20 amazing animals of Orinoco
The Orinoco River and its basin are home to over 1,500 species of fish, making it one of the most diverse freshwater systems in the world. Some of the most iconic fish species in the Orinoco include the arapaima, the piranha, and the electric eel.
Its basin is also home to over 1,000 species of birds, including the Orinoco goose, the scarlet ibis, and the hoatzin. Many of these species are endemic to the region, meaning that they are found nowhere else in the world. It is also home to many species of mammals, including jaguars, tapirs, capybaras, and river dolphins. The Orinoco river dolphin, also known as the boto, is one of the few freshwater dolphins in the world.
Anacondas, caimans, and poison dart frogs are among the many reptiles and amphibians that inhabit the Orinoco River and its basin. Additionally, the critically endangered Orinoco crocodile can also be found in this region.
Blue and Yellow Macaw
The have colorful turquoise blue and gold yellow plumage with a long tail that can reach up to 86 centimeters in length that captivates anyone who sees it. Its scientific name is Ara ararauna and it is endemic to South America. In Venezuela, it is very common to see them even in the capital, Caracas. They live in flocks and are always found very close to the Orinoco River in search of food such as seeds, fruits, and plants. Wherever you see one, you will surely see more since they are always accompanied, they can have groups from 2 to 25 members.
Red Billed Toucan
Also known as White-throated Toucan (Ramphastos tucanus). It measures around 55 centimeters and is characterized by having a white chest, black upper parts, and a bill that can measure between 14 to 18 centimeters. They can mainly be found in the Amazon and the Andes. They can be observed high up in trees during canoe rides and can travel alone or in pairs in search of food. Their diet is mainly based on fruits, nectar, and flowers, but they can also be seen feeding on eggs of other birds, termites, beetles, and caterpillars.
The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) is a known in Colombia as the “Stinky Bird” thanks to the characteristic odor it has in that country (many people believe that its smell is like cow manure). Its physique is similar to that of a chicken, with a small head, a short beak, and a crest on its head that makes it unmistakable. Despite being a bird, its musculature is very reduced, so it cannot fly long distances. At our Orinoco Queen Lodge camp, they are our neighbors, and you can always see them flapping their large wings and crawling among the tree branches.
This small bird, about 20 centimeters long, can be recognized from a distance by its vibrant greenish-blue color with white spots and its sharp-penetrating song. And yes, as its name suggests, it is a fishing bird.
It doesn’t like company very much, but sometimes it can be seen in pairs. They can always be found at the river’s edge doing their job: fishing. Their diet consists mainly of small fish, but you will also see them hunting for larvae, small beetles, and crustaceans. It’s a delight to see them diving into the waters of the delta and emerging seconds later with a fish in their beak.
Three toed Sloth
The remarkable Three-toed Sloth, It’s a cute, furry mammal that lives in trees all throughout Central and South America. They’re called three-toed sloths because of their three claws on each limb, and did you know there are four different species of them? Two of those species even live in the Amazon rainforest! The brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus) is the most widely distributed three-toed sloth, found in places like Honduras, Central America, the entire Amazon rainforest, and even the eastern coast of Brazil in the Atlantic rainforest.
Giant River Otter
The amazing Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), It’s also known as the river wolf and is a unique member of the weasel family that’s found only in South America. It’s the largest otter in the world, measuring up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in length! You can spot them in the Amazon, Orinoco, and La Plata river systems. With a sleek body and webbed feet, they are excellent swimmers and can adapt to both land and freshwater environments.
The capybara, the world’s largest rodent, is native to South America and can weigh up to 80 kg (175 pounds). Despite its intimidating size, these creatures are mostly shy and gentle. They are typically found near swamps and water holes, seeking refuge from the midday heat. Capybaras are excellent swimmers, with their eyes and ears positioned high on their heads, allowing them to easily see and hear while swimming. They also have webbing between their fingers and toes, which helps them paddle. In situations where they feel threatened, capybaras can hold their breath and remain underwater for several minutes.
The giant anteater’s (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) sticky tongue, which can reach lengths of up to 50cm, allows it to catch ants and termites. This species is protected from ant bites by its thick skin and long hairs. Its long claws are used for opening termite nests, and it walks on its wrists to protect them. Despite being practically blind, giant anteaters find their prey through their strong sense of smell. To conserve energy, they have low metabolic rates and body temperatures as low as 33°C. The pygmy sloth is one of the giant anteater’s closest relatives, sharing a common ancestor over 55 million years ago.
The Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius), a critically endangered species found in the Orinoco River Basin of Colombia and Venezuela, is known for its large size, with adult males reaching up to 6 meters (20 feet) in length. Its snout shape enables it to crush the shells of turtles and crabs, among other prey. The species is also famous for its bellowing vocalizations, which are used to establish territory and attract mates over long distances. Orinoco crocodiles can live up to 70 years in the wild and are considered sacred by some indigenous communities in the region due to their believed spiritual powers. However, with only a few thousand individuals remaining in the wild, the species is under significant threat.
The spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus), is probably one of the most well-known and famous animals in the Orinoco river. They are distributed throughout much of South America, Central America, and North America. Their body, with an olive green and sometimes opaque yellow hue, can reach up to two meters in length (sometimes less) and weigh around 30-40 kilograms. They are carnivorous, solitary, shy, and not very friendly. During the day, they can spend hours motionless in the sun, but we have found many of them in our campsite during the darkness of the night in certain seasons. Would you like to observe them? You will surely see them on our excursion.
One of the most common reptiles in the Orinoco are the well-known iguanas. They are a species of arboreal (tree-dwelling) scaled lizard, with a green color and cold-blooded nature. It’s very common to see them perched among the branches, basking in the sun or resting among the leaves. Thanks to their color, they can easily blend in, and their large crest between the neck and back makes them easily identifiable from other animals. They are oviparous and herbivorous, feeding solely on leaves, flowers, and some fruits. If you want to photograph them, avoid making sudden movements as they are extremely timid and can move very quickly.
Red Howler Monkey
The Red Howler Monkey (Alouatta seniculus) is one of the most common species in the Orinoco basin. His vocalization is the strongest in the entire animal kingdom, his howls can be heard from over 5 kilometers away. And he hopes that a group of howler monkeys doesn’t encounter another group, as both groups can start howling for over an hour until one of them gets tired (he begs it doesn’t happen during your rest time). Males can use their loud volume as a defense, warning of danger, or for seeking a mate.
The Harpy Eagle is a species of raptor that inhabits the tropical forests of Central and South America. With a wingspan of up to 2 meters and a height of up to one meter, it is one of the largest birds in the world. Its diet consists mainly of monkeys and other similar-sized mammals, as well as birds and reptiles. Due to habitat loss and poaching, the species is endangered. It is important to take conservation measures to protect this majestic bird and its ecosystem.
The Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) is one of the largest and heaviest snakes in the world, reaching lengths of up to 7 meters and weighing over 80 kilograms. It is endemic to the Los Llanos region of Venezuela and the Orinoco in South America, where it inhabits rivers, lakes, and swamps. The anaconda primarily feeds on aquatic animals such as fish, caimans, some mammals, and water birds. You can easily spot it on our tour to Los Llanos, especially between the months of December to May.
Pink river Dolphin
The Amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), also known as the pink river dolphin, is the largest species of river dolphin in South America, with males reaching up to 2.5 meters in length and weighing 185 kg. They are sexually dimorphic, with males being larger and having a more prominent pink coloration. They have a wide-ranging diet, consuming up to 53 different species of fish, as well as river turtles, aquatic frogs, and freshwater crabs. They are threatened by hunting, loss of habitat, and accidental entanglement in fishing lines.
The Jaguar (Panthera Onca) is the largest cat species in the Americas and the third largest in the world, with a body length of up to 1.85 meters and a weight of up to 158 kg. Its coat is distinctively marked with pale yellow to tan colored fur covered by spots and rosettes, and some individuals have a black coat. The jaguar’s powerful bite allows it to pierce the carapaces of turtles and tortoises, and to deliver a fatal blow to the brain of mammalian prey. It plays an important role as a keystone species in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating prey populations. The jaguar is threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and human-wildlife conflict, and is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.
Black Necked Aracari Toucan
The Orinoco Basin is home to a spectacular bird species known as the Black-necked Aracari (Pteroglossus aracari) . This toucan family member has a thickset build and a vibrant red band across its yellow chest. With a pale yellow upper mandible and black lower mandible, it is an unmistakable sight in the tropical moist lowland forests it inhabits. These forests are not the only places this bird calls home, as it can also be found in a variety of semi-open landscapes, from plantations of fruit trees to gallery forests in savanna. The black-necked aracari plays an important role as a fruit tree seed disperser and even occasionally feeds on insects and nestling birds.
The Tarantula (Citharacanthus spinicrus) is a fascinating species found in South America. These spiders are known for their distinctive appearance, with long, spiny legs and a reddish-brown coloration. They are carnivorous and primarily feed on insects, small rodents, and other spiders. They use their venom to paralyze their prey and then consume it whole. Tarantulas are typically found in the tropical rainforests of South America, where they reside in burrows they dig themselves or abandoned tunnels created by other animals. They are mostly active at night, hunting for food and mating. They are also known for their docile nature, making them a popular choice for exotic pet enthusiasts.
The Great Potoo (Nyctibius grandis) , a bird native to South and Central America, is a master of disguise and has a unique vocalization that sounds like an angry fox gargling a Jägerbomb. It spends most of its time perched upright on branches, blending in with its surroundings due to its mottled feathers during the day. At night, it has a prime position to catch insects, such as beetles and moths. Despite its unsettling calls, the great potoo is not considered a threatened species, and it can be found widely distributed throughout Central and South America, including in the Orinoco River Basin.
The red-tailed boa, also known as the boa constrictor, is a large and heavy-bodied snake found in tropical South America, including the Orinoco basin. This non-venomous species is commonly bred and kept in captivity due to its distinctive color pattern and variability. Boa constrictors ambush prey, including rats, birds, monkeys, and wild pigs, and swallow them whole. These snakes can survive for weeks without eating after a large meal and continue to grow throughout their lifespan of 20-30 years. Female boas give birth to around 60 offspring at a time, which are born with innate hunting and survival instincts. As they grow, their preferred prey size also increases.
Electrophorus electricus, more commonly known as the electric eel, occupies the northeastern portions of South America. This includes the Guyanas and Orinoco Rivers as well as the middle and lower Amazon basin. They are known for their ability to stun their prey by generating electricity, delivering shocks at up to 860 volts.
They are nocturnal, obligate air-breathing animals, with poor vision complemented by electrolocation; they mainly eat fish. Electric eels grow for as long as they live, adding more vertebrae to their spinal column. Males are larger than females. Some captive specimens have lived for over 20 years.