The Great Rivers of the World – The Amazon






The Amazon River in South America is the largest river by discharge volume of water in the world. There is some dispute about whether the Amazon is actually longer than the Nile. Its length is at least 4000 miles from its source Mantaro River to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean on the northeastern coast of Brazil; a length that is similar to the distance from New York City to Rome. The Amazon River runs through Guyana, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru.


The Amazon River was named after the fierce women of Greek mythology known as Amazons.  On Sunday 12th February 1542, a small party of Spaniards, led by Francisco de Orellana, a one-eyed conquistador, chanced upon the river while looking for cinnamon.



Above is the bust of Francisco de Orellana in his birthplace of Trujillo, Extramadura, in Spain.

De Orellana gave the river its name after reporting pitched battles with tribes of female warriors, whom he likened to the Amazons of Greek mythology. His awe and amazement at the river in flood are registered in his writing: “It came on with such fury and with so great an onrush that it was enough to fill one with the dreadest fear to look at it, let alone to go through it… and it was so wide from bank to bank from here on that it seemed as though we were navigating launched out upon a vast sea.” Orellana’s discovery brought Europeans to descend on the river of the Amazons. It wasn’t a happy time for the natives.

The image below shows the battle between the Greeks and the Amazons depicted on a marble sarcophagus on display in the Octagonal Court of the Pio Clementino Museum in Vatican City.

Battle of Greeks and Amazons

Later on, Europeans noticed a tree that the natives called ‘the wood that weeps’. A French polymath, who travelled down the river in 1736, sent a specimen to Paris. But for a century the West had no serious need of rubber. The Industrial Revolution, and Charles Goodyear’s vulcanisation process which ensured rubber’s constant consistency, changed all that. The Amazon became a second Klondike and rubber its black gold. Under the auspices of Kew Gardens, Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 Brazilian rubber seeds to London. Only 2,000 germinated, but it was enough to start plantations in Malaya and Ceylon. The riches of the Amazon were no more.

Below is shown latex sap oozing from the rubber tree.



Above are rubber trees on a plantation in Malaysia.

The Amazon river runs through the rainforest rather than alongside roads and for that reason it didn’t have bridges until one was built in 2011 in Manaus, the largest city on the border of the Amazon in Brazil.

Below is shown the Rio Negro bridge in Manaus.


In 2007 a Slovenian man named Martin Strel swam a record-breaking length of the Amazon River (3,273 miles), covering ten hours a day for 66 days. It was a great achievement, but all I can say, rather him than me. If I was tempted to attempt such a journey, I think my family would wait at the end of the my swim with the men in the white coats. You will understand why when you read about the animals that live in this river. To ensure that you are fully dissuaded from attempting his endeavour, you should note that the escort boats which were following Martin were prepared to pour blood into the river to distract meat-eating fish such as piranhas!


Above is Martin Strel undertaking his epic swim along the Amazon River.

The Amazon River is one of the natural wonders of the world, flowing through the remote Amazon rainforest. The river is made up of over 1,100 tributaries, seventeen of which are longer than 1,600 km. Marajo, the world’s largest river island with an area of 48,000 square km is located on the Amazon and is about the size of Switzerland.

Image below shows the mouth of the Pará River in Brazil, part of the greater Amazon River system. The river is separated from the larger part of the Amazon delta by Ilha de Marajó (Marajo Island).


The Amazon River is 11 million years old. It originated as a transcontinental river, and it took its present shape approximately 2.4 million years ago.  Its great importance is the fact that the rivers connected with the Amazon flow directly into the ocean maintaining the ocean currents, and therefore controlling the region’s climate.

Animal life of the Amazon River is difficult to assess fully because of the great diversity of its flora, some still not identified. The river is vibrating with about 2,500 fish species, and the forest canopy above resonates with the cries of many birds, monkeys and chirruping insects. There is a notable paucity of the largest terrestrial mammal species, indeed many mammals are arboreal. Among the many animals are caimans, river turtles, and the largest semiaquatic capybara, the largest in the world rodent.

Below is Black Caiman (image courtesy of International Expeditions).


Below is South American River Turtle (image courtesy of International Expeditions).


Below is a family of Capybaras (image courtesy of International Expeditions).


In the river, the most important ones are the Pirarucu, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish, and various giant catfish. The small flesh-eating piranha generally feeds on other fish but may attack any animal or human that foolishly enters the water.

Below is shown the benign countenance of the red-bellied Piranha.



The Amazon River is the prime habitat of Boto, the largest species of river dolphins and which is also known as the Amazon River Dolphin. Another dolphin, the Tucuxi is also found in the Amazon basin and coastal waters. The largest freshwater fish in the world, the Pirarucu have been found to reach a length of 4 metres and can weigh close to 200 kilograms.

Below is Boto, the pink Amazon river dolphin (second image courtesy of International Expeditions).



Below are Tucuxi river dolphins in the Amazon




Above are shown photos of Pirarucu (arapaima gigas).

And now try to read with your hands over your eyes, the way I am writing:  in the shallow waters of the Amazon Basin lurk Anacondas, the largest snakes in the world. They grow to 5 metres (17 feet), and weigh 550 pounds! They occasionally attack larger animals, like goats, that have got too close to the water, but they wouldn’t say no to a tasty human. Goodbye, Amazon! I am not, ever, coming to see you!

Below is Green Anaconda (image courtesy of International Expeditions).


The forest fires in the Amazon rainforest happen naturally, but this last year most were started by farmers and loggers clearing land for crops. Shame.





And finally, I think that you may have noticed that the most frequently used words in this post are:




2 thoughts on “The Great Rivers of the World – The Amazon

  1. Amazing pictures. How did that swimmer ever survive!


  2. Thank you, Jacqui. I think this could be his pension investments;, what will all the speaking engagement about escaping the jaws of this or other ‘the largest in the world creature.’


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