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Tropical rainforests are the oldest type of vegetation on planet Earth and, alongside coral reefs, are a habitat with the most biodiversity in the world. Tropical freshwater ecosystems (swamps, lakes and rivers) are a key habitat for numerous endangered species and also provide invaluable benefits to humanity. In addition to being water sources for the entire region, freshwater ecosystems of Central and South America stop and regulate floods, prevent saline water from entering the area, alleviate ground erosion by containing sediment and nutrients, eliminate toxins, and are used for transport and tourism.

(Pygocentrus nattereri, Kner, 1858)

Red-bellied piranha

It got its name due to its red belly, and it is interesting to note that before breeding, animals lose their red colouration and, shortly thereafter, find a suitable spot to lay eggs. They are widespread on the South American continent, inhabiting warm freshwater rivers, streams and lakes where they can live at temperatures from 15-35°C, but are also capable of surviving at lower temperatures (as low as 10°C).

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Piranhas produce a sound akin to drums using a “sound” muscle connected to their swim bladder, which is used as a communication tool for social interaction. For example, they produce sounds during vicious attacks on their prey.

(Colossoma macropomum, G. Cuvier, 1818)


The tambaqui is the second largest species of piranha in the world. It is a herbivore, unlike other piranhas, which are omnivores. The tambaqui’s natural habitat are flooded forests, lakes and rivers in the Amazon and other subtropical and tropical regions of South America. Its lifespan is around 20-25 years.

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Tambaqui are kept as pets; interestingly, they can recognize their owners, and their teeth resemble human teeth.

(Caiman crocodilus, Linnaeus, 1758)

Spectacled caiman

A reptile from the alligator family, which naturally inhabits swampy or river habitats in Central and South America. It got its name due to a bony ridge above its eyes. The largest size they can reach is 3 m. Females reach sexual maturity between four and seven years of age and at a length of 1.2 m, while males achieve it at 1.4 m.

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It is interesting to note that it uses various vocalisations and its tail to communicate with other individuals, for visual representation.

(Iguana iguana, Linnaeus, 1758)

Green iguana

A lizard herbivore which is one of the largest lizards in South America. It inhabits the rainforests of northern Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean islands and southern Brazil. It spends most of its life in trees and rarely comes down; only to mate and lay eggs. Additional skin under its neck is called a dewlap, which helps regulate temperature and uses it to show aggression and a desire to mate.

Did you know that iguanas have a third eye? It is located on the top of their head, called the parietal eye. It is photosensitive and connected to the pineal gland, which regulates the production of hormones for thermoregulation. Although iguanas have good vision, the third eye enables them to detect the movement of predators approaching from above (like a bird), giving them enough time to escape.

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