We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto: 10 Strange Animals Native to South America

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Every region of the world has its oddities, things that must seem strange from an outsider’s perspective. For example, have you ever thought about how weird an opossum must look, or stranger still, a platypus?

You can find interesting animals anywhere, and South America is no exception. In fact, 10% of the animal species that we know of  are native to the Amazon, to say nothing of the other biomes of South America.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of some of the weirdest animals native to South America.

1. Blue-Footed Boobies

You may be tempted to laugh, but blue-footed boobies are an actual species of bird that can be found in the Galapagos Islands. Blue-footed boobies are not native to the Galapagos, but they’ve adopted it all the same. Today, the Galapagos Islands are home to the largest population of blue-footed boobies in the world.

In terms of appearance, this bird looks like something out of Sesame Street. Its torso is reminiscent of a duck, while its head resembles that of a heron.

As its name implies, though, its most striking features are its feet. They’re a shade of light blue that you may be surprised to learn exists in nature.

If you’re thinking of visiting the Galapagos, and are wondering if a cruise is a good idea, we can help.

2. Tapir

You might get confused your first time seeing a tapir. It has a long snout that hangs down in front of its mouth. Its body shape is somewhat pig-like, though its ears look like those of a horse or a jungle cat.

So what is a tapir, exactly? It’s a lot like all of those things and more. Much like crocodiles or whales, tapirs are a sort of relic that has existed for millions of years and hasn’t changed much.

The tapir can best be thought of as a prototype. By now, most of its earlier relatives have evolved into some of the mammals we know today. The tapir’s closest living relatives are horses and rhinos.

3. Capybara

Here’s a question most of us have never asked: What would happen if my guinea pig suddenly grew to the size of a coyote? Meet the capybara, basically the answer to that question.

So, a capybara isn’t actually a giant guinea pig, and while it is about as tall and long as a coyote, it weighs anywhere from twenty to one hundred pounds more.

A capybara is a South American forest dweller that holds the title of the world’s largest rodent. Like many rodents, they tend to live in groups, despite their massive size.

They are also prey to some of the most dangerous hunters in South America–Jaguars and anacondas.

4. Anaconda

Speaking of anacondas, they’re next on this list. There are many reasons an anaconda should be on this list.

It’s one of the largest snakes in the world, it can stay underwater for up to ten minutes, and it gives birth to live young. However, the thing that cements its spot on this list is its appetite.

Anacondas have been known to eat whatever they think they can swallow. In addition to capybaras,  they also dine on caimans and even each other on occasion.

5. Maned Wolf

The most definitive thing we can say about the maned wolf is that it’s a canine. Despite being called a wolf and looking like a long-legged fox, this creature can’t be called either one.

It’s a form of canine whose closest relative is believed to have gone extinct over a century ago. One relative it has that’s still alive is known as a bush dog, another native of South America.

6. Giant Otter

The giant otter is a large species of endangered otter that is native to Bolivia. Their giant size is exemplified by their weight, which is often around 70 pounds.

Nicknamed ‘the river wolf,’ this otter can eat up to nine pounds of food per day, or about one-eighth of its body weight. In human terms, that’d be like you eating seventeen pounds of food in one day.

Even more incredible than how much they eat is what they eat. It’s diet often includes shellfish, piranhas and even caiman.

7. Andean Condor

As its name suggests, this bird is native to the Andes mountains. Being vultures, they primarily feed on carrion.

They also happen to be huge. They stand around four feet tall and can have a wingspan as long as ten feet. Since they can weigh over thirty pounds, many prefer high elevations, so they can glide rather than lift off.

The Incans used to believe that the Andean condor had some connection to their sun god and that it was immortal. For the record, they weren’t far off. While Andean condors aren’t immortal, they can live up to 75 years.

8. Piranhas

These fish are the stuff of legends, earning spots in our minds, on our TV screens, and on this list. These predatory fish are native to the Amazon river and are known to launch into feeding frenzies.

The interesting thing about piranhas is that most of our assumptions about them aren’t true. Some of the myths we have come from Teddy Roosevelt, who watched a group of piranhas devour a cow. What isn’t as well-known is that he was watching captive piranhas, who were intentionally starved beforehand to make them seem more frenzied.

For the most part, piranhas go after smaller prey, like crustaceans, fish, and worms. They will eat carrion, but it’s rare for them to kill a creature larger than themselves.

Some piranhas also eat plants and seeds. Some are even herbivores.

9. Sloths

It’s a running joke that this animal moves very slowly if it moves at all. There is a lot of truth to this image. Sloths are considered to be the slowest animal on earth and move so slow that insects, fungi, mold, and algae grow on their fur.

For those that think this sounds disgusting, it actually works to the sloth’s advantage. The algae tend to tinge the sloth’s fur green, which makes it harder to see among the trees.

However, sloths swim three times faster than they can move on land. That’s still only about twenty feet per minute, but it’s fast by their standards. Sloths live about twenty years in the wild but have lived over twice as long in captivity.

10. Caimans

A caiman is best described as a small creature that looks like a crocodile. If you laid down next to it you would be longer, since caimans are only about three feet long on average.

The black caiman, the largest caiman in South America, can be anywhere from seven feet long to thirteen feet long. It is one of the largest predators in the Amazon, but it often has to compete with jaguars and anacondas.

Black caimans exist in several countries in South America, but most commonly in French Guiana.

The Most Interesting Animals Native to South America

There are a lot of amazing animals native to South America. Whether you’re fond of birds, fish, reptiles or mammals, you’re bound to find something worthwhile in South America.

We’ve mentioned only a few of South America’s many different animal species, and we encourage you to do more research on your own.

Did you know South America is home to one of the most dangerous roads in the world? You can learn more about that road and how to travel on it safely on our site.


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