Boto (Inia geoffrensis)

Boto, the Pink River Dolphin

Young ladies and young men, beware! You are about to meet a sea creature who is seat to become a handsome man who seduces the young ladies, or a beautiful young woman who leads young men into the water. Those who come into its clutches are drowned and their spirits become dolphins. The natives believed strongly that this dolphin-like creature is an omen of bad luck. They refused to burn its fat in their lamps for fear that looking at the light would cause them to go blind.

The Boto is the largest of all river dolphins. It can weigh up to 180 kg. This freshwater mammal makes its home in deep portions of rivers near sandbars and other natural formations that cause a pool of deep water to form. During the flood season, the Boto will move into the mainstream to enjoy the deeper-than-normal river flow. This dolphin can be found throughout rivers and streams of the Amazon.

The Boto breathes through a spout located at the top of its head. It must surface one to two times every minute. The slow-moving mammal’s head can turn in every direction. This helps to make up for the loss of downward vision caused by cheeks that bulge beneath their small eyes. Its amazing flexibility allows it to swim around trees and brush through the forests that flood during the rainy season.

Over fifty fish are on Boto’s list of most favorite foods. It wouldn’t be considered a picky eater! Its fishy diet changes with the seasons and the fish available during them.

The river cycle governs much of the lifestyles of its wildlife. Botos are no exception. Their mating season follows the patterns, and the birth of new baby dolphins comes early in the dry season. Females will bear one calf every four or five years. It will take more than one full year for the calf to fully develop into an adult Boto, Hydroelectric developments are the Boto’s greatest threat in the wild. Dams cause major changes in the river flow, which in turn disturb the natural build of sandbars that Botos depend on for proper water depth. They also affect the natural fish reproduction cycles. The Boto depends on these fish for its food source. Although these elements cause problems for the river dolphins, they have a greater survival rate than many of their cousins.

Physical characteristics and unique features

One of the most striking features of the Boto is its vibrant pink coloration, which distinguishes it from other marine mammals. The shade of pink can vary from light to deep, and is particularly vivid in adult males. This distinctive hue is a result of the dolphin’s blood vessels being located close to the skin’s surface, giving it a rosy appearance.

In terms of size, the Boto is considered one of the largest freshwater dolphins in the world. Adult males can reach lengths of up to 8 feet and weigh around 400 pounds, while females are slightly smaller. Their bodies are sleek and streamlined, allowing them to navigate through the dense vegetation and shallow waters of the Amazon basin with ease.

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One of the most unique features of the Boto is its long, slender snout or rostrum. This elongated structure is equipped with numerous small, sharp teeth that are well-suited for capturing their prey. The Boto is a carnivorous predator, primarily feeding on fish and crustaceans found in the river. Its ability to maneuver swiftly and accurately in the water is facilitated by its muscular body and powerful tail.

Another fascinating aspect of the Boto is its intelligence and social behavior. They are highly social animals and often travel in small groups or pods. These pods consist of females, their offspring, and sometimes a dominant male. Botos are known for their playful nature, frequently engaging in acrobatic displays, such as leaping out of the water or performing flips.


The Pink River Dolphins have a vast distribution across the Amazon River and its surrounding areas. They can be found in various countries, including Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, where the extensive network of rivers and flooded forests offers the perfect environment for their survival.

One of the distinctive features of the Pink River Dolphin’s habitat is its preference for blackwater rivers. These rivers have a dark, tea-colored appearance due to the high concentration of dissolved organic matter from decaying plant material. The dolphins are well-adapted to thrive in these unique freshwater ecosystems, which are characterized by low visibility and an abundance of fish and other aquatic prey.

These dolphins are highly adaptable and can navigate through a range of habitats within the Amazon Basin, including river channels, oxbow lakes, flooded forests, and even seasonally inundated areas. They are particularly fond of areas with dense vegetation, where they can find ample food sources and seek shelter.

Due to their wide distribution, the Pink River Dolphins can be encountered in different parts of the Amazon River system, from the main river itself to its tributaries and even smaller lakes and lagoons connected to the main waterways. However, they are more commonly sighted in the central and lower Amazon regions, where the river’s flow is slower, and the forested environment provides ideal conditions for their existence.

Social behavior and intelligence

Botos are known to live in small groups, typically consisting of about three to ten individuals, although larger groups have been observed as well. Within these groups, they display a strong bond and engage in cooperative behaviors. They often work together to hunt for food, protect their territory, and care for their young.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Boto’s social behavior is its ability to form lasting friendships and alliances. They establish strong social bonds with other individuals, forming pairs or trios that can last for years. These alliances are crucial for their survival, as they rely on cooperation and mutual support to navigate the challenging environment of the Amazon River.

In addition to their social behavior, Botos are known for their intelligence. They have large brains relative to their body size, and studies have shown that they possess advanced cognitive abilities. They are capable of problem-solving, learning from experience, and even using tools in certain situations.

Their intelligence is particularly evident in their communication skills. Botos use a complex system of vocalizations to communicate with each other, including whistles, clicks, and body movements. These vocalizations are not only used for basic communication but also for echolocation, allowing them to navigate and find prey in the murky waters of the Amazon.

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Cultural significance and mythology

In many indigenous beliefs, the Boto is thought to possess supernatural powers and the ability to transform into a handsome human being, often described as a charming young man who lures unsuspecting individuals into the depths of the river. Legends tell of romantic encounters between the Boto and humans, resulting in half-human, half-dolphin offspring known as encantados.

According to folklore, the Boto is believed to be an enchanted creature that emerges from the depths of the river during the night, taking on its dolphin form. It is said that during festivals and celebrations, the Boto may appear in human form, dressed in white clothing and wearing a hat to disguise its blowhole. It is believed that dancing with the Boto can bring luck, fertility, and prosperity to the community.

The Boto’s cultural significance extends beyond mythology as well. In some indigenous communities, the Boto is considered a guardian spirit, symbolizing abundance, protection, and healing. Its presence is often associated with the abundance of fish in the river, which sustains the livelihoods of the local communities.

Feeding habits and diet

Unlike their marine counterparts, the Pink River Dolphins are strictly freshwater creatures, thriving in the murky waters of the Amazon basin. Their diet primarily consists of fish, which makes up a significant portion of their daily intake. These dolphins have a varied palate and are known to consume a wide range of fish species, including piranhas, catfish, and small crustaceans.

One interesting aspect of their feeding behavior is their ability to navigate through the dense vegetation and flooded forests of the Amazon. This is made possible by their flexible necks and elongated snouts, which are well-suited for maneuvering through narrow channels and capturing prey hidden among the submerged vegetation.

In addition to fish, Botos have been observed feeding on other aquatic creatures such as turtles, crabs, and even river turtles. Their hunting style is quite unique, as they use echolocation to locate prey in the murky waters. This ability allows them to detect the presence of fish and other prey items by emitting high-frequency clicks and listening for the echoes that bounce back.

Did you know?

Botos are very curious creatures. They enjoy grabbing boaters’ paddles and playing with swimmers.

Dynamiters found a creative way to save the lives of many Botos. A shipload of fish was slowly moved downriver (far enough away from the dynamite site to be safe). The dolphins followed the boat and went unscathed when the blast occurred.


We hope you thoroughly enjoyed learning about the mesmerizing Boto, the pink river dolphin of the Amazon. These unique creatures have captivated the hearts and minds of many with their stunning pink color and intriguing behaviors. From their social dynamics to their impressive sonar abilities, the Boto truly is a fascinating species. As you reflect on the wonders of the Amazon and its incredible biodiversity, we encourage you to spread awareness about the conservation efforts that are crucial for protecting these enchanting creatures and their habitat. Let us work together to ensure the survival and thriving of the magnificent Boto for generations to come.


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