The Amazon Rainforest is a tough place for animals to survive — after all, it's home to giant predators, venomous insects and frogs, dangerous waters, and poisonous plants. In order to live in such a place, animals have evolved in all kinds of strange ways. Here, we'll explore five of the Amazon's weirdest animals, and look at why their unique adaptions work perfectly for them! All five, of course, live in the rainforests around our Tambopata lodges in Peru.
1. Candiru Fish
The frightening legend of the Candiru fish has travelled far and wide, appearing in tabloids and newspapers from time to time all over the world. Rumors had swirled around for years about the small Amazon fish attacking local people's genitalia, drawn by the smell of urine.
An Amazon fisherman with his catch: a wriggling Candiru fish! Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Then in the only documented modern case in 1997, a Brazilian man and a local doctor claimed that a Candiru fish had jumped out of the water and swum up his urethra! Later, researchers largely disproved these claims, noting that Candirus are unable to jump out of water or swim up such a small opening, along with many other inconsistencies. So is there any truth to these wild stories? The Candiru isn't actually drawn to urine, so Amazon, ahem, urinators don't need to be worried. Scientists are still getting to the bottom of this strange jungle fish.
2. Potoo Bird
On moonlit nights, you may hear the cry of "po-TOO, po-TOO" coming from deep in the jungle. These haunting sounds (listen to them here) come, of course, from the Potoo bird. There are several species of Potoo bird in the Amazon Rainforest. If you go looking for one, however, they're incredibly hard to find without an experienced guide — their feathers match tree bark almost perfectly!
A Potoo bird perches near our Rainforest Expeditions lodges.
The birds are nocturnal, waking at dusk to hunt moths and other insects. They have huge eyes — perfect for spotting flying bugs — and giant, gaping mouths to catch them. This, along with their weird calls, makes the Potoo bird a truly otherworldly, strange bird.
You knew this one was coming, didn't you? But while Tarantulas look undoubtedly creepy due to their huge size and furry legs, their appearance isn't the weirdest thing about them! In fact, I include the family of large spiders here for their odd behavior.
The Peruvian Chicken Spider, a type of Tarantula, is a common sighting in the Tambopata jungle.
Tarantulas have decidedly interesting habits, especially when it comes to mating. Male Tarantulas spin a flat silk web on the ground, then rubs against it to release semen. Then, he absorbs the liquid into his pedipalps, short leg-like limbs, to store it. Later, he finds a receptive female and inserts it into an opening into her abdomen. As soon as he's done, the Tarantula flees so that the aggressive female doesn't attack or try to eat him! Quite a spider romance.
If you catch a glimpse of a Hoatzin perched near an oxbow lake in the Amazon, you might wonder what you just saw. Was that a wild turkey? A dinosaur? A Precolumbian god? What the heck was that, and why did it smell that way? The stinky, beautiful Hoatzin is without a doubt one of the rainforest's most interesting creatures.
A Hoatzin near the Tres Chimbadas oxbow lake, just upriver from the Posada Amazonas lodge.
The colorful Hoatzin eats leaves, which make it smell a bit like an Iowa farm — like lovely hay, or stinky manure, depending on your nose. They're awkward, ungainly birds, clomping around lakeside trees — from their movement to their diet, they don't have much in common with other bird species. In fact, the Hoatzin does look a bit like a dinosaur, and many scientists see it as clear proof of the evolutionary connection between reptiles and birds.
Even folks with little knowledge of Amazon wildlife know (or think they know) all about the Piranha — the villain of the rainforest, right? But the scientists who study the fish work hard to separate fact from fiction. The reality of the fish is even more fascinating than its Hollywood "bad boy" image.
At Posada Amazonas lodge, guests get the chance to meet Piranhas. Photo by Merin McDivitt.
Piranhas are pretty small, but their infamous teeth are indeed impressive. They actually resemble the tooth enamel of sharks' teeth, and the largest types can bite with 72 pounds of force! As for their diet, the toothy fish mainly chomp down on other fish, seeds and bugs, and sometimes other Piranhas. Occasionally, they might nibble on a mammal, but this usually happens when the larger creature is already dead or dying.
So there you have it, and hopefully you know a bit more about the jungle's weirdest creatures. To learn more about Amazon wildlife, and start dreaming of your own rainforest trip, chat with our experts!