Adventures in Brazil’s Pantanal Region

By: Heather Farrington, Curator of Zoology

Have you ever wondered what our curators do on vacation? Are we true nerds at heart and spend our vacations doing something related to our fields – visiting museums, libraries, archives, digging up fossils, exploring nature, or visiting historical and cultural sites? Or do you picture us at an all-inclusive resort sipping drinks and strolling along the beach? Or maybe at Disney World? Or maybe as home-bodies that like to just stay local?

I can’t answer for the other curators, but my favorite thing to do IS related to my field. I love to explore new ecosystems and see exotic animals in their natural habitats. In the fall of 2019, I was invited to join an ecotour (focused primarily on birding) of Brazil’s Pantanal region. The Pantanal is South America’s largest tropical wetland – something similar to the Florida Everglades. The area is highlighted in green on the map.

This region is famous for its biodiversity, including species like hyacinth macaws, jaguars, anacondas, anteaters, and giant river otters. The region has wet and dry seasons. During the rainy season (November-March), much of the land area floods for several months. While walking along on land during the dry season, you can often see the evidence of this seasonal flooding – shells, fish skeletons, crabs, and remains of other aquatic life litter the ground. As flood waters recede, these organisms are left stranded and make an easy meal for birds and mammals. There is still plenty of water around during the dry season as several river systems converge in the region, and the lowest-lying areas retain water year-round.

So, what did I see on my trip? I got to see over 300 species of birds including toucans, macaws, hummingbirds, and hawks. I also saw dozens of mammal, reptile, and amphibian species. Here are just a few of the critters I had close encounters with:

Hyacinth macaws feeding… and a jabiru (a type of stork)

A yellow anaconda… and capybara (the largest rodent species in the world!)

Caiman… and jaguars (the largest cat species in the Americas)

Interested in seeing more? Check out a few of my short videos from the trip.
1) Jaguar on the move
2) Giant river otter eating
3) Rhea (large flightless bird similar to an ostrich) with chicks

Interested in learning more about the Pantanal? Check out the New World Encyclopedia entry for the region (, including geography, biodiversity stats, and conservation threats. There’s also no shortage of amazing photos from the area online. Enjoy!

Posted in Zoology.