Find out more about the mightiest river in the world with these mind-blowing Amazon River facts!
Amazon River facts
Full of superlatives, the Amazon River is a unique and intriguing place in the world.
With unrivaled wildlife and fantastic flora, the Amazonian River is packed with the unknown–but not for long.
In today’s article, you’ll learn more about this mysterious place teeming with life of all forms.
Here are the 47 most interesting facts about the Amazon River! Enjoy!
Facts about the Amazon River
The Amazon river is the largest river on Earth by volume of water, reaching an elevation of 18,366 feet (5,598 m) above sea level.
Flowing for 4,000 miles (6,400 km), it is the second-longest river after the Nile.
The Amazon River is at least 66 feet (20 m) deep at any particular point and up to 330 feet (100 m) deep at the deepest points.
Across, it’s 1 to 6.2 miles (1.6 to 10 km) wide during the dry season, but it can reach 30 miles (48 km) in width at the height of the wet season (April through June/July) with the current traveling more than 4 mph (6.4 kph).
Most of the river flows through Peru and Brazil, starting high in the Andes mountain range as a small tributary called Carhuasanta and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean on Brazil’s North Coast. Its 1,100 tributaries, however, ensure it spans many countries, including Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.
Some of its tributaries run up to 932 miles (1,500 km) in length, the largest including Madeira spanning Bolivia and Brazil at 2,082 miles (3,352 km), the Purus traveling Peru and Brazil at 1,995 miles (3,211 km), and Japurá spanning Colombia and Brazil at 1,750 miles (2,820 km).
A 2011 exploration of the river led scientists to conclude that before the Andes’ existence, the Amazon River flowed eastward into the Pacific.
A 2014 study confirmed the Mantaro River in Peru as its most distant source.
About 20% of the global discharge – the amount of freshwater entering the ocean – comes from the Amazon River, with 219,000 cubic meters of fresh water reaching the ocean every second.
The Amazon Basin – large land areas that drain into the Amazon River and its thousands of tributaries – is the largest drainage basin in the world, covering a mind-blowing 2,700,000 sq miles (7,000,000 sq km) and occupying 40% of entire South America.
The river was initially known as Marañón River, the name by which the Peruvian part is still called today.
The origin of the name Amazon is disputed. The widely accepted account involves Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana who’s said to have named the river Amazon after engaging in battle with female warriors reminiscent of the Amazons of Greek mythology during his 16th-century voyage across the river.
Orellana was the first European to travel from the river’s source in the Andes to its mouth, setting off with Gonzalo Pizarro in 1541 and arriving on August 24, 1542.
Other researchers assert that the name comes from Amassona, a native American word meaning ‘boat destroyer.’
Spanish conquistador, Vicente Yañez Pinzón, was the first documented European to see the river, doing so in march 1500.
Portuguese explorer Pedro Teixeira was the first European to travel the entire river, arriving in Quito in 1637.
The first steamboats began operating on the Amazon River in 1853 following emperor Pedro II of Brazil’s 1850 pronouncement authorizing steam navigation.
Read next: 35 Brazil Facts You Probably Don’t Know (Yet!)
Two-thirds of the Amazon River is located in Brazil, and a significant amount of this winds through the Amazon Rainforest. For this reason, there are no bridges across the entire river.
Transport is limited to boats and the few roads that cut through the jungle. This combination of river and forest produces swamps, streams, muddy waters, and marshes offering habitation to a wide range of flora and fauna.
Amazon Rainforest facts: This tropical forest, which surrounds this river, has indeed mind-blowing animal numbers: 1,500 amphibian species including 80 species of frogs, 2.5 million insect species, 430 species of mammals, 1,800 species of birds, 2,500 butterfly species, 450 different reptiles, 40,000 to 70,000 species of plants, 10,000 different types of trees, more than 3 billion individual trees some reaching a dizzying 200 feet (60 m) in height.
The Amazon River is home to thousands of unique life forms, including the capybara – the world’s largest rodent, the fearsome black caiman, a highly endangered crocodilian predator weighing up to 1,984 pounds (900 kg) and reaching 16.4 feet (5 m) in length, and the Amazon River Manatee, also known as sea cow sightings of which is partly responsible for the mermaid myths and the population of which has rapidly reduced primarily due to hunting.
The Amazon River is the primary habitat of many animals, such as the giant otter, also called river wolf; Arapaima, known to locals as pirarucu, one of the largest freshwater fish species, growing up to 15 feet (4.6 m) in length; Anaconda, one of the largest species of snake that spends most of its time in water and preys on livestock and other mammals; piranhas, an omnivorous species of fish that move in large schools. This is in addition to countless catfish, electric eels, stingrays, bull sharks, crabs, algae, turtles, and the pink river dolphins.
Thanks to the Amazon Rainforest, which covers a whopping 60% of Peru, that country has more types of birds than anywhere else on the globe, close to 2,000 species. There are more species of birds in Peru than there are in the whole of North America. Peru is also home to the 3rd most significant number of mammals, hosting about 300 species.
One slightly amusing Amazon River fact is that researchers cannot tell exactly where the river ends and the Atlantic Ocean begins.
More than one-third of all known species on Earth live in the Amazon Rainforest – the largest rainforest in the world and the richest in terms of biodiversity – through which the Amazon River flows.
There are over 5,000 species of fish in the Amazon Basin and more continue to be discovered every year.
The largest river dolphin species – growing up to 8.5 feet (2.6 m) – lives in the Amazon River. The Amazon River dolphin is a mystical animal in Brazil known to locals as boto. In popular Brazilian culture, it is believed to possess magical powers, possibly due to the changes in color and appearance that occur as they mature and the fact that the fish’s sightings are rare.
The Amazon River undergoes many fluctuations as the seasons change, rising up to 30 feet (9 m) every year during the wet season, with majors flood cycles occurring between April and June, about two months after the highest peak in the rainy season.
In 2007, Martin Strel, a Slovenian swimmer who had previously swum the length of many rivers, including the Mississippi, swam the water of the Amazon River in 66 days, swimming up to 10 hours each day. He received a Guinness World Record for long-distance swimming for his efforts.
In 2011, scientists confirmed the presence of another river flowing 2.5 miles (4 km) beneath the Amazon River. Though much less in volume, this river is thought to be 4 times wider than the Amazon river is.
Another incredible fact about the Amazon River is that desert sand blowing from as far away as the Sahara provides the river with necessary minerals such as phosphorus.
Many threats are facing the Amazon River Basin and its surroundings. Prime among them are deforestation and lodging mostly in Brazil–basically human activity. Up to 373 miles (600 km) of tropical forest space is deforested annually to provide charcoal for pig iron plants, hardwood for furniture, and building materials, as well as space for cattle ranching. In fact, cattle ranching accounts for 80% of deforestation due to a fatal combination of population growth and high meat consumption. The growing industries also mean small-time farmers are pushed further into the forest and often clear space for farming.
In the absence of trees to hold the surrounding soil, the latter washes into the river, suffocating aquatic life.
Over 232,000 sq miles (600,000 sq. km) of the forest has been destroyed since 1970.
The Carajás mineral province in Pará State, Brazil, is an area that contains large deposits of copper in addition to gold, manganese, and iron ore. This region has seen a lot of mining activity which causes deforestation and pollution.
Mining and pasture runoffs contaminate the river and affect the quality of food produce, thereby threatening local and indigenous communities’ survival.
Mercury resulting from gold extraction is found in large quantities in up to 90% of fish caught in certain parts of the Amazon River. Mercury is harmful to humans and also to the atmosphere.
Gold and phosphate mining has led to encroachment on indigenous lands causing conflicts in the region. Many times army intervention is required.
Overfishing is another threat to the Amazon River. Commercial fishing is on the increase due to foreign exportation and feeding of the growing local population.
The illegal wildlife trade is big business, worth up to 20 billion dollars per year. This has led to increased poaching and smuggling. Plants and animals are taken abroad either and sold as pets or used for medicinal purposes. Illegal hunting of animals for food or for use as raw materials has led to many animals’ disappearance from the forest. Up to 20 million mammals, birds, and reptiles are harvested each year. These activities have a damaging effect on the complex Amazon ecosystem and have led to the endangerment of many Amazon species.
Damming and restricting river flow for hydroelectric projects lead to flooding of the forest and the destruction of local wildlife.
Oil drilling is another major threat. It can destroy aquatic habitats, affect fish, and displace indigenous people while also adding tons of carbon to the atmosphere.
Erosion from deforestation, in addition to oil and chemical spills, spells disaster for life-forms inhabiting the Amazon River.
With 2 million inhabitants, Manaus is the largest city on the Amazon River.
Belém, a city with 1.3 million people, is located at the mouth of the river. On the other edge, Iquitos, a port town in Peru, is a gateway to the tribal villages of the northern Amazon.
More than 500 indigenous tribes live in the Amazon, surviving off the river and forest. No less than 60 of these tribes are uncontacted, completely isolated from civilization.
In 2016, a coral reef measuring more than a thousand kilometers was discovered at the mouth of the Amazon River. The reef hosts giant sea sponges, several fascinating fish, and coral. It was granted protected status as a result of preservation efforts by Greenpeace.
Wrapping up on the facts about the River Amazon
I hope you enjoyed this long list of interesting facts on the Amazon River.
While there are much more data and info to share about this unique place, I think this article gave you a pretty good idea of how this river is and what threats it faces. Next step? Making the difference!
Did you enjoy this post about Amazon River facts? Then share it with someone who would appreciate it too!
Sunday 12th of June 2022
Hi Bruna. A great article! I just led a group the Ecuadorian Amazon, and used some of your info for background. Here's the album from our trip. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?vanity=david.radcliff.7&set=a.10166662197295145
I did find one fact that's missing a few zeroes - the number of individual trees - should be closer to 400 billion, rather than 3 billion. https://www.fieldmuseum.org/blog/how-many-trees-are-there-amazon#:~:text=Alert,Amazon%2C%20and%20it's%20390%20billion.
Keep up the great work!
David Radcliff director, New Community Project
Tuesday 24th of May 2022
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