Brazilian Amazon

30 Fascinating Facts About the Brazilian Amazon

Brazilian Amazon

When we think of wild places, the Brazilian Amazon is often one of the first locations that come to mind. This verdant swath of rainforest is a unique world unto its own – a place where rare animals roam and indigenous tribes still live according to the ways of their ancestors. At its vibrant heart is a river that dwarfs all others, surrounded by a forest with remote corners that still remain largely unknown.

The Amazon (both the rainforest and the river) is both mythical and magical, aptly named after the legendary female warriors from Greek mythology. The rainforest nearly stretches from ocean to ocean across the northern half of South America. It has 17 tributary rivers that each individually run 1,000 miles or more before finally feeding into the almighty Amazon River.

The overwhelming majority of the Amazon resides in Brazil, including the mouth of the river and the largest part of the Amazon’s fertile basin. So when the facts start to fly regarding this amazing ecosystem, the Brazilian Amazon is nearly always a large part of the conversation. These statistics are full of superlatives, oddities, and other wondrous elements.

READ MORE: 10 Great Reasons to Visit the Amazon Rainforest

Brazilian Amazon Rainforest Facts

1.  Around 6% of the Earth’s surface is covered in tropical rainforest, and the Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest. It covers about 3 million square miles, which is larger than the next two largest forests (the Congo and Indonesia) combined. It accounts for around half of the tropical forest remaining on the planet, which is an area larger than the contiguous United States.

2. Nearly two-thirds of the Amazon’s expanse is in Brazil. But the Amazon rainforest also spans eight other countries: Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador are included in the Amazon basin, and Venezuela, Suriname, French Guiana and Guyana are part of the rainforest’s biogeographical boundaries.

3. Known for being impossibly dense, the Amazon’s forest canopy is so thick that it takes around ten minutes for falling rain to hit the ground. The sun actually never does reach it: The floor of the Amazon rainforest lies in permanent darkness.

4. Despite being so far away and infamously arid, northern Africa’s Sahara Desert is at least partially credited for keeping the Amazon fertile. Winds carry mineral-rich dust from the Sahara all the way to the Amazon, depositing over 27 million tons a year in the Amazon Rainforest. This is a critical part of the ecosystem because the heavy amount of rain in the Amazon washes away vital phosphorus from the soil. The Sahara, in part, replenishes it.

READ MORE: Interview With Amazon Expert Guillermo Knell

Brazilian Amazon

Amazon River Facts

5. In addition to claiming the title of world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon is also home to the world’s largest river by volume. The Amazon River discharges five times the quantity of water of any other river on the planet. Its catchment area encompasses a whopping 2.72 million square miles, which is roughly 40% of the entire continent of South America.

6. While the Nile is typically considered the longest river in the world, the Amazon has staked a claim to this title as well. Certain scholars have argued that the Amazon is actually longer because they claim the origin of the Amazon is not the Apurímac River but traces to the Cordillera Rumi Cruz in Peru. This, they think, adds the necessary distance to qualify the Amazon as the world’s longest, as well as largest, river.

7. Today, the Amazon River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. But, until about 10 million years ago, it actually flowed in the opposite direction. Back then the river moved westwards toward a mammoth lake at the foot of the Andes. From there, the water moved north and into the Caribbean Sea. Scientists can’t perfectly explain the change, but they do know that it was geological, tied up with shifting plates and sediment build-up.

8. The Rio Hamza is a subterranean river underneath the Amazon that is just as long, but many times as wide as the Amazon River. It runs about 2.5 miles underground, stretching from beneath the Andes mountains through the Amazon and Marajó basins before joining the Atlantic Ocean. That being said, the river’s flow makes a snail look speedy: It moves at just one millimeter an hour.

9. There are no bridges whatsoever over the Amazon River. This isn’t because the river is too wide, but rather because there are few roads and the river’s width changes dramatically during the rainy season.

READ MORE: Peruvian Amazon Travel Tips

Brazilian Amazon

Amazon Conservation

10. The Amazon has been in existence for no less than 55 million years, making it part of the Eocene Epoch. During that time, the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere doubled and the last great “global warming” incident took place, producing escalated sea levels, acidic waterways, and many species extinctions. This event, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, is possibly our best historical model for what today’s climate change may bring.

11. Around 20% of the world’s total oxygen is produced in the Amazon rainforest. The forest has 16,000 different species of trees and is estimated to have nearly 400 billion individual trees. All of this arboreal magnificence sequesters between 90 and 140 billion metric tons of carbon. When we lose forest habitat, that carbon makes its way back into the atmosphere. This, obviously, is not a good thing.

12. Deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest has been on the decline since 2004, particularly in Brazil. Unfortunately, over the past 40 years, about 20% of the Amazon rainforest has already been cut down. Cattle ranching is responsible for around 70% of that deforestation. The Amazon Basin is roughly the size of the 48 contiguous U.S. states, covering 40% of South America, and 80% of it is still forested.

13. One out of every 10 plant and animal species in the world lives in the Amazon rainforest. That accounts for over 2,000 species of fish, over 400 species of mammals, nearly 400 species of reptiles, and about 2.5 million kinds of insects. The Amazon also has 1300 species of birds or one out of every five species in the world. There are also about 40,000 specific plant species. In 2017, a new species of plant or animal was discovered in the Amazon every other day.

14. The Amazon Region Protected Area (also known as ARPA) launched in 2002 and hopes to encompass an area larger than all the U.S. national parks combined. It includes around 150 million acres, comprising both sustainable-use sections and heavily restricted sections. By 2014, an area the size of California had already been hemmed in. It is the largest conservation project on the planet.

15. Despite the fact that Norway is over 6,000 miles from Brazil, the country donated a billion US dollars to help save the Amazon rainforest between 2008 and 2015. In fact, the Norwegians are the biggest benefactor in the world for protecting the tropical rainforests. Kudos to them for caring!

READ MORE: Cool Creepy Crawlies in the Amazon

Brazilian Amazon

Amazon Birds

16. The Amazon’s 1300 bird species includes around 300 species of hummingbirds. It is no wonder, as the Amazon has four different ecosystems throughout the various levels of the forest. Somewhere in the ballpark of 80% of the wildlife lives up in the rainforest’s canopy. The Amazon rainforest also has eight areas of endemism with similar attributes, but different flora and fauna combinations.

17. Likely the most famous of the Amazon’s many exotic bird families, parrots are beloved across the world for their colorful plumage. The parrot family boasts a funny collection of color/body part names, such as red-necked, vinaceous-breasted, orange-winged, yellow-headed, blue-fronted and lilac-crowned. Also in the family are the beautiful hyacinth and scarlet macaws. Unfortunately, many of these birds are trapped and sold as pets, so the population numbers in their native habitat are gradually declining.

18. The Spix’s macaw is considered by some scientists to be the rarest bird in the world. It has a very tiny habitat range in Brazil, largely because it depends on the Caraibeira tree for nesting. It is critically endangered and, in fact, may already be extinct in the wild, with less than 100 left in captivity. The population has suffered due to deforestation, trapping, and the introduction of Africanized bees, which stole their favorite nesting spots.

19. The harpy eagle is the largest raptor in the Brazilian Amazon, though they are rarely seen. In terms of rainforest predators, they rank right up there with the jaguar and anaconda in terms of prowess. They like to eat monkeys, sloths, and even deer. Their legs can be as thick as an adult human’s wrist, and their wingspan can be over seven feet. Though the Philippine eagle and the Steller’s sea eagle are both nearly as big, the harpy is considered the world’s largest eagle.

20. Oropendolas, while not unattractive birds are not as well known for their looks as for their odd behaviors. They build hanging nests that can dangle over six feet from a tree branch. And, because they live in colonies, a single tree can have 100 or more of these nests in them. The male birds also have a curious mating display in which they hang upside down from a branch and even twirl on it like a gymnast!

READ MORE: Peruvian Amazon Birds

Brazilian Amazon

Amazon Wildlife

21. The Brazilian Amazon is famously full of wildlife. It has giant fishes, spiders, rodents, cats, and snakes. It also has tiny versions of most of these things as well. All in all, the Amazon rainforest is home to between 10 and 20% of all the known animal species in the world.

22. The Amazon River has many special fishes in its waters. Arapaima (also known as pirarucu) were once considered the largest freshwater fish, though they have been downgraded to “one of the world’s largest freshwater fish” after catfish in Vietnam spoiled the party. There are also the world-famous piranhas, as well as a host of fish frequently found in home aquariums, such as neon tetras and angelfish.

23. Brazil’s Amazon is also home to an abundance of spectacular mammals. In the water, there are Amazon pink river dolphins and giant river otters. In the trees, there are sloths and a huge assortment of monkeys, as well as jaguars and ocelots. Giant anteaters and capybara, the world’s largest rodent, are occasionally seen scurrying on the ground.

24. You may be less impressed to hear about the 2.5 million different insects that inhabit the Amazon… mostly because that sounds like a lot of potential insect bites! But the creepy-crawlies found in the forest are special, too. Leaf-cutter ants always seem to make the all-star list. But, in terms of sheer bite force, it’s the bullet ants – which are often as big as your little finger – that deserve notice. Another cool insect to see is the peanut head bug, which looks just as you’d imagine based on the name.

25. The rainforest in Brazil is also home to a bevy of creatures you’ll want to watch out for. Electric eels can send several hundred volts through a person. The toxic secretions of poison dart frogs can be deadly from just a single touch. There are plenty of species of venomous snakes (most of which are rarely seen), as well as the world’s largest serpent, the anaconda. But the deadliest of all animals in the Amazon (and on the planet) is actually the mosquito.

READ MORE: Amazon Rainforest Animals: 21 Unique Species

Brazilian Amazon Tribes

26. As mentioned above, much of the Amazon remains largely untouched. So there are still over a million indigenous people living there. Between 400-500 different indigenous tribes inhabit the rainforest, with more than 50 who’ve had no contact whatsoever with the outside world. About half of all the Amazon’s indigenous tribes (roughly 240) live in Brazil.

27. Human settlement in the Amazon dates back to around 11,200 years ago. Though it was often thought that the Europeans discovered vast, open swaths of wilderness, recent studies suggest that indigenous peoples in the Americas were farming the forests to make them more productive. The domestication of the rainforest is still evident today.

28. The largest Amazonian tribe in Brazil today is the Tikuna, with over 40,000 people. They are mostly from the Brazilian Amazon but bleed over the borders into Colombia and Peru as well. Regrettably, like most indigenous peoples that have come into contact with settlers, they have suffered via slavery, displacement, and violence. The Tikuna people are thought to be very artistic, painting for the pure pleasure of it as well as making crafts, statues, baskets, and masks.

29. The Amazonian tribe with the largest volume of land is the Yanomami. They live rather remotely in the northern part of Brazil and the southern part of Venezuela. They have a territory of nearly 24 million acres in Brazil alone, with another 20 million in Venezuela – the equivalent of about four Switzerlands. Unfortunately, gold miners and cattle ranchers are gradually encroaching on their space and have already infected them with new diseases.

30. With less than a handful of survivors, the Akuntsu are the smallest indigenous ethnic group in Brazil. They were subjected to murders and land theft, which ultimately resulted in drastic deforestation. Nowadays, they continue to struggle for rights to their ancestral lands, and they strive to maintain some sense of their traditional culture.

READ MORE: The Maijuna, the Ancient Culture of the Amazon

Brazilian Amazon

As our planet’s tropical rainforests continue to dwindle at an alarming rate, the Amazon still stands as a splendid vision of what nature can do when left to its own devices.

Unfortunately, it has also come to stand as an example of what destruction humans can wreak when they’re solely focused on profits. But the forest is still home to a complex network of biodiversity, water, soil, and history.

The lessons already gained and still left to learn from this mass of fertile ecosystems is unfathomable. But, the facts around it are endlessly fascinating. We are all better off for having such places in our lives and on our planet.

Jonathon Engels is a traveler, writer, and vegan gardener. Born and raised in Louisiana, he has lived as an expat for over a decade, worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited dozens of others in between. His interests include permaculture, cooking, and music. More of his work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life About.