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Brazil's biodiversity is a wonder to behold. The country itself occupies nearly half the South American continent, and Brazil's Amazon rain forest alone is larger than India. Its distinct ecosystems—the Pantanal wetlands in the center-west, the Pampas temperate grasslands in the south, the Mata Atlântica tropical deciduous forest along the Atlantic coast, the cerrado savanna in the heart of the country, the caatinga tropical scrublands in the northeast, and the Amazon rain forest in the north—contain more than 100,000 animal species and roughly 45,000 plant species. According to the Brazilian government, some 700 new animals are discovered in the country each year. A new plant species is unearthed every two days.

Anaconda: The only contact that tourists most likely will have with this nocturnal snake is through the local's hyperbolic stories about its mammoth size. Tall tales of giant anacondas abound, and for good reason. The green anaconda is the world's heaviest snake, and also one of the longest, sometimes growing up to 16 feet. Anacondas lurk in the waters of the Amazon rain forest, although they rarely make their large presence known.

Capybara: The world's largest rodent, this scurrying beaver-like creature with a narrow head and rotund behind is prevalent in the Pantanal and Rio de Janeiro's parks.

Giant Anteater: This bushy-tailed creature with outsized claws and an undersized snout and head was once found in all Brazilian states; it has since become extinct in populous states like Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo, but is well represented in the Pantanal and Amazon area. The giant anteater digs up ants and termites with its claws and then laps them up with its long, sticky tongue.

Jaguar: This elegant big cat is one of the most alluring and elusive animals in Brazil. The largest feline species in the Americas, the jaguar is recognizable by its golden fur and scattered black spots. Often solitary, they prowl about Brazil's Amazon region in search of prey, and are particularly adept at remaining in the jungle's shadows.

Pink dolphin: Tourists will likely spot these playful creatures during cruises along the Amazon River. The pink river dolphin, or boto, is an exclusively freshwater mammal with sharp rows of teeth on each side of its jaw. These animals catch fish by using echolocation, or sonar, and are particularly adept at prying fish out of the Amazon River's murky vegetation. In local lore, pink river dolphins can take human form as handsome men and seduce beautiful women.

Piranhas: These sharp-toothed freshwater fish are the stuff of legend. Visitors undoubtedly have heard unfounded tales of how piranhas can devour cows in seconds. Most jungle excursions include stops along the Amazon River to fish for piranhas, most likely to eat that night for dinner.

Tapir: This hefty mammal looks like a pig or a small rhino with a characteristically curved snout. Surprisingly exceptional swimmers, tapirs in Brazil largely live close to the river in the Amazon rain forest.

Three-banded armadillo: The official mascot of the 2014 World Cup, the three-banded armadillo resides in the savanna and tropical scrublands. It's most renowned for its ability to roll up into a perfectly spherical, scaly ball.

Toco Toucan: Unmistakable for its large, orange beak, this black-and-white bird can be seen in Brazil's cerrado and Pantanal, and even in Brasília, an unexpected site among its traffic jams and concrete. Perhaps the country's most emblematic animal, the toco toucan uses its distinctive bill to snatch fruit from trees.

Updated: 2013-09-18

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