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Monsters, Mysteries and Marvels of the Amazon

There are few wild places in this world as impressively magnificent or as mysterious as the Amazon rainforest of South America. A stunningly vast expanse of wilderness spanning 5,500,000 square kilometers (2,100,000 sq. mi), the Amazon makes up half the amount of rainforest in the world and is home to the most diverse and thriving rainforest ecosystems on earth, as well as for numerous native tribes, some of which are totally uncontacted and know nothing of the outside world and its civilization. In such a vast, largely uncharted sea of forest, it is perhaps no surprise that it is steeped in a myriad of intriguing mysteries, encompassing everything from perplexing mysteries of nature, to ancient enigmatic ruins and lost civilizations, to strange monsters said to prowl the jungles and waterways. Here we will take a journey into the remotest regions of this realm of trees and enigmas to take a look at some of the stranger aspects of this vibrant, sprawling land.

Mystery Monsters

Perhaps one of the most infamous cryptid beasts said to wander the jungles of the Amazon is known as the Mapinguari, which translates roughly to “the roaring animal,” or “the fetid beast,” and it is also known by names such as capé-lobo (wolf’s cape), mão de pilão (pestle hand), and pé de garrafa (bottle foot). Reported mostly from the dense mostly unexplored rainforests of Brazil and Bolivia, the Mapinguari is said to be a huge, sloth-like creature which stands over 6 feet in height, with reddish fur and wicked curved claws, is said to emit an ear piercing, bloodcurdling scream, and to carry with it a fog of a nearly unbearable, staggering stench that purportedly disorients those who have a whiff of it. The creature is said to follow about herds of peccaries, to avoid water and, while it mostly avoids humans, will bravely defend its territory if necessary. It is also said to have hide so thick that it is essentially bulletproof.

The creature has long been reported by local tribes of the region, who say that it is mostly nocturnal and vegetarian, feasting on the innards of trees that it pulls apart with its massive claws. Although well-known to the natives of the region, the Mapinguari is also known from numerous reports from outsiders as well. In one such account from 1975, a hunter by the name of Mário Pereira de Souza was out hunting peccaries by the Jamauchim River when a shaggy creature with curved claws came stumbling towards him from the underbrush. The beast was said to have a stench so horrifically potent that it made him dizzy and had him reeling for days on end after the encounter.

Mapinguari

Mapinguari

In the late 1990s, hunter Manuel Vitorino Pinheiro dos Santos had been out hunting for white-lipped peccaries when he and his team smelled an odiferous, pungent stink, punctuated by a gurgling cry from the heavy underbrush not far from their position. Dos Santos allegedly immediately dropped the kill that he had been carrying and ran towards the nearby river in a panic, when he heard another more intense bellow from the jungle, which he said seemed to shake the trees themselves, followed by more such shrieks that seemed to get farther and farther away. Dos Santos claims he cowered chest deep in water until he deemed the creature to be a safe distance away. He eventually saw the source of the strange noise, and described the beast as looking like a hulking, armored bear-like body topped with the face of a monkey and enormous claws like those of an armadillo.

There have been some efforts in recent years to try and track down the elusive Mapinguari, such as an expedition led by a David C. Oren, ornithologist and expert on Amazonian biodiversity at the Emílio Goeldi Museum in Belém. Oren has risked ridicule from his peers leading several expeditions into the Amazon looking for the creature since 1994, braving harsh conditions replete with stinging, biting insects, parasites, deadly disease, nearly impenetrable jungle, and other hazards in order to try and hunt down the origin of the mystery. Although he has not actually seen one, he has uncovered nearly a hundred fairly convincing accounts of the creatures from local tribes. He has also managed to uncover clumps of hair, footprints, and scat samples of the alleged creature, none of which have proved to be conclusive.

There have been several theories on what the mysterious Mapinguari could be. One is that it is mere Amazonian folklore, and indeed the creature is heavily featured in myths of the region, which claim it is the spirit of a shaman who had found the forbidden secret of immortality and was subsequently punished by the gods to spend eternity in the body of a twisted beast. Other descriptions of the creature also point towards a purely mythical construct, such as depictions of it having only one eye, with a mouth in the center of its stomach, or feet that point backward. Those who put weight in the possibility of a real animal have pointed out that it could be a surviving population of extinct giant ground sloths such as Megatherium or Mylodon, which died out at around 10,000 years ago. These were huge beasts which stood up to 10 to 20 feet high and which in many ways match the descriptions of the Mapinguari, including the massive bodies, the ability to be semi-bipedal, reddish hair, and long, curving claws. This theory was embraced by the famed cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans, who went into detail on it in his seminal work On the Track of Unknown Animals. Other theories suggest some type of surviving giant anteater or even an undiscovered large Amazonian primate.

Prehistoric giant ground sloth

Prehistoric giant ground sloth

If the Mapinguari is a form of unknown primate, then it certainly wouldn’t be alone in the wilds of the Amazon rainforests, and there are creatures akin to the North American Bigfoot that have been reported from here. Perhaps the most famous of these was the beast reported by the intrepid explorer and real-life Indiana Jones, Percy Fawcett, during his ill-fated excursion into the deepest Amazon looking for a lost city before mysteriously vanishing off the face of the earth in an incident I have written of here on Mysterious Universe in more detail before.

Fawcett described in his accounts how his expedition had been threatened on several occasions by hairy savage giants, which had carried bows and arrows and spoke in guttural grunts and moans. Fawcett claimed that the strange creatures were terrified of the sound of gunfire, which the expedition used to keep the aggressive beasts at bay. These sorts of hairy hominids of the Amazon have come to be known under the blanket name Maricoxi, which is a term used for any of several apparently different types of mystery ape-like, bipedal hominid of the Amazon, which can be anywhere from dwarf-sized pygmies all the way up to hulking, 12-foot-tall giants.

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Percy Fawcett’s accounts indeed hold various intriguing reports of mysterious unknown creatures in the Amazon. Scattered among his astute, detailed notes on comparatively more mundane matters are reports of acid spewing ants, strange double-nosed jungle hounds, hairy hominids, and of course giant snakes. One of the more dramatic incidents among his records is that of his team encountering a colossal serpent far larger than any previously known to exist. Fawcett, who was renowned for his meticulous observations, claimed that they had shot the massive snake in 1906 as it pulled itself onto a muddy bank of the Rio Abuna, and that the body measured an estimated 19 meters (62.5 feet) in length. Fawcett also claimed that he had heard from natives and the Brazilian Borders Commission of even larger specimens of giant snake measuring up to 24 meters (79 feet) long. The reports did not convince herpetologists at the time, and since the body was never brought back, we will probably never know how much truth the tale holds.

This is by no means the only report of giant snakes in the Amazon, and indeed native tribes have long claimed that there lurk in these jungles snakes that reach incredible sizes of up to 37 to 50 meters (120 to 160 feet) in length, with heads up to 1.8 meters (6 feet) wide, dwarfing the largest known species of the region, the green anaconda. The natives call this massive creature the Yacumama, and it has also been called by other names such as the Sucuriju gigante, the Sachamama and the the Camoodi, as well as the snake that “carries water with it.” In some reports the Yacumama are described as having prominent horns on their head, and they are said to emit a thunderous booming sound during the wet season.

Sucuriju gigante emerging onto land, William Rebsamen

These tales of giant snakes are well entrenched in the myths and legends of the locals, and there are ancient Mayan cave carvings and paintings that depict giant serpents far larger than anything known. The serpents have long been said to engorge themselves with water, which they use to shoot forth powerful streams that are said to be used to knock prey from trees or stun it, as well as to aide in burrowing into the ground. They have long been said in folklore to knock down trees or even change the course of streams or small rivers.

Yet for all of the mythical imagery, the sightings made of such giant snakes by some explorers seem to be more than just folklore, and there are numerous sightings of these beasts. On 22 May 1922, a priest by the name of Father Victor Heinz was traveling along a meandering stretch of the Amazon River in a remote area of Brazil’s Pará State when he and his expedition members allegedly spied a snake as “thick as an oil drum” coiled up and drifting downstream. It was reported that it was around 24.5 meters long, possibly even bigger. Father Heinz would have another encounter with the monster in 1929, when he and his team passed by a colossal snake swimming through the river towards them that had extremely large eyes that glinted with light so brightly that they at first mistook them for lights on another boat.

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Some reports detail not only sightings, but actual specimens of the creatures that were killed. One such creature was said to have been gunned down in 1948, and this specimen was estimated as being around 35 meters (115 feet) in length. The serpent was apparently dragged by tugboat to the village of Manaos, near the Abuna River, where it was killed by gunfire. In the 1960s, another such specimen was apparently captured and dragged along by a river boat after which it was killed by machine gun fire and dumped. This particular creature was mentioned in Tim Dinsdale’s 1966 book The Leviathans.

The reports are so numerous that there have been many attempts to try and track down such large mystery snakes in the Amazon. One monster hunter by the name of Mike Warner, along with his brother Greg Warner, spent much time in the rugged wilds of the Amazon, compiling hundreds of eyewitness accounts of giant snakes from locals, as wells as taking photographs of areas where the snakes purportedly live. During the course of his excursions, Warner allegedly photographed ditches left in the creatures’ wake, lagoons it formed near rivers, and even some of the massive snakes themselves. One photo in particular from 2009 allegedly shows a snake measuring a whopping 40 meters (131 ft) long and 2 meters (6 ft) wide.

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Tales of monstrous snakes may or may not be linked to tales of a colossal worm-like or snake-like beast with smooth black skin or scales called the Minhocão. These creatures are said to measure around 20 to 50 meters (65 to 165 feet) in length, and to lurk in dank, subterranean lairs, which they carve out themselves with their purported burrowing prowess. The Minhocão has been called everything from some form of giant snake to a type of massive worm.

Considering the largest snake known in the region, the green anaconda, is only known to get to be at most nearly 6.5 meters (22 feet) long, it is uncertain if any of the tales of truly monstrous snakes are real. There is some precedent for such an enormous snake in the fossil record, notably the prehistoric Titanoboa cerrejonensis, whose fossil remains suggest it grew in excess of 13 meters (42 ft) in length, making it the largest known snake to ever exist. Could one of these monsters still exist into the present day, or is this some new species or even mere fabrications? No one really knows.

Perhaps even more bloodcurdling than the idea of giant snakes in the jungle is that of giant spiders. The Amazon has long produced reports of enormous arachnids shambling through the underbrush claimed to have 4 to 6-foot leg spans, bodies the size of dogs, and to possess potent venom that can kill even large animals such as horses in short order. Local tribes claim that these spiders dwell in subterranean networks of tunnels which open up into trapdoors in the forest floor, from which they creep forth to prey on anything they can catch, including human beings.

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So persistent are the rumors of these massive giant spiders that there have been several notable excursions into the rainforests in an attempt to document them. In 2008, the TV program MonsterQuest sent a team led by tarantula expert Rick C. West, along with experienced Amazon guide Juan Carlos Ramirez, into the remote wilderness of Venezuela, near the Columbian border along the Orinoco River, to an area thick with such giant spider reports.

Immediately upon arriving at the remote village of San Rafael de Manuare, the team was already hearing terrifying tales of the monstrous spiders. One villager explained that he had seen a spider that was as big as man when reared up, which had scurried into the village one evening to drag off a dog into the jungle. Although West was skeptical, the guide, Ramirez, was confident that the man was telling the truth, and that the locals knew the area’s wildlife well enough to not misidentify something else for a giant spider. The team pushed on to the village of Pandari, where they also heard stories of a giant spider that had whisked away a village child. So frightened were the Pandari vilagers of monster spiders that they had even designed their huts to have dense thatched roofs that came all the way the ground in order to provide protection from the roving creatures.

Intrigued, the team went about scouring the surrounding jungle for any sign of these creatures, and it did not take them long to find an unusually large spider lair, into which they placed a camera to see what dwelled within. The camera revealed an extremely large tarantula, which they removed and found to be one of the largest ever found, although nowhere near the reported sizes of the mystery spiders said to drag off dogs and people. The specimen was kept for study, but did not offer any proof to support the village tales. Ultimately, after 3 days of slogging through nearly impenetrable, mosquito choked jungle, the team was unable to find any evidence of spiders of the reported vast sizes. Another expedition followed in 2011, this time led by British cinematographer Richard Terry, for the TV show Man v Monster, but this team too could find no evidence of the fabled giant spiders.

South American goliath bird-eating spider

South American goliath bird-eating spider

Although the idea of such mammoth spiders may seem like a stretch of believability, there have been cases of spiders that, while not dog sized, are shockingly large nevertheless. A few years ago, entomologist Piotr Naskrecki, of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, made the news when he found a massive, “puppy-sized” spider while studying insects in the rainforests of Guyana. The massive South American Goliath bird-eater spider was a foot long (0.3 meters) and so large that Naskrecki at first thought the creature was a possum or a rat. The entomologist said of his encounter:

I could clearly hear its hard feet hitting the ground and dry leaves crumbling under its weight. I pressed the switch and pointed the light at the source of the sound, expecting to see a small mammal, a possum, a rat maybe. And at first this is what I thought I saw—a big, hairy animal, the size of a rodent.

The South American goliath bird-eater is so named for its purported habit of eating birds, which in reality it only rarely does, and can measure nearly a foot long and weigh up to 6 oz. (170 grams). They are so large that they make sound when they walk, which Naskrecki describes as sounding like “horse hooves.” While they may not really eat birds so much as their name implies, they will eat pretty much anything they come across that they can take down, including other arthropods and vertebrates such as lizards, frogs, and rodents. When threatened, the goliath bird-eaters can eject tiny, harpoon-shaped bristles, which burrow into the skin and can be fatal to small animals such as rodents, and are incredibly itchy and irritating for larger animals and humans. While these spiders are certainly enormous, are there even larger ones out there that dwarf them? At this point it remains a mystery but the tales still come.

Adding to the menagerie of strange beasts said to lurk in the Amazon jungles is what can only be described as full blown living dinosaurs. From the most isolated areas of the Amazon have come sporadic reports of large, reptilian creatures said to resemble sauropod dinosaurs, similar to Africa’s famous Mokele Mbembe. One such report is that of explorer Leonard Clark, who while traveling up the Perene River in Peru encountered natives who told him of a large, dinosaur-like creature that lived in the jungles there. The descriptions and pictures drawn by these natives described something very reminiscent of the dinosaur Diplodocus.

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Another account of Amazonian dinosaurs comes from, who else, Percy Fawcett. Fawcett claimed that a close friend of his had seen the head and neck of a dinosaur-like creature coming from the water of a river on the border between Brazil and Bolivia in 1919. The friend said it had highly resembled the long extinct Apatosaurus. The creature in this case was said to emerge from underwater and swim about languidly for a time before submerging again with a terrific splash.

As recently as 1995, some geology students in the Sinorca Mountains of eastern Brazil studying quartz deposits claimed to have seen two huge dinosaur-like beasts which were described as being 30 feet long, with massive bodies, 8-foot long tails, and 6-foot long necks topped by sauropod heads. The creatures were allegedly swimming about in the Paraguaca River, in a very remote area not usually visited by outsiders.

Perhaps related to these mysterious dinosaurs is a creature of the Amazon waterways known as the Holadeira, which is said to be a water dwelling beast somewhat similar to the more famous Loch Ness Monster of Scotland. The creature was most famously spotted by Jeremy Wade, of the TV program River Monsters, who saw it not once, but twice. Wade first saw the mysterious creature in 1993 as he was searching the Amazon for its elusive pink river dolphins. During the encounter, Wade claimed that he saw the jagged back of a massive animal break the surface of the murky water about 100 feet from his boat. Wade even managed to get a photo of the creature, which was looked at by experts who came to the conclusion that it could possibly be of a river dolphin, but no one could explain the strangely shaped fin protruding from its back.

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Photo of the alleged Holadeira

Intrigued, Wade returned to the area to find further evidence of the creature, and during this time he collected various accounts from locals who had also seen it and called it the Holadeira, which means “saws.” On this excursion, Wade got another glimpse of the creature, this time seeing its actual head. Wade claims that it did indeed seem to be a river dolphin, but differed dramatically in that it possessed a jagged, bumpy dorsal fin, which was startling to Wade, who is quite familiar with what the pink river dolphins look like. One theory about what the creature could be is simply an individual whose dorsal fin that has been damaged by a boat or fishing nets, but the jagged pattern seems too neat for that. It could also be a genetic birth defect or mutation. Or perhaps it is a completely new species of river dolphin that is currently unknown to science.

Mysterious People

One persistent legend that has been around since 16th century Spanish missionaries came to the Amazon region is that of tribes of tall, fair-skinned, blonde, blue-eyed, decidedly European looking natives living out in the most remote and inaccessible areas of jungle. One of the earlier accounts of encountering these mysterious people was made by the Spanish Dominican missionary Gaspar de Carvajal, who wrote in 1542 of coming across a group of very tall, very white tribal women who wore their long, light hair braided and wound about their heads. The account was included in his book Account of the Recent Discovery of the Famous Grand River.

Another popular account of these white Amazonians comes from the America explorer Alexander Hamilton Rice, Jr., who journeyed into the Amazon for a 1924-1925 expedition. Upon returning from the perilous expedition, Rice told of one of the expedition members, a Lieutenant Hinton, who had spied a tribe of white Indians while making a flight over the headwaters of the Parima River. Intrigued, Rice organized a trip by canoe up the river in order to try and find out where the mysterious white natives came from. Eventually they located a hut that was believed to belong to the white Indians, and they then heard a series of shrieking yells which scared some of the expedition members off and put the remaining group on edge, reaching for their weapons. It was then that two of the white natives came out of the forest, apparently in peace.

Photo purportedly showing a tribe of "white natives"

Photo purportedly showing a tribe of Amazonian “white Indians”

These white-skinned natives were described as having pigment painted across their faces that obscured their features, but they were said to be “undeniably white.” The two were said to look undersized and undernourished, wore no clothing, and carried with them bows with poison-tipped arrows. They spoke in a unique language not known to be spoken by any other tribe, which made communication difficult. When the expedition members offered beads and handkerchiefs as gifts, the two tribesmen reportedly called out into the jungle, which brought more of the fair-skinned natives out of hiding.

These odd, white tribespeople were offered food, but it was declined, and it seemed that they preferred to eat plantains which had curiously been garnished with cocaine, although it was unclear where they had acquired the drug. Throughout the encounter, the strange tribe apparently showed no particular interest in or awe of the Westerners’ clothes, equipment, guns, or hydroplane. The expedition made further efforts to try and communicate with the tribe, but the language barrier made it difficult, and after a while the white Indians melted away back into the forest, moving “between the trees like jaguars without making a sound or causing a rustle of the leaves.”

The 1920s were indeed a period of many sightings of these white-skinned natives, and feature heavily in accounts from the explorer Percy Fawcett, who seems to have a habit of popping up in this article quite a bit. Fawcett was convinced that these people were denizens of a mystical lost city deep in the jungle, which he called simply “Z.” So convinced was he that this mystical city and its people existed that they would inevitably lead him to obsession and lure him to his final, ill-fated expedition in search of the city of Z in 1925. Fawcett would journey out into uncharted jungle in search of his fabled city and seemingly step off the face of the earth. No trace of him or his expedition was ever found.

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Accounts and sightings of the white natives continued sporadically into the 1940s, and in 1945 the British Journalist Harold T. Wilkins took it upon himself to compile a variety of reports stretching back to the 16th century in his book Mysteries of Ancient South America. Even into modern times there have been accounts of coming across these enigmatic people. In 1977 one joint British/ Brazilian expedition reported being surrounded by a tribe of uncommonly tall, blonde natives with strikingly white pigmentation, some of who had thick beards and all of who were naked. The strange white tribesmen allegedly spoke a dialect that no expert had ever heard before. These people were called the Acurinis, and were again encountered by another expedition to the same region in 1979. In this case, the mysterious tribesmen were seen only briefly before vanishing into the underbrush.

Theories abound over what could be behind these accounts. One is that they are the descendants of shipwrecked sailors, Vikings, lost explorers, or even missionaries or other Westerners who willingly left civilization behind to live amongst the natives, where they invariably intermingled. Indeed there are theories that Percy Fawcett himself did this, and that the descendants of both him and his expedition members may be behind some of these encounters with fair-skinned natives. In recent years there has been one tribe called the Aché, who are known for having light skin, hair, and eye color, and thick beards, and although it has been shown that they show no genetic evidence of having ever mixed with Europeans, their unique appearance could make it possible that they might be the source of at least some of the accounts. It is unlikely we will ever know for sure the precise origins of these stories.

There are more ancient mysterious peoples of the Amazon region as well. In 1999, researchers uncovered a series of earthworks comprised of various shaped ditches that take the form of circles, straight lines, and squares, spanning a vast area measuring 150 miles across. First uncovered in the Amazonas state of Bolivia and Brazil when a swath of forest was cleared for cattle grazing, the ditches are on average around 30 feet deep, 10 feet wide, and situated next to 3-foot-high earthen walls, but some of the more massive ring-like formations can get up to 1,000 feet in diameter. It is unknown who built this sprawling network of ditches, but researchers studying sediment cores from the area have concluded that they are ancient, prehistoric structures that have likely been there since before the Amazon rainforest even existed, thousands of years ago when the region was more similar to the African savannah than the dense jungle we know today. It has been surmised that whoever built them did it before the forest sprang up around them, after which they continued to inhabit the region.

One of the strange circular structures

One of the strange circular structures

Just as mysterious as who built the ditches is why they built them. One theory is that they were used for defense against enemies, which is somewhat supported by the fact that many of the structures are clumped together atop a 200-meter-high plateau. Another idea is that the ditches may have been used for drainage or channeling water, as they tend to be located near water sources such as springs. Yet another theory proposes that the design and layout of the ditches could have some spiritual or religious significance. What is known is that they demonstrate a level of engineering advancement, coordination, and richness of culture not thought to have existed among the people of the time.

In the end, no one really knows who built the mysterious network of ditches or for what purpose. It is also unknown just how many of these earthworks still remain buried and hidden under the thick jungle. These structures are significant in that they show that the prehistory of the Amazon region and its inhabitants are more complex and mysterious than previously thought. Who were these people and what was their society like? Why did they build these vast complexes of ditches? These are questions waiting to be answered and may never be.

Mysteries of Nature

The Amazon is purportedly home to many legendary places, from Fawcett’s City of Z to lost civilizations and cities of gold, yet sometimes these fantastic fixtures of legend turn out to be more than mere myth. Since the days of Spanish conquistadors slogging through the mosquito clogged wilderness of the deepest uncharted Amazon there have been those who came back from their harrowing journeys telling of a mysterious boiling river hot enough to melt flesh from the bone. The river was said to boil and bubble from below like a scalding cauldron, releasing steam and by some accounts poisonous gas into the air. The natives of the area called this boiling river Shanay-timpishka, or “boiled with the heat of the Sun,” and it was believed to be a steaming, scorching, nightmarish place.

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It seems a far out notion to be sure, and these tales were long dismissed as just a scary myth and local folklore, but one that caught the attention of a Peruvian geoscientist named Andrés Ruzo. The stories were well-known to him, having been told the tale since childhood, but he wondered if there was perhaps more to it than just lore, and went about investigating the possibility of such a place. Although such hot rivers do exist in the world, they tend to be found in places with heavy volcanic or geothermal activity, of which there is none in the region where the mythical boiling river was said to exist, therefore every expert Ruzo spoke to shot down the idea that such a river could be real.

In 2011, Ruzo decided to venture into the jungle to try and find the mythical river, guided by his aunt, who claimed to have seen it with her own eyes. What he found was even stranger than he had imagined. When they arrived, he could see that indeed there was a river from which wisps and tendrils of hot steam crept. Ruzo described the scene thus:

You’re surrounded by the sounds of the rainforest. You feel this water surging past you and plumes of vapor coming up. It’s truly a spectacular place.

Amazed, Ruzo took a temperature reading and came up with 86 degrees Celsius, which is not boiling temperature but nearly so, and decidedly odd for several reasons. First is the fact that there is no volcanic activity to account for the heat within 700km of the location, which raises the question of how the river got so hot to begin with. Then there is the sheer scope of the phenomenon. While individual hot springs and pools are not uncommon, this particular river is 6.24 km long, 25 meters wide, and six meters deep, all of it approaching boiling temperatures. This vast amount of water being heated like this so far from any discernable heat source made this river truly unique in the world, and a perplexing mystery.

The Boiling River

The Boiling River

Ruzo was fascinated by this place, and obtained permission from the local tribes to stay there to study it and try to unravel its secrets, which he has continued to do up to the present. During his stay, he has seen some of the dangers that gave rise to the myths surrounding this place, such as animals falling in and slowly cooking to death. Natives say that they sometimes swim in the river, but only directly after rains, when the heat has been dissipated somewhat. At other times, they use the scalding water for cooking or to make tea. While the river occasionally takes the lives of unfortunate victims, it also supports life. Ruzo and his team have found new types of heat resistant microbes that thrive in the alien environment, and there are thought to be more left to be discovered, which has caught the attention of microbial ecologists.

Due to his efforts, there has been some progress made to understanding the inner working of this bizarre river. Ruzo found that the water of the river starts as rain far upstream, after which he surmises it seeps underground and is heated by geothermal energy from fault lines deep within the earth, which ultimately spit it out back to the surface to emerge as nearly boiling water. This points to the existence of a vast, previously unknown hydrothermal network sprawling out underground that exhibits a vastness not seen before. Ruzo plans to keep studying the river and its mysteries, as well as try to ensure that the area is conserved, and in the meantime has published a book on his quest entitled The Boiling River.

In addition to geological conundrums are mysteries of the animal world as well. In 2013, Troy Alexander, a graduate student from Georgia Tech, found something very unusual in the forest near Tambopata Research Center, in southeastern Peru. In several locations were found mysterious web-like structures that look somewhat like a spire surrounded by a white picket fence, and which measure around 2cm across. Photos of the mysterious formations were posted online by Alexander, but no one has been able to figure out just what made them or why.

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One of the strange formations

Even respected experts in the field, such as William Eberhard, an entomologist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, as well as Norm Platnick, curator emeritus of spiders at the American Museum of Natural History, and Linda Rayor, of Cornell University, have said that they have no idea as to what could have created the strange structures or why, although theories range from some sort of defense mechanism to a unique way to catch insects. As to what species created them, it remains a mystery. All any one really seems to know is that the circular structures were made by some sort of spider. Concerted efforts made by biologists to try and find evidence of exactly what kind of spider made the structures have turned up only one clue, in the form of a single egg ensconced within the spire in the middle. What species it could be or why it would only lay a single egg surrounded by the formation is a complete enigma.

Another spider mystery has been found in the discovery of webs that harbor silken structures that resemble spiders hovering intertwined with the web itself, and made up of web, debris, parts prey, and even bits of the spider’s own molted exoskeleton to create a lifeless golem spider of sorts. These would seem to essentially serve as decoys to throw off predators from the real resident of the web, confusing them or scaring them away, as the decoys are much larger than the spider itself. This is the only known example of a spider creating such a detailed, defined mimic of itself from its web, and it is thought that it is most likely a new species or even a new genus.

The spider decoy

The spider decoy

The Amazon is truly a wonder of the world. This immense tangle of rainforest carries with it natural wonders that are unique and irreplaceable, and harbors some of the most diverse and little known species and peoples in the world. As we have seen here, this is also a place that within its trees also holds deep mysteries that we will perhaps never fully understand. Out there in this expanse of forest these riddles beckon to us, almost daring us to delve into this perilous terrain to find out more. There will no doubt be people who do, as there always have been, yet whether they will ever find the answers they seek or those answers will remain hidden within the jungle and as impenetrable as the underbrush remains to be seen.