The Amazon Rainforest has unparalleled biodiversity, a jungle jamboree of amazing animals (some weirder than others). The National Academy of Sciences claims that any four-square-mile patch of the Amazon rainforest can contain more than 125 species of mammals, 60 amphibians, 100 reptiles, 150 butterflies, and more than 400 species of birds.
So just what animals live in the Amazon Rainforest that you might see on an Amazon vacation? Of course, it would be several lives’ work to witness in person all that lives within the Amazon basin: as well as the above diversity, new species are being discovered all the time. However, if you are lucky – and the longer you spend in the jungle, the luckier you will be – you may see at least some of the following top 10 iconic Amazon Rainforest animals:
A tapir is a large mammal, similar in shape to a pig. It is the largest herbivore in the Amazon and has an excellent sense of smell and hearing which helps it evade predators.
They are ancient mammals, related to both horses and rhino, and are believed to have changed very little in tens of millions of years.
It eats with the aid of its elephant-like ‘trunk’, which helps to pick berries and leaves of nearby trees.
Although it is both large and extremely heavy, the tapir is at home in the water, which it bathes in regularly to cool off.
The aptly named howler monkey is the largest species of ‘New World monkeys’. They have a powerful call, which when sung in unison can be heard up to three miles away! The call is considered a warning to other groups that the territory is occupied and is one of the loudest sounds in the Amazon jungle.
They have an excellent sense of smell and can reportedly sniff out food, such as fruit and nuts, up to 2km away.
They have long tails (some have been found with a tail five times the size of their body) which they often use to grasp things, such as when picking fruits from trees.
Caimans are reptiles of the Alligatorid crocodylian family, and they usually do not grow to more than a few meters in length. They closely resemble alligators, with bony plates covering their backs, and an elongated snout.
The rarer black caiman, which can grow up to six meters in length and is the largest predator in the Amazon basin, have been known to kill tapirs, anacondas, jaguars, and pumas, and even humans!
Interestingly, unlike other crocodilians, the black caiman does not lose the baby markings it has as a hatchling. These are present on babies as a way to help them camouflage into the surroundings, and they then stay with the black caiman for their whole life.
Amazon pink river dolphins, or ‘botos’, begin their lives grey, and only turn pink with age, an effect of their skin becoming more translucent, and thus the blood in their bodies becoming more visible.
They can grow up to 10 feet long, and weigh several hundred pounds.
Pink river dolphins are entirely freshwater animals, and largely solitary. They do not often hunt in groups, or ‘pods’ as they are called, as their only natural predator is human beings. Your best chance of seeing one is aboard an Amazon river cruise, often at the confluence of rivers.
Sloths are medium-sized mammals, related to the equally interesting-looking ant-eater. They are the world’s slowest mammals. So incredibly slow, in fact, that moss even grows on their coats, which actually aids their camouflage!
They spend the majority of their life in trees and have special claws which enable them to hang from the branches. When they are not sleeping (which they can do for up to 20 hours per day) they eat leaves, shoots, and fruits.
Sloths are easy prey on land, as their claws are very bad at pulling them along the rainforest floor. However, they are surprisingly good swimmers.
Macaws are members of the Parrot family. Extremely bright and colorful, with an enlarged beak and a facial feather pattern as unique as a fingerprint, they are perfectly suited to the Amazon rainforest.
Many have extremely large tails which allow some of them to reach a body size of one meter.
They are intelligent and social animals – some are even known to mimic human speech.
Interestingly, macaws mate for life. During the breeding season, the mother will incubate the eggs, whilst the father searches for food.
The Capybara is the largest rodent in the world. They weigh from between 75 and 150 pounds and grow to around two feet tall.
They are extremely sociable animals and have been known to live in groups of up to 100.
They are semi-aquatic herbivores, who graze on grasses and aquatic plants. Their front teeth grow continuously to compensate for the damage done from grass-eating.
Their natural life span is between eight and ten years; however, most do not make it this far, as they are favored prey of jaguars, caiman, puma, eagle, and ocelot.
Squirrel monkeys are the most common monkey found in the Amazon region. They usually live in groups of 10-70, but have been spotted in groups as big as 300! Tree-dwelling squirrel monkeys are mostly shy creatures, that are actually mostly silent. They do sometimes squeak and will shriek loudly if they are in danger.
Most squirrel monkeys can be spotted in the tree canopies of the Amazon Rainforest, but you may be lucky enough to see one on the ground in search of food. You can usually spot a squirrel monkey by its distinctive black lips and white ears.
Three species of squirrel monkey are endangered, S.o. Oerstedti, S.o. Citrinellus and S. Vanzolinii, but the rest are in good condition. These tiny creatures can be as small as 25 cm (without their tails) so watch for their tails poking out of the trees!
While red-bellied piranhas have a reputation as being fearsome predators, the sharp-toothed fish are most likely to feast on other fish, insects, invertebrates, and even plants.
Schools of piranhas can, however, strip flesh from the bones of their prey, including large fish, in minutes, known as a “feeding frenzy”. Although this usually only occurs when the fish are near starvation, mostly these creatures scavenge for any food they can find in the waters of the Amazon.
Its characteristic red belly, where it gets its name, is hidden by the rest of its body, which is often grey with speckled silver flecks covering its scales. The red-bellied piranha is usually found in the white water rivers of the Amazon and in the flooded forests, particularly in the Brazilian Amazon.
It’s easy to spot the bright Blue Morpho butterfly flap its wings in the canopies of the Amazon Rainforest. Although, it is mostly the males that are bright blue, while some females are not blue at all.
One of 80 butterfly species found in the Amazon, the Blue Morpho butterfly flies quickly between the trees and is most active when the sun is out. The eyes of the Blue Morpho butterflies are highly sensitive to UV light and allows males to see each other from great distances. They are mostly active during the day, and when they sleep at night their hide their blue color by folding their wings in to protect themselves from predators.
The Blue Morpho butterfly is classed as an endangered species, and so, for this reason, you should plan an Amazon trip quickly to spot this beautiful, rare butterfly before it’s too late!
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