Below you can find a complete list of South American animals. We currently track 575 animals in South America and are adding more every day!
South America is home to some of the most unique, and exotic animals in the world. From the dangerous to the nearly extinct, we’ve created a list of the most interesting animals on the continent and some of the most exciting facts about them.
The Official National Animal of South America
South America is a continent, and as such, it has no national animal. However, many of the countries within its borders have very prominent national animals that are worth mentioning. From exciting mammals to small omnivorous species, every country is incredibly proud of its individual mascot. For example, the national animal of Guatemala is the quetzal bird, while the national animal of Peru is the Vicuna, which is a type of llama.
Where to Find the Top Wild Animals in South America
Most of the animals in South America can be found either in the Amazon Rainforest or along the Andes mountains. If you’re looking for wildlife, you can generally check nearby wooded areas and expansive grasslands. Most animals like to have shelter and tree cover, but many of the local herbivores prefer to live in open plains where they can see predators approaching.
While Africa is the most popular continent to travel to for going on safaris, South America is also a destination that offers jungle safaris and other wildlife viewing options. Some of the best destinations to see diverse wildlife include the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, Brazil, Ecuador, and even Antarctica. Not only can you see interesting land mammals like sloths, jaguars, and llamas, but the oceans are teeming with manta rays, whales, and even rare pink dolphins.
Here is a list of some of the most interesting types of wildlife on the continent and a few facts about them:
Jaguar – The jaguar is the only panther that still exists in the Americas. You can find them in dense forests of all kinds across the continent; there have even been a few sightings within the borders of the United States.
Capybara – Capybaras are extremely friendly creatures that socialize with all of the other animals in South America. You can usually find them exploring the rainforest, grazing in grasslands, or enjoying a nice soak in a local watering hole.
Tamarin – From the red-handed tamarin to the golden lion tamarin, South America’s tamarin population is famous, notable, and adorable. You can find this small omnivorous species in jungles and tropical forests, especially if there is fruit, sunshine, and relative safety.
Tapir – With their distinctive noses and friendly attitudes, tapirs are one of South America’s most iconic inhabitants. You can find tapirs roaming the continent’s many beautiful grasslands.
Llama – Llamas have soft, fluffy fur and gregarious personalities. You can usually find llamas in mountainous areas, but they are also known to descend to slightly lower elevations to explore the grassy plains.
Guinea Pig – The guinea pig is typically seen as a house pet, but you can also find herds of guinea pigs living happily in the Andes mountains and the surrounding areas.
Sloth – Sloths can be found in the tallest and largest trees across the continent. Many sloths will never leave the tree in which they were born; tree-switching is rare and takes significant effort.
The Most Dangerous Animals in South America Today
South America’s jungles are known for being full of incredibly dangerous animals. Even small omnivorous creatures can turn on you with poisonous teeth and claws. In areas that humans inhabit, South American animals that seem to pose a large threat to are snakes. There are an estimated 70,000 cases of snake bites reported annually, with venomous pit vipers being responsible for 70-90% of them. The chief offenders are snakes like the fer-de-lance and the South American rattlesnake.
But snakes are not the only animals to beware of in South America. Whether you’re traveling down an undeveloped road or simply out for nature observation, keep an eye out for the following list of rare and exotic wildlife:
Green Anaconda – Although they are non-venomous, green anacondas are incredibly large and powerful constrictors that are capable of killing humans even when they are quite young. Give these snakes a wide berth, and they should have no reason to attack you.
Poison Dart Frog – Poison dart frogs are so toxic that they aren’t safe to touch with bare hands. Resist the temptation to reach out and pet one of these adorable and brightly-colored amphibians.
Bullet Ant – Getting bitten by a bullet ant won’t kill you, but the pain is excruciating and can last up to 24 hours.
Black Caiman – Caiman lizards are large and effective predators that dwell deep in the Amazon Jungle. In particular, Black Caimans are responsible for most direct attacks on humans.
Kissing Bug – Also known as vampire bugs, kissing bugs are an incredibly poisonous species that like to land on human faces and bite them near the lip. Kissing bugs might not kill you immediately, but their unique venom causes around 30% of their victims to develop chronic health problems that can result in sudden heart failure later down the line.
Endangered Animals in South America
South America is full of rare, unique, and exotic species that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, due to a combination of climate change and human interference, more than 30% of species on the content are endangered or nearly extinct.
As of 2022, 361 animal species were registered as endangered on the IUCN Red List. A whopping 326 of those species inhabit Brazil. Two main reasons are illegal hunting and forest fires. Also, the largest savannah area in South America, referred to as the “Cerrado,” stretches across Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay, and is inhabited by 837 species of birds, 120 reptiles, 150 amphibians, 1,200 fish, 90,000 insects, and 199 mammals. Because the Cerrado is vanishing due to cattle ranching and agricultural expansion, multiple species have come under threat of extinction like the maned wolf, jaguar, giant anteater, and gain armadillo.
Here are just a few facts about some of South America’s struggling animals:
Orinoco Crocodile – Orinoco crocodiles are some of the largest predators on the continent. However, because they were so heavily hunted for their leather in the 1900s, the population of this species is below 500.
Lemur Leaf Frog – Lemur leaf frogs are adorable and friendly rainforest inhabitants. Unfortunately, a disease outbreak in the 2010s reduced their numbers by over 80%, putting this species at serious risk.
Giant Otter – Giant otters live in rivers of the Amazon Jungle, but their population numbers have dropped steadily over the last few decades. Today, the species is preserved in Peru’s many national parks.
Black Squirrel Monkey – Due to habitat loss, many squirrel monkeys have been forced to dine on local crops and end up falling victim to pesticides. This problem has made the species endangered far more quickly than local residents expected.
Pink Amazon Dolphin – Also known as the Amazon river dolphin, these distinctly pink-colored porpoises are rare but important to the local ecosystem. Population numbers are hard to estimate but have been noted to be dwindling.
Jaguar – Jaguars are endangered for a variety of reasons, including loss of habitat and deliberate poaching. These animals were naturally low in numbers and are nearly extinct in the modern day.
The 5 Rarest South American Animals
If you were to take a trip to South America, we’ve compiled a list of animals that would be worth your efforts to try and catch a glimpse of in the wild. However, it’d be a challenging task, as these animals are rare, either because they are endangered or just plain elusive.
Galapagos Tortoise: This endangered species once numbered around 250,000 when Charles Darwin famously visited the islands. But by the 1970s their numbers had dwindled to 3000 because of their meat and oils and fats. Invasive species like rats also struck a blow to their populations. You have a good chance of seeing one if you travel to the Galapagos Islands.
Golden Lion Tamarin: This endangered New World monkey, also called the golden marmoset, is native to the Atlantic coastal forests of Brazil. Spotting one of these adorable creatures in the wild would be a rare treat.
Amazon River Dolphin: One of the rarest and most beautiful sea creatures found in South America is this pink-colored river dolphin, which inhabits the Orinoco and Amazon basins, as well as the upper Madeira River in Bolivia.
Margay: It’s a small, solitary wild cat that lives a nocturnal lifestyle in evergreen and deciduous forests of Central and South America. They were illegally hunted till the 1990s, which greatly decreased their numbers. This animal would be rare to see in the wild, but worth it.
Maned Wolf: While neither a fox nor a wolf, the maned wolf has features of both animals. It’s a wild dog species that inhabits open and semi-open areas such as the Cerrado.
The 5 Largest South American Animals
While no land animal compares in size to the elephant, there are some South American animals that make the list for their height, length, and bulk. Here’s a look at the five largest South American animals:
Jaguar: With a length of up to 6 ft and a max weight of 348 lbs, the Jaguar is the largest wild cat in the Americas and the third largest cat in the world. It sports a beautiful yellow coat covered in rosettes that helps it hide in jungle vegetation, while some jaguars are pure black in color.
Caiman: While this reptile is not as big as the standard alligator or crocodile, it does compete for the top prize of the largest animal in South America with a length of 16-20 feet and a weight of 13-88 pounds. Caimans inhabit the rivers, lakes, swamps, marshes, and mangroves of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.
Andean Condor: This bird is not only the largest in South America but the biggest flying bird and bird of prey in the world! Its wingspan is a maximum of 10’10” wide and its max weight is 33 lbs. It’s the national bird of Bolivia, and also inhabits Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Columbia.
Tapir: Besides taking the top prize as the largest land mammal in South America, the tapir is also one of the oldest living mammals, its origins dating back to the Eocene Epoch, from 56 to 33.9 million years ago. Its height can reach to nearly 4 feet and its weight is up to 700 pounds. This unique animal looks like a cross between a pig, rhino, and horse, and sports a long proboscis.
Capybara: The capybara is the largest rodent species on earth, having a max weight of 154 lbs and a max height of 2 ft. Related to guinea pigs, capybaras are social animals that live in groups of up to 100 in areas like swamps, rivers, ponds, and lakes. They are not semi-aquatic but are excellent swimmers.
The hippo is not native to South America, but rather to Africa. But Pablo Escobar had a set of four imported to his compound in Colombia during his reign, and now there are up to 120 hippos in that country, some of which have wandered up to 230 miles from his compound, where most still reside on or near. Scientists have warned that by 2034, there could be as many as 1,400 hippos, which could pose a threat to manatees and other fish species. Hippos can grow up to 16 feet long, weigh up to 4.5 tons, and sport teeth measuring 20 inches long.
South American Countries Animals Lists
Click any of the countries below to see a detailed list of animals located in that country!
Female crayfish aren't that maternal; they have to secrete a form of pheromone, referred to as maternal pheromones, that encourages them to take care of their offspring and prevents them from eating their young.
The capybara, the world’s largest rodent, likes to be in and around bodies of water. Because of this, the Catholic Church in South America decided that it was a fish, and people were allowed to eat it during Lent and First Fridays.
Abby Parks has authored a fiction novel, theatrical plays, short stories, poems, and song lyrics. She's recorded two albums of her original songs, and is a multi-instrumentalist. She has managed a website for folk music and written articles on singer-songwriters, folk bands, and other things music-oriented. She's also a radio DJ for a folk music show. As well as having been a pet parent to rabbits, birds, dogs, and cats, Abby loves seeking sightings of animals in the wild and has witnessed some more exotic ones such as Puffins in the Farne Islands, Southern Pudu on the island of Chiloe (Chile), Penguins in the wild, and countless wild animals in the Rocky Mountains (Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Moose, Elk, Marmots, Beavers).