Animal Species of South America

December 4th, 2018

South America is a large continent with a wide range of habitats that support a diverse collection of animal species. Additionally, because South America was geographically cut off from the world for millions of years, it is home to some remarkably original species. Many are indigenous, occurring naturally on the continent, and some are even endemic, meaning that they live in only one place in the world.

This article looks at three South American animals that live in three very different habitats, from the high slopes of the Andes mountains to the dense Amazon rain forests.



A llama is a domesticated South American animal that look like a cross between a camel and a horse. They live in the Andes mountains and have been used as pack animal, as well as a source of meat, by Andean people for centuries.

Llamas are social animals, living in herds, and they usually live 15 to 25 years. A full-grown llama is almost 6 feet tall and can weigh over 440 pounds. They can carry about a quarter of their body weight, but if you pile on too much stuff, a llama will stubbornly refuse to move, sometimes even lying down to make its point!



South America has the largest number or recorded bird species in the world, and one of the most interesting is the toucan. These beautiful birds inhabit a wide range of semi-open habitats including tropical forests, savannas, and shrubland.

The toucan has gorgeous plumage, but it's the giant bill that you'll notice first. Sometimes as long as 9 inches, the colorful bill of the toucan is the largest bill relative to a bird's body size. It accounts for 30 to 50 percent of the toucan's body surface area!

The bill is believed to have several functions, like helping the bird eat fruits, regulating its body temperature, attracting a mate, and dominating other birds in territorial disputes.



The jaguar is a wild cat species that has a special place in the mythology of the native South American people. Mayan and Aztec civilizations worshiped a jaguar god that played an important role in their religion. Due to the cat's size and skill as a predator, it was revered as a symbol of strength and authority.

The jaguar is the third largest cat species in the world, beaten out only by tigers and lions. Its spots make it look a little bit like a leopard, bur jaguars are bulkier than leopards, growing as large as 6 feet long (including the tail), and a big male specimen can weight over 200 lbs.

Jaguars can live in open areas, but they prefer tropical and subtropical forests, swamps, and other densely wooded habitats. The largest known population of jaguars in the world is located in the Amazon rain forests.