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Venezuela: Llanos: Searching for the Capybara
This week I trekked to Venezuela, South America, to the huge, grassy plain called the Llanos. Here you find the last real cowboys, so naturally I rode a horse -- which really helped when I spotted a giant anaconda by a river!
The Giant Anaconda The giant anaconda, or water boa, is the longest snake in South America, from 10 to 25 feet long. (The one I grabbed was a bit smaller.) It coils by the shore, waiting for prey. Then it leaps, hooks its fangs into its victim's neck, squeezes the animal to death, and swallows the body whole!
Behind the Scenes: You won't see it on TV, but that giant anaconda bit my hand. It snagged me right near my thumb. The river was so murky, I was sure the bite would get infected. Sure enough, I woke that night with my thumb throbbing! But I'm okay now.
FEATURE CREATURE
This week's Feature Creature is the largest rodent in the world: the capybara. With the head of a rat and the body of a guinea pig, it's called the "master of the grasses" -- and I came to this grassland to find it.
Every year, the plain gets flooded by streams that overrun their banks. But now the hot sun has made much of the water evaporate. I traveled from shrinking water hole to water hole in search of the capybara.
Behind the scenes: I love to ride horses. But at the start of my adventure, as I raced after the anaconda, I rode right under a tree -- and got bonked by a limb!
I got a quick surprise when I accidentally woke up a prehensile-tailed porcupine. The porcupine uses its tail as a fifth limb, and its quills make it one animal you don't want to bump into. This porcupine is actually related to the capybara since it is also a rodent. The Porcupine
The Giant River Otter I also spotted an animal that looks like a cute land seal: the giant river otter. But its look is deceptive -- it can reach six feet, and it's a powerful carnivore!
The shrinking water holes attract a lot of birds. Why? Because the fish are forced to get closer and closer together, making for an easy lunch! I also saw birds that weren't after fish. The scarlet ibis uses its bill to hunt for crustaceans in the mud. In fact, the reason the ibis is such a rosy red is because it eats so many shrimp.
Behind the Scenes: We had trouble finding hungry piranha. But when we heard a local dog yelping -- it had been nipped in the water -- we knew we had found some hungry fish. I dangled a chicken in the water, and the piranha picked it clean! Jeff Corwin
Mata-Mata Turtle Then I spotted a mata-mata turtle. Its nose is like a snorkel. Mata-mata means kill-kill, which perhaps refers to the turtle's clever way of hunting. It digs into the muck underwater, and when prey swims nearby, the big turtle literally vacuums it in!
Though I'm surrounded by wildlife, this prairie provides a great food source for cattle, and with cattle come ... cowboys! At night, they build campfires and sing songs, accompanying themselves on four-fingered guitars called "quatros."
One morning I was about to bathe in the river when I saw dozens of spectacled caimans, big crocodilians related to the American alligator. My bath could wait! These big reptiles can grow to six feet in size -- but they can still be beaten by the giant sea otter. The Spectacled Caiman
Finally, I found a fresh clue to our Feature Creature: some "scat," or droppings, from the capybara. A bit farther into the plain, I saw a whole herd. These animals can grow to 100 pounds. A really big male can reach 200 pounds!
The Capybara I got closer and noticed the large lumps on the males' snouts. This lump contains a gland that the male capybara uses to mark its territory. I also got a look at its powerful incisors -- the sharp front teeth.
    --Totally wild,
Jeff
 
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