The wildlife of South America includes a vast variety of species. Some are endangered, exotic or a common sight, but all are worth learning about. You may see some on your travels in South America; others you might see only in photos or in captivity.
Alpacas (Lama pacos)
The alpaca is now raised as a domesticated animal for its long, lustrous fleece, ranging from black, through shades of brown, to white. This fleece is used for fine textiles and was once reserved only for high-ranking Incas. Flocks of alpaca are kept by indigenous people in the highlands of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. They feed on grasses growing close to the snow line, and they require a pure water supply.
Alpacas stand about 1 m (3 ft) tall at the shoulder with neck and head another 60 cm (2 ft). They are smaller than llamas and are not used to transport loads. They prefer to live in herds and are generally gentle, but can kick and spit when threatened.
Their meat is considered a delicacy, but alpacas are now protected by the Peruvian government.
Infant Howler Monkey -
Infants of both sexes are born with a golden coat, which changes as the animal matures. Females care for their young for about 12 months after they are born, but adult males are not allowed near them since they have a habit of killing their young.
"The marine iguana is found on the volcanic islands of the Galapagos. Many of the islands have steep rock cliffs, low rock ledges, and intertidal flats. A. cristatus needs access to the ocean and a sandy area to lay eggs. They evolved in a habitat that is limited in predators. On Santa Fe, an island in the Galapagos the predator are hawks, short-eared owls, snakes, hawk-fish, and crabs. With so few natural predators the marine iguana is very vulnerable to feral predators such as rats, dogs, and cats."
Black Howler Monkey - Alouatta caraya
Adult male black howler monkeys are covered in black hair, yet their faces are nearly hairless.
Howler monkeys have enlarged hyoid and larynx housing the vocal apparatus where the distinctive howling originates.
Female black howler monkeys have yellow-brown or olive colored hair, while males have black hair. Infants are born with a golden coat, which changes as the animal matures. They have long, strong prehensile tails which are useful since they rarely come down from the trees.
Alouatta caraya are found in the rainforests of central South America ranging through eastern Bolivia, southern Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina. Their habit of howling in the morning is thought to be a way of marking their territory.
Guanacos "stand at 1,100 to 1,200mm at the shoulder and have slender bodies with long limbs and neck. The head is typical of camelids with long, pointed ears and cleft, highly mobile lips. Their fur can be long, thick and wooly, especially along the flanks, chest, and thighs. It is reddish-brown dorsally, and the underparts are white."
Guanacos have long been hunted for their meat and fur. They are believed to be the ancestor of the now domesticated llamas and alpacas. In addition to decreasing numbers due to hunting and climatic changes, guanacos when young are vulnerable to pumas, but the reduction in the puma populations has lead to mortality due to starvation.
Inhabiting grasslands and shrublands from sea level to 4,000m, guanacos, also spelled huanacos, are found from southern Peru down the Andean zone of Chile and Argentina, western Paraguay to Tierra del Fuego and Navarino Island.
Guanacos are herbivores that can inhabit dry areas and forego drinking for long periods. They are versatile foragers, both browsing, and grazing on grasses and plants.
Green Sea Turtle - Chelonia mydas
"Green turtles live in warm tropical waters from New England to South Africa and in the Pacific from Western Africa to the Americas.
They are called green turtles because of the color of the flesh. Chelonia mydas are one of the largest turtles ranging from 71 to 153 centimeters. They can weigh up to 205 kilograms. They have limbs that are paddle-like, which are used to swim. Their heads seem small compared to their body size."
Mealy Parrot - Amazona Farinosa
"Mealy parrots are found in Mexico and Central and South America, occupying a wide range from southern Mexico to northern Bolivia and southern Brazil. They inhabit dense, humid lowland rainforests near clearings but also populate wooded areas in savannas."
Golden-headed Lion Tamarin - Leontopithicus chrysomelas
"The golden-headed lion tamarin is a small, squirrel-sized monkey, about 26 cm long with a 35 cm tail and long golden lion-like mane. It is predominantly black with golden fur to the front of the mane, the lower half of the front paws and part of the tail."
Goeldi's Monkey - Callimico goeldii
Found in the tropical rainforests of Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, and Columbia, "Goeldi's monkey is a zoological puzzle. It is small and looks rather like a Tamarin and like them, has claws rather than nails on the fingers. But its teeth and skull shape are more like the bigger New World primates, such as Capucins. It is now thought to be in a separate group of primates, distantly related to both Tamarins and Capucins."
Giant Tortoise - Geochelone nigra
These "animals live in the center of the Galapagos archipelago; of the living subspecies, six can be found on Albermale, and six on each of the islands of James, Indefatigable, Duncan, Hood, Chatham, and Abingdon.
It spends the cooler hours of its day in the warm, but completely dry, lava soils in the lowlands of the islands, where the terrain is usually arid and grassy. However, during the warm hours of the day, the tortoise travels along its beaten path to the volcanic highlands to swim and feed on the lush plant life that grows there."
Geochelone nigra - Galapagos tortoise.
Geoffroy's Marmoset -Callithrix geoffroyi
Marmosets are small, squirrel-like primates from the Atlantic rainforests of Southeast Brazil. They have incisor teeth that are specially shaped to allow them to carve small holes in the trunks of trees, from which they drink the tree sap and gum that oozes out.
Cougar - Puma concolor
Known also as the mountain lion, the cougar has a wide-ranging habitat, including mountainous coniferous forests, lowland tropical forests, grassland, dry brush country, swamps, and any areas with adequate cover and prey. Dense vegetation, caves, and rocky crevices provide shelter.
Once common from southern Argentina and Chile to southeastern Alaska, they are large, slender cats. They are solitary animals and may live up to 18 to 20 years in the wild.
Andean Condor - Vultur gryphus
One of the largest flying birds, weighing between 24 - 33 pounds, male Andean Condors range between 43 - 51 inches in length with an 11-foot wingspan, while females are smaller, weighing around 17 1/2 - 24 pounds.
Their habitat is the open grasslands and alpine areas in high mountain regions of western South America.
The chimango is a caracara, a member of the Milvago chimango group.
Chilean Flamingo - Phoenicopterus chilensis
The Chilean flamingo is found in temperate South America from central Peru through the Andes and Uruguay to Tierra del Fuego, inhabiting muddy, shallow alkaline and brackish lakes. They live in warm and tropical environments, and range from sea level, along the coast, to high altitudes up to 4,500m in the Andes. Because the waters and surrounding soils in the areas they live are alkaline (ph up to 10.5), most of the local area is barren of vegetation and desert-like.
of the Family Falconidae, caracaras are found in nearly every terrestrial habitat, including dessert, tundra, taiga, grasslands, savanna, scrub forest, chaparral, forest, mountains, coastal areas, wetlands, estuaries, lake shores, agricultural areas, suburbs, and cities. The highest diversity of falconids is found in the tropics, in open rather than forested habitats, and in lowlands rather than at high elevations.
Capybaras in Water
Capybaras are capable of diving and remaining beneath the surface for as long as 5 minutes. They also have the habit of submerging so that only their nostrils are above the surface. If threatened, their usual response is to flee into the water. Jaguars may have been their most important predators, but some are probably killed by anacondas and caimans.
Capybaras are the largest rodents in the world, and the only one left of their species. Found only in the tropics of South America north to Panama, they are excellent swimmers.
Capybaras are semiaquatic, living near ponds, rivers, or swamps and feeding on aquatic plants. They associate in groups of 10 or more individuals, and at times several groups may forage together, forming a much larger herd.
Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris)
The Brazilian tapir is found near rivers in mesic, transitional, and humid forests from Venezuela and Colombia south to southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay, east of the Andes.
Tapirus terrestris is generally solitary and is only found in groups during the mating season. During the daylight hours, the Brazilian tapir remains hidden in forests and thick brush. At night this animal emerges to feed in grassland or scrubland. The daily movements of the tapirs produce well-worn paths that are used by hunters to track these animals. The tapir takes regular water baths and mudbaths which are thought to help it rid itself of ectoparasites.
Black caiman (Melanoschus niger)
Black caimans are found throughout much of the Amazon Basin; their range includes much of northern and central South America.
Melanosuchus niger is often associated with steep banks alongside slow-moving freshwater rivers, lakes, wetlands, black water swamps, and seasonally flooded areas of the Amazon. The largest predator in the Amazon, Melanosuchus niger is capable of growing to more than 6 m.
Baby Sloth - Bradypus tridactylus
This infant sloth is Bradypus tridactylus, a pale-throated three-toed sloth who lives in the tropical rainforests from southern Central America to north-eastern Argentina.
The sloth is usually solitary and lives on buds, and leaves of trees of the genus Cecropia. Because it spends its life in the trees, it is handicapped when removed from its habitat and does not do well in captivity.
Anaconda Skin Pattern
With their protective coloration of green and black patches on its back, they are easily missed by its prey who come to the water to drink.
After it eats, an anaconda rests while it digests its meal, sometimes for several weeks, depending on the size of dinner.
Anacondas are viviparous, and anywhere from 20-100 little snakes are born at a time, though not much is known about the snake's breeding cycle.
Also known as a water boa, the anaconda, Eunectes murinus, lives near water, in swamps, and in the Amazon and Orinoco river basis, as well as in the Guianas.
Visit our Anaconda Snakes page for more information.