Orchid Mae Letter 6 - The Mighty Amazon

The Mighty Amazon

The Amazon and it’s drainage basin. Created 2008. Kmusser. Creative Commons

Sunlight on the Amazon River, Brazil. Astronaut captured image on ISS. 2008. NASA 

The Amazon River is roughly 4,000 miles long and the main river runs west to east through Peru, Peru’s border with Columbia, and Brazil where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The entire Amazon River Basin covers 2.7M sq mi, or 35.5% of the continent of South America, and is attributed for 20% of all water discharged into oceans on Earth every year. These staggering numbers make the Amazon River and it’s Basin one of the most fascinating bodies of water in the world. Here are some more interesting facts about the Amazon. 

  • The Amazon received its name from Spanish explorer and conquistador, Francisco de Orellana in the 16th century. While sailing the Amazon, Orellana and his men fought a battle with a tribe of Tapuyas, a tribe indigenous to the region. The women fought alongside the men of the tribe, and after that battle, Orellana described the river as “the river of the Amazons” comparing the women to the mythical Greek female warriors. 
  • The Amazon is the largest river in the world according to volume of water. During the dry season the river measures roughly 6.8 miles wide and up to 24.8 miles wide during the wet season. The majority of the river has a depth between 66 and 164 ft, but reaches depths of 330 ft at the deepest portions. 
  • This mighty river is home to the most freshwater fish species in the world at 2700. The most captivating of these is the Amazon River Dolphin. 

Pink Dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) of the Peruvian Amazon. 2015 Mantra088 Public Domain

Pink Dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) of the Peruvian Amazon. 2015 Mantra088 Public Domain

Also known as the Pink River Dolphin, this amazing animal is endemic to the region and can only be found in the Amazon’s basin and tributaries. Adults acquire the pink color, which is more common in males, due to repeated abrasions to the skins surface. The exact population size has been difficult to determine because of differing methodology and lack of data, but there has been some evidence that the population is in decline. Because of this, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) put these beautiful pink dolphins on their Red list of endangered species.  

  • There are no bridges on the Amazon. This is due to the river's width, the seasonal flooding that affects its banks, and the sparsely populated regions it flows through, making bridge construction both difficult and unnecessary for local transportation needs.
  • The Amazon River has numerous islands within its course, and many of these are seasonal, appearing and disappearing with the river's changing water levels. The largest river island, Marajó, is about the size of Switzerland and is permanently inhabited.
  • Twice a year you can surf on the Amazon. On the biannual equinoxes in September and March, when the moon, sun, and Earth are in direct alignment, the combined gravitational pull produces what is known locally as The Pororoca. The Pororoca is a tidal bore, or a tidal wave moving into the river from the Atlantic, reversing the flow of the Amazon. The wave can reach as high as 13 ft and can travel as far as 500 miles.
  • Before European colonization, the Amazon River basin was home to advanced civilizations. Recent archaeological discoveries reveal complex societies with large settlements, sophisticated agriculture, and extensive trade networks that flourished in the region.


Yacumama Monster. Created 6/20/24. AI generated image using Canva Magic Media. 

The Amazonian region holds fascinating mysteries and many legends. One such legend is that of a monster snake. There have been legends of snake monsters as far back as the Aztecs. They made their monster snake their mightiest and most powerful god: Quetzacoatl, a feathered serpent. But further south where the indigenous people of the Amazon basin resided, their snake monster is known as Yacumama. 

The word Yacumama comes from the indigenous language of Quechua; yaku meaning “water” and mama meaning “mother.” The Yacumama is believed to be the mother of all marine life and the protector of the water. It is said to reside at the mouth of the Amazon river and amongst its lagoons and tributaries, ready to guard the waters against harm. Though indigenous accounts vary, tales have described the creature reaching up to 150 feet long with a large head being six feet wide. According to folklore, the serpent had the ability to suck up anything that came within 100 steps of it and swallowed humans whole. The local tribes had a practice of blowing on a conch shell before entering the water, believing the noise would prompt the Yacumama to reveal itself if it was lurking in the waters nearby. 

Through the centuries and years there have been many reports of sightings of these gigantic creatures. A few scientists have theorized that these sightings could be attributed to an ancestor of the anaconda called the Titanoboa. This species was first discovered in the early 2000’s in northern Columbia when fossils were discovered during an archeological dig. These snakes could grow up to 42-47 ft long and weigh up to 2,500 lbs. For comparison, the largest snakes living today are green anacondas, which reside in the Amazon region, and the longest one discovered was 26ft long. So, was it possible that these individuals truly did sight a giant snake? Yes. But less likely that the size truly was as immense as legends has it. However, it’s the not knowing for sure that makes the Amazon so mysterious.

Learn the Words, People, and Expressions:  

Ovaltine: A popular drink originally called Ovolmaltine. It was invented by chemist Albert Wander in Bern, Switzerland and named such for the egg and malt which were it’s original key ingredients. Today it is a milk flavoring product made from malt extract, sugar, and whey. Some flavors contain cocoa. 

Potoo: a large, nocturnal, peculiar looking bird that feasts on insects

Ocelot: a medium-sized spotted wild cat 

Glad rags: dressy clothes worn for a party or special occasion 

“paste in the bean”: to hit a person really hard in the head