The Amazon basin has the greatest variety of plant species on Earth and an abundance of animal life, in contrast to the scrublands that border it to the south and east. The Amazonian region includes vast areas of rainforest, widely dispersed grasslands, and mangrove swamps in the tidal flats of the delta. Individual plants of most species tend to be widely dispersed, so that blights and other natural threats cause them only limited damage. A typical acre (0.4 hectare) of Amazonian forest may contain 250 or more tree species (in contrast, an acre of woods in the northeastern United States might have only a dozen species).
The crowns of giant Amazonian trees form a virtually closed canopy above several lower canopy layers, all of which combine to allow no more than 10 percent of the sun’s rays to reach the ground below. As a result, more plant and animal life is found in the canopy layers than on the ground. The tallest trees may rise to 150–200 feet (45–60 metres) and are festooned with a wide variety of epiphytes, bromeliads, and lianas, while their branches teem with animal life, including insects, snakes, tree frogs, numerous types of monkeys, and a bewildering variety of birds.
Several hundred bird species nest in the immediate vicinity of the main Amazon channel, and alligators, anacondas, boa constrictors, capybaras, and several smaller reptiles and mammals are found along the riverbanks. In the waters are manatees, freshwater dolphins, and some 1,500 identified species of fish, including many types of piranhas (not all of them flesh-eating), electric eels, and some 450 species of catfish. There may also be hundreds of unidentified species.
The Amazon is also home to the world’s largest freshwater turtle, the yellow-headed sideneck (Podocnemis), which weighs an average of 150 pounds (70 kg) and is extinct everywhere else except on the island of Madagascar. The turtles, once a mainstay of local Indians’ diets, are now endangered, but they continue to be hunted illegally for their meat."Brazil" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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