Guide to Unusual Amazon Wildlife
Spanning over one billion acres, the Amazon rainforest is home to the largest selection of biodiversity on the planet. Peru is an excellent place to encounter some of the Amazon’s diverse wildlife, as over half of the country’s landmass is covered by jungle.
Here’s a look at just a few of the more unusual Amazonian wildlife species—and your best bets for seeing them up close.
Amazon River Dolphin
The Amazon river dolphin is one of only five freshwater dolphin species in the world and is marked by distinct changes in its coloring throughout its lifetime: from a dark gray at birth to a rosy pink in its development and finally bluish white at full maturity. Its unique features include a ridge along its back—rather than a dorsal fin—and unattached vertebrae that allow it to bend its neck at a 90-degree angle.
Photo credit: Zemlinki!
Peru is a paradise for hardcore birders, with over 1,800 documented species and counting. One of the more beautifully colored rainforest species is the male pompadour cotinga, distinguished by its deep red wine plumage and snow white flight feathers. The bird has been spotted in the white sand forests of the River Nanay near Iquitos.
Photo credit: Shihmei Barger
This curious-looking mammal is marked by its elongated, downward-turning snout, which helps it to grasp wild leaves, fruits, and branches suitable for eating. One of four known species of tapir, the lowland tapir can grow to measure a massive six feet in length and weigh up to 550 pounds. These capable swimmers and divers reside near marsh and swamp areas and are major seed dispersers.
Photo credit: Tracy Gill
The paiche fish has enjoyed a revival in recent years, thanks to conservation efforts throughout South America. The species can grow to be up to nine feet in length and weigh up to 400 pounds, making it the largest freshwater fish in the Americas—and a wondrous sight to behold. Some tour companies offer excursions to paiche farms so you can see and feed the enormous fish up-close.
Photo credit: Brian Gratwicke
Amazon Horned Frog
As you may have guessed, this amphibian is discerned by two small spikes just above the eyes that resemble horns. Known as indiscriminate eaters, Amazon horned frogs ambush their prey by burying themselves in leaves of the forest floor. Males may display a dark green or even lime color, while females are tan. They’re nocturnal hunters, so your best bet of seeing them is on a night hike.
Photo credit: Geoff Gallice
Bald Red Uakari Monkey
Monkeys are a staple part of most Amazon adventures, but it would be a real treat to spot a bald red uakari monkey on your trip, with its strikingly crimson—and hairless—face. The red skin is actually a sign of good health and suitability for mating. Though they are social animals and commonly found in large groups, bald red uakaris are often hunted my locals and are listed as a vulnerable species.
Photo credit: Marc Wisniak
Best Ways to Spot Wildlife
Staying in an eco-lodge is a good opportunity for early morning birding, as well as daytime canopy tours, which provide tourists with a bird’s eye view of the rainforest.
Hiking is another popular means of spotting wildlife, especially at night, when the jungle’s most feared reptiles begin to stalk their prey. Many eco-lodges offer night time walks to give you the opportunity to see various nocturnal species.
River cruises provide the greatest amount of comfort and are your best bets for spotting dolphins and other river creatures, though it can be tough to spot wildlife without a knowledgeable guide.