The Amazon Rainforest is one of the world’s fascinating places. Its lush greenness is unlike anywhere else on Earth and for centuries, it has drawn travelers looking for adventure to it. Rainforests are associated with a feeling of calmness, and “Rainforest Sounds” CDs are bestsellers for anyone wanting relaxation music. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an oasis of tranquility and peacefulness.
But it’s also one of the deadliest places on Earth. There are so many creatures in the rainforest that could kill you before you knew anything about it, and the rainforest sounds would do nothing to calm you as you were dying from a spider bite or snake venom. But at least you’d die somewhere incredible. So, here are the Top 10 beautiful, unusual, amazing but deadly creatures of the Amazon.
10. Electric Eel
Let’s start with one that’s not deadly to humans, though it would deliver a bit of a shock. A 600V shock to be precise. The electric eel is actually a knifefish rather than an eel, and it lives in the freshwaters of the Amazon and its subsidiaries, mainly near the muddy bottom, although they come up frequently for air. Its shock could cause a heart attack in a human, and it’s effective for hunting its prey of small mammals and invertebrates.
Electric eels are rarely found in zoos and collections, because the built-in shock system makes it very difficult for them to be caught. Whenever humans try to catch them, they have to wait until the eel tires itself out and discharges all its electricity. Then it’s safe to go into the water. Little wonder that they aren’t recommended as pets!
The other interesting thing about electric eels is their unique breeding system – the males create a pool of saliva and the females lay their eggs in the “nest”. Up to 3000 young eels will hatch in one group of eggs. That’s a lot of tiny shockers, so be careful before you set foot in the river!
This handsome fellow is one of the biggest freshwater fishes in the world, at over 100kg and 2m long. It’s not directly harmful to humans, although its cousin in Malaysia was credited with drowning two men in 2009. To other animals, however, it’s a ruthless killer. It eats fish and crustaceans, but also small land animals who happen to walk along the shore. The arapaima is another water-dwelling, air-breathing fish, which helps when snaring the land animals but also makes them vulnerable to being hunted by humans.
In fact, they are so vulnerable that the Brazilian government has banned commercial fishing of them, although some Amazon river basin fishing is still allowed. They are an important food source to indigenous tribes, and the meat is supposed to be delicious but they also have a medicinal purpose. Their bony tongues can be dried and mixed with guarana bark to make an appealing-sounding cure for intestinal worms. Guess they don’t have drugstores in the Amazon…
8. South American Rattlesnake
The Amazon is teeming with all kinds of snakes, but the rattlesnake is one of the deadliest to humans. Rattlesnakes are said to be responsible for 9% of all serious snakebites in Latin America and the look of the bites varies according to the species of snake, which has led to at least one death after Southern-Brazilian doctors failed to recognize a Northern-Brazilian snakebite (cited in Mark O’Shea’s book ” Venomous Snakes of the World“). They live in the savannah regions of the Amazon, as well as other parts of South America. One native that’s probably best avoided…
7. Brazilian Wandering Spider
This creature has the distinction of being the world’s most venomous spider (in the Guinness Book of Records) but the edge is taken off its scariness slightly but the fact that there’s an effective antivenom available to counteract the very, very toxic venom. So as long as it bites you near the antivenom, you’re fine! In fact, one study suggested that in a third of all bites, it doesn’t even deposit the venom and in another third, it only deposits a small amount. Practically a teddy bear, then!
Although it’d be hard to explain that to the British grocery clerk who found one in a box of bananas in Gravesend in 2008. The store was closed until animal officers arrived to take the spider away and humanely put it down. It was deemed “too dangerous” to go near photographers. Poor thing clearly wandered that bit too far!
6. Poison Dart Frog
One of the most distinctly “Amazon”-looking creatures, and one of the deadliest. Their bright colors are specifically designed to ward off predators and look unappetizing. The name “poison dart frog” comes from the use of their poison on blowdarts by humans, although only a small proportion of frogs are used for that purpose.
The frogs are tiny but deadly. One type – the golden poison dart frog – is only 2in long, but contains enough poison to kill 10 men. Attempts are being made to synthesize the poison for medicinal uses, but so far it’s not available commercially. One day, we might just see poison dart frog venom painkillers on the shelves though!
You’ve got to love an unfussy eater. And the jaguar is certainly unfussy – its diet consists of 87 different animals, from deer to mice and it’s safe to say it’s opportunistic in its hunting habits. It would definitely try and kill any human that wandered across its path.
It’s a rare type of feline in that, along with the tiger, it enjoys swimming. So don’t think that jumping on the nearest boat and rowing away will help – it’ll just follow. They like to live in the rainforest and are the biggest cats in the Western Hemisphere (in the world, only lions and tigers are bigger). So, they’re big, merciless and utterly carnivorous. Yet, they look so beautiful and it’s tragic that they are nearing threatened status because of the destruction of their habitats. Efforts should be made to save the rainforest jaguar from extinction, even if they would never choose to spare your life.
4. Black Caiman
Never smile at a crocodile…or the cousin of a crocodile. Especially when it’s a bigger and meaner cousin like the black caiman here. At one time, these creatures were nearly extinct in the Amazon but strict anti-hunting laws saved them. Its dark-colored skin helps to camouflage itself while waiting for potential prey and, like the jaguar, it’s not too fussy about what that prey is. Its main diet is fish – including piranhas – but it can also attack deer, capybaras and even anacondas. Occasionally, however, an anaconda will eat a young caiman and jaguars have also been known to snack on the juveniles. It really is survival of the fittest in the Amazon!
If you don’t like snakes, look away now because this is a really, really big snake. The anaconda never stops growing, and can reach 40 stone in mass and 21 feet in length. The good news is that it isn’t venomous – the bad news is that it has other ways of killing its prey. Its preferred method is to suffocate the prey by squeezing it until it can’t breathe and then swallowing it whole, without chewing. It takes a week to digest its food so doesn’t eat very often but when it’s hungry, no-one is safe…including humans!
And here’s another cuddly creature. Piranhas actually suffer from a bad press, because they’re not as aggressive as they’re widely believed to be. Amazon natives often swim safely with piranhas and have done for a long time. They are scavengers and so mainly find their food by eating the remains of already-dead animals. They rarely attack humans or larger animals, but they will if they’re hungry and you stray into their territory. Bleeding into the water is another signal to a piranha that you’re keen for them to eat to, so avoid swimming in piranha-infested waters with an open wound.
Of course, if they do choose to attack, they are well equipped for it. At 2 foot long, with razor-sharp teeth and a strong jaw they may not be able to swallow you whole but they’ll have a good nibble on you.
With all these strong, sharp-toothed animals in the list it’s amazing that the deadliest creature award should go to something that’s tiny enough to squash in your hand. But the mosquito carries deadly diseases with it, such as malaria and so is the most dangerous animal in the rainforest. If it bites you, it can pass the disease directly into your bloodstream and, if you’re not vaccinated, it can kill you pretty quickly.
What’s worse is they’re becoming cleverer. A repellent called Deet, which is widely used by tourists to ward them off, is no longer as repellent as it used to be, thanks to the mosquito evolving a resistance to it. So, on your next trip to the Amazon, avoid the jaguars, don’t swim too close to the caiman and most importantly pack your mosquito net!