Wildlife in the Pantanal

Did you know that one of the world’s largest wetlands is in South America? Located in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay is an area larger than the size of more than half of the world’s countries, containing millions of acres of biologically rich land and rivers, known as the Pantanal.

Every year, the Pantanal goes through a flood cycle where floodwaters will rise and then recede. During the rainy season from October to April, rivers flood, forming vast swamps and marshes dotted with numerous ponds and lakes. These waterways then slowly dry throughout the rest of the year. This flood cycle repeats itself yearly, creating essential habitat for wildlife in the Pantanal.

An article in this month’s Ranger Rick magazine, “Land of Giants,” features some of the larger wildlife species living in the Pantanal. Along with these colorful characters, a multitude of other interesting wildlife can also be found. Take a look at a few of these other fascinating wildlife in the wetlands of South America’s Pantanal:

Greater Rheas

greater rhea

Greater Rhea. Photo by David Schenfeld via Flickr Creative Commons

Greater rheas are large, flightless birds, related to ostriches and emus. They are the biggest birds in South America, growing up to five feet tall and weighing up to nearly 90 pounds! Instead of using their wings to fly, they use them somewhat like sails as they run on their long legs. They are opportunistic omnivores, eating meals ranging from plants to insects to other birds.

Greater rheas are social birds and often hang out together in flocks. They sometimes even mix in with groups of other animals such as deer. Staying in these diverse groups helps the birds find food sources and provides safety in numbers.

Brazilian Tapirs

Brazilian Tapir. Photo by Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr Creative Commons

Brazilian Tapir. Photo by Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr Creative Commons

Tapirs have roamed the Earth for tens of millions of years. There are four tapir species, all of which are endangered. They are related to horses and rhinoceroses, although they look somewhat like pigs.

Like the other three tapir species, Brazilian tapirs, also known as South American tapirs, have an elongated upper lip and nose that forms a short trunk. Their trunk helps them grip branches to eat the leaves and fruit. They can also swim and dive to feed on aquatic plants. Usually feeding at night, they can weigh more than 500 pounds!

Crab-Eating Foxes

Crab eating foxes. Photo by David Schenfeld via Flickr Creative Commons

Crab eating foxes. Photo by David Schenfeld via Flickr Creative Commons

As their name aptly indicates, crab-eating foxes love to eat crabs, especially during the rainy season, where they search for them on the floodplains. They also feed on a variety of other prey such as, fish, reptiles, birds, and especially insects. Like all fox species, they are omnivores, eating fruits and berries.

Crab-eating foxes have grey-brown colored fur and are generally about the same size as foxes seen in the United States. They typically live alone or in monogamous pairs, but hunt individually at night. For most of the day, the foxes can be found in or around their burrow in grassy or forested areas.

Bat Falcons

Bat falcon. Photo by Joao Quental via Flickr Creative Commons

Bat falcon. Photo by Joao Quental via Flickr Creative Commons

Bat falcons are so named because bats are one of their ideal prey. These swift, small falcons use their long wings to fly quickly and powerfully to catch their prey – be it bats, small birds, or insects – in mid-flight or on the ground. They tend to hunt at dusk or dawn by flying over the forest canopy or perching up high looking for food. Usually female falcons are the ones to target bats, whereas the smaller males tend to eat insects. When they are not hunting, these falcons often nest in tree cavities or abandoned holes made by other birds.

Learn more about the species of the Pantanal in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.

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Published: December 11, 2015

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