The Amazon consists of more than 5.5 million square miles in Brazil and South America. As the world’s biggest rainforest, it is largely responsible for most of the air we breathe and the life on Earth. It is immeasurably important for us and our efforts to understand the world before us and life into the future.
But how much do we really know about the Amazon? In such a large and dense place, it is easy for things to still remain a mystery. We have researched some of the biggest mysteries about the Amazon. Some of them have been solved and some still remain unknown today. Let’s take a dive…
The Earth’s Lungs
The Amazon is often referred to as ‘the Earth’s lungs’. This is because of the sheer amount of plants and trees in the region and the effect it has on the rest of the planet. For example, it can absorb carbon dioxide at record levels and pump out fresh new oxygen for everyone on Earth.
The Amazon is so good at doing this that this relatively small region on Earth accounts for around 20% of the world’s oxygen levels. That means if something happens to the rainforest, it might literally kill us!
The Rainforest Has Layers
When we talk about the size of the Amazon, it isn’t just the landscape that we consider. The millions of trees and plants have plenty of depth that goes above and beyond the sheer space on the ground.
The Amazon has thousands of species of trees that vary from 80-100 feet tall. This means that there are different levels where a variety of animals and plants can exist. A change in height means new humidity, density, and general life of the creatures. These layers are called canopies.
The Tree Canopy
One of the most active layers in the Amazon is the tree canopy, which rests around 80 feet above the ground and serves as the ‘roof’ of the forest. It is around 20 feet thick and contains thousands of animals – more than any other layer.
Whatever you can think of, we bet it lives there! Scientists know there are birds, toucans, monkeys, sloths, spiders – not to mention the thousands of insects, too! This area is so dense that sunlight sometimes struggles to touch the Earth’s floor.
It’s Not All Forest
Of course, there are millions of miles that are left for nature and remain untouched. However, not many people are aware of the areas of the Amazon that are farmed by humans. Some of the landscape id used for ranching, farming, and cropping.
In fact, this isn’t new! Some recent cutting has revealed signs of geometric earthworks that date back more than 2000 years! This means humans have been cultivating the area for generations. These symbols are called geoglyphs.
The Mystery of the Humpback Whale
In February 2019, scientists were baffled when the corpse of a humpback whale was found in the mouth of the Amazon River. Just how did it get there? Humpback Whales normally migrate north and south to and from the poles, but this guy was about 4,000 miles off course.
When he was discovered, there was no explanation for how he got to where he was. Overall, the hypothesized that he must have gotten separated from his mother and that he tried to find his own way home. Sadly, he didn’t make it.
It’s Perfect For Medicine
If you’re wondering how so many of the tribes have access to western medicines, then you are looking at things backward. You should be wondering how the western world got its hands on Amazonian remedies!
At the moment, more than 120 pharmaceuticals and drugs used today originated in the Amazon rainforest. In fact, 70% of the plants that can help combat cancers in humans come from there. Scientists predict that the cure for cancer will be found there one day.
The Story of Percy Fawcett
The Amazon is no picnic. Many people have perished as they dive deep into the forest to try and explore its depths. One such unfortunate soul was Percy Fawcett – a British explorer who went missing in 1925 with his son.
While the mystery behind the Fawcetts was never solved, it can be assumed that he succumbed to illness or accident. The tabloids had fun occasionally reporting on the ‘white man’ living among indigenous peoples, although these reports were always unconfirmed.
Even though we don’t know what happened to Percy Fawcett, there are many reports of how he operated as an explorer before he went missing. For example, he was often known to be impolite to natives in the area – even going so far as to steal one of their canoes!
Whenever he sought attention from the British tabloid press, he would often write about tales of a Maricoxi. He described it as a tribe of sasquatch-type animals. Of course, while the media loved to write these fun stories, there is no evidence they ever existed.
An Amazon Monster?
There have been many cases of tribes reporting on what they think is a giant monster that roams the rainforest. Bizarrely, tribes that have never spoken to each other all report on a seven-foot beast with a strong stench.
Scientists who visit the area often search for a ‘mapinguary’, although they haven’t found anything yet. They believe it might be an urban legend that originated around 10,000 years ago, although no one really knows the truth.
Levels of Biodiversity
On average, a new species was discovered every three days between 1999 and 2009. This means that while we’re learning more and more about the creatures on our Earth, there are many more out there we have probably never met.
This means that the Amazon is an incredibly diverse place with millions of plants and animals living near each other. It is estimated that one out of every 10 known species lives in the rainforest. Let’s take a look at some of them…
The world’s largest known snake is the green anaconda, which lives among the streams and swamps of the Amazon. It can grow up to 29 feet long and weigh more than 500 pounds! While this kind of anaconda spends most of its days in the water, its eyes and nose are at the top part of its head.
This means he can still search and hunt for prey while swimming in the waters. Typically, these snakes will eat birds, pigs, and even large jaguars. After a large dinner, they can go months without eating.
Some of the strangest creatures in the Amazon aren’t always the biggest. Take the Silkhenge, for example. Here, we can see this tiny silk structure made by an animal. The only problem? Scientists don’t know what animal has made it!
These silk items can be found all over the Amazon with no clear indication who made them. While some people suspect they are made by spiders, no one can agree on what species is the main contributor of these little silkhenges.
No, this image isn’t photoshopped! This is a real photo of the Amazon River Dolphin. These weird creatures can be found in the waters along Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Brazil. They are incredibly rare: it is estimated there are only roughly 10,000 in existence.
For some lucky travelers, you can organize a swim on the Delfin Amazon Cruise that provides the opportunity to swim alongside these fellas. It is unknown how long they will still be on our planet.
The Origins of a Name
How did the Amazon get its iconic name? Well, historians can trace it back to a Spanish soldier called Francisco de Orellana. Let’s go all the way back to 1541 when de Orellana became the first European to explore the region.
When collecting cinnamon and gold that he found in the area, he was attacked by a tribeswoman who was trying to protect her property. In a fluster, he named her an Amazon, after the female warriors named from Greek mythology. The name stuck and spread to name the entire region.
The Size Is Shrinking
In the last 50 years, the Amazon has shrunk by roughly 17%. This can be associated with deforestation and converting natural landscapes into farming cattle. While humans aren’t turning the space into apartments or Starbucks’, there is still a serious effect on the landscape there.
Even though there are plenty of places for animals and creatures to live and grow, it’s a trend we’re going to want to curb if we wish to reap the benefits of the eco-system. Sadly, humans are still destroying the region to search for oil and gold.
Increased Forest Fires
You might have heard recently about the increase in forest fires in the Amazon. Well, while these are somewhat normal and healthy for most forests, it can have terrible effects on citizens nearby.
Residents of São Paulo, Brazil, have been breathing black smoke due to some of the uncontrollable fires that have been waging for months in the region. In 2019 alone, the number of fires in the region saw an 84% increase, per the Washington Post.
Fancy A Swim?
If you don’t mind the anaconda and piranhas, then it is actually safe to swim in the Amazon river. In fact, if you chose to do it then you wouldn’t be the first to do so! In 2007, Time reported that a Slovenian man became the first person to swim its entire length.
Martin Strel spent 66 days swam the 3,300-mile journey at the age of 50. You’re probably wondering what diet he maintained to accomplish such a feat. Well, how does a glass of Slovenian wine sound?
How Many People Live There?
We’ve heard these tales about crazy tribes and monster men, but how many people do we know actually live in the Amazon? Well, it turns out it’s more than you might think. Global numbers estimate that around one million people live in the rainforest as part of indigenous tribes.
There are an estimated 400 different tribes each with their own customs and traditions. They can fish, hunt, and even have access to western education and healthcare. Even though most of them know about the first world, they prefer to remain to themselves.
A Small Change Will Be Catastrophic
With all this talk on climate change and global warming, scientists are debating just how much of an impact it will have on planet Earth. It turns out that it will be quite devastating.
If the Earth’s temperature rises by only three degrees on average, then it runs the risk of destroying around 75% of the entire Amazon rainforest. When will that be? Many believe we will reach that number within 100 years if we keep living the way we do.
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