In 1542, Francisco de Orellana, a Spanish conquistador, became the first European to travel the length of the Amazon River. Along the way, he and his men ran into a tribe of fierce women warriors. Recalling the Greek myth of warrior women they named the entire river "Amazonas." Located in the Amazon of Brazil is the world’s largest rainforest.
To be classified as a rainforest the treetops of the forest must touch and create a shaded interior under a closed canopy. Forests that meet these criteria are found along the equator in South and Central America, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Rainforest are woodlands characterized by lush vegetation, high temperatures, and heavy rainfall throughout the year.
Although they account for less than seven percent of the land surface on Earth, they contain more than 50 percent of its plant and animal species and are the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystems. The largest rainforest in the world covers 40 percent of the country of Brazil receives over nine feet of rainfall a year and is found in the Amazon River Basin. The Amazon rainforest includes tall trees, woody vines, plants that grow by attaching themselves to other plants and is home to monkeys of many species, a diverse population of birds, reptiles and amphibians. It is estimated that 1,635 species of birds, 502 species of amphibians, 1000 species of freshwater fish and 100,000 species of invertebrates and insects are found in Brazil. These numbers will increase as more scientific exploration takes place in the largely unexplored rainforests.
Although human population in this area is sparse due to the thick vegetation and oppressively hot and humid climate, human activity threatens the rainforest’s abundant plant and animal life. Ever since the European settlers arrived, the vegetation cover has been removed as the land has been cleared for farming and settlements. In the 1970s, more people and industry moved into the Amazon rainforest. Clearing land for agriculture and felling trees for timber reduced the habitats of wildlife. Increased development in the rainforest is threatening the future of one of earth’s most valuable resources.