Brazil country overview

The land of Brazil

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Brazil information index

Brazil Plant and animal life

Highlands, coastal regions, and the Pantanal

The original ecosystems of the eastern highlands have undergone extensive destruction, leading to the loss of the once abundant hardwood forests that were prevalent along the eastern seaboard, as well as the once impressive Paraná pine (Araucaria) forests that spanned the southern plateaus. The wildlife that was commonly seen, such as monkeys and parrots, is now largely confined to zoological parks, private collections, or isolated forest remnants that maintain the native plant species. Coastal regions, previously home to vibrant waterways and marshlands inhabited by a variety of waterfowl and alligators, have been transformed by the development of saltworks, marinas, and residential complexes.

In the semiarid Northeast, the Brazilian savannas do not boast the large populations of wild animals found in the African savannas. Predators like jaguars and ocelots, which used to roam the periphery of forests, have been heavily targeted by hunting and are now considered endangered species. The vegetation in this region is diverse, ranging from tough clumps of grass to the distinctive, thorny vegetation known as caatinga—a term originating from an Indigenous word meaning “white forest”—characterized by sparse, stunted trees interspersed with cacti. The slightly more humid areas feature woodlands referred to as agreste, which are typically located near the São Francisco River and on higher ground, where the moisture in the atmosphere is captured by the trade winds. In these areas, thorny trees can reach heights of up to 30 feet (9 meters) and often form dense thickets that are impenetrable to even the leather-clad vaqueiros, or cowboys. In Rio Grande do Sul, the indigenous grasslands have been largely supplanted by man-made pastures and cultivated fields for grains.

The Pantanal region, with its expansive marshes and waterways, supports a rich array of plant and animal life. This includes the giant pirarucu fish, which is corralled in underwater pens akin to cattle until they are harvested. The area is a habitat for a variety of aquatic birds, such as ibis, herons, ducks, and migratory geese. The region also hosts numerous species of lizards and snakes, including the venomous fer-de-lance (jararacas) and rattlesnakes. Larger mammals like armadillos and anteaters, which feed on ants and termites, inhabit this area, with termite mounds that can exceed 6 feet (2 meters) in height. The Pantanal and the central Brazilian savannas are also home to rheas, roadrunners (siriemas), and a range of game birds, including quail and partridge, which are commonly found on the higher ground of these regions.


The Amazon Basin is recognized as the most biodiverse region on the planet, boasting the highest concentration of plant species and a rich array of wildlife, a stark contrast to the adjacent scrublands to its south and east. This expansive area encompasses extensive tracts of rainforest, interspersed with grasslands and mangrove swamps in the delta’s tidal regions. The distribution of individual plants within most species is notably sparse, which serves to mitigate the impact of diseases and environmental threats.

In a typical 0.4-hectare segment of the Amazonian forest, one might find over 250 distinct species of trees, a figure that vastly exceeds the biodiversity found in an equivalent area of woodland in the northeastern United States, where the number of tree species might only reach a dozen.

The towering trees of the Amazon create an almost impenetrable canopy, overshadowing various subordinate layers of vegetation. This dense canopy permits a mere 10 percent of sunlight to filter through to the forest floor. Consequently, a greater density of flora and fauna thrives within these elevated layers compared to the ground level. The most colossal trees can reach heights of 45 to 60 meters and are adorned with an assortment of epiphytes, bromeliads, and lianas. Their branches are a hub for diverse wildlife, including a multitude of insects, serpents, tree frogs, various monkey species, and an astonishing array of avian life.

In the vicinity of the main Amazon channel, one can find several hundred bird species, alongside alligators, anacondas, boa constrictors, capybaras, and a host of smaller reptiles and mammals along the riverbanks. The aquatic environment is home to manatees, freshwater dolphins, and over 1,500 species of fish, among them various piranhas—not all of which are carnivorous—electric eels, and approximately 450 species of catfish. It is also speculated that numerous species remain unidentified.

The Amazon is the exclusive habitat of the world’s largest freshwater turtle, the yellow-headed sideneck (Podocnemis), which has an average weight of 70 kilograms and is extinct in all regions except Madagascar. Despite being endangered and their hunting being illegal, these turtles, which were once a staple in the diet of local indigenous populations, continue to be poached for their meat.

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