The Amazon River basin is the largest and most extensive hydrographic basin on earth, covering an area of more than 2,316,600 square miles. It holds one fifth of the earth's fresh water. The Amazon River is like the trunk of a "liquid tree", with 1100 "branches" which are its tributaries. The rivers of this colossal basin virtually form a rainbow of color: there are the crystal-clear waters of the Xingu and Tocantins rivers; the muddy-yellow waters of the Amazon, Madeira, and Solimoes rivers; the green waters of the Trombetas and Tapajos rivers; and the black waters of the Rio Negro.

The Amazon River is 4,087 miles long, 1977 of which are in Brazilian territory.
It has over a thousand tributaries and is the world's largest river in terms of water volume and extension. The Amazon's depth varies from 66 to 656 feet, and the width varies from two to nine miles ... during a flood, its width can reach 31 miles. The Amazon discharges an average 58,120,000,000 gallons per second into the Atlantic Ocean. At this rate, the volume of water discharged by the river into the sea in one day would be sufficient to supply the city of New York for nine years!

The Rio Negro is the Amazon's great tributary on its left shore. Its source is in Colombia, and it is 964 miles long - about half of, which are navigable. As though separated by an invisible membrane, the black waters of the Rio Negro and the dark yellowish waters of the Amazon flow together side by side for approximately 50 miles without mixing. To this day, science has not adequately explained why these waters do not mingle, but differences in density and velocity could be one explanation for the phenomenon.

On the surface the Rio Negro's waters appear black, and, contrary to the muddy Amazon, they flow over a bed of sand that is free of sediments and silt. Amazingly, the shores along the Rio Negro are free of mosquitos and other insects. According to one existing theory, the Rio Negro extracts plant materials and juices from the forests through which it flows; these in turn dissolve in its waters, and seems to inhibit the reproduction and growth of insects. Despite its appearance, the Rio Negro's water is purer than most cities' tap water!

Furos - Small navigable straits of calm waters that run among groves of trees and serve as transportation links that shorten the distance between two rivers or between a river and a lake.

Igapo - Jungle swamplands filled with stagnant waters, and are regularly flooded.

Igarape - Derived from the Tupi Indian language, meaning canoe passage. They are natural creeks that usually form between an island and the mainland.

Parana - Also from the Tupi language, "Parana" means river, or a river branch that winds around islands.

Pororoca - This is the violent encounter of the Amazon River waters with the Atlantic Ocean. Its roaring, thunderous sound can be heard many miles away.

Terras Caidas - This term refers to collapsed sections of the river bank along the Amazon and some of its tributaries, caused by flooding and strong currents. These enormous blocks of earth are dragged into the rushing current, sometimes taking dwellings, crops, and animals with them.

With its profusion of types and diversity of shape, the vegetation of the Amazon Basin is probably the most richly varied on earth. The area's dominant feature is the equatorial forest or jungle, which creates a landscape of vegetation without equal in the world. It stretches for more than 186 miles along the Atlantic Ocean, and reaches inland nearly 1,243 miles to the foot of the Andes Mountains. Covering almost the entire Amazon area, this gigantic forest owes its continuity and density to heavy rainfall, together with high temperatures and humidity.

The Amazon Forest constitutes the oldest formation of plant life on earth. The development of the dense forest vegetation is divided into different strata, each determined by the amount of daylight that is able to penetrate. In this way, the differences in development are vertical instead of horizontal, and five distinct "strata" may be noted from treetops to the forest floor. Another characteristic of the Amazon Forest is the absence of a season when the foliage falls, or a clearly defined blooming season. The forest's trees are hardwoods, with light colored bark and without any notable blooms. In the "lowland jungle", one finds - among others - the Para rubber tree from whose milky fluid latex natural rubber is made. Part of the forest is periodically inundated, which is the traditional basis for dividing the land into areas. There is the "swampland" (igapo), that remains permanently flooded; the "lowland jungle", that becomes inundated only during the flood season; and the "highland jungle", that is normally unaffected by flooding.

The waters of the Amazon River are of nearly distilled purity and carry very little nutritional substances, and the Amazon soil also contains no nutrients ... so how does one explain the presence of such a vast and lush forest? Scientists have concluded that the concentrations of nutritive elements result from the "washing" of trees by the action of rainfall, and, to a certain degree, by the organic activity of both large and microscopic animals that live on or in the soil.

The rainfall itself provides no significant nutrition, the river bears almost nothing, and because nutrition is practically non-existent in the soil, the jungle sustains itself. Rainwater removes mineral salts from the leaves, branches, and tree trunks, and deposits these in the soil so they can be re-absorbed by the roots. Microorganisms in the soil attack the leaves, branches, and trunks in turn fall to the forest floor, and in the process of decomposition. It is this organic material in a state of continuous decomposition that feeds the largest assortment of microscopic animals on earth. Thus, nature has designed a closed, self-sustaining system to recycle nutrients that circulate through the air and the ground, and provide for plant and animal life. It is a fantastically complex ecological system, extraordinarily diverse and well integrated.

Although the Amazon region is noted for the variety and number of its animal species, there are no large mammals and none that live in large herds, as are found in Africa. With the exception of boars and monkeys, Amazon animals tend to be solitary or live in-groups of the same family. Many of the animals are tree dwellers, and none of the normally attack man unless provoked.

The monkeys, which constitute the largest and most diversified group of mammals, are indigenous to South America. Most of the species have a prehensile tail that is sensitive on the underside, much like the palm of our hands. There are numerous species of Amazon monkeys that range from the tiny squirrel-like Tamarin, to the howling Guaribas.

There are at least six species of felines, such as the painted jaguar, the black jaguar, the red jaguar, and the margay - a spotted wildcat. Hunting of these animals is prohibited. They feed mostly on stags found in the swamplands, and on monkeys and birds.

Rodents are particularly numerous in the Amazon region, and it is here that you will find the largest of the species, the capybara. The name comes from the Tupi Indian language, meaning "eater of grass". The capybara roams in bands of around 20, feeding on grasses and aquatic plants along the riverbanks and lakes. It is a night creature, and with its three-toed, webbed feet, it is a good swimmer. The mature adult is over a meter long and weighs about 110 pounds.

The tapir is the largest animal in the region. It is rather homely and appears to be a cross between a rhinoceros and a horse, although it is much smaller than either of these. It feeds on fruit and leaves, grows to be about 2 meters long, and weighs close to 400 pounds.

There are two species of wild boars, both of which differ from domesticated swine by having an atrophied tail, and bristles that are longer and more rigid. These boars live in gangs of a dozen or more, and feed on all kinds of fruit and tree roots. There are five species of armadillos, one of which grows to 35 inches long. The armadillo is a nocturnal animal that feeds on roots, fruit, insects, and sometimes meat.

There are three species of anteaters, two of that are arboreal, and the third is the great anteater, or ant bear, which tends to be more of a ground dweller. Contrary to popular belief, the anteater feeds mostly on termites rather than ants. About five species of opossum exist in the Amazon region that is about the size of a cat. The two-toed sloth as well as a three-toed sloth inhabits the region. The sloth is an arboreal animal with well-developed limbs, and an uncanny capacity to spend days hanging upside down in a tree, practically without moving.

The Amazon is a virtual bird-watcher's paradise, where some 1800 notable species make their home. Here you will find some of the most beautiful birds in the world, such as the Mountain Cock, the uirapuru song bird, flamingos, the royal eagle, falcon, macaw parrots, and parakeets.

The morpho, papilio, heliconia, agria, catagramma, and callithea, are just a few names of the notable species of butterflies that make the Amazon Forest their home. Recognizably, the forest if the "Promised Land" of the butterfly, where nearly 2000 species have been identified. And because they are insects that love the sun, they are seen in greatest numbers around the upper parts of the forest's first "stratum", in sunlit open fields, around beaches, and at the edge of lakes and brooks.

Snakes are an Amazon myth: the serpents - especially poisonous ones - are relatively rare in the forest. The most feared snake is the surucuru, which is more than three meters long, and is the largest venomous snake in Brazil. Also present in this area is the white-tailed jararaca, also known to be very poisonous. The anaconda is the largest snake in the world, and is common in the Amazon. It has a silvery-greenish color, and, while not poisonous, it is a member of the boa family and measures over 10 meters long. The anaconda kills its prey by constriction and suffocation, feeding on fish, birds, mammals, and even alligators. The Boa Constrictor also inhabits the Amazon. It too is non-poisonous, and has a gray-violet color with dark stripes on its back. Measuring over four meters long, it is harmless and helps keep dwellings free of rats and bats. In fact, there are local families who raise the boa constrictor as a domestic pet.

The Amazon's aquatic fauna includes four species of the alligator: the acu, the tinga, and two others. The acu has a black body with yellow cross-stripes and black spots on its jaw. It is the largest of the Brazilian alligators, measuring about five meters. The tinga differs from the other species by having a longer, more slender snout, and rarely grows longer than two meters. The hunting of alligators is prohibited.

Finally, there are the turtles, and chief among them is the Amazon Turtle which grows to 35 inches and whose meat is a traditional delicacy used in 18 different dishes. The largest turtles, which weigh as much as 200 pounds can provide food for more than 40 people.

As for fish, the Amazon is fabulously abundant and varied, unequalled anywhere else in the world. About 1500 species of fish are known to exist in the rivers of the Amazon region, and there may be as many as 2000. Among the countless species of Amazon fish, here are a few that are economically important, or simply curiously interesting:

Pirarucu - The largest scaly fish in Brazil, with an elongated and bulky body that measures over six feet long, and weighs up to 200 pounds. The meat is similar to codfish.

Tambaqui - Wide-bodied fish measuring approximately 20 to 24 inches. The flavor is reminiscent of pork, and it is especially delicious broiled over an open flame.

Tucunare - Measuring approximately 24 inches in length and weighing 15-20 pounds, the Tucunare has a distinctive ring or "black eye" on its tail fin.

Dourado - A large fish measuring up to six feet in length, its delicate meat has a distinctive flavor.

Surubim - Yellowish in color with dark stripes, the Surubim is particularly good for smoking, with a taste similar to salmon.

More than 100 varieties of edible fruit have been identified in the Amazon Forest, which makes them one of the region's greatest riches. These are not cultivated fruits, but grow freely and spontaneously around river marshlands or on the highlands. Following is a brief list of some of the delicacies common to the region, that visitors to the Amazon will enjoy:

Acai - Or "cabbage palm", has a small black berry commonly used for making ice cream and wine.

Bacuri - About the size of an orange, yellowish-green in color. It has a fragrance similar to jasmin, and is used for making ice cream, marmelades, and preserves.

Cupuacu - Large (4.5 lbs), elongated fruit, with a fragrant white meat and seeds similar to cocoa beans. Used for making ice cream, preserves, and liqueurs.

Genipapo - Smooth, brownish-yellow in color, about the size of a plum. Used for making liqueurs.

Graviola - Also known as "bull's heart", delicious both fresh, and as an ice cream.

Guarana - A small red berry, said to have life-prolonging and reinvigorating properties, useful for treating disorders of the heart, stomach, and nervous system. A delicious soft drink is made of guarana, found everywhere in Brazil.

Jambo - The Jambo tree originates from India, and yields a large, sweet, ruby-red fruit.

Maracuja - Passion Fruit is delicious fresh, and makes wonderful juice and ice cream.

Murici - The "Amazon Cherry", is yellow and sweet, makes good wine, compotes, and ice cream.

Pupunha - About the size of a plum, its fibrous pulp has a taste similar to that of the sweet potato.

Tucuma - Small, coconut-like fruit, with a taste similar to the apricot.

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