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BIG in the Wild: Inside the Amazon

The world's largest rain forest houses an abundance of wildlife.

ByABC News via logo
March 10, 2009, 7:01 PM

March 11, 2009 — -- It's home to the world's most vast variety of living creatures with the most birds, freshwater fish and butterflies, yet, countless things remain undiscovered in the Amazon rain forest.

At 1.4 billion acres, the Amazon, which is in Brazil, is the biggest rain forest in size and diversity. Its area matches the size of the continental United States.

The region, which spreads across nine countries and is the source of half of all rain forest land on the planet, also holds the biggest river in the world by volume, the Amazon River. The giant pipeline is 4,000 miles long.

And to officially be called a rain forest, it must get 80 inches of precipitation annually.

The Amazon rain forest's thick shrubbery, grassy marshes and rainbow-colored wildlife were created at least 55 million years ago, according to scientists.

The Amazon rain forest hosts the biggest number of plant and animal species around the globe. In fact, it holds three-quarters of all of Earth's known living things.

One-fifth of all birds live in the area, including the scarlet macaw, which is known as the most beautiful fowl on Earth.

And it's not just animals of the sky that make their homes here. The jaguar and squirrel monkey are among the 300 species of mammals that call the region home.

Then there are the insects an estimated 2.5 million species of them that live in the Amazon. As astounding as that number may seem, it's even bigger when you realize a species can be a label for thousands of different kinds of creatures.

Ants are a great example. There are several different kinds of ants up to 14,000. And a single bush in the rain forest may hold more ant species than the entire British Isles.

The rain forest also has plenty of plant life. The Amazon has the biggest diversity of the world's plant life with more than 400,000 species registered. That doesn't include the countless more waiting to be discovered.

Part of what makes the region so amazing is its extensive river. In some places, the Amazon River is so wide that you can't even see the other side.

During the dry season, it is a little less than seven miles across at its widest point, but during the rainy season that grows to nearly 25 miles across.

All the rainwater floods the river and makes trees, which are 10 to 20 feet high, seem like bushes as the water submerges them.

The water holds more than 3,000 species of fish and marine life. This is where the piranha and the anaconda make their sanctuaries.

With all of its amazing sites and massive potential, today, the Amazon rain forest is fighting an important battle against destruction and devastation.

Combating deforestation is what organizations like the Rainforest Alliance do. It's working to change the policies and standards leading to the destruction. The struggle has brought forth individuals, like Karina Miotto, who have made saving the region a life purpose.

Miotto quit her job as a journalist two years ago and moved to the remote area drawn by the magical lure of the rain forest and its people. The Sao Paolo native said she "needed to share" her experiences and has emerged as a young, passionate voice in defense of the Amazon. Miotto has written stories, given lectures and is working on a film with Greenpeace to further the cause.