20 Amazing South American Animals

Llama at Machu Picchu

If you’ve travelled in South America, you’ve no doubt seen all manner of strange, exciting, scary and downright weird animals. If you haven’t travelled through this magical continent or didn’t see as many bonkers creatures as you wanted, keep reading to see some of our favourite South American animals!

When I returned home from my first trip to South America I went through the obligatory motions of visiting the family I’d neglected since leaving the UK. It was after I spent an hour showing my little brother pictures of all the animals I’d had the opportunity of seeing first hand in South America, he turned to me and asked, “Tim, what kind of animals live in South America?” – Clearly it’s not only my friends, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins who glaze over when I try to show them travel photos, it’s my 5-year-old brother too… 

Rather than list them off again and slowly watch his eyes glaze over, I thought I’d write them here in the hopes of finding a more willing audience!

How many of these South American Animals have you seen?

1. Galapagos Giant Tortoise

  • Where is it found: The Galapagos
  • Conservation Status: Endangered
  • Interesting Fact: Lonesome George was the last Giant Tortoise of his species. He was discovered in 1971 and was the only Pinta Island Tortoise to have survived the onslaught of invasive species introduced to the island. He died in June 2012 after several failed attempts to breed him with other closely related species of Giant Tortoises. 

Saddleback Tortoise, Galapagos
Lonesome George was closely related to other Saddleback Tortoises!

When explorers first arrived at the Galapagos Islands, close to 1000 kilometres west of Ecuador’s mainland, they were blown away by the sheer abundance of life. Possibly the most iconic of which is the Galapagos Giant Tortoise. You can even get a stamp of a Galapagos Tortoise in your passport if you visit the islands!

There are currently 10 species of Galapagos Giant Tortoises left of the 15 that existed before the arrival of humans. The largest of these weigh over 400 kg and measure just under 2 metres in length!

Due to human activity on the island, the tortoises have been dying off at an incredible rate. When Darwin made his famous trip to The Galapagos there were an estimated 250,000 giant tortoises that called the archipelago home. By the time the 1970s rolled around, there was less than 3000. 

Why? There is a number of reasons but initially, it was because they were just so damn tasty. Later on, it became apparent the tortoises are also full of valuable oils and fats that could be used to waterproof boats or keep candles burning. 

Finally, other invasive species followed humans to the islands and quickly dominated the ecosystem. Rats ate tortoise eggs like they were going out of fashion and livestock demolished the flora that the tortoises rely on to survive. Even today, baby Giant Tortoises cannot survive in the wild. Every single tortoise under 50 years old, on the island was raised in captivity and released when it was large enough to survive. 

The good news: Thanks to massive efforts by the Ecuadorian government, there is an estimated 20,000 Giant Tortoises roaming around the Galapagos Islands today. If you are lucky enough to visit, you will be able to see them everywhere!

Galapagos Tortoise On Road
It is common to see Giant Tortoises on roads and footpaths!

2. Anaconda

  • Where is it found: Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil as well as Trinidad and Tobago
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Interesting Fact: The largest Anaconda ever found was over 8.5 meters long and more than 44 inches round. It is estimated to have weighed over 250 kg!

Whilst there are four different species of Anaconda, people often use the name when referring to the Green or Common Anaconda. This monster snake is the largest of the Anaconda species and truly is a sight to behold. 

They are generally a dark green, brown colour with black or brown spots running along the rear half of their body. They have large heads (all the better to eat you with) and after killing their prey, they swallow it whole. 

Anacondas are the heaviest snake species in the world and the second longest, with only the Reticulated Python from Southeast Asia being longer. They are non-venomous which will give the Ophidiophobes among you some sense of relief… Until you learn they are constrictors who are easily as strong as 10 men. 

They use their massive strength to hunt other powerful carnivores such as Jaguars or Caiman. Any creature that can take down some of the worlds most formidable predators needs to be treated with respect. 

They mainly hunt in water where they are most agile and either constrict prey so tightly that blood cannot get to the brain, or just hold their victim underwater until it drowns. 

The good news is, there is very little scientific evidence of Anacondas eating people, only stories and legends passed down within local communities. There have also been reports of cannibalism within the species – one gigantic snake eating another is probably not an image you’d forget in a hurry!

3. Capybara

  • Where is it found: Every South American country except Chile
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Interesting Fact: Whilst the Capybara is the largest living rodent, it pales in comparison to the extinct rodent Josephoartigasia Monesi, which roamed South America between 2 and 4 million years ago and on average would have weighed 900 kg!

Standing over 50 cm tall, 130 cm long and weighing in at around 50 kg, Capybaras are the largest living species of rodent on earth. Whilst they’re not big enough to ride into battle, they are super cute!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdMUOsf2QNc

They tend to live in large groups and there are often multiple groups populating the same areas. Ideally, they choose to live in heavily forested areas near bodies of water, such as the Bolivian Pampas

They are excellent swimmers and can remain underwater for up to 5 minutes at a time. They even mate in the water! This mating behaviour suits the females very well as they can dive down or head to land if their current partner isn’t doing it for them. We’ve all been there. 

Seeing these creatures up close is something that you will never forget. They look like giant guinea pigs! And just like guinea pigs, they also have little concern for how much sleep people need, so if you have one near your jungle hut at night, the constant screeching and snaffling will keep you awake into the wee hours!

4. Piranha

  • Where is it found: River systems across South America
  • Conservation Status: Not Evaluated
  • Interesting Fact: Contrary to common belief, Piranhas aren’t all carnivores. Many species regularly eat plant matter as part of a balanced omnivorous diet and some are even 100% herbivore. They probably aren’t paying much attention to their 5 a day though. 

Piranha Teeth
Piranhas have a powerful set of gnashers!

Thanks to the pet trade and idiotic owners releasing them into locals rivers, Piranhas can be found across the globe but they are native to the South American continent. 

Piranhas have a rough reputation, thanks in part to films such as Piranha, Piranha 3D and the masterpiece otherwise known as Piranha 3DD. The good news is that, outside of these modern classics, there are very few documented cases of Piranhas attacking healthy human beings. Sure there are cases of human corpses washing up on river banks half eaten by Piranhas but post mortem evidence always confirms that the person was severely injured or already dead when they entered the water. 

If you are still feeling a tad nervous, just picture a Piranha missing a quarter of its teeth, like a 5 year old just starting school. Feeling better? Piranhas replace their teeth just like sharks but unlike the apex predators, they do it a quarter of their mouth at a time. It is common to see Piranhas with only half their lower jaw covered in teeth – if you’re brave enough to get that close of course. 

When caught or threatened Piranhas have been recorded as making barking noises to try and scare their attacker. I know I’ve already said there is no need to fear Piranhas but any fish that can impersonate mans best friend needs to be watched carefully. Who knows what they’re up to. 

5. Andean Condor

  • Where is it found: Andes Mountain range although they are much less common in the extreme north, such as Colombia and Venezuela
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened
  • Interesting Fact: Although they look similar and fill the same niche, Condors are not related to vultures. They are a great example of convergent evolution for you biology nerds!

Condor Flying
Even in captivity, Condors soar above people’s heads!

One of the heaviest flying birds in the world, Andean Condors tip the scales at 15 kg. They are so heavy that they cannot take off from the ground so instead, they throw themselves from cliffs or high perches in order to allow their massive 3.3 metre wings to provide lift. Colca Canyon in Peru is a great place to see these magnificent creatures soaring over your head.

Condors are scavengers and as such, have to travel vast distances in order to find a carcass to eat. This means they can fly well over 100 miles a day in search of a good meal. Once they’ve found their buffet of choice, usually a dead deer or cow, they have been known to gorge themselves so much that they cannot fly at all. Instead, they have to rest and digest before attempting to take flight.

When working with these massive birds in Peru, I was told that they very rarely fly in the mornings because the condensation on their feathers makes them too heavy! That’s the same reason I don’t stand on the scales in the morning…

The long feathers at the tip of their wings are much prized by shaman within local South American communities. In most South American countries it is illegal to sell, trade or possess these feathers to prevent people hunting the birds. Punishment for being in possession of the feathers can be severe. Avoid taking one home as a souvenir!

Young Condor
Young Condors have brown wings and dark heads!

6. South American Camelids

  • Where is it found: Andean Mountain Range
  • Conservation Status: Least concern
  • Interesting Fact: There are 4 species of Camelid in South America; Llamas, Alpacas, Vicuñas and Guanacos.

Vicuna and Alpaca
Vicuna share their territory with Llamas at Salinas Salt Lagoon!

Mention South America and images of Llamas roaming around Machu Picchu spring to mind but there is more to South American Camelids than just these fluffy bundles of joy. 

Related to the camels we all know and love, all four species of South American Camelid are spread across The Andes. Guanacos are more common in Argentina and Chile but can still be found further north, whereas Vicuñas can be seen wild in Peru and Bolivia but are less common further south. 

Both Llamas and Alpacas are domesticated species and have been used throughout South America even in Pre-Incan times. The wool, meat and hides of all four animals have been used for centuries but each species produces slightly different types of each. For example, Llama wool is used mostly for blankets or rugs and the meat is compared to mutton. Alpaca wool is much finer and makes for really soft clothing but also comes at a price. The meat from Alpacas is much more like high quality beef. 

These days it is illegal to hunt Vicuña and Guanaco for their meat but yearly herding and shearing occurs in Peru. Because it is so warm and soft, Vicuña wool is the most expensive wool in the world!

Posing With Alpaca
It is common to see native ladies across South America with Alpacas posing for photos!

Of the four species of Camelid, Llamas and Alpacas are the most common and if you spend any time within the Andes you will see them everywhere! Vicuña and Guanaco are rarer but if you know where to look, you can find hordes of those too. Just be careful around the undomesticated species as they can be very aggressive if they feel threatened, Vicuña are known to have a vicious bite and will often aim for the genitals of their attacker. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

7. Black Caiman

  • Where is it found: The Amazon Basin
  • Conservation Status: Conservation Dependent (conservation efforts required to stop them from becoming Near Threatened)
  • Interesting Fact: Black Caiman are the largest predators in The Amazon Basin!

Black Caiman Basking On A Jetty
Be careful when pulling your boat up to this jetty!

Officially measuring around 4 metres, with unconfirmed reports of 6 metre specimens, the Black Caiman is one of the largest extant crocodilian species on earth. As the name suggests, they are a very dark colour which keeps them well hidden from their prey. 

They hunt in much the same way as other crocodilians, waiting near riverbanks for their unsuspecting victims to come to the water for a drink. As soon as the prey’s guard is down BAM, the caiman has them underwater in a death roll. 

When travelling around the Amazon Basin on a sunny day, especially early in the morning, keep an eye out for these monsters as they bask in the sun. They are breathtaking animals and seeing the agility and grace they display in the water gives you a whole new appreciation for them. 

Black Caiman are not fussy when it comes to food, they will literally eat anything they can get at. Whilst attacks on humans are uncommon, they are not unheard of. If you know you are in Caiman territory, be aware of your surroundings and only enter the water if you are told it is safe to do so by a guide.

8. Coatimundi (Coati)

  • Where is it found: Northern South America, Central America, North America
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Interesting Fact: Coati Coffee is some of the most expensive coffee in the world. It is produced after the Coati eats coffee beans passes them back out the other end. The taste and aromas are said to be greatly improved…

Coatis look a lot like racoons but with a long flexible nose. Outside of South and Central America, they are known as hog-nosed coons. Just like racoons, they are strong, intelligent and have a reputation for causing trouble.

Although on first impression, these 70 cm long, 6 kg fluff balls seem all cute and timid, don’t be deceived. Hidden beneath their glossy fur and nervous nature are sharp claws and even sharper needle like teeth. I learnt this the hard way whilst working at an animal sanctuary in Peru and had to get the resulting wound stitched up by the resident vet…

Yes, I pretty much just included the Coatis in this list so I could tell that story.

Animal Bite Stitches
There’s nothing like having a vet on hand to save you a hospital bill!

Aside from giving me extra cool points, Coatis are pretty interesting animals. Their legs are almost completely double jointed which makes climbing up and down trees a breeze but these adaptations don’t mean they only live in heavily forested areas. Their range spreads from dry arid deserts to tropical rainforests, from open grasslands to thousands of metres above sea level in the Andean Mountain Range. 

9. Guinea Pig

  • Where is it found: Worldwide but they originated in The Andes
  • Conservation Status: Domesticated
  • Interesting Fact: Guinea pigs don’t sleep for long periods. Instead, they take short cat naps whenever they need to!

Guinea Pigs Under Bed
Guinea Pigs living inside a traditional Andean hut!

I can already feel your questioning looks. Guinea Pigs? Really? But Guinea Pigs are everywhere. 

I know, these days in Europe and the USA, Guinea Pigs are nice family pets but in much of South America, where Guinea Pigs were domesticated over 5000 years ago, they take on a much more practical purpose. Dinner

Walk into a traditional Andean village and you are likely to find the inhabitants sharing their small huts with hundreds, if not thousands of these fluffy rodents. Not only do the Guinea Pigs provide a cheap, tasty, reliable source of protein but they are also used to keep the buildings warm. 

Having that many small bodies pumping out heat makes a massive difference during the long cold nights when you live over 5000 metres above sea level!

10. Opossum

  • Where is it found: North, Central and South America
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Interesting Fact: Opossum blood contains a protein that stops venom and poison from affecting the animal!

There is close to 60 different species of Opossum which are spread as far north as the Southern United States and as far south as Argentina. They have evolved to fill all sorts of environments from high above the jungle canopy to semi-aquatic life across South America’s river systems. 

Opossums are particularly notable as one of the non-Australian marsupial species. Whilst they give birth to live young. These offspring are too small, around the size of a jelly bean, to survive on their own. After birth, they climb up to their mother’s pouch, where they clamp onto her nipple to feed and continue their growth for close to 10 weeks. 

When threatened, Opossums involuntarily play dead. They will go incredibly stiff, curl their lips over their teeth and release a foul smelling odour – a lot like me after a heavy night. They have no control of this action but it is often enough to deter potential predators. They can remain in this playing dead state for up to four hours before coming round. During that time, they can be poked, prodded and carried away without any harm being done to them. 

11. Maned Wolf

  • Where is it found: Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay*
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened
  • Interesting Fact: The Maned Wolf closely resembles wolves and foxes although it is not closely related to either animal and is the only extant species within its genus. 

Look at a Maned Wolf at you might assume you’ve stumbled into a Salvador Dali painting. This bandy-legged canid stands at almost a metre tall and just over a metre in length. It weighs in between 20-30 kg and uses its freakishly long legs to stalk the open grasslands of South America. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEyq5kXs_FM

They generally hunt small vertebrates but are omnivorous so munch through their fair share of fruit too. They are integral to spreading the seeds of fruits like the Wolf Apple. 

Maned Wolves share their territory with a monogamous partner but the pair will only really meet up for adult cuddles, before going back to their own dens. Sounds like a dream right?! Whilst apart, the pair will communicate predominantly with scent markings, which are reported to smell like hops or cannabis. Could this be the ultimate backpacker spirit animal?

They also live symbiotically with many of the creatures that share their territory. The most prominent example of this is that they will use Leaf Cutter Ant nests as toilets. You’d think this was more of an insult than offering a helping hand but the ants use the excrement to fertilise their fungus gardens. Who knew ants were such avid gardeners?!

* Due to destruction of their habitat, Maned Wolves haven’t been sighted in Uruguay for a number of years leading some experts to believe they no longer exist in the country.

12. Viscacha

  • Where is it found: Most of the Andes
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Interesting Fact: Viscacha can live in groups of up to 100 individuals, which helps keep them safe from predators and allows them to socialise. They let out a high pitched shriek if danger is near, which warns others within their group to get to safety!

I remember sitting in our cabin at Colibri Camping in La Paz, Bolivia, when my girlfriend, who was sitting by the window, turned to me and said; “Tim, there’s a shady looking rabbit with a long tail out here, I don’t trust it.” 

Obviously, I assumed she hadn’t slept enough. How could a rabbit, let alone a rabbit with a long tail, look shady? So I got up to have a look and low and behold, there was a bloody shady looking rabbit with a long tail staring straight at me. 

Viscacha in Bolivia
Am I the only person who cannot wrap their head around this weird creature?!

Although they do look a lot like rabbits with sneaky looking eyes and a long tail, Viscacha are not closely related to their floppy eared friends. They evolved to fill the same niche and have very similar behaviours. They are skittish and super quick over the rough, rocky terrain that they prefer. I tried following one along a cliff edge in Bolivia until I realised I really didn’t stand a chance of getting a good photo and the cliff was pretty precarious. The Viscacha looked more than happy as it bounded mere inches from falling to certain death!

13. Spectacled Bear

  • Where is it found:  Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • Interesting Fact: Less than 5% of the Spectacled Bear’s diet is made up of meat. The rest fruit, plants, berries and seeds. Many Spectacled Bears in captivity live on a diet made up of 100% fruit and veg!

Andean Bear eating
The majority of the Spectacled Bear’s diet is made up of plants!

Spectacled or Andean Bears are the last surviving species of short faced bear. If you want to imagine how extinct megafauna looked, just stare at an Andean Bear and consider what it would be like if it were four times the size. That’s not to say these playful bundles of teeth and fur are small. The largest can weigh over 200 kg and are over 2 metres in length. The females of the species are significantly smaller than this though. 

The bears are named for light the “spectacle patterns” on their faces. These markings are unique to each creature and the bears can easily be distinguished by the patterns. 

Paddington Bear, from deepest darkest Peru, is probably the most famous example of a spectacled bear and whilst I’m sure real spectacled bears would also love a dollop of sweet marmalade for every meal, they don’t tend to find much of it in the wild!

14. Pink River Dolphins

  • Where is it found: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela
  • Conservation Status: Endangered
  • Interesting Fact: Pink River Dolphins are the hardest species of dolphin to train and keep in captivity. Their average lifespan, after being taken out of the wild is a mere 33 months!

Pink River Dolphins are the largest species of river dolphin in the world. Measuring in at close to 2.5 metres in length, they are much more flexible than their ocean going brethren which helps them manoeuvre through the flooded jungles they call home. During the dry season, they are confined to the rivers but when the rains bring flooding, the dolphins take full advantage of their new playground. 

Their diet is the most varied of not only all dolphins but of all cetaceans (dolphins, whales, porpoises, manatees) and during times of flooding, they eat whatever they can get their gobs around. It’s the same way most Brits act on holiday.

Their distinctive pink colour is caused by abrasion and injury to their usually grey skin. Male River Dolphins are usually pinker than females, which can be put down to their propensity to fight and get hurt more often than the sensible females! 

Interestingly, waterfalls or rapids across the Amazon basin provide natural barriers between different subspecies of river dolphins meaning the populations either side of never intermingle which has sped up divergence between groups that live geographically close together. 

15. Harpy Eagle

  • Where is it found: Central America, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina
  • Conservation Status: Near threatened
  • Interesting Fact: A baby eagle is called an Eaglet which is as adorable as hell!

Harpy Eagles are amongst the largest eagles in the world and certainly the largest bird of prey in South America. They can weigh up to 9 kg and their wings span close to 2.5 metres, although the males of the species are a tad smaller. Their massive wingspan is actually a little smaller than other birds in the same weight class and their tail feathers are significantly longer. This helps them fly through the trees and allows them to be much more agile than large birds who live and hunt in open ground. 

The main food source for the Harpy Eagle is sloths and monkeys but they also hunt smaller birds when food is running low. In really desperate scenarios they have been recorded taking lambs, goats and baby pigs from farms but this is very rare. 

Capuchin Monkeys make up a large portion of their diets which helps keep the population of monkeys in check. Without the Harpy Eagle, Capuchins would decimate other bird populations as fresh eggs are one of their favourite meals!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Vtxo4txuuw

16. Sloth

  • Where is it found: Rainforests in Central and South America
  • Conservation Status: Differs depending on species – 4 of them are least concern, 1 is threatened and 1 is critically endangered!
  • Interesting Fact: The ancient sloth, Megatherium, was one of the largest mammals to have ever walked the earth. Weighing up to 4 tons and measuring up to 6 metres in length these megafauna went extinct at around the same time as humans arrived in South America…

Sloth in tree
Sloths can be hard to spot due to their slow movements and subtle camouflage!

Sloths are one of the most iconic species in South America, if not the world. They get their name from their seemingly lacklustre movements and their super slow metabolism. 

The two main groups of sloth are the two-toed and three-toed varieties but these names are a bit of a misnomer. All species of sloth have three toes but the two-toed sloths only have two fingers on each of their front limbs. 

Even in the trees, where the sloths are at the most comfortable, they only move at around 3 metres per minute. When they leave their trees, which happens once a week so they can poop, they move at less than 2 metres per minute. Whilst on the ground they are at their most vulnerable but give them some water and they will really strut their stuff. Sloths are very accomplished swimmers, with their top speed being just a touch over 6 metres per minute. 

If you ever get the opportunity to see sloths in the wild, as I did in Lomas de Arena, you may notice that sloth fur has a green tinge to it. This is caused by a type of algae that exists almost exclusively on sloths. The green colouration, combined with the creatures slow movement means they are incredibly hard to spot as they munch away in the tops of trees. As a teenager, I tried convincing my mum that if I didn’t shower I’d grow natural camouflage like sloths but for some reason, she wasn’t having any of it. 

17. Blue Footed Booby

  • Where is it found: West Coast of the Americas from California to Peru and the Galapagos
  • Status: Least Concern
  • Interesting Fact: Until recent years, the Galapagos was home to over half the breeding population of Blue Footed Boobies but a rapid decline in fish has seen a similar drop in booby numbers.

Blue Footed Booby standing on a rock
Blue Footed Boobies are one of the most iconic birds in South America!

As well as having a name that makes ten year olds across the world suppress a snigger, Blue Footed Boobies are pretty remarkable creatures. They look a lot like big seagulls with a constant expression of surprise on their faces. The colour of their feet is caused by a blue pigment within their diet. The bluer the feet, the healthier the bird. If you ever see a Blue Footed Booby with pale coloured feet, chances are it’s ill or dying. 

They hunt by diving into the sea from as high as 20 metres up and snap fish into their mouths. Due to the speed they hit the water when hunting, up to 60mph, evolution has sealed their nostrils shut, forcing the birds to breathe through the corners of their mouths instead. 

Whilst in the air they are hyper agile birds but on land, they waddle along looking a tad manic. They nest on the ground, usually in small indents caused by the cooling of lava. Thankfully, they have no natural predators so ground nesting does not leave them at risk. Whilst nesting, Blue Footed Boobies will constantly face the sun. As they follow the sun’s position throughout the day, they leave a perfect circle of bright white poop surrounding the nest. 

As with all birds, the chicks are particularly cute little bundles of fluff!

18. Peruvian Hairless Dogs

  • Where is it found: Originally from Peru but can now be found across the world
  • Conservation Status: Domesticated
  • Interesting Fact: In pre-Incan times Peruvian Hairless Dogs were considered a food source. Once the Incas conquered Peru’s coastal region they banned the consumption of dogs entirely!

Peruvian Hairless Dog
She may look like a Gremlin but she was far more friendly than the evil Stripe!

The first time I saw one of Peru’s famous Hairless Dogs, I was convinced that I had just seen a poor little pooch suffering from extreme mange. It sat there, with just a small wisp of hair atop its head and had its tongue hanging out of the side of its mouth. Sadly, seeing ill dogs on the streets is all too common across most of South America. 

As I got to know the country better, I realised there was just too many of these dogs around for them to all be ill but it wasn’t until I got chatting to a little old lady walking hers that I understood they were a unique breed and weren’t supposed to have any hair. As we were chatting, the woman looked down at her little dog, who was wrapped up in a ridiculously bright dog coat, with love in her eyes. 

She explained to me that Peruvian Hairless Dogs come in all manner of sizes. Ranging from little Jack Russel sized terrorisers to Dalmatian sized beasts, Peruvian Hairless Dogs are known to be super affectionate towards their owners but can be very timid around strangers. They can also be very protective of children they know so have been used as babysitters for centuries.

Peruvian Hairless Dog without a coat
Peruvian Hairless Dogs often have tufts of fur on their heads and feet!

Peruvian Hairless Dogs live comfortably alongside humans at elevations as high as 4000 metres above sea level, which seems counter intuitive when you consider they have no fur and it gets super cold that high up! Over millennia of selective breeding, these dogs have developed a very high body temperature which negates the need for a coat and they were used by native South Americans as hot water bottles during the cold winter months!

19. Marine Iguana 

  • Where is it found: The Galapagos
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • Interesting Fact: When they first hatch, baby Marine Iguanas must eat the poop of their larger brethren. This is to build up the correct gut bacteria they need to digest their diet of algae. Gross!

Marine Iguana on the beach
Marine Iguana’s share their beaches with tourists in The Galapagos Islands!

Marine Iguanas are only found on the Galapagos Islands and like many creatures there, have taken a unique evolutionary path. They are the only species of lizard that is capable of grazing underwater, with their primary food source being a few species of red or green algae. They have been known to eat the odd crustacean in desperate times but their stomachs have not evolved to get the most out of these small meals. 

Large males of the species tend to do all of their feeding underwater. They can dive up to 30 metres below the waves and are capable of staying under for around an hour, although they usually stay closer to the shore than this, often just 5 metres down. Females and small males will do most of their feeding at low tide when the algae covered rocks are exposed, so they don’t have to battle with currents or the larger males. It is common to see them running out to the rocks, grabbing a few mouthfuls of algae and running back up the beach to escape the waves. 

Due to their high salt diet, Marine Iguanas have developed a method of filtering the salt from their system and out through glands in their nostrils. They can be seen frequently sneezing big sticky blobs of salty liquid on anything that gets too close!

Marine Iguana Close Up
Salt builds up around the noses of Marine Iguanas!

Marine Iguanas live side by side with many other famous Galapagos animals such as Darwin’s Finches and Sally Lightfoot Crabs which both remove parasites and ticks from the lizard’s skin.

20. Homosapiens

  • Where is it found: On every continent, in every country and on almost every landmass
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Interesting Fact: The arrival of Homosapiens to a continent or landmass has always spelt disaster for the creatures that preceded them. 70% of the world’s megafauna, that existed alongside humans, are now extinct!

I won’t bore you with a description of human beings. Unless you are reading this a few thousand years into the future (If so: Hi, we are really sorry about the mess we made), you already know exactly what a Homosapien looks like, feels like and thinks like.

Humans first arrived in South America between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago and since then have built all manner of civilisations, religions and cultures. 

The first documented advanced civilisation in South America was the Norte Chico Civilisation. Discovered in Peru’s coastal region, this civilisation predated the Mesoamerican civilisations such as the Moche, Nazca, Huari, Chimu, Aymara and Incas by over 2000 years and was booming at around the same time as the ancient Egyptians. 

Even though most ancient South American cultures are no longer remembered by your average South American, the impact they had and the cultural ideas they passed down, are embraced by small native populations even today. 

In 1492 the human history in South America changed forever when Christopher Columbus sighted land in the Caribbean. This “discovery” of the new world brought untold riches back to Europe whilst simultaneously delivering death and destruction to the indigenous population. Within just 100 years of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas, over 90% of the native population was dead

These days, spectacular ruins of bygone cultures are dotted across South America. Ruins such as Machu Picchu, Chan Chan, Nazca Lines, The Lost City, Kuelap and Tiwanaku can all be visited today and give us a real insight into just how advanced civilisation in South America was.

Today, South American culture is one of celebration, laughter, dancing and a great love for life. People don’t move quickly, they don’t tend to do things on time and many menial tasks are buried under layers of bureaucracy and paperwork. But the people are warm, smiley and generous and no matter how many amazing ruins or animals the continent has to offer, the real magic comes from its people. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Issfwrsl_o

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