Amazon Natural Aspects Amazonia is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, spanning more than half of the Brazilian territory. Within the 2.5 million square miles of the Amazon Basin resides a wealth of life richer than any place else on earth, including 500 mammals, 175 different lizards, 300 other reptile species, tree climbers of every kind, and a third of the world’s identified bird species. Millions of species remain undiscovered.
To understand the origins of Amazonia, one needs to travel back in time some 15 million years to the formation of the Andes Mountains. Until that time, the Amazon River flowed west, emptying into the Pacific Ocean. When South America collided with another tectonic plate, the Andes were formed, blocking the Amazon at its Pacific end. Inland seas, now cut off from the ocean, transformed into freshwater lakes, and the environment of the Amazon basin changed radically.
The Amazon’s flow gradually reversed to flowing from west to east, until roughly 10 million years ago, the river reached the Atlantic. The Amazon River is the lifeline of Amazonia, carrying an astounding 16 percent of all the river water in the world over its 6,500 miles. A fifth of all river water discharged into the world’s oceans is conveyed through the Amazon. The Amazon River Basin supplies 20 percent of the Earth’s freshwater. Covering an area nearly the size of Europe, it is the world’s largest river basin. Water in this region flows so abundantly and there are various terms used for the natural aspects it creates.
One of the most astonishing aspects of the Amazon are the Várzea, (flooded forests), where the majority of the forest lies flooded under water during the rainy season and only the tops of the trees can be seen abundant with wildlife, having adapted itself to live above the water during the months of the flooding. Igapó is a term used to describe a small pond created during rainy season when the rivers overflow into fertile land areas.
Once the rains subside the Igapos start drying up and are excellent locations for fishing. Igarapé is a small river or stream that normally leads water from the Varzea to the larger rivers. Igarapes are also great locations for fishing, for during the drying season this is where the fish exit the drying Varzeas and return to the rivers.
The Amazon is home to countless species of fauna and flora, including endangered jaguars, howler monkeys, tapirs, pink freshwater dolphins, giant river otters, manatees, and an incredible array of tropical birds and plants. With more than one-third of all the species in the world, the Amazon has the greatest biological diversity on Earth. Many of its species exist nowhere else, including the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish — the arapaima — which can grow to 10 feet in length, and a fruit-eating fish called the tambaqui. Approximately one-third of the world’s tropical woods (about 2,500 species) and Latin American plant species (30,000 of a total 100,000) are found only in the Amazon. The region also has the highest diversity of birds and butterflies in the world.
Extremely common in the Amazon rain forest are species like the Giant Otter, the pink Boto and Tucuxi dolphins, manatees, anaconda, coral snakes, turtles, saki, spider, capuchin, squirrel and howler monkeys, marmosets, tamarins, anteaters, kinkajous, ocelot, jaguar, tapir, peccary, paca, armadillos, cayman (black, spectacled, stone head), deer and a host of bird species. The rivers teem with fish, making sport fishing an increasing attraction, especially for excellent rainbow bass, piranha, pirarara, surubim, aruana, acara, pacu, and aracu. Some animal species explained Among the most famous animals figures the Jaguar, whose name means ‘he who kills with one leap.
The largest, most powerful member of the American cat family is renowned as a stealthy, matchless hunter. Leanly built, jaguars average between three and six feet in length, and between 70 and 350 pounds. With its crushing jaws, which can penetrate a turtle shell, the jaguar tops the Amazonian food chain, feeding on large mammals like deer, tapir, and, if necessary, reptiles. Yellow-rumped caciques (birds) are talented ventriloquists capable of imitating e a wide variety of birds and mammals as a hunting tactic, though they typically use their remarkable vocal range to attract a mating partner. In a cacique colony, there may be as many as 100 active nests at any one time. Females have no qualms about using a partially built nest, and they don’t hesitate to borrow materials from an absent neighbor.
When it is time to mate, males croon their songs and puff up their plumage. The anaconda is one of the longest snakes in the world and is recognized as the heaviest, weighing more than a cow. The anaconda’s weight plays a key role in hunting. After ambushing its prey at a watering or feeding site, the anaconda coils itself tightly around its victim and crushes it. Swallowed head first, the prey is gradually ingested and then slowly digested. The black skimmer glides above water with its lower beak skimming the surface. When the lower half of a black skimmer’s beak touches its prey, an amazing, instantaneous process occurs: the beak, which contains a good supply of blood and nerves, automatically snaps shut on its victim – often some kind of fish. Only three species of skimmers possess this incredible, tactile adaptation. Interestingly, the skimmer’s beak is subject to wear and tear of water and hunting, and breaks on occasion, but it has the ability to regenerate itself. Vampire bats are an individual specialized species.
When night falls, they leave the roost and forage in the waiting forest, keeping their movements silent as they fly. Silence is the key for the vampire, for it allows it to land near or on its prey undetected. Food sources include many different kinds. The vampire bats found in Amazonia are the only true ‘vampire’ bats in the world, and, like the mythological creature with which they are associated, they feed on blood. The tapir is among Amazonia’s more ancient inhabitants. The region’s largest land herbivore, the tapir is recognizable by its unusual proboscis (nose). Functioning like an elephant’s trunk, the tapir uses its nose to sweep plants into its mouth.
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