The Amazon: The Worlds Longest River…new research.

The Amazon: Worlds longest river.

New research has found a possible new source for the Amazon…..a river in Peru called the Mantaro or Great River.
The results of the research are questioned because the river dries up for four or five months a year, but if they are confirmed the Amazon will be officially the worlds longest river.

The Amazon is an incredible river. I first travelled on it when I went to see the Meeting of the Waters. The black waters of the River Negro and the tea-coloured waters of the River Solimoes flow side by side eventually blending to become, in Brazilian eyes, the great River Amazon.

The river is huge, sometimes from one bank looking across, its impossible to see the other side, its so wide. And, it feels powerful too.
It is a busy river and getting busier. Transport ranges from small wooden canoes, ferries, on to massive world-class liners.

It has also been opened up by a new $400 million bridge the Ponte Rio Negro Bridge or Iranduba Bridge from Amazonia’s capital city Manaus across the river to small towns on the opposite shore.

I hear that it has already caused the deforestation of large areas as I feared when I saw the first parts of the huge structure being put in place. It was not obvious to the populace in Manaus what the bridge was for…. to open up the other shore for more farming and people, or for exploitation of gas or oil finds. Either way the forest would suffer and this is happening.
Nothing is sadder than driving along the road that used to be thickly lined with rainforest to see vast areas of nothing stretching into the distance and always a solitary Brazil-nut Tree in the middle as a reminder of what was. Wildlife and birds are non existent along the tarmacked roads.
Snuggling in small pockets along this road are small areas of thick forest and sparkling streams full of people enjoying what’s left. People escape to these spots in the evenings and at weekends, desperate to enjoy the ‘Green Effect’ that nature alone supplies….a feeling of well being that no amount of concrete and metal can reproduce in the concrete jungles of cities.

New study by the University of California, Berkeley, argues for new origin, according to a report by Jane Lee in National Geographic.


Insects of the Amazon Rainforest. Grasshoppers, Katydids & Leaf/Plant Hoppers.

Insects of the Amazon Rainforest, Brazil.

There are a multitude of insects in the Amazon Rainforest and I do believe I have met most of them personally.
They hum and chirp, buzz and sing constantly, a sound that merges into a rhythmic beat, like a heart beat, that goes on all day in the forest. Occasionally the heartbeat stops dead…..absolute silence reigns for a few seconds. Then it returns and you wonder at the insects timing. How do they do that, all going silent at once?
Insects also bite and sting, nip and suck. Most of the Amazons insects have evolved spiteful ways to protect themselves and so they are best left alone and avoided by visitors, but not by photographers and scientists and the curious ie me.
One morning I was watching a sparkling, jewel coloured fly on my hand. It was swept off by a friend who told me the fly would lay eggs under my skin, which would grow into caterpillars and eat me. Well not all of me, that would be a challenge to even the biggest animal, but certainly a small area of my body.
Here are a few which are harmless. See Mud Dauber Wasps for those that sting.

These Grasshoppers are just three of the two and a half million species of insect in the Amazon Rainforest. Grasshoppers come in a range of colours, from a dull greyish-brown to a more common green or to something more vibrant, a rich emerald green and mustard yellow.
Grasshoppers make their calls by scraping the inside of their back legs against hardened areas on their wings. Each species, of course, has its own distinctive call.



This Waxy-tailed Leaf-hopper ( or Plant-hopper), is a showy insect. It’s waxy tails are probably used as a defence mechanism, attracting predators away from its head. If snapped off they regrow.
These insects drink sweet juices from plants and trees using their proboscis.

The Katydid here is clearly seen on the woven grasshopper, but on a bush it would be virtually invisible. It even has the veins of a leaf marked on its body to enable it to blend in with its environment.
There are some two thousand species of Katydid in the Amazon. They feed on flowers and fruit and provide protein to many animals and birds. See Tettigoniidae for a fascinating story about these insects.

This beetle was photographed by accident. I was taking a photo of the flowers and didn’t notice until later that I had caught it in the frame.
I have no idea what it is, only that it looks quite extraordinary…like a raspberry with legs, a friend said.
That’s the Amazon Rainforest for you, full of surprises.


Alternative medicine and Shaman in the Amazon Rainforest.

Alternative Medicine in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.

The diversity of plant species in the Amazon Rainforest is the greatest on earth. At least 120 prescription drugs come from rainforest plants. It is hardly surprising then that there is a great deal of knowledge locked away in the brains of the Shaman regarding the plants they use to cure a multitude of illnesses. Knowledge that has been passed down over many generations.
Alternative medicine is used by both forest dwellers and townies in the Amazon. Local shaman make up potions and creams from animal fats and plants. They are preferred by many people to conventional medicines and used for diseases and injuries.
Most locals prefer to go to a shaman then make the arduous, often long, journey to a doctor or hospital.
During a stay at a hotel situated halfway between Manaus and Manacapuru, I saw this reliance and trust in the shaman at work. One of the women staff had slipped over. Her ankle had swollen badly. So she limped off to the forest and returned the next day with the heavily bandaged leg smelling strongly of camphor and other indistinctive scents. She had been to the local shaman who had applied several ointments to the swelling. With the knowledgeable use of natural remedies, the shaman assured her that her ankle would be fine and a week later, she was back to normal. The peoples confidence in the shamans powers, I think, has a lot to do with recovery.
Having been to a shaman I can see why. They have a hands on approach, something conventional doctors seem to have abandoned. They are caring and soothing and will not be rushed. Surrounded by their potions and lotions and balms of uncertain origins, they will make up something special for each individual patient.
I bought several of these balms and used them on bites and bruises. They were made up, I was told, of jaguar and caiman fat and plant extracts. The perfumes emitted were either sweet and pleasant or antiseptic and balmy.
Natural remedies were freely on sale in stalls close to the harbour in Manaus, where row upon row of little bottles were stacked on shelves filled with assorted liquids. Balms and creams were put in small, plastic pots.
The shaman fills empty seed cases with his concoctions, which oddly I prefer. He will slice the top of a hard shell and reattach it with a piece of thin string to make a lid for the little container.

The knowledge of the shaman passed down often through families should, I think, be something to be explored. Sadly, we in the West have lost much of the knowledge we had by pushing the keepers, mostly women, to the fringes of society, or by burning or drowning them centuries ago. And even nowadays alternative medicine is seen by many as taboo unless backed up by science.

Scrapping the bark of many of the trees will emit an aromatic smell.

See here for information on plants used in the amazon Rainforest for medical purposes.

Blue-crowned Trogon, a wondrous bird of the Amazon Rainforest.Scientific name: Trogon curucui

The Trogon – Scientific name: Trogon curucui

It’s name sounded like something from a science fiction film and when I saw the illustration of the Trogon in a book, I did wonder if it was not a figment of someone’s imagination.
I had read in the book that Trogons were brightly coloured birds that perched half way between canopy and ground. They are shy and sit quietly for long periods, staying out of sight, making their presence hard to detect and observe.
It seems right then, that my first sighting of this bird, should be part of a strange tale.
It happened early one morning at breakfast. I looked up when I heard a loud, hooting call and saw this vision alight on a branch just metres away from me. I gasped.
The previous day I had been thinking about my problem stay in Brazil: the constant battle with bureaucracy, certain unhelpful people, my difficulties with the language and so on. I was hot and tired, weary of the struggle to get my home built.
It was a warm and sticky afternoon. Pushing my damp hair away from my face I spoke aloud to the trees. “I am so tired,” I said, “If you want me to stay send me a sign,” and then remembering the picture plate I had seen in the book that morning, “A Trogon, will do,” I said, shrugging in despair and feeling foolish talking to the forest.
I was absolutely shocked then when it appeared the next morning. I stared at it, afraid to move, and it just stared right back.
The Blue-crowned Trogons large, round, jet black eyes, are surrounded by a thin band of yellow. It’s head was blackish blue, the back and upper tail a deep turquoise, the wings pale greyish blue edged in black and the breast a soft red. On the underside of it’s long tail were striking black and white stripes. It was extraordinary.
I lifted my camera, it turned away, but did not fly off. Instead it perched on the same branch for quite some time, occasionally turning to look at me with those large, curious eyes.
I felt honoured. After the Trogon had flown off and I had recovered my senses, I turned towards the trees and, of course, loudly thanked the forest.



Amazon Rainforest Climate….Wet Season in Amazon Rainforest

The Wet Season (from diary)

The wet season starts at the end of November and continues until May. Rain usually falls in the morning, light showers that cool the air, but quite often a great storm will rage through the forest, lasting for hours.
During the storms, walls of heavy rain move across the forest, saturating everything in their path. Thunder crashes above with such force the ground trembles. The noise must be the loudest natural sound on earth. Despite being warned by lightening of the impending boom and rumble, it always made me jump.
High winds bend and shake the trees and leaves, twigs and branches are thrown through the air. The lodge verandah, when finally the storm ends, is covered with broken twigs, leaves, battered insects and other bits of natures debris. The wooden boards shone as if freshly varnished. The grass roof, rearranged by the storm, let in rays of sunlight………
The rains change the views from the lodge dramatically. Gone are the vast meadows of grasses and wild flowers. Instead stretching to the river mouth is now gleaming, deep water. Deep enough for the dolphins to swim and breed in, deep enough for the caiman and deep enough for the return of lunch. No longer do we have to eat dried up, smelly carcasses, instead the dish is plump and tasty. Yes!
Osprey return to winter in the heat of the forest and sit high on tree tops. Herons and kingfishers return to fish closer to shore on fallen branches.
The rain is welcome, bringing with it fresh water, food and enough water to row the canoes from shore to shore, so much nicer than slurping through the thick, clinging, river bed, mud.
The wet season is back, all is well in the forest.
The first photo shows view from lodge in wet season. The next two photos show same view in dry season. The last photo is of an Osprey and a Heron, happily fishing together.





Giant Centipedes

Last night watched Dominic Monaghan on Wild Things as he journeyed to Venezuela, in search of a Giant Centipede. He abseiled into vampire bat filled caves with an oxygen mask and travelled hundreds of miles on dusty roads in rusty vans in search of this creature.
I could have shown him them, over a nice cup of Brazilian coffee, while he relaxed in a rocking chair in my Amazon home, but then I suppose that doesn’t make good television. They often ripple across the floor boards or over the rafters in search if bats and vermin. If my friendly orange footed tarantula, Carmen, doesn’t get them first.