YouTube: Ron’s Spiders
Terrifying, deadly, and unknowable… the Rainforest exists in the darkest regions of our imagination. While serving as crucial habitat for biodiversity and vitally important to the planet’s health, what lurks in the darkness beneath the lush canopy is nothing short of horrifying. Here are a few examples of why you should keep your eyes open and your wits about you in the Rainforest
Some of these strange creatures and fantastic occurrences are ultra-rare, while others are as common as superhero sequels. In search of the unstudied and spooky, the pursuit of these weird rainforest dwellers has driven countless scientists and adventurers to venture deep into the heart of the Amazon and other rainforest environs
Here, Fishy Fishy!
Actually, on second thought – let’s just not. The Payara Fish (A.K.A. Vampire Fish) seen here, is a commonly found inhabitant of ecosystems in the Amazon River Basin. Vampire? Strange, we don’t see the resemblance… Wait. No. We totally see it now. Common in the waters of the Amazon River, these big ugly doses of nightmare fuel prowl the water searching for prey fish. Sometimes growing to over 30lbs., which seems plenty big enough
First, the Payara uses those absurd-looking teeth/fang/stabby thingies to make quick work of their prey. Then, they enjoy a nice meal. While humans are too big to constitute attractive targets for Payara, who wants to test that theory? When seeing one of these smiling faces, maybe it’s just best to swim the other way. Or never get in the water in the first place. Well, that settles it. Never swimming again. Ever. Anywhere. Maybe a bathtub would be cool. Or not?
Whole lotta’ legs, whole buncha’ “HECK NAH”
What’s huge, has dozens of legs, and eats snakes, mice, and bats? If you guessed this abjectly blood-curdling not-so-smol friend, you guessed it! In the wild, these guys take on venomous snakes, various reptiles, and even birds. Seem like a mismatch? Well, did we mention that the Amazonian Giant Centipede (or Scolopendra gigantea) is venomous? Yeah, there’s that. It’s also crazy strong. Like, giant centipede strong. Before you ask: yes, that’s a thing
Found in caves and other places – because they weren’t scary enough – the yellow legs hold up this TWELVE INCH terror. Including on the ceilings of those aforementioned caves. Why? Because clearly, you don’t need to sleep well tonight. While they don’t typically engage with human beings and would rather be left alone, it’s best to steer clear of insect voted most likely to replace Freddy Krueger in your dreams. Rare cases of fatal encounters have been recorded, so this one isn’t just creepy, but downright deadly. All set on that one, for sure
You take the high road…
Dangerous roads, rickety bridges, unpredictable mudslides? Just another day in the rainforest. The famed Yungas Pass – or “Death Road’ as it’s more commonly known – traverses Bolivia from central rainforests to the Andean Mountains. Popular with thrill-seekers and mountain bikers, the road is also a central artery for commerce and transportation. While new systems and improvements to the road have meant significant advances in safety, plenty of similarly dangerous roads exist in the far-flung rainforests of the world
Between towering waterfalls, two-way traffic, and precipitous drops, myriad dangers confronted drivers on the ‘Death Road.’ Luckily, some of those issues have been fixed. But not all. For the tens of thousands of tourists who visit annually, the danger is the draw. Add the lofty altitude and impaired decision-making to the mix and BOOM. So, before you think about snapping an epic selfie, remember to check both ways for traffic and mind the drop! These cliffs don’t make for ‘small’ accidents…
Let’s get Otter here
Because 70lbs. of fearsome furry aquatic mammal isn’t scary enough, imagine a pair – or even a pack – of these beasts prowling for dinner. In numbers, Giant River Otters have been known to take down animals like Caimans and Anaconda (more on those later.) Given to staying in groups, river otters are highly social and even vocalize to alert each other to threats… or to just to chat. Maybe these Mustelids aren’t so different from us? OK, maybe not
Sleek and purposeful, these guys have no time for nonsense. Just check out those paws! In more tender moments, they’re otterly adorable. Sorry, couldn’t resist. After learning more about them, it’s good to know they don’t attack people – unless protecting their even cuter baby otters. Still, human beings are the single greatest threat to their species. The devastation caused by logging, pesticides, and even seemingly innocent contact with people can wreak havoc on their populations and breeding cycles. So, the next time you see a Giant River Otter, just keep your distance!
Rainforests Have Fires, Too
Natural hazards in the rainforest are seemingly limitless. Sketchy animals, isolated locals, and extreme weather are all par for the course. Still, for some reason, most people forget the obvious danger all forests share. Fire. It can outrun a person and overtake square miles in a single bound. These conflagrations are fed by almost inexhaustible fuel sources. Notoriously tough to battle in the rainforest, access can be difficult if not impossible for Fire Crews. Thousands of fires a year break out in the dense canopy, sewing untold destruction. The devastation to biodiversity and the broader ecosystem can be profound
The rainforest is sometimes called “The lungs of the world.” The Amazon, however, has been susceptible to climate-fueled destruction. Often deliberately set by mining and timber interests, the fires have the intended effect of immense deforestation and displacement of Native Peoples. Indigenous People have long understood the cycle of fire and proper stewardship of the land, but these forest management experts seldom have the last say. Unfortunately, not everything lost in a fire can be regained. Some products now carry a Rainforest Safe certification, but some of these measures may be too little, too late
While people are people, and most Native Peoples are just like us, some differences do remain. Recent history is replete with dozens of examples of Amazon Tribespeople helping stranded tourists and adventurers, but it’s not always that easy. Some tribes are “uncontacted” and wish to stay that way. While you might be invited in for a meal, be careful about the nuance of breaking bread with others. Certain things may be new or surprising to you, and your hosts! Over the years, several missionaries and academics have even been killed while attempting to interact with uncontacted groups
However, it’s far from a typical occurrence. You’re much more likely to be welcomed in than shot at. But, it certainly helps to be respectful of customs and aware of the potential friction your presence may present. Pay attention to posted advisories and local signs, and just don’t be a jerk. Remember, take only memories and leave only footprints. You may have some indelible experiences while learning more about your own culture than you imagined
Look, But Don’t Touch…
When certain animals evolved natural defenses, they also evolved a handy warning system. In the case of venomous or poisonous animals, that often comes in the form of incredibly bright, iridescent colors and bold patterns. Basically, it’s a way of saying “HEY! Maybe don’t eat me?” Once they’ve got your attention, the message is pretty clear. Nothing that looks like that should be on the menu for lunch. The dart frog takes its name from (duh) the fact that Indigenous Peoples have used them for millennia to poison the tips of their darts and arrows. The frog’s toxins are nothing to sneeze at though, these hoppers are crazy deadly
Research has shown tremendous potential in utilizing these toxins for various medicines and therapies. Careful though, the frog itself is probably not the best snack. The cheery, colorful little amphibians don’t actually produce the toxins themselves. Rather, they are what they eat. In this case, what they eat is a bunch of poisonous bugs. Unusual in some other animals, dart frogs are mostly female. Remember that the next time you’re tempted to call one ‘lil’ guy”
Crocodile (No Dundee)
We’ve all got a guy like this at the office, right? Always trying to talk when you’re working. Some things you just accept as part of life. In much of the world, if you live in the rainforest or along a river, that may include giant Crocs. And no, we don’t mean the shoes. This nearly 8ft. long example can be seen having a small disagreement with a fisherman. As the fisherman tries to bring his catch onboard his canoe, a whole bunch of angry reptile has other plans in the matter
Mostly dangerous near to the shore where their advantage is greatest, crocodiles are fearsome predators. They inhabit much of the Amazon and a wide swath of, well, everything else. From golf courses in Florida to Australia, to just about anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere, where you find water: you’ll find crocs. Along with their other Caiman and Crocodilian cousins, they can sometimes look like they’re just off to work down at the office. Careful, though, they can also look like they’re about to chomp off a big chunk of whatever you put near them
Rare is never the word you want to hear when you’ve picked up some strange illness. Rare fungus feels even worse, for some reason. The risks of the rainforest aren’t limited to the big apex predators or forces of nature. Microscopic stuff is constantly trying to kill you, too. Case in point? Rare tropical fungi. They may look hecka sus on an agar plate in a lab, but that’s nothing compared to how sketch it can be to contract one of these fungal illnesses in the rainforest
Be it a simple skin infection, or a serious systemic threat to your life, fungi are probably a pretty lame vacation souvenir. “My parents went to the Amazon Rainforest and all I got was this life-threatening fungal infection” doesn’t really make for good t-shirt fodder. The place is called the rainforest for crying out loud. It stands to reason that with all that humidity, things can get a little bit moldy. Maybe not as terror-inducing as some of the other dangers the rainforest can throw at you, still, that’s a HARD pass…
Feed Me, Seymour
Basically, anything matching the description of ‘the size of a large dog and smelling of rotten meat’ is sure to provoke some less-than-pleasant feelings. In this case, the offending item is actually a massive parasitic flower – Rafflesia Micropylora. These otherworldly giants glom onto the roots of a host vine or other plant and basically suck the lifeblood out of ’em. Nothing creepy about that, right? Right! Alright, maybe just a little bit creepy
While this plant is definitely working those Little Shop of Horrors vibes, it’s actually not carnivorous. The rainforest is replete with plenty of plants that DO eat various living things, but somehow, this thing is creepier. Maybe it’s just the scale, maybe it’s that scent of rotting meat wafting up through the understory through the thick vegetation, but it doesn’t seem like the ideal candidate for that Valentine’s Day Bouquet. Unless you’re freaky like that. No shame
So Long, Suckerz!!
Oh no, Leeches!!! From medieval medicine to currently accepted practices, leeches have plenty of beneficial uses. For instance, they can scare the living daylights out of you and make you lose your lunch at the same time. Impressive! No one enjoys having a small parasite attached to their flesh, feeding on their blood. Instinctively repulsive, it’s not advisable to try your own at-home medical treatment modality with these hideous little bloodsuckers. Alien and viscerally gross, do your best to avoid becoming a host if you can…
Sadly, that’s not always possible. Opportunistic and reallllly good at their job, leeches will find you. Step into the river? BAM – leeches. They may not be as macro as Jaws, but maybe just as likely to foster those “Get out of the water” feelz. While they’re fairly easy to remove, be forewarned, it’s super, super gross. The natural anticoagulants they produce can be beneficial in nature and science, but it probably doesn’t feel so beneficial when they’re feasting on you. Still, no hate. Leeches gonna leech, right?
One BIG Kitty
Where does a 200lb. cat with massive, bone-crushing jaws and a fearsome visage sit? Wherever it wants, of course. Native to the Amazon, the jaguar is a fearsome and unique apex predator. Their principal hunting tactic is to bite clear through the heads of their prey. Soooo, best to leave them alone and undisturbed. Threatened by human development, their populations have declined in recent years. All the more reason to steer clear… even just based on the size of this skull and the teeth involved
Not all jaguars share those trademark spots and colorful fur. Due to a genetic variation, some jaguars have sleek black coloring. You may recognize them by their more common name, the Black Panther. This color morph is also present in their close kitty cousin, the leopard. Leopards are likewise found in rainforest climes. Easy to spot (Get it? Spot?) they share a serious case of sassy face with their amazonian fam. They’re a little more hardcore than your housecat, but they probably still love a little scratch on the chin. You know what? On second thought, maybe don’t try that…
My Anaconda Don’t Want None
At almost 20ft. long and 200lbs., this guy puts the NOPE in nope rope. Non-venomous constrictors, the anaconda is the undisputed heavyweight champion of snakes. Emerging from the primordial waters of the deep rainforest, the king-sized serpent spends most of its time in or near water. Pouncing only to strike at animals as large as deer, the anaconda is a boa constrictor. That means it kills by basically hugging the life out of you. Like that one grandma who always pinched your cheeks too hard, except not at all
Long a fixture of both Hollywood and your darkest fears, you’ve likely seen these gargantuan reptiles in pop culture. Featured prominently (obviously) in the 1997 film Anaconda, albeit a sliiiightly dramatized version. Herpetologists would tell you, the real anaconda is probably a bit less dramatic. Still, we can’t really figure out how that movie got FOUR sequels made. Legit. Four? Nicely played, anaconda!
More Like NOT Fly
Sometimes the most terrifying things can be the smallest. Take, for example, the botfly. Native to Central and South America, these unparalleled reasons to stay indoors lay their eggs in an ingenious fashion. The female botfly grabs onto a vector such as a mosquito and attaches the eggs to the mosquito. The mosquito then flies around looking for its next meal. That’s when one of the most disgusting things in nature beings to take place…
What happens next will make you wish you’d never heard of the botfly. Upon landing on a warm host, the mosquito digs in and goes right for the blood. The warmth from the host is the queue for those botfly eggs to hatch into botfly larvae. Botfly larvae are just so not OK. NOT COOL. The tiny larvae enter your skin through the hole left by the mosquito’s proboscis. It’s there that they grow into the size of a pinky finger, wiggling around in your flesh for – get ready for this – EIGHT WEEKS!! See, don’t you wish you’d never heard of botfly?
Just Stopped In For A Little Nip
Long the subject of lore, the piranha punches well above its weight. Reputed to devour people whole (anything is bite-sized if you’re hungry enough) their fearsome reputation is largely undeserved. Despite that epic set of chompers, the piranha is actually an omnivore. You’re more likely to find them snacking on some small fish or aquatic plants than trying to take down a full-sized crocodile
That’s not to say that attacks don’t happen. When hungry and stranded in shallow waters, the piranhas will nip at nearly anything. It’s best in those times to, you know, avoid shallow stagnant water teeming with piranhas. Did we really need to tell you that? While they have been known to eat entire cows in dire situations, apparently only desperate times call for desperate measures. People are much more likely to receive just a single, uh, love bite from these toothy little tetras. It might not feel like a love bite, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
Watch Your Step!
Most closely associated with humid, dense understory and enveloping canopy blocking nearly all light, the rainforest is a pretty dark and spooky place. Add to the mix: seemingly bottomless caverns. Oh, great! Combine the gloomy lighting with the natural hazards of sinkholes and volcanic caverns in several rainforest regions, things can quickly take a turn for the worse. While it’s advisable to look where you’re going in general, and especially in the rainforest, some (literal) pitfalls can be more serious than others
Limestone caverns, volcanic lava tubes, mud pits – the rainforest is replete with dozens of Indiana Jones-style options to ruin your whole day. There are also traps used by hunters and trappers that can literally ensnare you until sometime (or something) comes along. On the flip side, these natural wonders make for great caving and cave diving, driving tourism and creating jobs. One such system of caves was actually discovered when a local fell right into it and somehow emerged unscathed to tell the tale. Not only was he OK, but he’d made a startling and valuable discovery. Talk about luck!
Did You Say BIRDEATER?!?
Goliath Birdeater spiders are found in the rainforests of South America. How frequently are they found? Let’s just say, frequently enough. Garnering their terrifying moniker because, well… they freakin’ eat birds, people! Nearly a foot long, they’re eight feet of OMG that’s scary. These big creepie-crawly epicureans feast on small birds. How refined. How is that even possible?
With 1.5” fangs and the ability to shoot their sharp, spiny hairs when threatened, they’re best left alone. Probably pretty easy to pick up on those “don’t even talk to me” vibes when you’re face-to-face with a giant spider like that. They’ll do their best to avoid you and don’t frequently harm humans, but that’s not to say the psychological scars aren’t there. Yikes. You’ll probably want to just swipe left and next that thing
Reaching up to 10 FEET and over 400 pounds, the arapaima gigas or pirarucu fish is an incredible example of resilience. After pressures such as hunting and environmental issues drove their numbers into steep decline, a program was undertaken to restore the gigas population. The initiative has been so successful, the fish have experienced a population rebound. Restored and revitalized, the species is well and once again thriving in the amazon
The question is: should you be scared of them? The answer is not really. The giant Pirarucu means you no harm, but that doesn’t mean the sight of the prehistoric river monster won’t scare you half to death. Sometimes called dragon fish by locals, it’s clear to see why the mere specter of these unreal giants might be a tad bit spooky. Just a tad. We’re not scared, right? Why, are you scared?
What A Tangled Web (They) Weave
What you’re seeing in this picture isn’t an actual spider. Nuh-uh. It’s actually the remarkable facsimile of a spider built by the “Decoy Building Spider.” Must have been tough to come up with that name, right? Sometimes called trashline orbweavers, these little arachnids are master artists. By gathering little bits of random stuff and weaving it into their web, the orbweaver can sculpt a pretty realistic self-portrait likeness. Unlike guys on dating apps, they don’t embellish their size! Serious props
By leaving a perfect replica of themselves out in plain sight, it’s thought that predators go for the fake-out. This leaves the master web designers laughing all the way to the bank. Wait, do spiders even have banks? Do they visit their, umm, local branch? OK, sorry, sorry. We had to. With up to 300 orbweavers hatching at one time, you’ve gotta have those dad-jokes ready
Don’t Look Down
Throughout the rainforest, you’re likely to encounter some, well, less-than-ideal infrastructure. Sometimes the only means of crossing a river is by a rope bridge, vine bridge, or old cable car setup. These may be used daily by dozens of people in a given village, or, seldom traveled and in disrepair. It’s best to go with a knowledgeable local guide so you can tell one from the other. That’s still not 100% safe, but it’s the best way to save your hide and make it back to the airport in one piece
The fear factor is pretty major here. Travelers may still need to overcome their hesitation in order to cross these bridges. The key is – just pretend you’re somewhere else. Someplace solid. Someplace safe. Say, for instance, someplace that’s not swinging wildly over a treacherous river, deep in the rainforest. You know, anything not juddering erraaticly, creaking and groaning under your weight. That kinda place. Ahh, paradise!
PLEASE Tell Me That’s Photoshop?
No, it’s not photoshop. That’s the absolutely massive coconut crab, so-named for its diet staple of coconuts. You read that right – this thing can eat a coconut. They’ll also eat anything that (doesn’t) move. People have even been known to wake up having lost a few pounds the really hard way. That is just wayyyy too creepy. While the crabs themselves are considered a delicacy in some places, their numbers are scarce, their population is considered “vulnerable”
While found in other ecosystems, a population of coconut crabs inhabit the rainforests of Christmas Island. Researchers stipulate that the crabs represent the outward limit of the possible size members of their phylum can grow to. It kind of puts a dammper on all those sci-fi monsters. Theories have also been advanced accounting for the disappearance of Amelia Earhart by way of the hulking arthropods. Yep, they think the crabs ate her. What the actual…
Whale Of A Tale
OK, so this isn’t really a normal rainforest happening. But, amazingly, it DID happen! After a confluence of factors including a notably high tide, this absolutely enormous humpback whale was discovered in the amazon. How the majestic 10-ton marine mammal actually washed up so far from shore, however, remains a mystery. Can you imagine being the first to discover it and tell your friends about the leviathan? If George Washington himself told you he found a whale in the rainforest, you’d probably have some serious doubts, right?
While absolutely remarkable, this incident is a reminder of the power the forces of nature wield. This strange sighting of Biblical scale is also akin to other strange phenomena. During severe weather events, birds have been known to appear thousands (or even tens of thousands) of miles from their starting point, carried by winds. This method is even how some species end up in distant habitats and evolve separately. Still, this is one for the ages!
Law Of The Jungle
Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. It’s that simple. The main takeaway? Don’t get in the middle of two independently dangerous animals. Is it 2x as dangerous? 4x? Def. more than the sum of its super scary parts. Due to the interaction of various predators, the rainforest can be a place where you don’t want to get in the middle of whatever they’re up to. Worse than that couple you know who always argue at dinner, you’d be well advised to just avoid this pair in general. Yikes
Like any family dispute, it’s best to just stay out of it and pretend it’s not happening. Maybe put your headphones on, read that new e-book, and just act as-if. You should def. avoid eye contact, too. Basically any contact. New York City Subway rules apply. You know what? Just don’t even be there. Be as far away as you can. Maybe space. Space sounds good! We’re aware of aviation-related snake issues, but do leopards eat anacondas in space? Equally hard to imagine, let’s put this one right up there with Sharknados
It’s The Little Things That Get You…
Ubiquitous as they are unloved, the humble mosquito serves a vital purpose in nature. Namely, killing and sickening animals to ‘thin the herd.’ This can be particularly problematic when you are the herd. Oops. Carriers of countless viruses and other illnesses, mosquitos are omnipresent and infinitely dangerous. We all instinctively react to that hyper annoying high-pitched buzz. It may well be the worst sound on the planet
Malaria is a major risk of tropical travel, and rainforest mosquitos are known to be particularly virulent and aggressive. Bad combo, for sure. If you’ve ever seen a bug net over a bed in the movies but never used one, just imagine hordes of bloodthirsty little buggers trying to get at your jugular as you listlessly try to sleep, almost drowning in the thick, humid air. Sounds like a party, right? Yeah, nah. You’re likely to sleep worse than you do before that big calculus final
Why Do They Call It A Rainforest?
Sometimes the obvious danger isn’t so obvious. Or is it? Well, in this case, it’s right there in the name! Defined by their high annual rainfall and thick vegetation, rainforests are a unique and spectacular ecosystem. One of the major risks in a rainy climate is, surprise surprise, RAIN. Rendering roads muddy tributaries and soaking travelers to the bone, those little droplets of water are just getting started…
Increased susceptibility to illness, fungal infections (gross), and severe foot maceration – also known as trench foot – highlight just a few of the dangers rain can pose in the rainforest. Add to that: landslides, mosquito clouds, and hypothermia, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The hierarchy of survival dictates shelter is the most crucial element. Nowhere is this more true than in the rainforest during a major storm event. With some regions receiving over 100” of rain per year, the odds of a good weather day are not in your favor
Like Getting Shot
The bullet ant is not the sort you want turning up to your picnic. Ranked on some indexes as the most painful sting in the animal kingdom, it’s frequently likened to the pain of a gunshot. The tiny insects release a frighteningly powerful neurotoxin when biting, which causes immense pain and renders the victim basically helpless. Well, that part was pretty obvious. Less obvious are the strange and psychedelic uses of the ants’ rather particular talent
Some people in the amazon make use of the ants’ mighty sting to initiate new warriors into the tribe. Sort of a version of other traditional rites of passage, this instance is considerably more painful than school picture day. First, ants are placed in makeshift gloves. Then, the young initiates have their hands placed inside the gloves to be stung. Multiple, multiple, multiple times. For minutes on-end. Oh yeah, and then the process is repeated several times. That’s enough to make a warrior out of anyone!