In 1541, the Spaniard, Francisco de Orellana sailed the length of the Amazon River for the first time. Attacked on his voyage by longhaired Indians, Francisco mistakenly thought that these were warrior women, and named the river, the Amazon, after the Amazons – female warriors, who according to Greek mythology would chop off their right breast so it would not interfere with drawing a bow.
The Amazon, a fresh water river, traverses most of the South American countries. With a length of 6000 kilometers (approximately 12 times the length of the State of Israel), the Amazon is the second longest river in the world after the Nile, which surpasses it by 384 kilometers. It is the widest river in the world – 320 kilometers – (equivalent to the distance between Eilat and Rehovot). The tide waters of the river reach the height of a seven storey building. The jungle is a rainforest and is home to the greatest variety of flora and fauna in the world. The rainforests have tremendous importance in the ecological system, as the trees there emit great quantities of oxygen. The rainforests and the animals living there are in danger of extinction because of human activities; every two seconds a wooded area the size of a football field is felled. 2400 species of fish, approximately double the number of fish species in the Red Sea, can be found in the Amazon River. The river is also home to river dolphins. (The animals on display here were all born in captivity and are not in danger of extinction).
Crocodiles are the noisiest of the reptiles with a cry reminiscent of rolling thunder. Active at night, they hunt mainly in the water but can emerge and also eat on dry land. After preparing a high, mounded nest from vegetation and soil, the female crocodile lays between 40-60 elliptic hard shelled eggs, which are then incubated by the sun. At the time of hatching, the crocodile breaks open the nest and the offspring stay close to the mother for four months. The crocodile is an air-breathing reptile, but is adapted for aquatic living by raised eyes and nostrils which close up in the water. Although the crocodile has webbed feet, it swims mainly with the help of its tail. Crocodiles have 75 sharp teeth, and being cold blooded like all reptiles, they bask in the sun in order to store energy for their activities.
Black Caiman Crocodile
This is the largest crocodile in the Amazon River reaching a length of six meters. Like humans, it has a life span of 70-90 years. The black caiman feeds on piranha fish, frogs, turtles, snakes and other animals up to the size of monkeys and wild pigs. They have been known to devour house pets and people. The black caiman crocodile is in danger of extinction.
Piranhas swim in schools numbering hundreds of fish. They are active during the day. Piranhas have teeth which are stronger and sharper than those of a shark and can splinter bone in one bite and gnaw through thick iron wire. They can devour an animal or 50 kilo person within a few minutes. When a tooth falls out it is replaced by a new tooth. Piranha fish are omnivorous, eating fish, insects, birds, lizards, rodents and carcasses. Their enemies: mature piranhas devour their young (cannibalism), crocodiles, water snakes, turtles, birds, otters and humans (piranha flesh is very tasty). Piranhas are not in danger of extinction.
Weighing up to 180 kilos, the anaconda is the heaviest snake in the world. One of the longest snakes in the world, it can reach a length of over ten meters. Anacondas are water-dwelling constrictor snakes. Food: nearly everything; crocodiles, capybara and other snakes. The anaconda snake is not in danger of extinction. The female is three to five times larger than the male. Characteristically there is multiple mating; the female exudes a scent trail attracting many males (up to 13), and together they create a mating ball, and remain intertwined for four weeks. Following a gestation period of half a year, the female gives birth to about 60 living young, each a meter long.
A unique fish, indigenous to the Amazon, the aruana lives in calm waters. Growing to a maximum length of 20 centimeters and maximum weight of 4.6 kilo, it is considered a living remnant from the dinosaur period. Its Latin name is “stone tongue”. The aruana eats everything but particularly fish close to the water surface. The aruana can leap out of the water to a height of almost two meters in order to catch large insects or even birds. The male carries the eggs in its mouth for two months till the young hatch. After hatching, the male continues to care for the young, releasing them occasionally in order to eat, following which they return to his mouth independently. The fish can survive in environments with little oxygen.
Two species of lizards from the iguana family. The anolis can change colors according to the environment and mood. Food: insects and spiders. In the mating season the male spreads open a colorful fold of skin under its neck and performs a type of “press up” in order to establish territoriality. There are 300 different species of anolis.
Tarantula – Popular name for spiders belonging to the Theraposidae family
There are hundreds of species of tarantulas and all have eight eyes. The maximum size of the tarantula is up to 25 centimeters. Tarantulas, most of which require a humid environment and high air humidity, live mainly live in damp areas or in humid micro climates at the base of their deep, dugout burrows. Food: tarantulas need drinking water. They eat large soft bodied insects such as cicadas, grasshoppers, mealworm larvae, cockroaches and moths. Large tarantulas can also devour baby mice. The tarantula is covered with hairy bristles as protection against predators. If a tarantula is swallowed, a poison is released from its bristles into the mouth of the predator causing it to be spat out. The female lives for an average of 15-20 years while certain species live longer. The fully grown female molts annually, whereas the males molt till they reach sexual maturity, then live for another year to a year and a half without molting.
Tarantulas are cannibals. Female tarantulas who have been known to live over 40 years devour the male at the end of the first mating season. Up to a thousand spiderlings hatch from the tarantula eggs.
Red- Eared Turtle (named for the red patch on the side of its ear)
This fresh water turtle, native to the southern USA, is found worldwide. It grows to a length of 30 centimeters.
The males are smaller than the females and have a longer tail and longer claws on their front feet. Their life span is between 30-40 years.
The natural predators of the turtle are crows, fish, snakes, frogs and birds. Ants can attack their eggs. Their diet consists of various insects, snails, invertebrates, fish and water vegetation.
These turtles reach sexual maturity between five to seven years of age. Courtship is performed like a dance. The male strokes the face of the female with his long nails, swims around her and vibrates the front of her shell with his long nails.
The mating continues for 15 minutes. After mating, the female swims away searching for a suitable place to spawn. Once she has found a suitable place using her back legs she digs a hole to a depth of 5-11 centimeters in which she lays 4-23 eggs.
Two and a half months later, baby turtle hatchlings emerge from the eggs, run in the direction of the river and hide from predators. In one season the female can lay between one and three clutches of eggs.
Today we know of six species of lung fish. The reason these fish are so interesting is that they are air breathers. Some species breathe air even though they have gills, and some have developed a type of lung allowing them to breathe air when out of the water. The respiratory apparatus of these fish is very similar to the respiratory system of various ancient amphibians. Most of the present known species live in rivers and streams of Australia, South America and Africa. Lung fish have an elongated thin body, similar to an eel, and have two lungs. They sense their surroundings with their side fins. In South America, fish over a meter long have been seen, and in Africa species are found of up to almost 2 meters in length.
After the mating season and before laying the eggs, the lung fish in the rivers of South America plan and carefully build a nest for the eggs. After the female lays the eggs in the nest, the male guards and protects the nest till the larvae hatch. Upon hatching, the larvae have gills which disappear upon reaching maturity. Another very special characteristic of the lung fish is the ability to survive in an almost waterless area and even in totally waterless conditions.
In the dry period in the Amazon when the heat evaporates the water, lung fish burrow into a puddle of mud and lie there, motionless, till the water level rises. During the period when they are buried under mud their body metabolism is so sluggish they hardly need any nutrition. Research has shown that certain species can survive in these conditions for two years.