Many visitors to the Pantanal come primarily to see the numerous mammals and birds that inhabit the world’s largest tropical wetland, but you might find yourself equally as fascinated by the reptiles. The Pantanal is home to at least 80 and perhaps as many as 180 species of reptile, although the exact number is still unknown.
Below is our list of 7 Reptiles that you are likely to see when you visit the Pantanal.
Hollywood movies have given the anaconda a fearsome reputation, and the awe that these snakes inspire is certainly justified. These powerful boas are the heaviest snakes in the world, measuring up to 17 feet long and weighing as much as 154 pounds. Of the four species of anaconda, two are found in the Pantanal: the yellow anaconda and the larger green anaconda. They spend most of their time in the water and feed on a wide variety of prey ranging from fish and birds to large mammals such as tapirs, deer and capybaras. Unlike in the movies, however, anacondas don’t spend most of their time aggressively hunting. They are infrequent eaters, often with weeks between meals, and it can take them days or weeks to digest a single meal.
The boa constrictor, also known as the red-tailed boa, is smaller than the anaconda, but adult males still grow up to 8 feet long. Like the anaconda, it constricts around its prey before eating them whole. Boa constrictors feed primarily on rodents, but will tackle larger prey when the opportunity arises. Also keep an eye out for the rainbow boa, often considered one of the most beautiful snakes in the world thanks to its iridescent, holographic-looking sheen.
The jacare caiman, or jacaré in Portuguese, is a species of caiman common in the Pantanal. Adult males typically grow to between 6.6 and 9.8 feet in length, and both males and females are brown in color with dark blotches around the lower jaw and flanks. With around 10 million living in the Pantanal, you’re guaranteed to see some as they bask in the sun near lakes and along riverbanks. Compared to other crocodilian species, Jacare are relatively tranquil, and humans can get quite close – even swimming in the same waters. You still have to be careful, however, as a grumpy jacare, or a mother near her nest, could quickly turn aggressive.
False Water Cobra
The false water cobra is named for its ability to flatten out, or “hood,” its neck to make it appear larger as a defense against predators. This gives it a cobra-like appearance, hence its name. Adult false water cobras can grow to 9 or 10 feet in length. They are mildly venomous but rarely attack humans, their preferred prey being fish, frogs, tadpoles and other amphibians. Despite being semi-aquatic, they spend most of their time on land, being inquisitive and very active as they forage throughout much of the day. For this reason, you’re more likely to see a false water cobra rather than the far more secretive and primarily nocturnal coral snake, one of the Pantanal’s other inhabitants. And that’s probably a good thing. Coral snakes are quite beautiful, with their alternating bands of red, white and black, but they are highly venomous: a coral snake bite results in death around 25% of the time if no immediate treatment is available.
Green iguanas are well-suited to the wetlands of the Pantanal. The predominantly herbivorous iguanas grow up to 5 feet in length, and are adept at both climbing trees and swimming. They are often found near water, which can provide a quick escape from predators. When threatened, they can scurry into the water and swim away mostly submerged, using their powerful tails to propel themselves forward. Green iguanas are mainly active during the day and, unlike most reptiles, they can be quite sociable, sometimes foraging in groups or lying in the sun together.
Tegus look a lot like monitor lizards, to which they are distantly related. There are two species of tegu commonly seen in the Pantanal: the golden tegu and the black and white tegu, the latter being the largest and growing up to 4.5 feet in length. They mainly stay on land but are also good swimmers, able to stay underwater for about 20 minutes. They are omnivorous and eat fruits, insects, frogs, eggs, small rodents and birds, which they can grab and crunch up with their powerful jaws.
Big-Headed Swamp Turtle
The appropriately-named big-headed swamp turtle inhabits the marshes, swamps, and slow-flowing streams of the Pantanal. Its head is unusually broad, especially among older females, giving it a peculiar and somewhat unbalanced appearance. It’s a medium-sized aquatic turtle, the carapace growing to around 9.3 inches in length in adults. Also keep an eye open for the red-footed tortoise, whose dark limbs are decorated with brightly colored scales that range from pale yellow to dark red.
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Tony Dunnell is a freelance writer based in Peru since 2009. He’s the owner of New Peruvian and also writes for various magazines and websites. When he’s not walking his dog in the jungle town of Tarapoto, he’s off exploring other parts of Peru and South America.