A-z - Animals

Amazon Pufferfish (Pink Dolphin)

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The Amazon pink puffer is the largest and smartest of the freshwater dolphins.

Amazon river dolphin pink dolphin 1

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The Amazon puffer (also known as the pink dolphin and portos) is a freshwater animal and a species of toothed whale. It lives in the Amazon, Orinoco, and Aragua rivers in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela, and Peru. Pufferfish are smaller than saltwater dolphins, and this species has excellent hearing. Pink dolphins must live in warm shallow water because they have very little fat. Pufferfish suffer in captivity, and few aquariums are able to keep them alive.

5 Unbelievable Facts

Also known as the pink dolphin: There are many competing theories as to why Amazon river dolphins tend to become more pink as they age. Read on below!
Largest species of pufferfish: Pufferfish also live in China and the Indian subcontinent, but the Amazon pufferfish is the largest species. Males are 50 percent larger than females and can weigh more than 450 pounds.
Not one, but three? : Scientists are currently divided on whether the Amazon river dolphin is actually one, two or three different species. To learn more about this ongoing debate, read the Species section below!
Different body from ocean dolphins: Unlike ocean-dwelling dolphins, pink dolphins have a hump instead of a dorsal fin.

Upside-down swimmers: Amazon river dolphins often swim upside down. It is believed that the humps on their backs rub against the river bottom to help them find their prey.

scientific name and history

Also known as Poto or Pink Dolphin, the Amazon River Dolphin has the scientific name Inia Geoffrensis .

The animal's common name comes from where it often makes its home and from its skin color. The name Boto is a name used by the locals. Also a popular figure in South American mythology. According to legend, the pink dolphin has amazing musical skills and is enchanting and moving. They also like to party. Some myths claim that dolphins can transform into human form and have magical abilities.

puffer fish jumping out of the water

Freshwater dolphins belong to the class Mammalia. In addition to the Amazon river dolphin, there are five extant species: the Turcusi river dolphin, the Ganga river dolphin, the Irrawaddy river dolphin, the Indian river dolphin and the Yangtze river dolphin.

It's unclear how or when the dolphin entered the Amazon Basin, but it likely entered during the Miocene period, from the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean before the formation of the Andes.


There is considerable debate in the scientific community about whether Amazon puffer dolphins are actually one, two, and possibly three different species.

In 2014, Brazilian scientists published a study in the journal Plot One saying that the puffer fish in the Araguaia River is a unique species: the Aragua puffer fish ( I. araguaiaensis ). Also, there is considerable debate about whether the puffer fish that live in Bolivia are a distinct species.

As of 2020, the IUCN recognizes three subspecies: the Amazon river dolphin ( I. g. geoffrensis ), the Bolivian river dolphin ( I. g. boliviensis ) and the Orinoco river dolphin ( I. g. humboldtiana ).

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appearance and behavior

Pink puffer fish have a distinctive dolphin smile. They have round foreheads and slender beaks.

pink dolphin in water
pink dolphin in water


While other river dolphin species—such as the Ganges river dolphin—have dimorphism in which females outnumber males, the opposite is true for Amazonian river dolphins. Males can grow up to 50 percent larger than females, weighing more than 400 pounds (180 kilograms).

The animal has conical teeth that are used to catch small fish and other prey. The puffer fish's nose is very long, up to 23 inches long, about four times as long as that of a dolphin. Pufferfish have a two-chambered stomach, and they breathe by ejecting air through stomata.

Pink dolphins swim with great precision. Because puffer fish are so agile, they can maneuver around rocks, tree trunks and other objects. They are also able to swim forward using one flipper while paddling backward with the other. This method of swimming allows them to make sharp turns. Puffer fish also like to swim upside down.

amazon puffer fish
Pink dolphins swim in groups, are friendly and curious, and often interact with humans.

© iStock.com/Michel Viard

Pufferfish have particularly large brains, and while dolphins are known to swim in groups, pufferfish tend to spend more time alone or with small groups of two to four dolphins. You may see larger groups in areas where food is plentiful, but fugu are rare.

Amazon dolphins have no dorsal fin. Instead, it has a modified hump. The animal uses its strong flippers and tail claws to navigate rivers and flooded areas. Pink dolphins are slow swimmers compared to oceanic dolphins. Their top speed is about 35 miles per hour. The reason is that their cervical vertebrae are not fused. This gives them more flexibility, but it means they can't swim as fast. Pufferfish are able to turn their heads without moving their bodies.

Pufferfish have unique ear adaptations that help them survive in watery environments. Dolphins hear sounds from their throats rather than from the outer ear to the inner ear. The animal's ears are also acoustically separated from its head. What separates these two body parts is the sinus pocket. This combination gave the animals enhanced directional hearing underwater. Dolphins use an organ called a melon to make high-frequency clicking sounds. This allows them to produce biosonar. They use it to position themselves.

Dolphins rely on echolocation. The animal is so good at using echolocation that pufferfish can survive blindness. Echolocation allows animals to determine the size and shape of anything or objects around them. Puffer fish have small eyes and poor eyesight. Also, their eyes are on the sides of the head. This means their vision has two separate views instead of the forward view that people see.

Researchers believe that some types of pink dolphins are blind, while others just have extremely poor eyesight. Like their saltwater cousins, these dolphins are friendly and curious about humans. Given their eyesight, this can be a problem: Many animals die from inadvertent contact with fishing nets and fishing boats.

Pink Dolphins: Why Amazon River Dolphins Are Also Called 'Pink Dolphins '

One of the distinguishing features of Amazon pufferfish is that they often turn pink. Scientists are still figuring out what causes this unique color, but a few theories stand out.

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The pink color of Amazon pufferfish may be due to scar tissue or camouflage.

©Ivan Sgualdini/Shutterstock.com

  • Fighting: While not aggressive towards humans, Amazonian pink river dolphins often fight each other and leave behind large amounts of scar tissue. Presumably, this scar tissue turns pink, which is why older men tend to have the most distinctive shades of pink.
  • Camouflage: The Amazon pink river dolphin lives in rivers along the Amazon rainforest that are often flooded by heavy rainfall. Such high rainfall has caused the muddy river bottom to turn red/pink. The Amazon pink river dolphin may have simply evolved to better blend in with its surroundings.

It's worth noting that most Amazonian puffer dolphins are born a shade of gray, while males tend to become more pink as they age. Also, this pink color usually covers part of their body, while the gray areas remain. Presumably, males with more pink color are more attractive to mates.


The Amazon pink river dolphin lives in freshwater areas, including lakes, large rivers, and small tributaries. Because the Amazon River is fed by large areas of rainforest, it floods its banks for a long time every year. During this time, the Amazon pink river dolphin will expand in the vast inland sea formed by the floodplain.

You'll find them in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela, and Peru. The Amazon pink river dolphin also lives in the channels of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, as well as the Araguaia river.


The teeth of the Amazon pufferfish are similar to human molars. Like humans, animals use their teeth to break up food before swallowing it. Puffer fish are not picky about what they eat. These mammals will feed on turtles, shrimp, crabs and more than 40 different fish species including piranhas.

Predators and Threats

Animals that prey on pufferfish include large snakes, jaguars and caimans. However, once the species passes puberty, their natural enemies are few.

Human development and agriculture have had a major impact on the puffer's habitat. These activities affect the ecology of the waterways. Human fishing is also threatening the species. Overfishing is a problem because it reduces the animal's food supply. Dolphins are also caught in nets.

Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis).
Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis).

© wasanajai/Shutterstock.com

Pollution is another threat facing Amazon river dolphins. Mercury contamination from small-scale gold mining operations enters dolphins through the food chain. Pufferfish eat a lot of catfish that inhabit the bottom of waterways where mercury usually accumulates.

The Amazon river dolphin is endangered. The Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources has taken steps to protect the dolphin species. They made it illegal for fishermen to kill dolphins.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

In South America, spring is the rainy season. During this time, swathes of tropical rainforest flooded and turned into a giant tree-covered sea. The water gets deep enough that puffer fish can swim among the trees. Mating season occurs when the water recedes and male and female dolphins are confined to the channel. Dolphins are polygamous, meaning the male mates with several females each year. However, females do not mate every year. They mate every two to three years.

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Female pufferfish are more attracted to pink males. To impress females, male pufferfish will slap the water's surface with grass or twigs in their mouths. Sometimes, they will hold up a turtle to attract the female's attention. When a female pufferfish becomes pregnant, she carries a calf for 11 to 15 months. This animal gives birth to only one calf. After a baby dolphin is born, it will nurse for more than a year. A baby dolphin is usually about 30 inches long and weighs about 22 pounds. Adult female dolphins usually give birth between July and September. Once they are born, babies move close to their mothers for protection.

Sexual maturity depends on the size of the dolphin. When a female reaches 5.5 feet in length, she is sexually mature. Males can take the stage once they reach 7 feet. In the wild, puffer fish live an average of 12 to 18 years, but they can live up to 30 years.


Amazon river dolphin numbers are hard to estimate because the dolphins live in remote, muddy waters and don't have the distinctive dorsal fin that makes them easier to spot. Despite this, the population is thought to be over 10,000.

However, puffer fish are under threat. For example, the population of aragua puffer dolphins ranges from 600 to 1,500 individuals.

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Amazon puffer dolphins are carnivores. They only eat meat.

Most dolphin species sleep by resting one hemisphere of the brain in so-called slow-wave sleep. In this state, they are alert enough to keep breathing and keep an eye out for predators. Indian puffer dolphins sleep differently. Because the animals live in waters with strong currents and lots of floating debris, dolphins must be vigilant to avoid injury. To be safe, dolphins sleep for anywhere from 4 to 60 seconds.

some are. Amazon puffer dolphins are born gray and turn pink to varying degrees throughout their lives. Males tend to become especially pink as they age. This pink color is thought to be the result of their aggressive behavior, with other males' teeth marks causing pink scar tissue that eventually covers most of their bodies.

The Amazon puffer dolphin (pink dolphin) belongs to the animal kingdom.

The Amazon pufferfish (pink dolphin) belongs to the phylum Chordate.

The Amazon pufferfish (pink dolphin) belongs to the class Mammalia.

The Amazon pufferfish (Pink dolphin) belongs to the family Platanistoidea.

Amazon puffer dolphins (pink dolphins) belong to the order of cetaceans.

The Amazon puffer dolphin (Pink dolphin) belongs to the genus Platanistidae.

The Amazon pufferfish (pink dolphin) is covered with smooth skin.

Amazon river dolphins (pink dolphins) live in large tropical rivers and estuaries.

Amazon puffer dolphins (pink dolphins) prey on fish, shrimp and frogs.

Predators of the Amazon puffer dolphin (pink dolphin) include humans.

The average litter size for Amazon puffer dolphins (pink dolphins) is 1.

The scientific name of the Amazon river dolphin (pink dolphin) is Platanistoidea.

Amazon puffer dolphins (pink dolphins) can live up to 12 to 18 years.

Amazon puffer dolphins (pink dolphins) can swim at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour.