The Amazon rainforest, the biggest in the world, located in South America, has a total area of 2,700,000 sq mi and spans across nine countries: Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.
This amazing jungle is home to over 2,000 species of animals, many of which are scary and even deadly. It is also a land of many mysteries and myths, which although might be just stories, are enough to make your hair curl.
If you decide to venture on an expedition in this amazing rainforest, you need to keep your eyes open and your ears peeled. Whether you are on the land, or in the water, there are dangerous creatures everywhere and they all want a piece of you.
15. Green Anaconda Snake
The green anaconda, also known as the common anaconda and water boa, is a very feared creature, not because of venom (it is non-venomous), as is the case with many snakes, but because of its size. It is the world’s heaviest snakes and one of the longest, ranging from 66 to 154 lbs and with a length of up to 17 feet. Because of its size, it does not move very fast on the land, but if you run into one of them in water, you won’t stand a chance, as they can be very fast. They eat wild pigs, caimans, jaguars and of course, occasionally, humans. The good news is one of these meals can last them for months, so if they are not hungry, it might be your lucky day.
In 2009, Toninho Negreriro, a wildlife documentary presenter, was filming in the Colombian rainforest, accompanied by a local, El Diablo, who was somewhat of a local legend and snake expert. El Diablo found an anaconda about three times his size, handed it to the host for a few seconds and then released it back into the forest. Toninho must have thought that was fun and all those scary anaconda stories were just campfire tales, so later on, ventured into the jungle by himself. He was able to locate the anaconda, and tried to pick it up. Bad move! The snake wrapped around his chest and stuck his teeth deep into his bicep and it took five strong men to release him from the snake’s “embrace”. The host recovered fast and came back to the jungle two months later to continue filming.
14. Red-bellied Piranha
This fish with scary-looking teeth is a species of piranha that lives in the Amazon River Basin. While his teeth look a lot like a shark’s, he isn’t really that dangerous. Under normal circumstances (assuming you are not dealing with a a bunch of starving or angry fish), you could be swimming along with them and be perfectly safe.
One of the reasons this fish has such a bad reputation is president Theodore Roosevelt’s visit in Brazil in 1913. In order to make sure the president would have something exciting to see, the locals had blocked off a part of a river, so the piranhas would be hungry and attack whatever they could find. In that case, it was a cow, which was devoured quickly by the piranhas. While one piranha might not be able to do much damage by himself, you should know that they like to hunt in groups and that is why they can take down even a large animal.
If you suffer from arachnophobia, places such as the Amazon rainforest are probably not on your bucket list. About 3,600 species of spiders inhabit the forest and some of them are deadly. Some of them are pretty friendly (if you can think of spiders in terms of friendliness) and harmless, such as jumping spiders.
Amazonian tarantulas are some of the largest in the world, but they are not very dangerous, even though they are venomous and their bite can cause pain that might last for days. They don’t normally attack humans unless they are disturbed and feel threatened. However, when that happens, a bite is not the only thing you have to worry about. They sometimes like to shoot microscopic hairs right into your eyes. And mind you, these are not ordinary hairs, but more like tiny pieces of fiberglass. An English man ended up in the hospital with red, painful eyes and the doctor was shocked to find little hairs that had penetrated his eyes and made it all the way back, to the retina. The man remembered that he was cleaning the cage of his pet tarantula and when he got too close he was “sprayed” with tiny hairs that ended up on his face and in his eyes. Apparently, pet stores omit to mention this when people purchase tarantulas.
The arapaima is the largest freshwater fish with scales in the world. The largest arapaima recorded weighed 440 lbs and was 15 ft long. As if its size wasn’t enough to deter predators, this fish has another amazing self-defense mechanism. His body is covered in hard, mineralized scales, that protect him from the vicious piranhas. They are so impressive, that scientists are looking into using these scales to build bulletproof armours. But wait, this fish is even more amazing than you think. Unlike most species of fish, this one can breathe air. This means he has to come to the surface for air every 5 to 15 minutes, so his gift becomes a curse, since he can be easier captured by fishermen. You can get about 70 lbs of meat from one fish and they are very tasty, so no wonder the locals are always looking to get their hands on one.
11. Amazonian Giant Centipede
Centipedes are pretty creepy, even when they are small. Doesn’t your skin start itching just by looking at those numerous tiny legs? This particular one can be about 12-inch long, but can get as big as one foot! They can take down frogs, mice, small snakes and birds and you have to admit that’s pretty impressive for an insect!
Like many of these creepy creatures, they don’t attack humans unless they are trying to defend themselves, but if that happens, you can bet it will be an experience you’ll never forget. Their venom is very potent and can cause severe pain, swelling, fever and fatigue.
Some scientists observed such a centipede found hanging from the ceiling of a cave, feeding on a dead bat. He was using some of his feet to hold on to the ceiling, while the others were holding the bat. In approximately three hours the centipede had devoured about 35% of the bat’s body mass. That’s a lot of perseverance for one meal.
10. Bull Shark
Some experts say bull sharks are the most dangerous sharks in the world, although most attacks were caused by great white sharks. An adult female weighs about 290 lbs and is about 7.9 feet long. The male is somewhat smaller, but just as fierce.
Pretty much all shark species need to retain salt inside their bodies, otherwise they die. That is why they cannot enter fresh water. Bull sharks, however, somehow developed the amazing ability to adapt to fresh water. They can travel very long distances and they end up in very unexpected places. Bull sharks have traveled up the Mississippi River as far north as Illinois, but there were a few isolated incidents, where these scary creatures were found as far up north as Minnesota.
9. Electric Eel
Not only is the electric eel a very pretty big-sized fish (up to 9 feet and 48 pounds), but he has a special gift: a powerful electric shock, which he uses on his prey. The shock comes from his tail, equipped with electric organs, that can discharge 300-650 volts! This is another fish you don’t want to mess with. They don’t normally attack humans, but it’s safer to stay away from the waters they swim in.
An YouTube video filmed in the Amazon rainforest shows an alligator that tries to attack an electric eel. Big mistake. The eel delivered one of his powerful shocks and the alligator didn’t even stand a chance.
8. Black Caiman
The largest of all caimans, the black caiman, can grow up to 20 feet long. It is the largest predator in the Amazon ecosystem and preys on a variety of creatures, starting from small ones, such as fish and reptiles, but large specimens can even kill deer, cattle or horses. Although there were cases of green anacondas that killed smaller black caimans, in an encounter between the two creatures, you can bet your money on the black caiman. They are bigger and stronger and probably way hungrier than the anaconda.
People think that attacks by black caimans are rare, because they don’t get reported very often in the international media, but they are actually very common. Some years ago, in Brazil, a black caiman attacked a canoe, knocked the man out of it, grabbed his leg and pulled him under the water. Luckily, the man was able to get ahold of the paddle and hit the caiman in the head. It must have been quite a hit because it saved his life.
Pacu is just one more reason to stay away from the Amazon River. Unless you decide to stay away from the Amazon rainforest altogether and who could blame you.
This fish looks so creepy because of its human-like teeth. But have no fear, because he is omnivorous and only eats fruits and nuts. If you’re wondering what kind of nuts they prefer, you should know that there are stories of male swimmers who had their testicles bitten by this fish, but they could very well be a hoax. I think it is pretty safe by now to say that it’s a rule when it comes to any animals: although many of them might be harmless, they can and will attack when in need to defend themselves or when their environment is disturbed. That was probably the case of a toddler who was visiting Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World in Scotland and ended up in the hospital because of a pacu fish bite.
They are legal to own in the United States, but some people aren’t aware that pacus can grow as big as 4 feet long, so when they get too big, they get dumped in nearby lakes. After all, the swimmer stories might be real and the poor pacus are just trying to get revenge for being abandoned by their owners.
6. Bullet ant
Compared to the other creatures on this list, an ant doesn’t seem that scary. They might not kill you, but the pain caused by them is supposed to be absolutely awful, and according to some victims, it really feels like a bullet and can last for hours.
Sateré-Mawe, an indigenous people of Brazil, use the bullet ant as part of their initiation rites to become warriors. The ritual seems to have been created by a very sick mind. The ants are submerged in a natural sedative until they become unconscious. They are then woven into a glove made of leaves, which the young boy becoming initiated must wear for 10 minutes. The 10 minutes are just the beginning, as the boy’s hand and arm will be temporarily paralyzed because of the venom and may shake uncontrollably for days.
5. La Lupuna
La Lupuna is a huge tree (the trunk can be as wide as 33 feet) that grows in certain parts of the Amazon rainforest. One of the things that makes this tree unique is a part of its trunk that is wider than the rest, which makes it ressemble a human abdomen. People of Peru believe that the spirit of this tree is a protector of the rainforest: cut the wrong species of lupuna and the tree will take revenge on you. It might be just an old wives’ tale, but I’d be careful, just in case.
There is a story of a local woman who was walking through the jungle and felt the need to relieve herself, which she did, near a big tree. That night, her stomach started hurting and swelled up a lot. She had to go to a shaman to ask for help and he realized the woman’s problems were caused by the lupuna tree. The tree had been disrespected and was now punishing her, so she needed to apologize. The shaman ventured into the jungle, found the tree and performed a series of rituals in order to receive forgiveness for the woman. At the end, he cut the tree’s “belly” and took some of the dripping juice with him. The woman drank the liquid and the swelling and pain disappeared immediately. Now that is definitely an unusual tree. You’d think cutting the tree’s trunk would be more upsetting than anything else.
4. Amazon tribes
The rainforest is home to over 400 tribes and at least 50 of them have no contact with the outside world.
There have been a few incidents in Peru, years ago, where members of Mashco-Piro tribe started appearing on the beach of a river, that was a popular destination for environmental tourists. The tribe members had been blamed for several bow-and-arrow attacks on people, including one on a local who for years had a good relationship with them and provided them with food and machetes. It is not uncommon for tribe members to be wary of outsiders and regard them with fright and to try to defend themselves. Tourists, on the other hand, are curious, want to get close and take photos or offer them food. That is not always a good idea, and not just for their own safety, but for the tribe members’ as well, since they are highly susceptible to introduced diseases.
3. Poison dart frog
They say that best things come in small packages. So do the worst things, apparently. One of the smallest on this list of scary Amazonian creatures, the poison dart frog, is also one of the deadliest creatures in the rainforest. And the golden poison dart frog is the most dangerous of the family, with enough poison to kill 10 to 20 adults. As is the case with many poisonous mushrooms, the bright colour is a warning to its toxicity.
What is intriguing about this creature is the fact that they are perfectly harmless when raised in captivity, as they get their poison from their diet: ants, termites, centipedes.
Their poison is so strong that if just one milligram gets into a person’s bloodstream, it can cause death within minutes. Native people from the Amazon rainforest have been using these creatures for years to hunt for wild animals. They dip their arrows in the poison and it remains potent for a year.
Jaguars are the third-largest cats in the world, after lions and tigers. They can weigh up to 250 lbs (males) and get up to 6 feet long. Unlike most cats, jaguars don’t fear water and are actually great swimmers and eat turtles, fish and even attack caimans and anacondas. If you can stomach watching such images, there are several videos on YouTube showing confrontations between jaguars and the above mentioned predators.
A sad story made the news in 2016, when a jaguar who was the mascot of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was shot dead after escaping. Aware of the blunder, the committee issued a statement apologizing for associating a wild chained animal with the Olympic torch, a symbol of peace.
We fear these majestic animals, but they are the ones being endangered. They are hunted for fur, they lose their habitat due to pollution and agriculture or get killed by humans because of the destruction they cause to cattle and horses.
All these creatures can cause a lot of pain or even death to humans, but nothing compares to the damage that people cause to the environment.
Since 1978 over 289,000 square miles of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed. There are many reasons for this, bust most of them are pretty trivial: wood for timber and making fires, extractions of minerals and energy, road construction, pulp for making paper.
Oil drilling causes severe pollution and biodiversity loss. China has been putting ridiculous amounts of money into Amazon oil drilling, and the rainforest is quickly being invaded by pipelines. The same country’s high demand for meat lead to a higher need for inexpensive livestock feed. So there comes soy, which is not only bad for our health, but for the planet’s well-being as well. Soy farming results directly in devastating practices such as deforestation. Soy farming and cattle ranching (to meet the high demand for meat)account for a whopping 80% of all deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
So if you find yourself in the Amazon rainforest and happen to run into him, the man, you better be prepared. He might be armed and dangerous.
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