Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when one hears the words Brazil and reptiles together in the same sentence is anacondas. Hero of trashy Amazonian terror movies, the anaconda does indeed live up to its fearful reputation. Adults can grow to well over 10 meters (33 feet) in length, and many live to be more than 20 years old. When it comes time to mate, a bunch of males wind themselves around a female for several weeks, after which the female shows her appreciation by eating one or two of her partners.
Due to their size, anacondas have no predators (aside from humans in search of snakeskin), but they aren’t shy about wrapping themselves around large prey and squeezing them to death before swallowing them whole (this includes people, although very rarely).
At home on dry land and in water, anacondas are common in the Amazon and the Pantanal. Other constrictors (known as jiboias) are considerably smaller (3–5 meters, 10–16 feet) and limit their crushing and feasting to small animals. While it’s rare to come across poisonous cobras (snakes), which usually only attack when threatened, there are quite a few of such varieties including víboras (vipers), cascavéis (rattlesnakes), and cobras coral (coral snakes).
Brazil possesses several species of jacarés (the term used for both alligators and caimans). In the Pantanal, you’ll encounter jacarés-do-Pantanal (Paraguayan caiman) everywhere (and probably even eat a couple as well—if you’re up to it, the meat is surprisingly tender). The Amazon’s tributaries are also overflowing with reptiles. The largest, but quite rare, is the jacaré açu, or black caiman, which grows to lengths of 6 meters (20 feet). Much more common is the smaller jacaré tinga (spectacled caiman).
Along the Atlantic coast, five species of formerly endangered tartarugas marinhas (sea turtles) are now thriving thanks to the creation of Projeto Tamar, a national project aimed at saving the turtles from humans who once hunted them for their shells and eggs. Today, in many seaside communities, locals help scientists monitor the reptiles (some of whom live to be over 100 years of age) at research stations situated all along the coast from Ceará to São Paulo.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition