The Artist Telegraph by Geoffrey C. Smith
The Wildlife of the Amazon
Sunset over the Amazon River.
At 90 years old, my father had seen many incredible places across the planet. He is the epitome of a 'world traveler,' but he had still yet to visit a notable place in South America- The Amazon Rainforest. Because of this, my wife and I had the opportunity to take the journey with him for the trip of a lifetime. A trip to one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet... Check out some of the amazing animals we saw while we were there!
Pink River Dolphins
A pink river dolphin pops out of the water to say hi. Notice how its coloring is more grey on top of its head while the body is pink. Each dolphin is unique in the way its color transforms.
Have you heard of the pink river dolphin? Also known as boto, this dolphin's history is a story about evolution. Years and years ago, the river was disconnected from the sea, which caused the river dolphins to be trapped in the Amazon Basin while others escaped roaming the oceans. Eventually, the sea and river came back together again, but the river dolphins had evolved to adjust to the freshwater environment. Because of this, they differ from grey dolphins. Pink dolphins developed characteristics like longer snouts, larger bodies and brains, and melon-like heads compared to grey dolphins. And over a period of time, the river dolphins' bodies will slowly turn light pink. How the coloring evolves is different for each river dolphin; they don't all look the same.
South Americans respect the pink river dolphin immensely. Many myths and legends surrounding the pink river dolphins have been passed down in their culture. They consider the botos to be sacred and believe it to be bad luck to eat them. Many myths surround these beautiful creatures. One popular legend suggests that the pink river dolphin morphs into a handsome man at night and seduces the village women. If you are interested in more myths about the botos, Click here!
A brown-throated sloth hangs off the tree in the Amazon Rainforest.
Sloths hang off the tree branches throughout the rainforest. Sloths are arboreal creatures who can't move very fast on the ground. They are actually the slowest moving mammals that exist! Their long claws are what make movement challenging, with the average speed of a sloth at one foot per minute. Interestingly enough, sloths are actually good swimmers despite their slow walking speed!
Though sloth's personal hygiene is questionable, their lack of hygiene is actually a characteristic that offers them safety from predators. Sloths have a symbiotic relationship with algae and mold. The sloth's fur provides an environment for algae and mold to grow and thrive. In return, the algae and mold provide a green camouflage that protects the sloths against predators like jaguars, snakes and eagles. Wouldn't be my most ideal protective layer, but you have to take what you can get!
Rhynochonycteris hang upside down, off trees near the water, undisturbed by the sunlight.
Have you heard of these daytime bats? Most bats are lunarphobic, meaning they avoid bright light. Rhynchonycteris, or proboscis bats, are a bit different! They are unencumbered by light, so we were able to catch sight of them in the daylight. These bats blend into the thin tree trunks, almost becoming synonymous with the trees. They hang upside down while they sleep during daylight, out for the world to see. These tiny mammals measure about 6 centimeters long and enjoy situating themselves by the water in low-land tropics like you see above. A little fun fact: bats are the only mammal species that flies!
A green anaconda "tastes" the air, taking inventory of its surroundings.
Watch your feet! Green anacondas slither the forest floors and swamps throughout the Amazon. While underwater, anacondas can hold their breath for up to ten minutes on just a single breath! Interestingly enough, they are sexually dimorphic, which is characterized by their size. The female anacondas have the ability to grow much larger than their male counterparts, sometimes up to 30 ft!
Anacondas aren't venomous creatures. Rather than relying on venom to hunt, they instead wait to pounce and wrap their bodies around the victim, tight enough to suffocate them. They have the strength of up to 90 PSI, which is similar to the weight of 9,000 school buses- their jaw strength or bite strength is up ten times that! Anacondas will eat many things, including reptiles, fish and mammals. If they eat something big enough, they can go months without needing to eat again due to their slower metabolism.
Anacondas don't have any natural predators. Their biggest 'threat' is actually that of human fear. Humans have feared the size of these snakes, figuring they should attack, or otherwise be attacked. Anacondas are also hunted by humans for their skin to turn into leather or use as decoration.
A toucan strikes a pose for the camera.
About 450 different bird species call the Amazon Rainforest their home. It was surreal to see birds like the channel-billed toucan above, or others like the scarlet macaw, less than 10 feet away. The range of their colored feathers is stunning! Though we were able to get close to the toucans, it's not often you'll see them wild in the jungle.
The channel-billed toucan can live up to 20 years. They survive on a diet of fruit, insects, frogs and other small reptiles. Toucans cannot speak like parrots, but they do have their own way of communicating. They are known to chatter and click their beaks at one another. And toucans are actually known to be one of the noisiest birds! Their bills were originally thought to be large as a way to attract mates. Now scientists are linking the size of their bills to heat regulation.
Red-Backed Poison Dart Frogs
A red backed poison dart frog smiles for the camera.
Various kinds of amphibians traverse the Amazon Basin, many of which are poisonous. Measuring just under 20 millimeters, this red-backed poison dart frog can still cause a lot of harm to some species despite its small size. Some types of poison dart frogs are more dangerous and toxic than others. For the red-backed poison dart frogs, they don't manufacture any of their own poison. Instead, their poison is created from their diet, which is composed of termites, mites, ants and beetles. They have quite the diet, don't they!
Known infamously as the stinkbird, the hoatzin is a special species found only in the Amazon Rainforest. These birds have the nickname stinkbird because they give off a bad odor due to their digestive system. Their system is made up of multiple chambers, which causes the food they digest to ferment while in their bodies. This digestion is referred to as foregut digestion. A strange connection: they happen to digest their food similar to how cows do. Hoatzin eat mainly plant material, with the exception of some bugs and insects that happen to be on the plants.
We encountered many butterflies while we were there. Watch one land on my camera!
Amazonian Squirrel Monkeys
Monkeys eating fruit.
It's no surprise that many of the species in the Amazon are arboreal or tree dwellers. Arboreal mammals are capable of adapting to the Amazon's dynamic ecosystem between the wet and dry seasons. Amazonian monkeys are no exception. Collectively, the Amazon Basin has more than ten different types of monkeys, ranging from squirrel monkeys to pygmy marmosets.
Squirrel monkeys, like those pictured above, are little busy bodies! They scurry around the jungle's understory, avoiding raptor predators like hawks, vultures and eagles wherever they can. Squirrel monkeys will eat fruit, insects, and lizards, which are most abundant from May to October.
Observing the monkeys was intriguing because they operate similarly to us. We watched the monkeys as they fed on fruit and climbed through tree branches high in the sky. Their opposable thumbs make them seem most human to me! What do you think?
I know I will always remember the wonderful time in the jungle, spent with my father and my wife, and all the new friendships we created during our time there. Exploring the diverse fauna of the Amazon Basin was an incredible experience! Although deforestation poses a huge threat to the future of these amazing species, I am hopeful humanity will turn this area so all these inspiring lifeforms will thrive.
Be Well, Be Loved,
Want to hear more about our trip? Click here to learn more about the indigenous people who call the Amazon Basin their home!
If you're interested in the travel company we used to plan our adventure, check out Natural Habitat Adventures. If you book with them, please let them know I sent you!
Comment below, or email me your questions and/or comments. I would love to hear your thoughts.