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A vast region of more than 2.6 million square miles of dense forests, the Amazon spans across the South American nations of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, French Guiana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. Encompassing about 40 percent of South America, the Amazon basin approximates the size of the contiguous United States.
Ready for more interesting facts about the Amazon rainforest? Let’s see how many of these you already know.
Traditionally, the Amazon River has been ranked the second longest river in the world after the Nile in Africa. But this remains a contested record. Actually, the debate involves the true source and length of the Amazon. Depending on which source you go with, the length changes. While the US Geological Survey lists its length at 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers), other surveys place it at 4,345 miles (6,992 kilometers) in length. Since the Nile River measures 4,258 miles (6,852 kilometers), the second figure makes the Amazon the longest river in the world.
During the dry season, the Amazon River varies in width by two to more than six miles. But the rainy season brings torrents of precipitation. These cause the river to swell upwards of more than 24.8 miles (40 kilometers) in some places. Where the river opens to its estuary and meets the Atlantic Ocean, it stretches more than 202 miles (325 kilometers) across, giving it the appearance of an ocean rather than a river.
During the wet season (from mid-December to mid-May), the Amazon gets on average nine feet (2.75 meters) of rain each year. As a result, the river swells 30 to 45 feet (9.14 to 13.72 meters) above its dry season levels. The volume of water the Amazon empties into the Atlantic Ocean also increases from about 7,400,000 cubic feet per second to 11,000,000 cubic feet per second.
In 1542, Francisco de Orellana became the first Spanish explorer to navigate the entire length of the Amazon River. On a quest for precious metals, Orellana also proved curious about local tales of female warriors. In one instance, he and his crew even faced off against a group of natives that included female fighters. These stories and his personal encounter led him to conclude that they’d stumbled upon the land of the Amazons, the mythic female warriors of Greek mythology. (Think Wonder Woman.) Although Orellana’s hypothesis proved faulty, the name stuck. Besides the Amazon River and the Amazon basin, the rainforests of this region are referred to as Amazonia.
Slovenian long-distance swimmer Martin Strel takes his love of rivers to the extreme. This Guinness World Record holder has swum the entire length of many famous rivers around the world including the Danube, the Mississippi, the Yangtze, and even the Amazon. Swimming the entire length of the Amazon took 66 days. Each day, he averaged 52 miles, requiring up to 10 hours of swimming per day.
The Amazon rainforest provides one of the last known refuges for jaguars. Due to illegal hunting and habitat destruction, the big cat’s numbers are now thought to hover around 6,000 individuals. Extremely elusive, jaguars are nocturnal and rarely seen during the day, although the best place to see them remains Brazil. Well adapted to their rainforest home, jaguars prove expert swimmers, climbers, and hunters. These beautiful creatures were personified in some Native American cultures by the formidable lord of the underworld, the Jaguar God of the Night.
What do you think of when you hear the word piranha? Although these toothy fish have been depicted as vicious and deadly in pop culture, the reality is really quite tame. Piranhas are omnivores who only resort to eating meat when the opportunity arises. Downright pretty fish, they have red-orange bellies and average between 5.5 and 10.25 inches in length. Instead of being the aggressive killers portrayed in B-rated movies, piranhas prove timid and school together for protection. Don’t believe us? Just ask Martin Strel who came away bite-free from his Amazon River swim.
The Amazon basin’s biodiversity proves truly stunning. This rich ecosystem contains around 40,000 plant species, 3,000 fish species, 1,300 bird species, and 430 different types of mammals. What’s more, scientists have identified over 2.5 million different species of insects. All told, the Amazon basin contains 10 percent of the world’s known biodiversity. And new species continue to be discovered. From 1999 to 2009 alone, 1,200 new species were identified in the Amazon, including a four-meter-long anaconda and a pink frog the size of a coin. Find out more about how to preserve the natural wonders of the rainforest with this ultimate guide to deforestation.
Did any of these interesting facts about the Amazon rainforest surprise you? Are you ready for your own Amazon family adventure?
Check out our 7-day Brazilian Amazon Cruise, an immersive, authentic way to visit some of the most extraordinary destinations in Brazil with kids.
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