FAQ: Amazon Ecology
What exactly is Amazonia?
The Amazon basin has thousands of tributaries with a drainage area of almost 3,000,000 square miles (this incorporates parts of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Suriname, Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela), and is nearly twice as large as the area drained by any of the other great rivers worldwide. At its discharge point in the Atlantic, the river's overall volume is estimated at over seven times that of the Mississippi! ‘Amazonia’ is an exceedingly diverse combination of specific niches within one giant ecosystem. Wildlife, insects, birds, fish and vegetation vary greatly depending upon soil type and proximity to fluctuating water levels. The Amazon's overall watershed encompasses 1/5 of all the world's fresh water.
What types of mammals can I see?
The Amazon is home to a great variety of mammalian life. Although many species are reclusive or nocturnal, most eventually cross, bathe, drink or otherwise visit the rivers for one reason or another. Some make the rivers their homes. Fishermen are very often treated to sightings because they spend their day at the interface of river and jungle. Commonly sighted Amazon mammalian life includes the species discussed in the sections to follow ;
The Oddballs - Among the most unique of Amazonian animals are the tapir (anta) and the capybara. The Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris), a relative of the rhinoceros, is a large ungulate inhabiting jungle watercourses throughout
Amazonia. Feeding on fruits and leaves, this big, strange, short-haired creature can sometimes be seen walking along banks or swimming across rivers. Even more aquatic, and often sighted in similar habitats, the capybara is the world's largest rodent, often exceeding 4 feet in length and 120 pounds. Other large rodents include the ‘paca’ (or agouti), a smaller cousin to the capybara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris) that feeds on vegetation along riverbanks at night. The somewhat smaller ‘cutia’ (Dasyprocta sp.) is more often encountered on jungle trails. All of theses species have learned to be very wary of man because of their popularity as menu items for the local population.
The Cats - The most thrilling and one of the rarer sightings in the Amazon is the jaguar (Felis onca). Largely nocturnal and solitary, the great cat of the Amazon is now on the list of endangered species. The onca's only predator, man, has severely reduced the population of these magnificent animals in order to make profits from their beautiful spotted pelts. Several other, smaller species of cat are significantly more common and easily seen. The ocelot (Felis pardalis) and the margay (Felis wiedeii), both under 45 pounds, range throughout the Amazon. Although primarily nocturnal, sightings of these cats often occur in areas of dense cover. The puma (Puma concolor) and jaguarundi (Felis yagouroundi), although not as common and not riverine in their habits, are also found here.
Up in the Trees - If you turn your attention up into the trees at the edges of the rivers, you can spot monkeys and sloths. Over forty species of monkey are found in Amazonia. Ranging from the good-sized howler monkey (up to 35 pounds) down to the tiny marmosets and tamarins (weighed in ounces), New World monkeys share one common characteristic, they all have tails. Look quickly, because their acrobatic skills allow them to move rapidly through their arboreal environment. Sloths (pregisa), on the other hand, hardly move at all. The three-toed sloth, and its larger two-toed cousin, may take days to move from one tree to the next. Once you've spotted one, you can observe it at your leisure.
In the Water - The rivers are home to two species of fresh water dolphin and a giant manatee. The large, pink ‘boto’ (Inia geoffrensis) is a most unusual looking dolphin with its long snout, external ears and flexible neck. The smaller, gray ‘tucuxi’ (Sotalia fluviatilis) looks more like our idea of Flipper, the TV star. Both species are widespread, not hunted, and very commonly seen by anglers. Swimmers are often treated to curious tucuxi circling and peeking at them when they take a dip in the river. The Amazon manatee (Trichechus inunguis), a giant reaching over 1000 pounds was formerly endangered because of hunting for its meat, oil and hide but is now protected.
Giant otters or ariranha’ (Pteronura brasiliensis), grow as big as a man, inhabiting the lagoons of Amazonia. Although also on the endangered list, they are fairly commonly seen by anglers. They forage in groups and won't hesitate to let you know, by splashing and barking, just how unhappy they are to have you invading their territory. A smaller species of otter, locally called ‘lontra’ (Lutra longicaudis) is very widespread and also often sighted.
On the Banks - Anglers can also see two species of armadillo, including the Amazon giant, ‘tatu’. Two species of anteater are found in Amazonia. The giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) is totally terrestrial and its smaller cousin (Tamandua tetradactyla) is mostly arboreal. Peccaries (Tayasu tajasu) roam Amazonia in small herds of twenty or so individuals. They can occasionally be seen rooting at rivers edge or even swimming in the river. The larger white-lipped boar roams in much larger herds. Three species of Amazon deer or ‘viado’ (Mazama sp./Odocoileus virgineanus), the raccoon-like ‘coatimundi’ (Nasua nasua) , bush ‘dogs’ (Speothos venaticus) and the 'Tayra,' (Eira barbara) a Labrador retriever-sized, mink-like member of the weasel family, also often treat the visitor with a sighting.
What reptiles and amphibians am I likely to see?
What types of Reptiles and Amphibians can I see?- Throughout the world, reptiles and especially amphibians are becoming extinct or endangered at alarming rates. Among the most specialized and ecologically fragile of species, they are falling victim to habitat reduction and the effects of pollution. The Amazon, although by no means an untouchable haven, remains a stronghold for many of these disappearing creatures solely because of its vast size and relative freedom from pollution. Anglers can see many of the species described below.
Crocodilians - Three species of caiman, close relatives of the alligator, inhabit the freshwaters of Amazonia. The spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus), reaching up to almost 6 feet in length and the smaller dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus trigonatus) are found throughout the rivers we fish.
The giant black caiman (Melanosuchus niger), often reaching lengths of over 18 feet, has long been a member of the endangered species list. Extensive hunting for their skins has resulted in serious population reductions throughout South America. Now, however, after two decades of protection, we routinely sight giant specimens in the remote regions where we fish.
Snakes - Although the Amazon is home to a great variety of snakes, it takes some fair amount of effort and knowledge to actually find them. The popular imagination always associates the jungle with hordes of snakes writhing everywhere. The reality is that snakes are not commonly encountered due to their secretive and nocturnal natures. Under most circumstances, anglers rarely see them in the riverine environment. For those who are interested, properly equipped and prepared, a wide array of species can be sighted by exploring in forest areas. Although most species are non-poisonous and not aggressive, viewing them from a distance without contact is highly recommended for the non-expert, just as it would be in North American forests.
Lizards - Many varieties of small lizard, including species of anole, skinks and geckos are common in Amazonia, often chasing small insect prey. The larger Ctenosaurs (black iguanas) and Iguanidae (the green type we know as pets) browse on fruits and leaves and any accidental delicacies, such as birds eggs or mouse nests that they might stumble upon. The large (up to 4 foot long), fast and wary ‘jacareranha (Tupinambis nigropuctatus) can be spotted on riverbanks, poking among downed tree limbs and brush piles. The tegu, the largest of the South American lizards (almost 5 feet in length), lives in forested areas.
Turtles - In light of the Amazon's great biodiversity, the relatively small number of turtle species found there (less than 20) is surprising. Added to this, their desirability as food has made them somewhat scarce in populated areas. In the remote reaches of the rivers we fish, however, a variety of interesting species exist. The matamata (Chelus fimbriatus), a prehistoric looking giant, is an angler just as we are. Laying camouflaged on the bottom with their cavernous mouths opened wide, they wiggle their wormlike tongues in order to attract curious fishes. I know a lot of plastic worm fishermen who wish they could do the same thing as effectively. The arrau turtle (Podocnemus sp.), reaching up to 100 pounds, can be spotted basking on the banks in remote areas. The jabuti (Geocholone sp.), a large tortoise, forages for fruit in the forest.
Amphibians - Some of the world's most unusual frogs reside in the Amazon. Showing diverse life cycle specialization and modes of reproduction, Amazonian frogs, toads and tree frogs represent the most complex levels of amphibian development anywhere. The famous poison dart frog has the unusual mating habit (for amphibians) of guarding their eggs. Upon hatching, the female carries each tadpole to its own water holding bromeliad (a tropical plant) while the male stays on guard duty. When all the young are dispersed, the female makes regular rounds of the nurseries, depositing an unfertilized egg, as food for the developing tadpole, in each one. Other remarkable species of Amazon frog give birth to live young, while some even skip the tadpole stage and emerge as fully formed miniature adults. Visitors can't miss the presence of the frogs. The chorus begins every evening at sundown and contains a cacophonous mix of voices closely resembling chainsaws, motorcycles and Budweiser commercials. After a few nights here, you can't get to sleep without it.
What about bird life?
What about bird life? -Welcome to the birder's paradise! The Amazon has some of the most diverse bird life on the planet. Just seated in your fishing boat, you can see dozens of species every day. The most common sightings include numerous species of parrots, parakeets, spectacular blue and yellow and scarlet and gold macaws, toucans, muscovy ducks, hawks, falcons, eagles, owls, egrets, herons, weaver birds, guans, tinamous and curassows.
This is a land where kingfishers escort you into and out of their territory, while freshwater terns fly "shotgun" as you cruise the rivers. Anglers often see the giant Amazonian stork, the 'Jabiru'. Strikingly marked tiger herons, sun bitterns and jacanas keep an eye on you from the shorelines. One of the strangest of all birds, the prehistoric 'hoatzin' makes it's home along Amazon riverbanks. Several species of ibis and bittern abound. At nightfall, nightjars and nighthawks patrol the air above the river in search of unlucky insects. Occasionally, very lucky anglers are treated to a sighting of one of the rarest, the most memorable and the largest of all raptors, the great harpy eagle.
The surrounding jungles host strange mixed species flocks that stomp about the forest floor. They create noisy disturbances and eat the fleeing insects and other small critters they spook. Strikingly colored trogons and antbirds can be found here. Flycatchers can be seen from a distance. Gnat catchers, creepers and hummingbirds are visible to the sharp-eyed observer. There are countless varieties of smaller birds too diverse to go into in this introductory statement. Brazil alone is home to over 800 resident and 250 migratory species. Bring your binoculars. This is the place to add to your life list.
What is the jungle like?
Jungle substrate varies greatly from river to river. Some rivers have trees with a high canopy adjacent to the river’s edge. In these areas, one can walk about in the jungle with little effort. Other rivers have extremely impenetrable, thick low-lying brush along the rivers edge. In all cases, vegetation changes the further one travels from the water’s edge. The jungle floor also varies from place to place. Some shorelines have smooth sandy soils with a light covering of leaves, while other locations have spongy bottoms consisting of several feet of dead leaves.
Most rivers allow access to a variety of jungle and forest types along their banks, from flood-plain ’igapó’ to high-canopied primary forests. Your guides will be happy to take you exploring in the forest if you're interested, but don't wander off by yourself. Hiking in the jungle without an extremely knowledgeable guide is not recommended – it is very easy to get lost.
Are there other gamefish?
You wouldn't believe how many! Over 3000 species of fish are found in the Amazon basin. Ichthyologists have identified about 1000 species of freshwater fish in the Negro River system alone. In the quiet backwaters and shallow lagoons, you can see dozens of small, brilliantly colored species that brighten aquarists home aquariums; tiny corydoras, strange flying hatchetfish, neon tetras, even the elegant and beautiful discus. In the deep holes and off-channels of the rivers, weird and rarely seen species such as electric eels and armored catfish lurk. Many species as yet unknown to science undoubtedly remain to be discovered in the Amazon.
There are also dozens of other great gamefish throughout the Amazon, depending on the specific fishery. Many rivers in the Amazon system have their own particular mix of game fish. Among the more notable Amazon denizens are the huge arapaima (pirarucu) and the silvery, prehistoric- looking ‘aruana’. The arapaima must come to the surface periodically to gulp air in order to survive. Picture a 100 pound plus scaled giant surfacing near your boat in a glass smooth lagoon!
Many of the rivers contain giant-red-tailed catfish ('pirarara'), sometimes exceeding 100 pounds. These monsters can be caught using a piranha as bait (you'd better have stiff gear or be prepared to follow these leviathans down the river).
Some fisheries contain the fast and acrobatic 'matrincha'. ‘Sorubim’ are large, aggressive catfish that happily strike a plug. Amazon rivers are also home to beefy 'pacu', bony-mouthed 'bicuda', streamlined 'pike cichlids' (Crenicichla sp.) and lots of small but feisty piranha.
Some of the best trophy peacock bass rivers do not offer a wide variety of ‘incidental’ species. If you’re after a mixed bag and not specifically seeking trophy-sized peacock bass, consider some of the rivers on the Amazon’s high-gradient fringe, with, payara, pacu, giant catfish and smaller peacocks, all accessible from our Multi-species variety lodge, in Brazil’s Guyana shield region on the beautiful Rio Travessao.
For more information on other Amazon species, see our Amazon Gamefish Encyclopedia.
Are all the rivers alike?
Different regions in Amazonia can be quite distinct, with their own water color, clarity and bottom substrate. Some rivers have hard sand bottoms, others are rock filled, while others are clay bottomed. Fish, insect, bird and mammal species can vary greatly from river to river. Soil type and topography dictate what type of vegetation grows near the river. Some rivers have cypress-like flowering trees growing right in the water along the bank. Others are palm lined, while still others boast towering deciduous trees reaching hundreds of feet above the river.
For more detailed information see: A Peacock Bass Primer - Part II - 'The Fishery' - a section about Amazonian rivers.
Isn't the Amazon endangered?
Yes, seriously so. The Amazon covers a huge expanse of territory, as large as the continental U.S. Many of the countries that encompass the Amazon have rapidly growing populations of urban poor that are expanding into the jungle’s edge seeking economic survival. Some local governments, in a misguided search for economic benefits, are also eager to subsidize ranchers, loggers and farmers to help expand their operations into the jungle. Miners are polluting and disturbing the pure waters. Road builders and developers are burning the edges of the forests. All these factors are slowly taking their toll and will unquestionably continue to alter the Amazon’s pristine state. Luckily, the central Amazon is an extremely mutable environment that floods for several months and then dries up with little or no rain. This environment makes expansion and settlement difficult and almost always economically unproductive. It has taken decades for any understanding of this counterproductive reality to be accepted. Ultimately, these harsh economic realities may offer ways to help save the Amazon.
Slowly, we are seeing an increasing awareness of the Amazon’s value in its natural state. Governments and businesses are recognizing that there are productive sustainable uses of the Amazon that do not contribute to its destruction. Eco-tourism, birding and catch and release fishing are just a few among the many low-impact uses that engender profits for the countries and peoples of Amazonia without damaging the ecosystem. Selective harvesting of valuable plants and collection of pharmaceuticals are corporate uses with great potential value. It is an international, national and individual responsibility to help further protect and preserve the Amazon. Many organizations are focused on helping in this effort. National parks are springing up throughout the basin. Encouraging more of these protected areas will help ensure the survival of this incredible, international natural treasure.
Wider acceptance of non-destructive uses and careful management of extractive reserves is a positive direction for the future. Each individual who takes even the smallest step or makes even the smallest contribution to assist these efforts ultimately lends more momentum to a world-wide movement to keep this essential planetary resource intact for future generations. Help if you can. Get your government to help, if you can. Spread the word, if you can.
How can I learn more?
Learn more about fishing trips - Explore the rest of our website or just call us. We have detailed information about where to go and how to catch peacock bass in our Peacock Bass Primer. We have articles about various rivers and peacock bass destinations as well as detailed itineraries for peacock bass and trips for many other species as well. See our Home Page. Find out about fishing for payara and pirapitinga and giant Amazon catfish in Brazil’s Guyana Shield mountains. A complete listing of trips can be found under the "Our Trips" section in the top menu. See below for information on how to contact us directly. Except for fishing, we love nothing more than talking about fishing!
Learn more about peacock bass and the other fierce fishes of the Amazon - Check out our peacock bass ID guide to find out what species you're catching. There are fifteen recognized species at this time. Look in our science and conservation section for information about the peacock bass and its unique pulsative environment. Our Gamefish of the Amazon section will give you a basic course on many of the other exotic fighting species found in the Amazon .
For more information about available fishing trips for peacock bass & other exotic species, contact us;
Or call Toll-free:
Paul Reiss: - 866 832-2987
or Garry Reiss: - 866 431-1668
We are proud to operate our highly productive and dependable trips. We will always send you to the right place at the right time. We are the most reputable, professional operation in the Amazon. References are available upon request.