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Endangered Wildlife     

Like elsewhere in the world, human population growth and increasing consumption are taking a heavy toll on the wildlife of the Amazon rainforests. Home to most diverse populations of plant and animal species on the planet, this delicate ecosystem is now being ravaged for its natural resources at the expense of its unique biological diversity. The loss of this genetic treasure-trove, driven by the exploitation of its oil, timber and minerals, is creating a mass extinction event which has now become unnatural and is uniquely man-made. Five major mass extinction events have occurred in the past - the 'Ordovician Event' which was followed by the 'Devonian Event'; the 'Great Dying' of the Permian age; the 'Triassic Extinction' and the 'Cretaceous Event'  65 million years ago. Background extinction rates historically were very slow with about 0.1 to one species vanishing every million years, however the emergence of human industrial society has placed such a great strain on the planet's ecosystems, that ecologists now estimate that we could be losing up to 10,000 species each year. There are over 4,700 known species of mammals worldwide of which 1,100 species are considered threatened. Of these 33% occur in lowland tropical rainforest. What we are witnessing now is a human-generated mass extinction event which could annihilate over 50% of the known species of flora and fauna on the planet before the end of this century, with most ecosystems of the Amazon rainforest now in serious decline. Many of the affected species are not well researched or even catalogued, whilst their potential benefits to the future of mankind are rapidly being erased through our ignorance, our apathy and our greed.

"For global conservation, only one-thousandth of the current annual world domestic product would accomplish most of the task. One key element, the protection and management of the world's existing natural reserves, could be financed by a one-per-cent tax on coffee."    (Edward. O. Wilson. 'The Future of Life'. 2002)


  • Amazon Manatee (Trichechus inunguis): The Amazonian manatee is the smallest of the manatee species, reaching a length of 2.8 metres and a weight of about 480 kg (1,056 pounds). Unlike the other two species they are more blackish in colour, commonly have a white patch on the chest, and lack nails on the flippers. The flippers are used by all three species for sculling, turning, bottom walking, and manipulating food. This dull grey, blackish, or brown 'sea cow', has a stout, tapered body ending in a flat, rounded tail which is used for forward propulsion. The forelimbs are modified into flippers for it has no hind limbs. It inhabits the Amazon River and associated drainage areas, including seasonally inundated forests. This species lives only in fresh water and can be found far inland through Brazil to Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia. They must eat large amounts of bulky, low-energy aquatic plants to satisfy its dietary requirements in order to survive. Manatees are active day and night and can sleep submerged or while breathing at the water's surface. They are primarily solitary but form small transient groups with other manatees for periods of hours or days. Valued for its meat, oil, skin and teeth, it is now being hunted to the very brink of extinction.

  • Andean Bear (Tremarctos ornatus): Also known as the Spectacled Bear, this small dark coloured bear (90-170 kg) is one of Latin America's largest carnivores. Living in isolated regions of the northern Andes mountain range from western Venezuela to Bolivia, it has an excellent sense of smell enabling it to forage successfully for small mammals, birds and berries. Their coats are black with creamy-white with biblike markings on the chin, neck and chest, with white around the eyes. A shy and reclusive animal, these bears have long sharp claws which enable them to climb trees and build tree-top platforms from which to sleep and forage. They will live up to 20 years in the wild, produce 1-3 young every 2 years, and are solitary by nature. The use of bear gall bladders in oriental medicines has seen their numbers dramatically reduced, with the W.W.F now working to find ways to eradicate hunting and find suitable nature reserves for their preservation. There are possibly now only 10,000 individuals left in the wild and their conservation status is listed as 'Vulnerable'.

  • Baird's Tapir: Tapirus terrestris): Living in the riverine rainforests of Latin America this animal weighs about 600 lbs, sounds like a chirp of a wren but is excellent eating. Heavy-bodied and rather short-legged, tapirs are 1.8 to 2.5 m (about 6 to 8 feet) long and reach about 1 m at the shoulder. The eyes are small, the ears are short and rounded, and the snout extends into a short fleshy proboscis, or trunk, that hangs down over the upper lip. The feet have three functional toes, the first (inner) being absent, and the fifth reduced in front and absent in the hind foot. Body hair is short and usually sparse. Hunting and deforestation have endangered Baird's and the Mountain tapirs, whilst the lowland tapir is vulnerable.

  • Black Caiman (Melanosuchus niger): The largest of these caiman species and a potentially dangerous animal attaining a maximum length of about 5 m (15 feet). The other species normally attain lengths of about 1.2–2.1 m, with a maximum of about 2.7 m in the spectacled caiman. Widely distributed throughout the Amazon basin they inhabit secluded waterways and lay in ambush waiting for prey. Usually hunting fish (especially piranha), water-birds, mammals and other reptiles, they have been known to attack humans, sometimes killing children. Widely hunted they are now in danger of extinction.

  • Bush Dog (Speothos venaticus): Also called the Savannah Dog 3 species of this small, stocky carnivore (family Canidae) are found in the forests and savannas of Central and South America. The bush dog is a rare species, and its numbers are declining as a result of the destruction of its natural habitat. The bush dog has short legs and long dark-brown hair and grows to a shoulder height of about 30 cm. It is 58–75 cm long with a 13–15-centimetre tail. It weighs about 5–7 kg and is brown with reddish or whitish forequarters and dark hindquarters and tail. Little is known of its habits, though it is reported to be nocturnal, to hunt in packs, and to feed largely on rodents. Its gestation period is about 80 days and its longevity is not known. It is rarely seen by humans and hovers on the brink of extinction - its conservation status now listed as 'Vulnerable'....(continued).


 Endangered Wildlife of South America

  • Amazon Manatee (Trichechus inunguis) - Vulnerable.

  • Amazon River Dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) - Vulnerable.

  • American Opossums: Order Didelphimorphia:

    Subfamily Didelphinae.

    • Patagonian Opossum (Lestodelphys halli) - Vulnerable.

    • Gracile Opossum (genus Cryptonanus): Five species living in Brazil and Argentina.

      • One species is Critically Endangered.

      • Two species are Vulnerable.

    • Mouse Opossum (genus Marmosa): Nine species ranging from Mexico south to the Guianas, Suriname, French Guyana, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay and Paraguay;

      • One species is Critically Endangered.

      • One species is Endangered.

      • Two species are Vulnerable.

    • Short-tailed Opossum: Genus Monodelphis:

      • One species is Endangered.

      • Eight species are Vulnerable.

    Subfamily Caluromyinae

    • Woolly Opossum (genus Caluromys): Three species ranging from Mexico south to the Guianas, Suriname, French Guyana, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, northern Argentina and Paraguay.

      • One species is Vulnerable

    • Black-shouldered opossum (Caluromysiops irrupta) - western Brazil and S.E Peru - Vulnerable.

    • Bushy-tailed opossum (Glironia venusta): This species lives in Ecuador, Bolivia, Amazonian Brazil and Peru - Vulnerable.

  • Andean Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) - Vulnerable.

  • Antarctic or Falkland Island wolf (Dusicyon australis) - hunted to extinction in the late 1800s.

  • Anteater (families Myrmecophagidae and Cyclopedidae):

    • Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) - Vulnerable.

    • Northern Tamandua (Tamandua mexicana) - Vulnerable.

    • Southern Tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla) - Vulnerable.

    • Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus) - Vulnerable.

  • Armadillos: Order Cingulata:

    • Southern Lesser Long-nosed Armadillo (Dasypus hybridus) - Near Threatened.

    • Greater Fairy Armadillo (Calyptophractus retusus) - Vulnerable.

    • Andean Hairy Armadillo (Chaetophractus nationii) - Vulnerable

    • Screaming Hairy Armadillo (Chaetophractus nationii) - Vulnerable.

    • Hairy Armadillo (Chaetophractus villosus) - Vulnerable.

    • Lesser or Pink Fairy Armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus) - Endangered.

    • Pichi (Zaedyus pichiy) - Near Threatened.

    • Chacoan Naked-tail Armadillo (Cabassons chacoaensis) - Lower Risk/Near Threatened.

    • Giant Armadillo (Cabassons maximus) - Critically Endangered.

    • Southern Three-banded Armadillo (Tolypeutes matacu) - Lower Risk/Near Threatened.

    • Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) - Vulnerable....(continued).

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Tropical Amazon Fish   

Ever since the dawn of the Devonian period (417-354 million years ago), the aquatic animals which we know as fish have been evolving. Originally they evolved in the seas surrounding the supercontinent of Pangaea, however as Pangaea began to break apart during the Triassic Period, 245 to 208 million years ago, it formed Laurasia (all the northern continents) and Gondwanaland with all of the southern continents. The present-day oceans formed and many new fish species began to evolve in the fresh waters of the newly separated continents. The Amazon basin in South America became home to one of the most diverse communities of fish species in the world. Today it encompasses over 2,000 known species, more than any other river system on our planet. For millions of years this tropical ecosystem and its stable climatic conditions has allowed a proliferation of life to evolve. Its waters crowded with creatures of every imaginable shape and size from tiny neon-tetras, thousand pound manatees and pink fresh-water dolphins to stingrays, armour-plated catfish and giant black-piranha. Many of these fish species are now found in large populations in the flooded Amazonian and Guianan forests, and due to the abundance of water, shelter and food, have evolved into the speciation of today. The rivers of the Amazon basin are also home to large numbers of unique fish which include species such as the pacu (Metynnis), a big brownish flat fish, the meat of which is highly valued; coumarou (Curimato), which is a toothless vegetarian fish resembling the marine mullet; the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) with a shock powerful enough to stun a horse; the pirarucu (Arapaima gigas), which can attain a length of 15 feet and a weight of over 200 pounds; and 32 species of piranha, whose teeth are so sharp that they can cut through flesh like a razor. A huge variety of small fish, many of which are brightly coloured and vividly marked, also exist here and are sought after as pets in tropical aquariums around the world. Rapid air-transport has enabled a worldwide market to develop for tropical aquarium fish indigenous to the Amazon region with Iquitos, Manaus and the Colombian port of Leticia the main centres of this trade. Most fish of the Amazon rainforest are migratory, moving in great schools at spawning time. They represent a critical source of protein in the often meat-poor diet of the indigenous populations with game-fish such as pirapitinga, tambaqui, aruana, pirarucu, bicuda, jancunda, traida, pirarara, matrincha, peixe, cachorra, arapa and surubim amongst the most eagerly sought-after. These fish are caught by Indians and caboclos (mixed blood), their meat consumed locally, sold in city markets or left in the sun to dry and be preserve. Today the traffic in frozen and dried fish to urban markets is so pervasive that many local species are seriously threatened and living on the brink of extinction.

  • Amazon Manatee (Trichechus inunguis). The Amazonian manatee is the smallest of the manatee species, reaching a length of 2.8 metres and a weight of 480 kg (1,056 pounds). Unlike the other two species, they are blackish in colour, usually with a white patch on the chest, and no nails on their flippers. The flippers are used by all species for sculling, turning, bottom walking, and manipulating food. This dull grey, blackish, or brown 'sea cow', has a stout, tapered body ending in a flat, rounded tail which is used for forward propulsion. The forelimbs are modified into flippers for it has no hind limbs. It inhabits the Amazon River and associated drainage areas, including seasonally inundated forests. This slow, docile species lives only in fresh water and can be found far inland through Brazil to Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia and must eat large amounts of bulky, low-energy aquatic plants to satisfy its dietary requirements. Manatees are active day and night and can sleep submerged or while breathing at the water's surface. They are primarily solitary but form small transient groups for periods of hours or days. Valued for its meat, oil, skin and teeth, it has now been hunted to the brink of extinction.

  • Amazon River Dolphin (Inia geoffrensis): Also called boto, bufeo and the pink dolphin, this mammal is common in the turbid waters of the Amazon and Orinoco river basins. A male Amazon river dolphin can grow to over 2.4 metres and weigh 160 kg  whereas the females are slightly smaller. Its colour  varies from dark gray to mottled pink-and-gray to bright pink with long beaks and rounded foreheads. Gracefully navigating the submerged branches of the submerged rainforest, they are often seen in groups playing, or searching for mud-loving fish and crustaceans. They often swim and play with another small dolphin, the tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis), which is found in both fresh and marine waters but is not classed with river dolphins. In some parts of the Amazon, river dolphins will herd fish into fishermen's nets; in other areas, they will raid the nets instead. The species is now considered endangered. (Goulding, M. 1980).

  • Arawana or Monkey Fish (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum): This freshwater fish of tropical South America in the family Osteoglossidae (order Osteoglossiformes). Arawanas seldom reach lengths of more than 60 cm but are regarded as superb sports fish and are highly edible with large scales and long dorsal and anal fins that almost join with the tail fin. The lower jaw angles upward to a point above the eyes, and two long, filamentous barbels extend forward from the chin. Arawanas are believed to be mouth brooders, the female carrying the eggs in her mouth until they hatch. This fish can grow up to one meter long, has a huge mouth and bony tongue and can leap from the water twice its body length to snatch large insects, reptiles and small birds from low overhanging branches. It has become a highly prized pet for tropical fish lovers and commands high prices in both Asia and North America.
  • Candiru (Vandellia cirrhosa): A scale-less, parasitic catfish of the family Trichomycteridae found in the Amazon River region. This tiny, almost transparent catfish is as dangerous as the piranha and is the only other animal besides the vampire bat, which lives solely on blood. About 2-3 cm long it usually makes a living of swimming into the gill chambers of larger fish and feeding, however for humans its modus operandi is to swim through an orifice – a penis, vagina or anus – and feed of the flesh wound its sharp spines create. Sometime it will swim up the urethra where it becomes imbedded, causing the host excruciating pain and death if not removed. For males the indigenous cure for this predicament is to cut off the penis. Incidents of Candiru parasitizing humans are rare, but have been noted and do occur. (Spottte , S. 2002).
  • Cave fish: At least 40 species of Cave-dwelling fish (belonging to 13 families) are known to exist in the freshwater subterranean caves and strata of Australia, India, Madagascar, Congo, Namibia, Somalia, Oman, Mauritania, Iran, China, Cuba, USA and Brazil. They are colourless fish which have reduced scales and are generally blind. Some live in caves found in limestone formations as well as water-bearing strata or rock layers. They live in warm and tropical countries which have not been affected by glaciation, and where the rock in honey-combed with water-filled channels. Species include catfish of the family Clariidae as well as species of loaches, swamp eels and carp. In Brazil the subterranean fauna consists of catfish and characoids. How these fish came to exist there is still a mystery but scientist speculate that movements of the earth's crust may have trapped some of the affected species, forcing them to evolve and adapt to the increasingly brackish water. Cave fish tend to live longer than their surface-dwelling cousins and can survive on detritus as well as the remains of other cave animals and insects....(continued).


  Classification of Tropical Fish

                 Superorders and Superfamilies inclusive of South American species.             

                                   (Sources: Campbell, A. & Dawes, J. 2004: Encyclopaedia Britannica 2010)

    Phylum Chordata:  Class Agnatha:        

  • Superorder Osteoglossomorpha:

    • Order Osteoglossiformes: Bony tongues, freshwater butterfly fishes, mooneyes, knife fishes. Middle Cretaceous to Recent. Found in tropical freshwater rivers, swamps and lakes of Africa, Asia, Australasia, North America and South America; except extremely cold region; toothed jaws; bony tongues; scales with an irregular reticulated pattern (except Pantodontidae); 6cm-5m; diet of insects, fish, plankton, invertebrates; some species able to breath air; 6 families, 29 genera, 217 species; 1 species is at risk.

      • Family Gymnarchidae: Found in the freshwater lakes and rivers of Africa; electrogenic organs; no anal caudal fins; grows up to 1.6m; swim-bladder serves as a lung; predatory; constructs a 1m flask-shaped grass-nest for eggs; lays over 1,000 eggs; 1 genus, 1 species.

        • Species: Aba-aba (Gymnarchus niloticus) - Senegal to Nigeria, Chad basin, upper Nile.

      • Family Hiodontidae: Mooneyes. Found in the northern freshwater lakes of North America; modest size; laterally compressed bodies; silvery scales; keel-like belly; predatory; diet of fish and insects; commercially useful; 1 genus, 2 species.

        • Genus: Hiodon.

        • Species include:

          • Mooneye (Hiodon tergisus).

          • Goldeye (Hiodon alosoides).

      • Family Morymridae: Elephant-noses. Found in the freshwater lakes, rivers and flood-pools of Africa; bottom dwellers; many species with long snouts; prolific breeders; small mouths, eyes, gills openings, scales; dorsal, anal fins set well back; electric organs; electro-sensitive systems radar-like; nocturnal; 18 genera, about 200 species.

        • Genera include: Gnathonemus; Campylomormyrus; Petrocephalus;

        • Species include:

          • Peter's elephant-nose (Gnathonemus petersii) - Nigeria, Cameroon, Zaire.

          • Elephant-nose (Campylomormyrus tamandua).

          • (Campylomormyrus rhynchophorus).

          • Churchill (Petrocephalus catastoma) - snout-less species.

      • Family Notopteridae: Feather-backs. Found in Africa and S.E Asia; moderate size; laterally compressed; long anal fin; tiny pelvic fins at tip of tail; grow up to 1m; parental care of spawned eggs; can inhabit swampy pools; large mouths; accessory respiratory structures above gills; predatory; diet of aquatic vertebrates and smaller fish; 4 genera, 8 species.

        • Genera include: Notopterus; Xenomystus; Papyrocranus;

        • Species include:

          • Bronze featherback (Notopterus notopterus).

          • African knifefish (Xenomystus nigri).

          • Clown knifefish (Notopterus chitala).

      • Family Osteoglossidae: Bony-tongues. Found in the tropical waters of Africa, Malaysia, New-Guinea, Australia, and South America; moderate to large; prominent eyes and scales; Arapaima able to breath air via swim-bladder; will live in oxygen poor waters; build brood nests; carnivorous; diet of insects, other fish, amphibians, rodents, birds; agile; 4 genera, 7 species:

        • Genera include: Arapaima; Heterotis; Scleropages; Osteoglossum.

        • Species include:

          • Giant Amazonian Arapaima (Arapaima gigas) - Amazon Basin - up to 5m long.

          • Nile arowana (Heterotis niloticus).

          • Dragonfish (Scleropages formosus).

          • Australian saratogas (Scleropages jardinii; Scleropages leichardti).

          • South American arowana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum) - Amazon Basin.

          • Arowana (Osteoglossum ferreirae) - Amazon Basin.

        • Dragonfish (Scleropages formosus) - Endangered.

      • Family Pantodontidae: Butterfly fish. Found in west Africa; lives in swamps; 6-10cm long; air breather; long pelvic fins; will leap out of water; diet of insects; 1 genus, 1 species.

        • Species: Butterfly fish (Pantodon buchholzi) - West Africa, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zaire.

  • Superorder Ostariophysi: Characins, catfish and allies.


    Found in freshwater worldwide including South America; dominant freshwater species; highly successful; some species found in brackish or marine water; includes the majority of known freshwater fishes; characterized by swim-bladder–internal-ear connection with three movable bones (Weberian apparatus); acute hearing; up to 3m; some species with alarm pheromones, others heavily armoured; sexual dimorphism sometimes present; diet ranges from flesh to invertebrates, insects, fish, insect larvae, plankton, assorted vegetation; 2 series, 5 orders, 60 families, 960 genera, about 6,500 species; 229 species are now at risk.


    • Series Otophysi. Characins, catfish, carp, cyprinoids, knife-fish and relatives.

      Found in freshwater worldwide including South America; alarm pheromone secrete from skin glands when threatened; causes fright reaction in other otophysans; Weberian apparatus present; acute hearing; head ribs present; diet of  insects, fish, insect larvae, plankton, assorted vegetation; 4 orders, 60 families, 962 genera, about 6,465 species; 229 species are now at risk.

      • Order Characiformes: Characins, African tetras, South American salmon, hatchet-fish, South American tetras, piranhas, tigerfish, and relatives. Began to evolve 100 million years ago; found in Africa, Central and South America;  widespread in Gondwanaland; replacement teeth; lays and guards several thousand eggs; some species in South America are voracious predators; valued as aquarium fish; commercial value; up to 1.5m; tetra species, omnivorous; 15 families, about 250 genera, over 1,340 species; 1 species at risk.

        • Family Alestiidae: African tetras, tiger-fish, hatchet fish. Found in Africa. Tetras with strongly cusped teeth for crushing; predatory; sexual dimorphism in anal fin shape and caudal vertebrae; 18 genera, 100 species.
          • Genera include: Alestes; Hydrocynus;
          • Species include:
            • African tetra (Alestes spp.)
            • Goliath tigerfish (Hydrocynus goliath) - Congo - sport fish.
        • Family Anostomidae: Found in the Amazon and Orinoco river basis from Venezuela and Guyana to Colombia.

          • Striped anostomus (Anostomus anostomus) - South America.

        • Family Characidae: Characins, tetras. Found in Central and South America; egg scatterers.

          • Genera include: Astyana; Brycon; Paracheirodon; Gymnocorymbus; Crenuschus; Cheirodon; Ctenobrycon; Paracheirodon; Pristella; Moenkhausia; Tetragonopterus; Hemigrammus; Hyphessobrycon; Mimagoniates; Gymnocharacinus; Salminus   Stevardia; Thayeria;

          • Species include:

            • Dorado (Salminus maxillosus) - Amazon Basin - powerful game fish.

            • Cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi) - Amazon Basin.

            • Black tetra (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi) - Amazon Basin.
            • Glowlight tetra (Hemigrammus erythrozonus) - Amazon Basin.
            • Neon tetra (Paracheirodon or Hyphessobrycon innesi) - Amazon Basin.
            • Cardinal tetra (Cheirodon axelrodi) - Brazil.
            • Silver tetra (Ctenobrycon spilurus) - Amazon Basin.
            • Buenos Aires tetra (Hemigrammus caudovittatus) - Argentina.
            • Cardinal Tetra (Cheirodon axelrodi) - Amazon Basin....(continued).

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Foods of the Rainforest 

The Amazon rainforest of South America contains the largest store-house of natural foods on the planet. Some of these foods  include Brazil nuts, avocados, cocoa, cashews, bananas, coconuts, paw-paws, peanuts, mangoes, star-fruit, chicle (chewing gum), spices, maize, beans, sweet potatoes, yams, squashes, groundnuts, pineapples, palm fruits, manioc, chonta palms, pumpkin, tomato, chilli, sweetsop, caimitos, ingas, guava, arrowroot, wild rice, corn and natural plant oils. This tropical forest provides some 50 million people directly with a rich variety of vegetables, nuts, spices, wild game, arthropods, insects, fish, honey, fruits, tubers and other foods, with at least half of the 20,000 plant species found there utilized in some way. From the earliest histories of colonisation the western world has also utilized many of these species in their daily diet whilst recognizing both their nutritional and medicinal values. Today, however, these tropical plants represent only 5% of the known plant species world-wide, yet many of these Amazon plant species have supplied the rootstock from which a multitude of cultivars and hybrid species are now grown. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide depend on these species for their daily nutritional requirements, and they are now critical to our long-term health and survival....(continued).

"Today we are increasingly turning towards plants in our search for global sustainability. We seek to live in such a way so as not to compromise the needs of those who will come after us. Instead, we are consuming an estimated 125 percent of the world's productivity on a continuing basis, even though one billion people are starving every day, and more than 100 million at any time are on the verge of death from starvation or associated complications."    (Howell, C. H. 2009)

  • Acai Palm (Euterpe olearacea): This tall palm is found growing alongside the waterways of the Amazon basin and is highly valued for its sweet, purple berries which grow in clusters on the upper reaches of its trunk. This delicious purple berry is rich in all the essential vitamins and contains over 15 principal minerals including protein, zinc, iron, iodine, calcium, and magnesium. It is also valued for its anti-aging and anti-oxidant properties, and sold worldwide as a nutritional supplement. The heart of the tree (palmito) is also edible.
  • Acerola or Semeruco (Malpighia punicifolia): This small, attractive tree (6m) is a native of Central and northern South America and valued for its small red berries which have a sweet, juicy yellow-orange flesh. The berries are eaten fresh or can be used in jellies, jams, syrups, and ice-cream. Acerola is one of the richest sources of natural vitamin C in the world, and is often grown commercially for this reason. It contains twice as much magnesium, panothenic acid and potassium as oranges, as well as high levels of vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin.
  • Ackuke (Macoubea guianensis): Amazon Indians use this latex against pulmonary diseases. The fruit is edible and the latex is used as a source of chewing gum.
  • Alligator Apple or Corkwood (Anonna glabra): This fruit is a native of South America and the West Indies. Commonly known as the alligator apple or pond apple, it is not eaten fresh but is used for making jellies.
  • Amaranth or Spinach Grass (Amaranthus caudatus): This tasty annual is native to Central and South America and is one of 60 species of amaranth. This single-stemmed, broad-leafed annual has long plumes of vivid-scarlet flowers and has been used by indigenous populations for over 6,000 years. Both the seeds, young stalks and leaves can be lightly cooked to produce a spinach-like flavour, whilst the steamed leaves can be mashed with garlic, basil, onions, tomato sauce and cream cheese. The grain has a sweet nutty taste when prepared and is used in confectionary, salads, breads, cakes and muffins. The seeds contain 15-18% protein, a wide range of amino-acids, calcium, potassium, phosphate, iron, sodium, as well as vitamins A, E & C.
  • Amargo Bark (Quassia amara): This small, slender evergreen tree (6m) is found mainly in the understory of the Amazon rainforest and in hot, humid sites. With light-green, deeply-veined polished leaves and narrow vivid crimson flowers, it has evolved to attract hummingbirds which act as its pollinator. With at least 30 powerful phytochemicals in its tissues, all parts of this tree also contain Quassimarin -  a bitter ingredient which has many uses with its anti-leukaemic, anti-tumor, astringent, digestive, febrifuge, vermifuge, insecticidal, laxative and tonic properties. A traditional local remedy for malaria or fevers is half a cup of shredded bark infused in hot water twice daily. In Brazil a tea of infused leaves is given as a mouthwash after tooth extractions and the tree is also used as the base for 'Angostura Bitters', which is added to gin-based drinks.
  • Amazon grape (Pourouma cecropifolia). This tropical rainforest tree grows throughout the Amazon basin and is valued for its ovoid fruit (2cm) which has a sweet, white pulp. It may be eaten fresh or used to make sweet wines, jams and jellies.
  • Anatto or Lipstick Plant (Bixa orellana): Indigenous to central and South America this bushy perennial (5-8 meters tall) is packed with small woody seeds which are covered in a sealing wax-red powder. The tree is sought after by the international food industry which uses this tasteless, non-toxic orange-red dye as a food colouring for rice, margarine, butter, cheese, chocolate, confectionary, soaps, and fabric dyes. Local Indian tribes use the red powder for body adornment, as an insect repellant and for a range of medicinal purposes. The seeds are 14% protein and have a sweet, peppery flavour which is also used as a spice in Mexican, American and Caribbean cuisines.
  • Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens): This small flowering shrub or small tree (5m) with its brilliantly coloured trumpet-like blooms is used by native Indians as an additive in the formulation of arrow-poison or in the preparation of the hallucinogenic drink Ayahuasca....(continued).

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Frogs, Salamanders and Caecilians

Frogs are the most successful group of amphibians on the planet and are found in every corner of the globe. They form the largest group of the class Amphibia and are recognised in 5,550 species arranged  in 44 families. Evolving 360 million years ago from the first four-legged animals, the tetrapods, they adapted to a variety of conditions, and in the rainforests of the Amazon basin they occupy a multitude of important niches in this delicate ecosystem, with some highly specialised species producing enough toxins in their skin to kill rodents and human beings. With  protruding eyes, no tail, strong, webbed hind feet that are adapted for leaping and swimming, and smooth, moist skins, they are predominantly aquatic, but some live on land, in burrows, or in trees. Living on insects, small arthropods, or worms a number of them also eat other frogs, rodents, and reptiles.  Most frogs are nocturnal and possess large complex eyes that collect enough light to enable them to see in the dark. As they have no metabolic control over their body temperature, their temperature matches that of their environment, making nocturnal life in the tropics viable all year round. They do not have an outer ear like mammals, but a hidden ear-drum which is located behind the eye, and their strong sense of smell is primarily used to locate potential mates. With complex camouflage colours, agile abilities and powerful toxins, they are afforded protection from potential predators as they maintain the balance of this complex and delicate ecosystem, however, because of their sensitivity to pollution and climate change, a decline in frog populations is a clear warning about the current health of our planet.

  • Amazon Milk-frog (Trachycephalus resinifictrix): Found deep in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, this distinctive frog is easily identified due to its milk-white skin colour with its unusual black banding. It belongs to the Hylidae family of tree frogs of which about 800 species are currently recognised.
  • Among the most famous of frogs is the poison-dart frog of the species Phyllobates terriblis. Each frog carries enough toxin to kill 10 people and needs only to be touched to be deadly. Some Amazon Indian tribes use the toxic mucus of this small frog for blow-gun darts. Growing as small as 2 cm its bold patterning and vivid red and blue colours is an effective warning to their natural predators of their deadly and lethal potential. These frogs carry their tadpoles piggy-back style up the side of a tree trunk and release them into a bromeliad tank. Every day the female parent returns to the bromeliad and releases a single unfertilized egg into the water – food for her growing young. (Wilson, E. O. 1992).
  • Argentine Horned Frog (Ceratophrys ornata): This frog is the most common of the Leptodactylidae family and is found across most of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Its mottled orange, red and black colouring offers it perfect camouflage and despite growing up to 14 centimeters long, is often hard to see amongst the leaf-litter of the forest floor. This frog uses its hind legs as a lure, placing them on its back and wiggling them enticingly at anything that will fit into its mouth.
  • Arrow-poison frogs are tiny, usually measuring only 1–5 cm (0.5 - 2 inches) long, but very conspicuous, coloured in combinations of black with bright red, yellow, pink, orange, green, and blue. They live on or near the ground, and all are members of the family 'Dendrobatidae', but not all the 170 frog species in this family are toxic. Arrow-poison frogs possess some of the most potent toxins known to man. Poison glands scattered all over the amphibians' bodies produce alkaloids that affect the nervous system. The most toxic species recorded is the bright yellow 'Phyllobates terribilis' of Colombia, capable of injuring a person who merely touches it. The poison can be absorbed through unbroken skin and causes severe irritation. Local people do not kill this frog to extract its poison but merely scrape their blowgun darts across its back before releasing the amphibian. (Marent, T 2008).
  • Bamboo Poison Frog (Ranitmeya biolat): Living on a variety of giant bamboo species in Peru, this frog has dorsal wide black bands which are segregated by narrow bands of yellow with a splotchy black and white underbelly and white legs. It belongs to the family of Poison frogs, however is not considered to be dangerous....(continued).


Classification of Amphibian Species   

(Sources: Haliday. T. & Adler. K. 2002/Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010)

Phylum Chordata:

Subphylum Vertebrata:

  • Class Amphibia: Frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians. Early Devonian period to present. Found worldwide including South America. The name 'Amphibia' is derived from the Greek 'amphibios' meaning to 'living a double life'. These vertebrates are distinguished by their ability to live in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Some species are permanent land dwellers, whilst other species have a completely aquatic mode of existence. All three main orders (Gymnophiona, Caudata and Anura) are well represented in South America; 3 orders, 44 families, 434 genera and more than 5,450 species.
    • Subclass Lepospondyli: Extinct - Carboniferous period from Europe and North America).
      These amphibians are related to the temnospondyls of the family Branchiosauridae, and less closely related to the Micromelerpetonidae, Dissorophidae, and Trematopidae. They existed between 305 and 240 million years ago (from the Late Carboniferous, or Middle Pennsylvanian, to the Early Triassic) and were all small, primarily quadrupedal, terrestrial animals with a primitive amphibian biphasic life cycle.
    • Subclass Labyrinthodontia: Extinct- Early Devonian to Triassic; North America, Europe, and Greenland). This extinct subclass of amphibians constituted the dominant animals of Late Paleozoic and Triassic time (about 350 to 210 million years ago). Labyrinthodonts first appeared in the Late Devonian (374 to 360 million years ago) and possibly included the ancestors of all land vertebrates. Many were as large as alligators, some as small as salamanders. By the Permian Period (286 to 245 million years ago) certain genera had become terrestrial, but both the early members of the group and the late degenerate forms were aquatic. The body was stout and lizard-like, with short limbs and a large skull.
  • Superfamily Loxommatoidea: Most species extinct - Carboniferous; Europe and North America.
    • Order Temnospondyli: Early Carboniferous (360–320 million years ago) to Late Triassic (230–208 million years ago); Europe and North America.
      • Suborder Rhachitomi: Early Carboniferous to Early Triassic; distribution worldwide .
    • Superfamily incertae sedis (classification uncertain): Carboniferous; Europe and North America.
    • Superfamily Edopoidea: Late Carboniferous to Early Permian; North America and Europe.
    • Superfamily Eryopoidea: Late Carboniferous to Early Triassic; North America.
    • Superfamily Dissorophoidea: Permian; North America and Eurasia.
    • Superfamily Trimerorhachoidea: Early Carboniferous to Late Permian (258–245 million years ago; Found in Europe and North America.
      • Subclass Lissamphibia: Triassic to Recent; found worldwide.
  • Superorder Gymnophiona: (Jurassic to Recent, pantropical).
    • Order 'Jurassic fossil' - unnamed. Fossils only; Jurassic; North America.
    • Order Apoda: (caecilians). Paleocene (66.4-57.8 million years ago) to present time. Secretive burrowing or swimming  animals that occur in the Western Hemisphere from Mexico south to northern Argentina, as well as Africa, S.E Asia, and the Seychelles; elongated bodies without limbs; numerous annuli or rings; 10-150 cm; colour ranges from blackish to pinkish tan; tiny eyes covered by skin or bone; chemosensory tentacle between eye and nostril; male possesses an organ for internal fertilization of the female; eggs hatch into free-living larvae; some species are viviparous and birth to miniature adults; Caecilians live underground in moist loose soils of tropical forests and plantations; eat worms and insects; six families, 36 genera and 176 species.

      • Family Caeciliidae: Paleocene (66.4-57.8 million to present) tail absent; mouth recessed; pre-maxillae fused with nasals; no pre-frontals; squamosal articulating with frontal; usually no aquatic larval stage; 10–152 cm; 24 genera with 89 species; found in Central and South America, Africa, India, and Seychelles. 

        • Genera include: Caecilia; Dermophis;

        • Species include: Caecilia thompsoni - Colombia - longest caecilian species at 1.6 meters; Dermophis mexicanus - Guatemala;

      • Family Ichthyophiidae: No fossil record; tail present; mouth partially recessed; pre-maxillae not fused with nasals; pre-frontals present; squamosal articulating with frontal; aquatic larvae;  adult size 40–50 cm; found in S.E Asia, India, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, Borneo, and Philippines; 2 genera with 36 species.

        • Genera include :Ichthyophis;

        • Species include: Ichthyophis glutinossus - Sri Lanka;

      • Family Rhinatrematidae: No fossil record; tail present; mouth terminal; pre-maxillae not fused with nasals; pre-frontals absent; squamosal not articulating with frontal; aquatic larvae; 25-32 cm; 2 genera with 9 species; some species are aquatic; found only in South America.

        • Genera include:

        • Species include:

      • Family Scolecomorphidae: No fossil record; tail absent; mouth recessed; pre-maxillae not fused with nasals; pre-frontals present; squamosal not articulating with frontal; no aquatic larval stage; 40-45 cm; 2 genera with 7 species; found in Africa.

        • Genera include:

        • Species include:

      • Family Typhlonectidae: No fossil record; tail absent; mouth recessed; pre-maxillae fused with nasals; pre-frontals absent; squamosal articulating with frontal; no larval stage; adults aquatic; 50-72 cm; 4 genera with 13 species; found only in South America.

        • Genera include: Siphonops;

        • Species include: Siphonops annulatus - South America.

      • Family Uraeotyphlidae: No fossil record; tail present; mouth recessed; pre-maxillae not fused with nasals; pre-frontals present; squamosal articulating with frontal; aquatic larvae; 28-30 cm; one genus with 4 species;  found in southern peninsular India.

        • Genera include:

        • Species include:

  • Infraclass Batrachia: Triassic to Recent; worldwide including South America, except Antarctica.

    Superorder Urodela: Jurassic to Recent; primarily Northern Hemisphere.

    • Order Karauroidea: Fossils only; Jurassic; Asia.

    • Order Caudata: Salamanders and Newts: Jurassic to Recent; amphibians mainly of the northern Hemisphere. Some species living in northern South America; aquatic or terrestrial with tails; elongated bodies, four legs, moist skins; long tongues; Diet of insects, worms, snails, and other small animals; 2cm-1.6m; variable colours including green, brown, black, red, orange, yellow; 20-25 years; most species lay eggs; 470 species in 60 genera and 10 families; 44 species are now at risk....(continued).

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Fungi form about 50,000 species of organisms of the kingdom Fungi or Mycota - a kingdom which includes yeasts, rusts, smuts, mildews, molds, and mushrooms. They are among the most widely distributed organisms on Earth and are of great importance in all of our ecosystems - and none more so than the tropical rainforests of the South America. Many fungi are free-living in soil or water, whilst others form parasitic or symbiotic relationships with plants or animals. A typical fungus consists of a mass of branched, tubular filaments enclosed by a rigid cell wall. The filaments, called hyphae, branch into a complicated, expanding network called the mycelium which utilizes nutrients from the environment, channeling them back to the roots of trees and plants. In the Amazon rainforest they play a critical role in the recycling of key nutrients, and together with bacteria, fungi are responsible for the disintegration of organic matter, and the release into the soil or atmosphere of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus that would otherwise be locked up in un-decomposed organic matter. It has been estimated that there may be as many as 100,000 to 250,000 total species of fungi in the Amazon rainforest, with new species constantly being found.

  • Bacteria: Although nitrogen-fixing bacteria live in the plant roots, it is only in the rainforest environment that they also exist in their leaves, enabling nitrogen from the atmosphere to become available for plant metabolism.
  • Decomposers known as ‘saprotrophs’ feed on fallen leaves, branches, dung, urine and corpses breaking down the physical remains by chewing these substances and opening them up to the invasion of fungi and bacteria.
  • Fungi: To scour for minerals trees fungi will send new roots into animal debris and epiphytes on their branches. Fungi, bacteria, lichens and moss also aid this process, with insects such as termites acting as decomposers. The flooded varzeas are more fertile, with annual inundations providing an additional source of nutrients. The warmth and moisture of this environment ensure a quick rate of decomposition.
  • Lichens: When fungi and algae come together they form lichens -  the basis of their relationship being the mutual benefit that they provide each other. Algae form simple carbohydrates that, when excreted, are absorbed by fungi cells and transformed into a different carbohydrate, whilst algae produce vitamins that the fungi need. Fungi contribute to the symbiosis by absorbing water vapour from the air and by providing much-needed shade for the light-sensitive algae beneath. Lichens are sometimes used by Amazon Indians as food and well a source of medicine and dye.
  • Nutrients: Essential nutrients from old leaves is extracted and stored in the heart of the trees before shedding time.
  • Roots: The roots of Amazon rainforest trees are coated with ‘hyphae’ which form filaments of fungi growth and become a form called mycorrhizals which attach themselves to decomposing leaves, channeling nutrients such as phosphorous directly back to the root. In return the fungi take certain carbohydrates and nitrogen compounds which aid in the synthesis of their own proteins. This complex symbiotic relationship sustains the rainforest environment, and without this interdependence the forest would not exist.
  • Slime moulds (Myxyomycetes) are one class of creature in the humid, steamy rainforest which fits neither into the animal or plant kingdom. They begin life microscopically as spores that are carried great distances on air currents to eventually settle on moist, decaying vegetation such as falling leaves or rotting wood, where they germinate and produce flagellate protozoans, or swarm cells, which creep freely across the substrate in the same manner as amoebas. They feed on bacteria and other micro-organisms and will eventually produce a mass of plasma that may contain several hundred million cell-free nuclei called a plasmodium.  (Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009).
  • Soils: The underlying problem in the Amazon basin is that the soil and sub-soil is naturally infertile, and lacks substances which can hold nutrients. Incessant rain falling over millions of years compounds the problem and the nutrients leached away. Locally known as ‘caatinga’, the healthy forests grow on a coarse sandy soil which contains calcium but is deficient in nitrogen and phosphorous. To cope with this situation trees have evolved a spongy mat of tangled rootlets which cover the soil surface and intercept the nutrients before they are washed away.
  • Termites: Termites and a few fungi are able to tackle the lignin and cellulose of the forest floor litter. Termites form 70% of the invertebrates in leaf litter and break down plant material with the aid of specific protozoa in their digestive system, releasing crucial nitrogen, phosphorous and iron. Without these decomposers, life in the rainforest would soon grind to a halt.

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The Amazon rainforest is home to over 30 million species of insects - the largest variety in the world. Most South American insects, spiders, crabs, centipedes and millipedes are found nowhere else, with some scientists estimating that 30% of the animal biomass of the Amazon Basin could be made up entirely of ants. Most South American insects, spiders, crabs, centipedes, and millipedes are found nowhere else in the world, and its array of endemic butterflies is the richest of any continent. Giant spiders and spectacularly coloured members of the 'Morphidae' subfamily are also found here, with social insects such as termites, ants, wasps and bees an integral part of a multitude of habitats and ecologies. Over 90% of the animal species in the Amazon are insects with a single square mile of rainforest often supporting more than 50,000 known insect species. For over 100 million years the flowering plants of the Amazon have evolved to develop an important symbiotic relationship with the pollinating insects, forming an integral and critical part of this unique and delicate ecosystem. To date less than 10,000 species of insects of the Amazon rainforest have been collected and classified, with many existing in the upper canopy layers of the rainforest - uncatalogued and as yet unexplored. Travellers to the region are often plagued by mosquitoes which transmit diseases such as malaria and yellow fever, whilst leaf-cutting ants (Atta and Acromyrmex), sandflies, piums and kissing bugs can inflict bites which remain infected for days. Fireflies, stinging bees, hornets, wasps, beetles, cockroaches, cicadas, centipedes, scorpions, ticks, red bugs, are also abundant, and representative of the only group of invertebrates that can fly. Some insects have complex lifecycles requiring several different habitats and food sources whilst communicating with each other through pheromones, light, touch, vibration and sound. Although many species of insects are small they form an indispensable part of the planet's ecosystems. Not only are they an integral component of many food chains, they also act as pollinators, decomposers and control agents for all the environments which they inhabit. It has been estimated that for every human being there are at least 1,500 million individual insects on this planet, most of which are found in the depths of the vast Amazon rainforest....(continued). 

  • Acknowledged Insect Orders: All insects belong to 24 generally accepted orders with the exception of two very small and little-known groups - the Zoraptera and the Grylloblattodea.  (Chinery, M. 2007).

  • Amazon Insect Species:  More than 10,000 different insect species have been known to co-exist just in one tree.

  • Amazonian Moth: Whilst small in appearance, the dark markings and shiny squiggles give this moth the appearance of a bird-dropping making it unattractive to birds and potential enemies. Moths that form this type of protection do so by creating a realistic three-dimensional appearance whilst resting with their wings slightly raised.

  • Ant evolution: Ants arose during the Cretaceous period (100 million years ago) and has continued until the present day. The earliest known forms evolved into two groups - the now extinct Mesozoic subfamily Sphecomyrminae and a second group comprising primitive members of the subfamilies Aneuritinae, Ponerinae, and Formicinae. The diversification of the major groups of ants, however, was well underway by the early to middle Eocene times, as they became well established in the tropical regions of the world. Today there is considerable variation in the shape of their heads, bodies and mandibles (as well as antennae segmentation), as they competed with other species in a rapidly evolving world. The most abundant species now belong to the dolichoderine genus Iridomyrmex and the formicine genus Lasius. Both these genera are well represented in the Amazon rainforest and are numerically dominant across southeast Asia, Australia, and melanesia. Of the 38 genera surviving from the Early Miocene (20 million years ago), 34 genera now flourish in the the tropics of Central and South America. Today there are six ponerine tribes and over 1,300 species, and together they present the most variability overall in anatomical characteristics and patterns of colony organisation of all the known subfamilies. (Hölldobler, B. & Wilson, E. O. 2004).

  • Ants of the Amazon rainforest: The tropical arboreal ants of the Amazon rainforest are so abundant that in some regions they constitute up to 90% of the animal biomass in any given area. There are not enough herbivorous insects available to them as sources of protein, so they subsist as predators, scavengers and cryptic herbivores, feeding on the liquid exudates of  hemipterous insects such as scale insects and tree-hoppers. In 1987 a study of canopy ant species executed in the Tambopata Reserved Zone of Peru by E. O. Wilson concluded that the seven most common genera were Crematogaster (Myrmicinae, 23.4%), Camponotus (Formincina, 23.3%), Azteca (Dolichoderinae, 7.8%), Dolichoderus (Dolichoderinae, 5.8%), Pseudomyrmex (Pseudomyrmecinae, 4.9%) and Cephalotes (Myrmicinae, 3.9%). This concentration of ant genera was in complete reversal to those that occupy the ground zones and lower canopy levels where the myrmicines and ponerines dominated. These ants are nest-site specialists. They occupy and help sow 'ant gardens', clusters of orchids, gesneriads and other epiphytic plants with which they live in mutualistic symbiosis. Here the tropical arboreal ants nest in hollow stems and the abandoned burrows of wood-boring beetles, and protect their host plants against herbivores. (Hölldobler, B. & Wilson, E. O. 2004).

  • Arthropods, and especially insects, are an integral part of the dynamic evolutionary and survival processes which make our planet habitable. Emerging from the Cambrian period (600-500 million years ago) these herbivores evolved to dispose of dead vegetation, animal bodies and excrement, a process which recycles vast amounts of nutrients back into the soil. They occupy almost every conceivable biological habitat on earth and are found in overwhelming numbers in all our critical ecosystems. Some of their adaptations are bizarre, enabling their larvae to live in hot springs or crude oil, as well as habitats ranging from the frozen tops of many mountains to the very depths of our planet's oceans. They pollinate our crops, produce silks, dyes and honey, and often carry diseases which are the scourge of mankind. The evolution of an exoskeleton of hardened cuticle has kept these animals small, whilst the development of strong wings and flexible limbs gives them a large territorial range and mobility. In the tropics their numbers and specialisations increase dramatically, with the Amazon rainforest home to the greatest variety of spiders, orb weavers, tarantulas, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, butterflies, wasps, rhinoceros beetles, ponerine ants, mantids and walking-sticks on the planet.

  • Army Ants (Eciton spp): These ants are great scavengers and some of the most resilient creatures in the forest. Without territory or a permanent home these gypsy-like scavengers occupy temporary homes called bivouacs, and will aggressively attack any form of animal life in the path of a hunting column. Living in colonies containing several million individuals, workers will seize prey with large snapping mandibles and inject poison, at the same time releasing a pheromone spray which attracts others to the scene. Huge soldiers stand guard forming a thick wall around the colony as they rest or devour their prey – their jaws so strong that the local Indians use the ants as sutures, forcing them to bite across a wound and then twisting off their bodies leaving the jaws to hold the skin together. These ants have been known to attack any animal that cannot escape, and have even been known to kill large snakes. Studies show that army ants operate on a 36-day cycle which consists of a 16-day nomadic pattern followed by a 20-day stationary phase. Their raids caused by the level of tension and excitability of the ant colony and not by a scarcity of food....(continued).


 Classification of Arthropod and Insect Species       

(Sources: O'Toole, C. 2002 & Encyclopaedia Britannica 2010)

Kingdom Animalia:

Phylum Arthropoda:


Largest phylum in the animal kingdom; appeared during Cambium period 600-500 million years ago; found in almost all of the Earth's habitats; well represented in South America; includes lobsters, crabs, spiders, insects, centipedes, and millipedes; aquatic, terrestrial, arboreal habitats ranging from 4,000m below sea-level to altitudes of 6,700m; important as major link in the food chain between photosynthetic phytoplankton and larger carnivores; bilaterally symmetrical invertebrates with jointed exoskeleton covering body and appendages; cilia absent; body segmented, sometimes reduced as result of fusion; appendages typically specialized for different functions; head with sense organs, dorsal brain, feeding appendages; coelom greatly reduced; nervous system of dorsal brain, double or single ventral nerve cord; eggs rich in yolk; development highly modified; carnivores, herbivores, detritus feeders, filter feeders and parasites; 4 subphylum, 1 million describes species, possibly 5-20 million species await description and classification.   

  • Subphylum Trilobita: Trilobites. Extinct. Cambrian Period to end of Paleozoic Era; more than 4,000 marine fossil species known; head with 5 segments, 2 antennae and compound eyes; oval, flattened body composed of cephalon, thorax, and pygidium, each segmented; dorsal surface moulded longitudinally into 3 lobes; each segment with 2 branched appendages.

  • Subphylum Chelicerata: Spiders, scorpions, ticks, and mites. Found worldwide, well represented in South America; Body divided into cephalothorax and abdomen); no antennae; first pair of appendages are chelicerae flanking the mouth; other appendages are a pair of pedipalps and four pairs of legs.

    • Class Merostomata: Horseshoe crabs and Gigantostraca. Large marine chelicerates with book gills; prosoma covered by a dorsal carapace; long terminal spine;

      • Orders Xiphosura: Horseshoe crabs. Found coast of Asia and North America; originated in Ordovician Period 505-438 million years ago; present species date back to the Jurassic Period 208-144 million years ago.

        • Genera include: Tachypleus; Carcinoscorpinus; Limulus;  

        • Species include:

          • Tachypleus tridentatus;

          • Tachypleus  gigas;

          • Limulus polyphemus.

          • Carcinoscorpinus rotundicauda.

      • Order Eurypterida: Gigantostraca. Extinct. Includes 200 fossil species from Paleozoic Era; 18 families.

        • Species include: Giant sea scorpion (Pterygotus rhenanius) - 3 meters long.

    • Class Pycnogonida: Sea spiders or whip scorpions or Pycnogonids. Originated during Jurassic Period 136-190 million years ago; spider-like marine animals found from ocean floor to surface; 3mm-50cm; 4 trunk segments; 4 pairs long legs; body 3mm-50cm; fertilization external; males carry the eggs until hatched; nervous, circulatory systems simple; no respiratory or excretory systems; 600 species known.

    • Class Arachnida: Scorpions, spiders, ticks, mites. Mainly terrestrial; distribution variable but well represented in tropical South America; book lungs and/or tracheae for gas exchange; adult body of 18 somites; anterior prosoma with 6 pairs of appendages; simple digestive system; abdomen segmented or un-segmented externally; nervous system tends to fuse; not more than 12 simple eyes (ocelli); sexes dimorphic; courtship frequent before sperm transfer; usually terrestrial, carnivorous, nocturnal, and cryptozoic; social organization rare; instinctive behaviour highly developed; 18 orders, 70,000 described species; some orders extinct.

      • Order Architarbi: Extinct.

      • Order Haptopoda: Extinct. Fossil forms with carapace complete; chelicerae 3-jointed, chelate, from Upper Carboniferous, England.

        Order Anthracomarti: Extinct. Upper Carboniferous of Europe, Pennsylvanian of North America; fossil forms with complete carapace; abdomen with 10 segments.

      • Order Trigonotarb: Extinct.

        Order Kustarachnae: Extinct. Fossil forms known only from Pennsylvanian of North America

      • Order Scorpiones or Scorpionida: Scorpions. Found in warm to tropical regions worldwide, including South America; chelicerate arachnids with single carapace over cephalothorax; pair of 3-jointed chelicerae; large chelate pedipalps; 4 pairs of walking legs; comb-like pectines; 4 pairs of book lungs; tropics to warm temperate zone; 10-200mm; diet of arthropods; 8 families, 1,200-1,500 species.

        • Family Bothriuridae: Bothriurids. Tropical and subtropical South America; 1 Australian genus; 3 lateral eyes on each side; about 80 species.

        • Family Buthidae: Buthids. Oldest living family; worldwide distribution in tropics to warm temperate zones including South America; triangular sternum; some species very venomous with a complex neurotoxin that causes severe convulsions, paralysis, and cardiac irregularities preceding death; prey on insects, spiders, other arachnids, scorpions, terrestrial isopods, snails, lizards, snakes and rodents; about 600 species.

          • Genera include: Buthotus; Androctonus; Buthus; Tityus; Parabuthus;

          • Species include:

            • (Buthotus tamulus) - India;

            • (Buthus occitanus, Buthotus minax, Leiurus quinquestriatus) - North Africa, Middle East;

            • (Tityus Rhopolarus) - South America, West Indies;

            • (Parabuthus) - South Africa.......(continued).

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Medicinal Plants 

The defensive arsenal of the plants of the Amazon rainforest is formidable and has contributed to over 50% of our medicines. Of the world’s 500,000 known plant species it is estimated that some 70,000 species have potential medicinal applications, and at least 10,000 species have a history of beneficial use. Approximately 16% of the world’s botanical species exists in the Amazon region with some 145 families of herbs, shrubs, lianas, perennial rhizomes and trees being used for medicinal purposes. These include the valuable medicinal families of Apocynaceae, Guttiferae, Leguminosae, Malpighiaceae and Solanaceae, and the important genera of Cinchona (malaria), Tropaellum (antibiotics) and Tabebuia (anti-cancer). Tropical rainforests are a huge reservoir of bioactive chemicals, vitamins and genes, and for countless millennia indigenous peoples of the world have been using these plants to cure their common afflictions, ailments and diseases. Large and healthy populations thrived as they investigated, experimented with, and utilised the multitude of flora at their disposal. After contact with the colonisers from Europe the native populations of the Amazon (and elsewhere) were decimated, along with a huge storehouse of natural knowledge which had protected their way of life. The foreigners soon discovered the natural benefits of some of these plants, adapting the active ingredients to make medicines of their own. Today Indian tribes of the north-west Amazon region use more than 1,500 plant species for medicinal purposes, whilst in Brazil the Kayapo Indians recognise and use some 600 species, classifying ecological zones in a way which is more detailed than many modern systems. Companies such as Shaman Pharmaceuticals often send teams of trained ethno-biologists into the field to learn from indigenous shamans, however as more plant medicines are synthesized in laboratories less emphasis is being placed on this type of work as the science of genetic manipulation develops. The scientific study of this information now incorporates the disciplines of pharmacology, genetics, applied ecology, climatology, microbiology and biotechnology, as the race to decipher and utilise this valuable source of medicines accelerates. Today two thirds of the world's population still use plants as their medicines with over half of all pharmaceuticals using biological sources such as plants. As the destruction of the Amazon rainforest continues unabated, so does the loss of its intrinsic medicinal knowledge. The cultural and medicinal benefits which took millennia to attain could be lost in just one generation, much to the detriment of the Amazon Indians, and the future health of mankind....(continued)

  • A large number of South American plants provide valuable drugs, including quinine (obtained from the bark of several trees of the genus Cinchona indigenous to the eastern slopes of the Andes) and cocaine (extracted from the leaves of the coca shrub) found in the eastern Andes from Peru to Bolivia.

  • A recent study by the U.S National Cancer Research Institute has noted that about 3,000 plant species  have known cancer healing properties – 70% of these grow in the rainforests. The Indians of Amazonia know and utilise more than 1000 medicinal plants to cure a variety of medical ailments - many of which have not yet been studied by scientists.

  • About one hundred and thirty species of biodynamic plants of the Amazon rainforest are used for fish poisons, which act by interfering with respiration in the gills. Many contain large amounts of rotenone, the source of the most commonly used biodegradable insecticide available to the modern world.

  • Acanthaceae or Acanthus Family: This large family with over 250 genera and some 2,500 species is found throughout the tropics of Central and South America, as well as Australia, the Mediterranean region and the US. They include herbs, climbers, shrubs and a few small trees. Some species are employed in the medicines of the native Amazonian Indians.  (Shultes, R, E. & Raffauf, R. F. 1990).

    • Genus Aphelandra: About 100 species of shrubs and large herbs indigenous to the warmer regions of the New World. Some species contain the alkaloid aphelandrine, as well as saponins and tannins.

      • Aphelandra aurantiaca - The Tikuna Indians use a warm concoction of the root bark of this shrub to alleviated progressive deafness.

      • Aphelandra pilosa- The Kuripako Indians use a cold poultice of crushed leaves to relieve throat swellings and inflammation of the tonsils. A stimulating drink is also made from its leaves.

      • Fittonia albivensis - Siona-Secoya Indians crush this plant and boil it in water to relieve headaches or muscular pain. It may also be used to wash cuts, and the Kofan Indians use it to alleviate chronic nephritis.

      • Fittonia argyroneura - This plant is used by the Kofans as a mouth wash to relieve toothaches.

      • Fittonia vershaffeltii - A leaf infusion is used by the Ketchwas of Ecuador to treat toothaches.

    • Genus Justica: This genus contains some 300 species of herbs and small shrubs which are found in the tropics and subtropics of both hemispheres. Some species contain aromatic oils which are used in insecticides, moth repellents, perfumes and soaps. Other chemical compounds found in the genus include lignans, saponins, aromatic amines, kaempferol, sterols, salicylic acid and a higher aliphatic alcohol.

      • Justica blackii - A warm infusion of leaves is gargled and drunk by the Tikuna Indians to relieve chronic sinusitis.

      • Justica cabrerae - The Makunas Indians of the Rio Piraparana use a concoction of wild boar lard and powdered roots of this plant to as a remedy for skin irritations of the crotch region.

      • Justica chlorostachys - The Makunas Indians of the Rio Piraparana use a concoction of wild boar lard and powdered roots of this plant to as a remedy for skin irritations of the crotch region.

      • Justica comata - Tikuna Indians use the dried, pulverised leaves of this plant as a perfume as well as an insect repellent.

      • Justica pectoralis - Kofan Indians boil this plant in water, then pour and rub the warm decoction on the lower portions of their arms and feet to treat palsy-like trembling. Throughout the northern Amazon region, pulverized and dried preparations of its leaves are also added to powdered resin of Virola theiodora in the preparation of hallucinogenic snuff which is known as epena or nyakwana.

      • Justica schultesii - Makuna Indians, of the middle Rio Apaporis region of Colombia, use a concoction of wild boar lard and powdered roots of this plant as a remedy for skin irritations of the crotch region.

      • Flor de culebra (Justica spp.) - Natives of the Rio Inirida use this plant to treat snake bites.

    • Genus Mendonicia - This genus of about 60 species of twining herbaceous or suffrutescent vines of  are found throughout Central and tropical South America, as well as parts of tropical Africa and Madagascar.

      • Mendonicia aspera - Taiwano Indians of the Rio Kananari use crushed roots from this plant to poison fish.

      • Mendonicia pedunculata - Most Indian tribes of the uppermost Vaupes state in Colombia, use crushed roots from this plant to poison fish.

    • Genus Ruellia - A genus of some 200 species of perennial shrubs and herbs which is endemic to temperate and tropical America. Some species contain flavonoid derivatives, whilst others contain sterols, acid esters, n-alkanes and tetramethyputrescine.

      • Ruellia colorata - The Kofans use the soaked, pounded roots of this plant as a vermifuge and vomative.

      • Ruellia geminifolia - Indians tribes of the Brazilian Amazon region use the soaked, pounded roots of this plant are used as a vomative.

      • Ruellia malacosperma - A boiled decoction of these leaves is valued by the Tikuna Indians in treating diarrhea. For measles or fever, the leaves are crushed, placed in a clean cloth and applied as a poultice to the chest or head.

    • Genus Sanchezia - A genus of some 30 species of strong, erect herbs and shrubs which is found only in South America. Some species have showy spikes of flowers.

      • Sanchezia pennellii - In S.E Colombia these leaves are reputed to have good haemostatic properties.

      • Sanchezia thinophylla - The Tikuna of the Trapeciio Amazonico use a decoction of the inflorescences of this plant to bath the heads of girls who are undergoing the ritual of adolescent hair removal.

      • Sanchezia spp. - At Yarina Cocha, in Peru, this plant is grown by the Shipibo Indians, in association with Banisteriopsis caapi, and made into a tea or smoked for its hallucinogenic effects.

    • Genus Teliostachya - Ten species found only in tropical South America.

      • Teliostachya lanceolata - The Secona Indians, of the Rio Eno in Ecuador, use this plant as an hallucinogen as well as an additive for narcotic preparations. It is also used as a hallucinogenic snuff by the Waika Indians of the upper Orinoco region of Venezuela and northern Brazil.

  • Acerola or Semeruco (Malpighia punicifolia): This small, attractive tree (6m) is a native of Central and northern South America and valued for its small red berries which have a sweet, juicy yellow-orange flesh. Acerola is one of the richest sources of natural vitamin C (a powerful antioxidant) and is often grown commercially for this reason. It contains twice as much magnesium, panothenic acid and potassium as oranges, as well as high levels of vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. The fresh fruit is an excellent remedy for coughs, colds and sore throats, and may also be used to treat liver ailments, diarrhoea and dysentery. Acerola is also important in skin preparations and has recently become popular in products that fight cellular ageing. Its mineral salts have been shown to help remineralise tired and stressed skin, whilst the leaves, bark and fruit have active antifungal properties. (Lyle, S. 2006).

  • Actinidiaceae or Actinidia Family: This family of four genera of climbing shrubs and trees is found throughout the tropics of Asia and the Americas. They are known to contain mucilage, anabasine, alkaloids, catechin tannins, iridoids, monoterpene lactones and actinidin. (Shultes, R, E. & Raffauf, R. F. 1990).

    • Genus Saurauia - About 300 species of pubescent trees and shrubs from the tropical regions of Central and South America are found in this genus, which is represented in Colombia by 29 species.

      • Saurauia aromatica - This species is utilised by Siona medicine men, in the Macoa region, as a hot floral-tea drink which may treat serious grippe or colds.

      • Saurauia brachybotrys - The Indians at Sibundoy extract the pith of this plant, and apply it to snake bites to soothe or cure them. The dried, fragrant leaves are used for chest pains, and the mucilaginous fruit, boiled with the leaves of Saurauia sibundoya, to relieve pulmonary congestion. The bark may be rasped and powdered, and then applied to sores to extract pus or avoid infection.

      • Saurauia caquetensis - Medicine men of the Kamsa tribe boil the mucilage of the fruits, and use the residual thick, gummy mass as a poultice for headaches.

      • Saurauia omichlophila - To promote hair growth fruit mucilage is rubbed into the scalp by the Ingano medicine men.

      • Saurauia putamayonis - These fragrant flowers are boiled, by the Indians of the Macoa region, and used to clear the throat of acute sinusitis.

  • Agavaceae or Agave Family: Also know as the Century Plant family, this family is comprised of 550 species in 20 genera. They are found in the warmer regions of both hemispheres, and are renowned for their fleshy leaves which are often used as a source of various fibres. They also contain steroidal saponins.

    • Genus Cordyline: This genus contains some 15 species which are endemic to the warm and tropical regions of the Americas.

      • Cordyline terminalis - The Tikuna Indians crush these leaves and use them as a soap to whiten dirty clothing.

  • Alismataceae or Water Plantain Family: Found throughout the warm and temperate regions of both hemispheres, this family of swamp or aquatic plants with perennial rhizomes, contains some 90 species situated within 13 genera. The rhizomes of some species are eaten by North American Indians and are known to contain some unnamed alkaloids.

    • Genus Alisma: About 10 species which are known to contain monoacetates and alisnol.

      • Alisma spp. - The Kofan of Colombia soak these leaves in water to prepare a tea which is used to treat fevers, diarrhea and stomach pains.

  • Allspice (Pimenta officinalis): This aromatic evergreen tree grows to 12 meters and has oblong leathery leaves, clusters of small white flowers and tiny green berries that turn brown as they ripen. Allspice is native to the tropics of Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. Traditionally allspice was used as a spice before the arrival of Europeans and its berries and essential oils taken to relieve indigestion, treat diarrhoea, as a laxative, settle stomachs and used as an antiseptic. Its active ingredients include volatile oil, proteins, lipids, vitamins A, C, B1 and B2, and minerals.....(continued)

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