Unique Pets & Animals in South America
From the frozen tundras of the arctic to the desert dunes of Africa to the dense jungles of South America, our planet harbors an incredible diversity of wildlife. Today, we’re starting a new series where we’ll look at some of these exotic animals from around the globe. And to kick things off, we’re starting South America—home to many exotic animals, from capybaras to jaguars.
South America’s climates vary from tropical to desert. Because of this diversity in climate, many different ecosystems cover the continent, ranging from rainforest to savannah and everything in between! The wide variety of ecosystems means that there are many species of animals living on the continent. Over 730 species (about 10% of all animal life) can only be found in South America! Here are just a few of the most unique animals you can find there:
Capybaras: The capybara is the largest rodent in the world, and it’s one of the most unique creatures in the animal kingdom. Capybaras are native to South America and can be found throughout Venezuela and Columbia. As semi-aquatic animals, they live in forests near water sources like rivers and love to swim and play in the water.
The capybara might look like an oversized guinea pig, but it’s a lot bigger—capable of reaching lengths of 3-4 feet and weighing up to 175 pounds! Their bodies are short with very large stomachs, so they’re pretty round. Capybaras’ tails are about as long as their bodies, and they use them for balance when swimming or walking. They can swim and dive easily, an adaptation that comes in handy when trying to escape predators like jaguars and anacondas!
While the chill personality of the capybara makes them seem like they would be fun to have around full-time, capybaras do not make good pets. The reasons are simple: they’re too big, and they’re also very social creatures that will not do well on their own as a pet. In fact, they live in groups of 10 to 20 animals called herds, that are led by a dominant male.
Anaconda: You might have heard of anacondas, but did you know that they are the largest snake in the world? Anacondas are native to South America, so it is difficult for people to see them outside of captivity. Anacondas are constrictors, meaning they wrap themselves around their prey and squeeze until it suffocates. They don’t have venomous fangs like other snakes; instead, their jaws can expand up to twice their normal size! These amazing creatures are not typically aggressive towards humans (although they will certainly fight back if threatened, so best to keep your distance!).
Alpaca (Lama pacos): Alpacas are related to camels but are much smaller. They can weigh between 150 and 180 pounds when fully grown. Alpacas are the second largest camelid after the vicuña, which is a wild and endangered relative of alpaca that lives in the Andes Mountains of South America. Alpacas are domesticated animals that have been used for thousands of years for their wool, meat, and hides. There are around three million alpacas worldwide, with most living in Peru or Chile; however, there are several other regions where they’re commonly kept, including North America.
Piranha: The piranha, also known as piraya in Portuguese and piraña in Spanish, is a member of the Characidae family of freshwater fish. Piranhas are native to the Amazon Basin, Orinoco River basins, Guyana, Brazil, and Paraguay rivers. They have sharp teeth that make them a danger to humans. The name “piranha” comes from an indigenous language meaning “fierce fish.” According to National Geographic Magazine: Many species of piranha can be aggressive toward other fish but do not pose much threat to humans. However, they can inflict painful bites with their razor-sharp teeth if provoked or threatened by people who enter their territory.
Jaguar: The jaguar, or Panthera onca, is the largest cat in the Americas. It’s also the third largest cat species in the world! Jaguars are found throughout Central and South America. Although they’re solitary animals for much of their lives, jaguars can sometimes form social groups of up to four individuals that may hunt together or share territory.
Tapir: The tapir is a strange animal that looks like a mix between an elephant, a pig, and a rhinoceros. It has a short, prehensile trunk to pick up food and grab things. Tapirs are very good swimmers who can hold their breath for up to six minutes. As one of the largest animals in the rainforest, tapirs are a vital part of the food chain. While they eat fruit, leaves, and other vegetation, they act as a natural fertilizer by eating and trampling down plants that grow along the forest floor. Tapirs have even been known to climb trees to get their food! While tapir’s teeth look like a pig’s, they are actually adapted for grinding through tough plant material. Tapirs are endangered. Their numbers are dwindling because of deforestation and poaching. There are four different species of tapir, but all of them are under threat.
Hopefully, you enjoyed learning about just a few of the amazing animals that call South America home, thanks to its diverse climate and various habitats. If you’d like to learn more about South American animals, here’s a helpful list!
Check back next month for our next installment of Animals Around the Globe!