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Pantanal Wildlife

A Selection of Wildlife Found in the Pantanal


According to published studies, there are something like 124 species of mammals, 177 species of reptiles, 41 species of amphibians as well as 423 bird species, although more than this number have been recorded as having being sighted in this region. Moreover, there are an estimated 325 species of fresh-water fish here. Below we look at some of the characteristics of a chosen few:


Azara's Agouti is a social species, active in the mornings and at the end of the afternoon, with prominent ears, short legs and a hairless tail. Its fur is speckled pale to mid-brown or with a yellowish tinge on the underside. It has 5 toes on the forefeet but only 3 on the hind feet. It eats a variety of seeds, fruits and other plant material and barks when alarmed. When food is scarce it gathers nuts and buries them one at a time. This rodent is covered with coarse hair which is raised when alarmed. About 20 inches in length, it weighs about 6 and a half pounds (3 kilos).




The Anaconda, one of the largest snakes in the world by length and weight, growing up to 36 feet (11 metres) long and weighing up to 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms), can eat animals as large as caimans and jaguars. Its nostrils allow it to breathe under water. It can thus watch its prey as it lies in wait at the bottom of murky pools and ambushes small deer and other mammals that come by to drink. An anaconda kills by coiling itself around its prey and squeezing. It can dislocate its jawbone to swallow very large prey whole, then sleeps for days while digesting the meal. However, sightings are rare and instances of their preying on humans are even rarer. Female anacondas are five times bigger than the males.




The Giant Anteater, relative of sloths and armadillos, weighs between 18 and 40 kg and measures 1 to 1.2 metres long, plus about the same length for its tail. Its nearly 1-metre-long tongue is covered with sticky saliva and sharp spikes. It uses its powerful front legs and sharp claws to tear open an ant or termite nest and then probes for food with its tongue. It is capable of ingurgitating about 30,000 ants and termites per day. However, it will only eat about a hundred or so insects from each termite nest before going on to the next, thus allowing each colony to reconstitute itself and serve as food for the next visit. It is also able to defend itself with its tongue by causing its predators (puma and jaguar) to stop breathing by putting its tongue into their nostrils. It walks on its front knuckles to keep its claws razor-sharp, and its hind legs are much smaller than its front ones giving it a rolling, pigeon-toed walk. It folds its large fluffy tail over itself like a blanket when it goes to sleep. It lives for about 14 years and bears usually one young per year in September. A mother anteater will carry her young on her back until they are able to feed themselves.




The Aracari is a brightly-coloured, medium-sized toucan. Basically fruit-eating, it will also feed on insects and other small prey. It is arboreal and nests in tree holes laying 2 to 4 white eggs. It is a resident breeder and does not migrate. It roosts socially throughout the year, with up to six adults and fledgelings sleeping in the same hole with tails folded over their backs.




The Nine-banded Armadillo is the most common type of armadillo. It has 8 to 10 bands around its middle which give it its flexibility. The bony armour and leathery skin make up one-sixth of its total weight. It digs a large system of burrows and eats most foods, ranging from ants and birds to fruits and roots. It is solitary but may share a burrow with other armadillos. Its offspring are almost always same sex quadruplets.



Bats are the only mammals with the ability to fly. Their wings are formed from a double layer of skin that stretches between the side of the body and the four elongated fingers on each hand. Although bats' eyes are well-developed, hearing and smell are more important than sight. Some bats, such as the fruit bat, also have a large nose leaf, which helps them to locate echoes, aiding their navigation. Sounds (clicks) are produced in the larynx, emitted through the nose or mouth and directed or focused by the nose-leaf (if present). Once the clicks have reflected off an object the returning echo is picked up by the bat's sensitive ears. The time it takes to receive the echo reveals the size and location of anything in the bat's path. As the bat approaches its prey, the time between the clicks shortens, helping the bat to pinpoint its target. A single insect-eating bat may eat hundreds of mosquitoes in one night. Several bats eat fruits and some use their long tongues to feed on pollen and nectar. Carnivorous bats prey on lizards and frogs, and fish-eating bats use the hooked claws on their powerful feet to capture fish. Bats often gather in great numbers at a single site providing them with a resting place, as well as protection from predators, the sun's heat and rain.


The Boa Constrictor is a large snake with a narrow head and pointed snout. It varies in colour but has dark markings along the back sometimes becoming dark red toward the tail. It is very adaptable and has a variety of habitats. It climbs well but may also hunt on the ground. It is also an able swimmer. Fairly sluggish it can be active day or night. It preys on a wide variety of mammals and birds suffocating them with its muscular coils before swallowing them whole.




The Spectacled Caiman is a reptile closely related to the alligator but is distinguished by having a bony ridge in front of its eyes. At 6 to 8 feet (2- 2.5 metres) long, the caiman is among the smallest of the crocodile family and does not attack unless threatened. Almost blind and deaf and lacking a sense of smell it catches its prey by following vibrations in the water, which it rarely leaves unless driven out by drought when it will burrow into the mud. It floats on the surface during the day and becomes more active at night. Adults feed on other reptiles, fish, amphibians and water birds.




The Capybara is the world's largest and heaviest rodent. Although an excellent swimmer and diver, it is slow and clumsy on land. It looks like a small hippopotamus with brown fur, can weigh as much as 145 pounds (66 kilograms) and can grow up to 4 feet (1.2 metres) long and 2 feet (60 cm) tall. Although it has almost no tail, it has partially webbed toes and its nostrils, eyes and ears are set on top of its head so that it can smell, hear and see when swimming. Capybaras live in groups of 10 to 100. They rest in the morning, wallow during the mid-day heat, feed on water plants, buds and soft tree bark in the evening, rest again until about midnight and resume feeding toward dawn.




The Crested Caracara is a raptor found in open areas, on the edge of forests and in mangroves. It is dark brown with a cream head, breast and upper back, all finely barred, and a bare, orange face. It spends much of its time walking on the ground. It is social and is found in couples but also in small groups of about 20. It is an opportunistic scavenger and will often dig for food or chase other birds, including raptors and vultures, to steal it. It eats almost anything, from carrion, eggs, chicks and frogs to road kill, rotting vegetables, dead and dying fish, worms and insects.




The Coati is a cousin of the racoon and can easily climb up trees and quickly jump to the ground, its tail raised. It has a long, pointed snout and forages in the daytime in noisy groups of 10 to 20 or more, made up of several females and their young, bustling through vegetation, exploring for anything edible from fungi and berries to insects and lizards, mice and other small mammals, worms and even eggs, while lookouts around the pack's edge watch for predators. Highly vocal, it uses many different calls as well as tail movements to keep in contact. Adult males tend to be solitary and more carnivorous.



The Marsh Deer has long legs and wide hooves that allow it to move easily through swamps and floodplains. The largest Southern American deer, it is reddish brown in summer and darker in winter, with black lower legs, a pale face and black around the lips and nose. It eats grasses, reeds, water plants and bushes and lives alone or in groups of 2 to 3. The male grows one branch of antlers per year so that it is easy to calculate its age. This type of deer can measure up to 2 metres long with a tail of 25cm, and can weigh between 100 and 140 kilos.




The Great Egret is a large bird with all-white plumage that can reach one metre in height and weigh up to 950 grams (2.1lb). It has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. It feeds in shallow water mainly on fish, frogs, small mammals, and occasionally small birds and reptiles, spearing them with its long, sharp bill most of the time by standing still and allowing the prey to come within striking distance. The Great Egret is depicted on the reverse side of a 5-Brazilian Reais banknote.




The Crab-eating Fox is predominantly greyish-brown with areas of red on the face and legs, and black-tipped ears and tail. It has short, strong legs and its tail is long and bushy. It may reach an adult weight of 10 to 17 pounds. It is mainly nocturnal but is also active at dusk, spending its day in dens that were dug by different animals. It hunts individually or in pairs. It is an opportunist and an omnivore preferring insects or meat from rodents and birds when available. Other foods readily consumed include turtle eggs, tortoises, fruit, eggs, crustaceans, insects, lizards, crabs and carrion. During the wet season its diet consists of more crabs and crustaceans, while during the dry season it consists of more insects.




The Chaco Chachalaca is a bird of the Guan family with browninsh plumage, 65 in length. They also have a characteristic dewlap under the chin. They make a raucous honking sound and their nests are typically built of twigs in trees.




The Black-collared Hawk is a bird of prey with a white head and rufous-brown body. It places its nest in a large tree, frequently near water, and lines it with green leaves. It lives mainly on fish but also eats water insects and occasionally lizards, snails and rodents.




The Rufescent Tiger Heron wades on river banks and hides in undergrowth whenever it can. It hunts by standing still and waiting for fish to come close enough to be grabbed by its large bill. It is primarily active at dawn and dusk.




The Hummingbirds are among the smallest of birds and can hover in mid-air by rapidly flapping its wings 12-90 times per second (depending on the species). It can also fly backwards. The name derives from the hum made by the rapid wing beats. Hummingbirds drink nectar from flowers but also supplement their nutritional needs with insects and spiders. They feed in many small meals, consuming many small invertebrates and up to five times their own body weight in nectar each day. They spend an average of 10-15% of their time feeding and 75-80% sitting and digesting.


The Green Iguana is one of the largest iguanas and is recognised from the ridge of spines that travel from its head up to the end of its tail. It has movable eyelids and large external eardrums. It lives in the trees and usually near a source of water so that it can dive into the water when in danger. It is a good swimmer and can stay under water for 30 minutes. It analyses odours with its tongue. Females are often more aggressive than their male counterparts especially when nesting but iguanas are generally harmless. Some can even be tamed. They can measure between 1 and 2 metres long and weigh up to 9 kilos, managing to live about 10 years. They can range in colour from greyish green to brownish green. Iguanas are mainly herbivores but may also eat insects and worms. Predators are birds of prey, foxes and snakes.




The Jabiru Stork is the symbol of the Pantanal. At 1.4 metres high, it is the tallest flying bird found in Brazil, often standing around the same height as the flightless Rhea. The adult Jabiru is typically 122 - 140cm (48 - 55in), 230 - 280cm (90 - 111in) across the wings, and can weigh up to 8kg (17.6lbs). The beak, up to 30 cm (1ft) long, is black and broad, slightly upturned, ending in a sharp point. The plumage is mostly white, but the head and upper neck are featherless and black, with a featherless red stretchable pouch at the base. The sexes are similar, although the female is usually smaller than the male. While it is an ungainly bird on the ground, the Jabiru is a powerful and graceful flier. The Jabiru lives in large groups near rivers and ponds, and eats prodigious quantities of fish, molluscs, and amphibians. It will occasionally eat reptiles and small mammals. It will even eat fresh carrion and dead fish, such as those that die during dry spells, and thus helps maintain the quality of isolated bodies of water.




The Wattled Jacana likes calm waters filled with vegetation. Its extremely long toes allow it to run over large, floating leaves. It nests in aquatic plants, in the middle of lily pads or in water hyacinths. It feeds mostly on insects and other aquatic invertebrates. The female, much larger than the male, mates with up to 3 males. Each male builds a nest, incubates a clutch of eggs and rears the young. The female defends the territory from intruders.




The Jaguar is the largest of the South American cats. Its spotted coat provides excellent camouflage when hunting forest mammals, such as tapir, deer or mice. A jaguar leaps at its prey with its claws extended from its large paws. It is an agile climber and also loves water. A jaguar sometimes catches fish by flipping them out of the water with its paw. You can read more about this animal on our Special Jaguar Tours page.




The Ringed Kingfisher is colourful with a large head and a long beak but is often hard to find as it hides in the trees. It feeds on fish, as its name suggests, and having caught one, eats it whole. It also feeds on shellfish, frogs and insects.




The Snail Kite, a bird of prey, is 45cm (18in) long with a 120cm (47in) wingspan. It has long, broad, rounded wings a long tail, a white rump and undertail coverts. The dark, deeply hooked beak is an adaptation to its diet. The flight is slow, with the kite's head facing downwards as it looks for large apple snails, its main food.




The Hyacinth Macaw is the largest parrot in South America in flight. It has a massive bone-crunching bill, deep cobalt-blue plumage, violet wings and grey on the under-parts of its wings and tail. A yellow patch around each eye and at the base of the bill also provide remarkable contrast. Foraging on the ground by walking on its short legs and holding its tail low, it mostly feeds on palm fruit although it will occasionally eat other fruit, as well as snails. It nests in tree holes and cliffs and is an endangered species.




The Scarlet Macaw is one of the world's largest parrots, measuring three feet from head to tail (80 to 85cm of which 50cm for the tail) and weighing 850 grams. Like other parrots it has a large, tough beak to break open hard nuts and seeds. The hook of its beak is used to scoop out the flesh of small fruit. Sometimes macaws live in groups of up to 20, feeding and flying together. The macaw can live up to 80 years and even longer in captivity. It is a much protected species. Moreover, it is very curious and can easily imitate words or songs. It mates for life.




The Capuchin Monkey has dark gray body, arms, legs and tail, while the face, throat, and chest are light, and the head has a black cap. It reaches a length of 30 to 56 centimetres (12 to 22 in), with a tail that is just as long as the body. It weighs from 3 to 9lbs with brains of mass 35 to 40grams. The capuchin is diurnal and arboreal. With the exception of a midday nap, it spends its entire day searching for food. At night it sleeps in the trees between branches. Potential predators include jaguars, jaguarundis, tayras, snakes, caiman and raptors. However, the main predator of the Capuchin is the Harpy Eagle. It eats fruits, nuts, seeds, buds, insects, spiders, bird eggs, and small vertebrates as well as crabs and shellfish.




The Howler Monkey has a short snout, and wide-set, round nostrils. It can live up to 20 years and ranges in size from 56 to 92 cm, excluding its tail which can be equally as long. It moves quadrupedally usually holding on to a branch with at least two hands or one hand and its prehensile tail at all times. It very seldom leaves the trees and rests about 80 percent of the time. As the name suggests, vocal communication forms an important part of its social behaviour and it is considered the loudest land animal, being heard clearly for 3 miles (4.8 km). A howler eats mainly top canopy leaves, together with fruit, buds, flowers and nuts but has been known to raid birds' nests and consume the eggs. The male is black; the female, brown.




The Ocelot has a sumptuous fur of gold, silver and black spots with metallic reflections, resembling that of the jaguar. The animal has a very highly developed sense of smell but it also uses its hearing and sight to find its prey. It gets down flat on its stomach and silently approaches its victim and then leaps, trapping it with its claws and bites it on the neck. Weighing around 14 kilograms, its body measures 95 cm to 1.3 metres and its tail is 27 to 40 cm. It can live 8 to 11 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity. It principally feeds on frogs, lizards, crabs, fish and turtles.




The Giant Otter is a carnivorous mammal, active exclusively during daylight hours. It is the noisiest otter species and makes distinct noises to indicate alarm, aggressiveness and reassurance. It is listed as the most endangered mammal in the neo-tropics and is also rare in captivity. It has very dense fur, a wing-like tail and webbed feet. It prefers freshwater rivers and streams, which are usually seasonally flooded, and lives on a diet of fish and crabs. It has no serious natural predators other than humans, although it competes with caimans for food.




The Barn Owl is one of the world's most widely occurring owl species but subspecies vary in colouring and size. Normally, however, it is pale creamy white with a lovely heart-shaped face. The Barn Owl flies over open areas looking for prey, which usually consists of small rodents. It is sometimes referred as the Screech Owl due to its high-pitched cry. It has excellent vision and hearing and is able to locate its prey by use of its asymmetrically-located ears. It favours lowland areas such as the Pantanal.




The Monk Parakeet is the only parrot that builds a stick nest, in a tree or on a man-made structure, rather than using a hole in a tree. This gregarious species often breeds colonially, building a single large nest with separate entrances for each pair. In the wild, colonies can become quite large, with pairs occupying separate apartments. The lifespan of Monk Parakeets can be as much as 25 - 30 years.




Collared Peccaries normally feed on fruits, roots, tubers, palm nuts, grasses, invertebrates and small vertebrates. They are diurnal creatures that live in groups of up to fifty individuals. At night they frequently sleep in burrows, often under the roots of trees. Although they usually ignore humans, Collard Peccaries will react if they feel threatened. They defend themselves with their long tusks, which can sharpen themselves whenever their mouths open or close. They will also release a strong musk if alarmed.


The Piranha is notorious for its sharp teeth and a school of piranhas can strip prey to bones in a few minutes. But they are not usually so ferocious and become aggressive only when a crowd of them forms around the body of a large, dead animal. Of the 40 species of piranhas, only four are dangerous. The teeth of the black piranha are used as scissors by native Amazonian populations.




The Crab-eating Raccoon has short, coarse fur. At night it searches the edges of streams, marshes and lakes for shellfish, fish, crabs, aquatic insects, worms and other small prey. The female gives birth to 2 to 6 young after a gestation period of 60 - 73 days inside a hollow-tree den lined with dry leaves and grass. The offspring become independent after about 8 months.




Rheas are large, flightless birds with grey-brown plumage, long legs and long necks. They can reach up to 5.6 feet (1.7 m), and weigh up to 88 pounds (40 kg). They spread out their large wings when they run. Unlike most birds, rheas have only three toes. They eat broad-leafed plants, seeds, roots, fruit, lizards, beetles, grasshoppers, and carrion. During the non-breeding season they may form flocks of between 10 and 100 birds.




A Scorpion can resist cold, heat, going without food for long periods and even radiation and is a cousin of the spider. Like the spider, it has 4 pairs of legs, pinchers, a body made of two parts and a large number of eyes. In fact it has 12 eyes but this does not prevent it from having very bad eyesight. It lives and hunts during the night and has short hairs that are very sensitive to vibrations which allow it to find prey. It traps its prey in its pinchers and immobilises it by injecting venom via a needle that is found at the end of its tail. It spends the daytime under a rock to escape the heat of the sun. Be careful where you step or put your hands for their sting is painful. Luckily, among 1500 types of scorpions in the world, there are only about 20 that are harmful to man. The sting of the others is comparable to a wasp sting. Size ra




The Roseate Spoonbill is the world's only pink spoonbill. With a white neck and upper body and pink nether parts, it has a bright pink bar across its wings and a large grey bill. Juveniles are much paler with only hints of pink on the wings and have pink or yellow bills. These bills are long, straight and flat broadening out at the end into a spoon shape. It feeds by swinging its head from side to side so as to increase the chances of catching insects and small fish in its bill.




The Tapir, which can live for 30 years, is found in dense forests, thickets and mountains, generally near bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers and swamps, where it seeks refuge when threatened. It is the heaviest wild land mammal in Brazil, and can weigh up to 180 kg (400 lbs). Nocturnal, it is rarely seen during the day. An ungulate (hoofed mammal) with three toes on the rear feet and four on the front, its stomach has only one compartment like a horse or rhinoceros; its tail is thick and short and its distinctive snout ends in a mobile, sensitive, prehensile trunk which it uses to pull leaves and twigs into its mouth. It likes to swim in the water and, when it does so, uses its trunk as a breathing tube. It has oval-shaped, flexible ears and the hair on its head and neck is similar to horsehair. It has well-developed hearing and smell, but poor visual acuity due to under-developed eyes. A herbivore, it eats leaves, fruits and roots. The female Tapir, after a gestation period of 14 months, produces a single offspring, which is born with a series of stripes on its fur that help to camouflage it as it acquires adult coloration and self-sufficiency. In places known as tapir trails, the Tapir passes en-route to bathe at the same time every day, making it vulnerable to predators such as jaguar and puma.




The Tarantula is a large spider that lives on the bark of tree trunks. Also called a bird spider it is the world's largest arachnid measuring up to 10 inches (26 centimetres) from leg tip to leg tip. It injects flesh-liquefying poison from two large fangs into invertebrates and other small animals. Its predators include small mammals, birds, frogs and lizards. Although the tarantula is well known as a poisonous spider, it rarely bites humans. It can live up to 17 years and some females live up to 30 years. An adult can go without food for up to a month. Despite the fact that it has many eyes, the Tarantula is in fact short-sighted and sees little, neither can it hear or feel. It locates its prey via vibrations felt by the hairs on its body.




The Black Tegu, one of South America's largest terrestrial reptiles, has powerful limbs and long claws for digging and to fight predators; it uses its claws to bite and scratch and its tail as a club. With its long, forked tongue, it tastes the air. Its wide-ranging diet includes insects, invertebrates, birds, small mammals, other lizards and carrion. It communicates with other tegus by making loud, snoring noises.



The Cane Toad is the world's largest toad. It has very tough, leathery, warty skin, a massive head, bony ridges above the eyes and it secretes a milky-white venom from glands on its shoulders when in danger. Therefore, it is extremely toxic to other animals. It feeds on ants, termites, beetles, as well as other insects, invertebrates and other frogs. The female is larger than the male.


The  Red-footed Tortoise has its legs marked with splashes of red or yellowish-orange and the shell in adult males is unusually elongated with a constriction in the middle. This tortoise lives mainly on plant food such as leaves and fallen fruits but also scavenges animal remains.



The Toco Toucan (55 to 61 cm)  has a large yellow bill tipped with a black patch, which looks heavy but is actually hollow. Its face is pale orange and the lower face and throat are white. The rest of the plumage is black, with a white uppertail and orange vent. It has a long, thin tongue which ends in a sort of brush with which it manipulates its food. It is very noisy and together with macaws is one of the main sources of the cacophony that reins in the Pantanal. It feeds on berries, seeds, fruits, insects and spiders but also eats small lizards, baby birds and bird eggs. It bathes in rainwater collected in tree hollows and lives about 12 years.

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