Amphibians and Reptiles

Photo by Sam Abell

There are a wide variety of amphibians and reptiles present in the Amazon. They include snakes, lizards, frogs and toads, but also include lesser-known taxa such as amphisbaenians, which are legless, annulated (ringed) reptiles, and the amphibian order, caecilians, which are ground-dwelling and serpentine in form [1].

The hundreds of species of frogs in the Amazon are highly diverse in body size and coloration. Some of the smallest frogs could fit on the tip of your finger, while others can grow up to over half a foot in length [1]! Most of the frogs in the Amazon dwell in trees and lay eggs on the ground or in vegetation instead of near water sources because the humid conditions in the rainforest are sufficient to prevent desiccation

There are many species of poison dart frogs (Dendrobates species) in the Amazon. Though these frogs are small (1.5 – 6 cm long), they can be vibrantly colored, such as the brilliant blue poison dart frog (Dendrobates tinctorius azureus). And as their name suggests, they are poisonous and release toxins through their skin to defend themselves against predators. The common name, poison dart frog, was coined by a group of Amazon indigenous people who rub the poison onto their darts to kill their prey [2].

The reptiles found in the Amazon include snakes, lizards, turtles, crocodiles, and crocodilian-like lizards such as the caiman lizard, the crocodile tegu, and the true tegu. Two out of the eight snake families found in the Amazon – the coral snakes and the pit vipers – are known for their deadly venom [1]. Boas, or boines, as they’re called in South America, are probably the most well-known snake species in the Amazon. Their habitat includes areas of lower and higher rainfall, in lowlands and in highlands. All boas are carnivores and kill their prey by wrapping their bodies around the victim and suffocating it [3].

Another distinctive reptile, the South American river turtle (Podocnemis expansa), has lived in the Amazon for quite some time, and has existed on earth for over 158 million years. This turtle is sensitive to changes in its habitat, so it is useful as an indicator species – meaning it reflects the status of the surrounding ecosystem with its own health and presence [3]. Though the river turtle is currently listed as ‘least concern’ conservation status according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, it has been classified as endangered in the past [4]. This was largely due to overhunting for consumption of its meat and eggs, as well as habitat disturbance and destruction due to fishing activities [3].

A number of human activities are threatening the diversity of amphibians and reptiles in the Amazon, including direct threats such as harvesting for illegal pet trade and indirect threats such as land conversion to agriculture. A recent study in 2015 found that more complex, natural habitat better sustains biodiversity and species richness, while managed pastures and otherwise human-dominated, altered habitats exhibit reduced biodiversity and more invasive species [5]. It’s expected that as demand for food increases, and agricultural frontiers further encroach into what was once pristine forest, the loss of native species will continue to increase.

  1. Bartlett, R. D., and Bartlett, P. P. (2003). Reptiles and Amphibians of the Amazon: An Ecotourist’s Guide. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.
  2. World Wildlife Fund. 2010. Amazon Alive: A Decade of Discovery 1999-2009.
  3. World Wildlife Fund. “Amazon Reptiles.” WWF. World Wildlife Fund, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.
  4. IUCN Red List. “Podocnemis Expansa.” IUCN Red List. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.
  5. Da Cunha Bitar, Y. O., et al. (2015). Anuran beta diversity in a mosaic Anthropogenic landscape in transitional Amazon. Journal of Herpetology, 49(1). 75-82.

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