike other spiders that build webs and stay in them, this spider likes to prowl around the jungle floor, hunting for unsuspecting prey. They hide in different places during the day, including the banana plant, and have been known to hide in houses and cars. It doesn’t help that they’re small and thus hard to detect.
They may bite if they are disturbed by humans. There have been 14 reported cases of people dying after being bitten by a Brazilian Wandering Spider. The venom causes extreme pain, inflammation, and loss of muscle control which could possibly lead to paralysis and death.
The arapaima is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. It can grow up to 10 feet in length and weigh up to 400 pounds. The arapaima is unlike other fish because it breathes air. They can stay underwater for 10-20 minutes, but they have to stay close to the water’s surface so they can go above water for a breath of air. When they do emerge, they make a very distinctive coughing noise.
Arapaimas hunt for fish but do occasionally feast on birds that drift close to the surface of the water. Because the arapaima resides so close to the water’s surface, they are susceptible to humans who can easily attack them with harpoons. Arapaima meat is a hot commodity and the scales on an arapaima are fashioned into jewelry and other items.
11. Green Anaconda Snake
The green anaconda snake is the largest snake in the world and one of the world’s most feared predators. It’s also the world’s heaviest snake and one of the world’s longest. It can grow up to 20-30 feet in length and weigh up to 550 pounds. Females are a lot bigger than males. Due to their exceptional size, green anacondas can feast on larger prey.
Their diet consists of wild pigs, caimans, deer, turtles, birds, capybaras, and even jaguars—and also the occasional human. They can go weeks or even months without food. On land, they’re not much of a threat because they can’t move very fast, but once they get in the water, they’re pretty much unstoppable.
10. Peanut Head Bug
When it comes to insects, the peanut head bug is probably one of the weirdest ones out there. Scientists believe that the peanut head bug’s enlarged head that resembles an unshelled peanut is designed this way to imitate a lizard’s head so it can scare away animals that don’t eat lizards. It’s just one of the different defense mechanisms the bug has to scare away predators.
There are large red and black spots on its underwings that appear like large eyes when it spreads its wings. And the bug can also release a skunk-like spray. Apart from that, it’s completely harmless. The peanut head bug can’t even bite and its mouth is like a straw, so it feeds off juices from plants.
9. Amazonian Giant Centipede
If you couldn’t already guess, the Amazonian Giant Centipede is the largest centipede in the world. It can grow up to 35 cm or 14 inches in length. The centipedes come packed with a pair of modified legs that feature sharp claws called forcipules at the ends. These claws are used by the arthropod to kill prey and defend itself from predators. The centipede can inject highly toxic venom into a victim through its forcipules.
It’s not a picky eater and will generally eat anything it can sink its claws into, which includes crickets, worms, lizards, frogs, small birds, and even bats. Their venom is non-lethal to humans, but it can cause severe pain, chills, fever, swelling, and general weakness. But if that doesn’t scare you off, you can keep one as a pet, though it will cost you at least $300 to obtain one.
8. Jesus Lizard
The proper term for the Jesus Lizard is the common basilisk, but it’s commonly known as the South American Jesus Lizard, the Jesus Lizard, and the Jesus Christ Lizard. Its nicknames derive from the fact that it can run across the surface of water, much like how Jesus Christ was able to walk on water. The lizard uses its ability to escape predators, using flaps of skin on its toes to enhance surface tension that enables the lizard to support its own weight.
They run at an average speed of about 5 mph. Younger basilisks can run for 10-20 meters before sinking while adults can only manage a few meters at a time. The Jesus Lizard usually stays close to water to avoid predators on land, but swims when only necessary to avoid being the prey of aquatic predators.
7. Mata Mata
The Spanish meaning for Mata Mata is “it kills, it kills.” In South America, unattractive women are sometimes referred to as “mata matas.” The Mata Mata turtle may not be the cutest turtle out there, but it is one of the most interesting turtles out there. They spend most of their time in the water but don’t swim around much, preferring to lie motionlessly at the bottom. The turtle is carnivorous and likes to eat live fish such as goldfish, sunfish, and guppies.
They’ve been imported regularly for the past several years, but that’s likely to change in the future as there’s recently been more supply than demand because the turtles grow so big and inexperienced owners can’t properly take care of them. Full-sized Mata Matas can be anywhere between 16-20 inches in length, but some can reach lengths of over two feet.
Pacu fish may be related to piranhas and may resemble piranhas, but they are peaceful herbivores, unlike their carnivorous relatives. One of the biggest differences between piranha and pacu lie in their teeth—piranha have triangular and razor-sharp teeth while pacu have square-shaped and human-like teeth, teeth that it uses to eat fresh fruit, vegetables, and nuts.
The pacu is an extremely large species of fish that can grow up to three feet in length, and therefore should be kept in extremely large aquariums or large outdoor ponds. They’re not exactly the type of fish an inexperienced aquarist should get as breeding them can be quite difficult, aided by the fact that there’s not a lot of information on the subject. An interesting thing about pacu is that they can develop personalities as they get older and can even recognize their owners.
One of the nicknames for the Payara is “vampire fish”, and for good reason. They have daggers for teeth along with two large fangs growing from their lower jaws, which can range anywhere from 4 t0 6 inches. Those fangs are so long that the upper jaws have holes for them to fit into. Payara use those razor-sharp teeth to impale their victims, usually swallowing their prey whole, but will sometimes chew their prey up into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
Payara like to feed on a variety of fish, especially live fish. These predatory fish can be kept as pets, but they generally only live for six months to a year in captivity; there have been a few cases of captive payaras living up to two years in captivity. They don’t live long in captivity due to a need for a varied diet and a high-quality environment.
Do you see it? It’s ok if you don’t see it at first. The potoo is so good at camouflaging itself on branches that it can be difficult to detect at times. During the day, the bird will find a dead branch to perch itself on, using its coloration to blend in perfectly as it sits still like a statue until it becomes one with the branch. It does this to hide from predators during the day, as the potoo is a nocturnal creature.
At night it unfreezes itself from its branch-like appearance and goes on the hunt, foraging for flying insects. Potoos can usually be found through their distinctive and melancholy singing, but they also can be found at night with a spotlight by searching for eyeshine at the tops of branches.
3. Black Caiman
The Black Caiman isn’t just the largest of all alligator species—it’s the largest predator in the entire Amazon basin. It can grow up to 20 feet in length, and it’s not a creature you want to mess with. While its diet is primarily comprised of fish, particularly catfish and piranha, the black caiman is more than capable of taking down larger prey such as deer, cattle, capybaras, and horses.
Smaller black caimans typically eat smaller prey such as crustaceans and other invertebrates like snails. The alligator hunts at night, using their exceptional sight and hearing to detect and take down prey. The black caiman has been known to make prey out of domestic animals such as dogs and pigs and will attack humans if they come near.
2. Assassin Bug
If you couldn’t already guess, the assassin bug is another creature you don’t want to mess with. It uses its needle-like beak to violently stab its prey to death, sucks the victim dry, and then attaches the corpse onto its back. They carry around large piles of downed caterpillars and other insects on their backs which serve as visual and olfactory camouflage as well as defensive armor. They are capable of inflicting extremely painful bites on humans.
Assassin bugs can be found on shrubs, garden plants, or ground cover, hunting for prey. When not in use the beak is kept tucked underneath the head, and it makes noise when it’s moved back and forth. There is one particular species of assassin bugs known as blood-sucking kissing bugs, named because they commonly bite people painlessly around the mouth.
1. Glass Frog
No, you’re not seeing an illusion. The flesh on a glass frog’s underside is completely transparent, hence its name. You can see all of the frog’s internal organs, including its heart beating away. Why its skin is so transparent like this is a highly perplexing mystery for scientists, but they do know that the nocturnal frogs use their lime-green coloration to camouflage themselves on the undersides of leaves during the day.
This makes them hard to see so they can avoid predators during the day and move around safely at night. While glass frogs may look cute and cuddly, having been called Kermit lookalikes, they are certainly not in behavior. Glass frogs are intensely territorial and will attack any males that invade their territory.
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