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.
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!
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
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.
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
OF THE AMAZON
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
FISH OF THE
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
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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