List of mammals of Central America

Last updated
Central America, as defined for this article Map-Central America2.png
Central America, as defined for this article

This is a list of the native wild mammal species recorded in Central America. Central America is usually defined as the southernmost extension of North America; however, from a biological standpoint it is useful to view it as a separate region of the Americas. Central America is distinct from the remainder of North America in being a tropical region, part of the Neotropic ecozone, whose flora and fauna display a strong South American influence. The rest of North America is mostly subtropical or temperate, belongs to the Nearctic ecozone, and has many fewer species of South American origin.

Central America central geographic region of the Americas

Central America is located on the southern tip of North America, or is sometimes defined as a subcontinent of the Americas, bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The combined population of Central America has been estimated to be 41,739,000 and 42,688,190.

North America Continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere

North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere; it is also considered by some to be a northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea.

Americas Landmass comprising North America, Central America and South America

The Americas comprise the totality of the continents of North and South America. Together, they make up most of the land in Earth's western hemisphere and comprise the New World.


At present Central America bridges North and South America, facilitating migrations in both directions, but this phenomenon is relatively recent from a geological perspective. The formation of this land bridge through volcanic activity three million years ago precipitated the Great American Interchange, an important biogeographical event. In part because of this history, Central America is extremely biodiverse; it comprises most of the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot. [1] The mountains running down the spine of Central America have also contributed to biodiversity by creating montane habitats, including cloud forests and grasslands, and by separating species from the lowlands along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. However, Central America's biodiversity suffered a blow in the Quaternary extinction event, which started around 12500 cal BP, at roughly the time of arrival of Paleoindians; much of the megafauna died out at this time. The effects of modern human activities on climate and ecosystem integrity pose a further threat to Central America's fauna.

Great American Interchange Paleozoographic event resulting from the formation of the Isthmus of Panama

The Great American Interchange was an important late Cenozoic paleozoogeographic event in which land and freshwater fauna migrated from North America via Central America to South America and vice versa, as the volcanic Isthmus of Panama rose up from the sea floor and bridged the formerly separated continents. Although there were earlier dispersals, probably over water, the migration accelerated dramatically about 2.7 million years (Ma) ago during the Piacenzian age. It resulted in the joining of the Neotropic and Nearctic ecozones definitively to form the Americas. The interchange is visible from observation of both biostratigraphy and nature (neontology). Its most dramatic effect is on the zoogeography of mammals but it also gave an opportunity for reptiles, amphibians, arthropods, weak-flying or flightless birds, and even freshwater fish to migrate.

Biogeography The study of the distribution of species and ecosystems in geographic space and through geological time

Biogeography is the study of the distribution of species and ecosystems in geographic space and through geological time. Organisms and biological communities often vary in a regular fashion along geographic gradients of latitude, elevation, isolation and habitat area. Phytogeography is the branch of biogeography that studies the distribution of plants. Zoogeography is the branch that studies distribution of animals.

Biodiversity Variety and variability of life forms

Biodiversity refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth. Biodiversity is typically a measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Terrestrial biodiversity is usually greater near the equator, which is the result of the warm climate and high primary productivity. Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on Earth, and is richest in the tropics. These tropical forest ecosystems cover less than 10 percent of earth's surface, and contain about 90 percent of the world's species. Marine biodiversity is usually highest along coasts in the Western Pacific, where sea surface temperature is highest, and in the mid-latitudinal band in all oceans. There are latitudinal gradients in species diversity. Biodiversity generally tends to cluster in hotspots, and has been increasing through time, but will be likely to slow in the future.

The list consists of those mammal species found from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the northwestern border of Colombia, a region including the Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo, and the nations of Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. As of May 2012, the list contains 378 species, 177 genera, 47 families and 13 orders. Of the taxa from nonflying, nonmarine groups (203 species, 91 genera, 31 families and 10 orders), those of South American origin (opossums, xenarthrans, monkeys and caviomorph rodents) comprise 21% of species, 34% of genera, 52% of families and 50% of orders. Thus, South America's contribution to Central America's biodiversity is fairly modest at the species level, but substantial at higher taxonomic levels. In comparison to South America, a famously biodiverse continent, Central America has 27% as many species, 51% as many genera, 81% as many families and 86% as many orders (considering noncetacean taxa only), while having only 4.3% of the land area.

Mammal class of tetrapods

Mammals are vertebrate animals constituting the class Mammalia, and characterized by the presence of mammary glands which in females produce milk for feeding (nursing) their young, a neocortex, fur or hair, and three middle ear bones. These characteristics distinguish them from reptiles and birds, from which they diverged in the late Triassic, 201–227 million years ago. There are around 5,450 species of mammals. The largest orders are the rodents, bats and Soricomorpha. The next three are the Primates, the Cetartiodactyla, and the Carnivora.

Isthmus of Tehuantepec The shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is an isthmus in Mexico. It represents the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. Prior to the opening of the Panama Canal, it was a major shipping route known simply as the Tehuantepec Route. The name is taken from the town of Santo Domingo Tehuantepec in the state of Oaxaca; this was derived from the Nahuatl term tecuani-tepec.

Colombia Country in South America

Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia, is a sovereign state largely situated in the northwest of South America, with territories in Central America. Colombia shares a border to the northwest with Panama, to the east with Venezuela and Brazil and to the south with Ecuador and Peru. It shares its maritime limits with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Colombia is a unitary, constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments, with the capital in Bogotá.

Of the species, 2 are extinct, 11 are critically endangered, 13 are endangered, 20 are vulnerable, 20 are near-threatened, 35 are data-deficient and 5 are not yet evaluated. [n 1] Mammal species presumed extinct since AD 1500 (two cases) are included. Domestic species and introduced species are not listed.

Introduced species species introduced either deliberately or accidentally through human activity

An introduced species is a species living outside its native distributional range, but which has arrived there by human activity, either deliberate or accidental. Non-native species can have various effects on the local ecosystem. Introduced species that become established and spread beyond the place of introduction are called invasive species. The impact of introduced species is highly variable. Some have a negative effect on a local ecosystem, while other introduced species may have no negative effect or only minor impact. Some species have been introduced intentionally to combat pests. They are called biocontrols and may be regarded as beneficial as an alternative to pesticides in agriculture for example. In some instances the potential for being beneficial or detrimental in the long run remains unknown.

NOTE: this list is almost inevitably going to be incomplete, since new species are continually being recognized via discovery or reclassification. Places to check for missing species include the Wikipedia missing mammal species list, including recently removed entries, and the species listings in the articles for mammalian genera, especially those of small mammals such as rodents or bats.

The following tags are used to highlight each species' conservation status as assessed by the IUCN; those on the left are used here, those in the second column in some other articles:

International Union for Conservation of Nature international organisation

The International Union for Conservation of Nature is an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. It is involved in data gathering and analysis, research, field projects, advocacy, and education. IUCN's mission is to "influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable".

EXEX Extinct No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died.
EWEW Extinct in the wild Known only to survive in captivity or as a naturalized population well outside its historic range.
CRCR Critically endangered The species is in imminent danger of extinction in the wild.
ENEN Endangered The species is facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.
VUVU Vulnerable The species is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
NTNT Near threatened The species does not qualify as being at high risk of extinction but is likely to do so in the future.
LCLC Least concern The species is not currently at risk of extinction in the wild.
DDDD Data deficient There is inadequate information to assess the risk of extinction for this species.
NENE Not evaluated The conservation status of the species has not been studied.

The IUCN status of the listed species was last updated during the period from November 2008 to March 2009.

Subclass: Theria

Infraclass: Metatheria

Marsupials are an infraclass of pouched mammals that was once more widely distributed. Today they are found primarily in isolated or formerly isolated continents of Gondwanan origin. Those of Central America are relatively recent immigrants from South America. Central America's 10 extant genera compares with 22 in South America, 1 in North America north of Mexico, 52 in Australia, 28 in New Guinea and 2 in Sulawesi. South American marsupials are thought to be ancestral to those of Australia and elsewhere.

Water opossum Schwimmbeutler-drawing2.jpg
Water opossum
Virginia opossum Possum122708b.jpg
Virginia opossum
Common opossum Rabipelao2.jpg
Common opossum
Robinson's mouse opossum Marmosa robinsoni.jpg
Robinson's mouse opossum
Gray four-eyed opossum Cuica verdadeira2.jpg
Gray four-eyed opossum

Superorder: Ameridelphia

Order: Didelphimorphia (common opossums)

Didelphimorphia is the order of common opossums of the Western Hemisphere. Opossums probably diverged from the basic South American marsupials in the late Cretaceous or early Paleocene.They are small to medium-sized marsupials, about the size of a large house cat, with a long snout and prehensile tail.

Infraclass: Eutheria

Superorder Afrotheria

Order: Sirenia (manatees and dugongs)

West Indian manatee Manatee with calf.PD.jpg
West Indian manatee

Sirenia is an order of fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals that inhabit rivers, estuaries, coastal marine waters, swamps, and marine wetlands. All four extant species are endangered. They evolved about 50 million years ago, and their closest living relatives are elephants. The manatees are the only extant afrotherians in the Americas. However, a number proboscid species, some of which survived until the arrival of Paleoindians, once inhabited the region. Mammoths, mastodons and gomphotheres all reached Central America.

Superorder Xenarthra

Order: Cingulata (armadillos)

Nine-banded armadillo Nine-banded Armadillo.jpg
Nine-banded armadillo

The armadillos are small mammals with a bony armored shell. Two of 21 extant species are present in Central America; the remainder are only found in South America, where they originated. Their much larger relatives, the pampatheres and glyptodonts, once lived in North and South America but became extinct following the appearance of humans.

Brown-throated sloth Bradypus variegatus.jpg
Brown-throated sloth
Silky anteater Silky Anteater cropped.jpg
Silky anteater
Giant anteater Tamandua-bandeira com filhote em pastagem - cropped.jpg
Giant anteater
Northern tamandua Tamandua mexicana 2.jpg
Northern tamandua
Order: Pilosa (sloths and anteaters)

The order Pilosa is confined to the Americas and contains the tree sloths and anteaters (which include the tamanduas). Although their ancestral home is South America, all 5 extant genera and 6 of 10 extant species are present in Central America. Numerous ground sloths, some of which reached the size of elephants, were once present in both North and South America, as well as on the Antilles, but all went extinct following the arrival of humans. Extant two-toed sloths are more closely related to some extinct ground sloths than to three-toed sloths.

Superorder Euarchontoglires

Order: Primates

Panamanian night monkey Panamanian Night Monkeys2.jpg
Panamanian night monkey
Geoffroy's tamarin Geoffroy's Tamarin (Saguinus geoffroyi) 3.jpg
Geoffroy's tamarin
White-headed capuchin Capuchin Costa Rica2.jpg
White-headed capuchin
Central American squirrel monkey Central American Squirrel Monkey.jpg
Central American squirrel monkey
Mantled howler Sitting Alouatta palliata, Costa Rica.JPG
Mantled howler
Geoffroy's spider monkey Spider monkey -Belize Zoo-8b.jpg
Geoffroy's spider monkey

The order Primates includes the lemurs, monkeys, and apes, with the latter category including humans. It is divided into four main groupings: strepsirrhines, tarsiers, monkeys of the New World (parvorder Platyrrhini), and monkeys and apes of the Old World. Central America's 6 genera of nonhuman primates compares with 20 in South America, 15 in Madagascar, 23 in Africa and 19 in Asia. Central American monkeys are recent immigrants from South America, where their ancestors arrived after rafting over from Africa 25 million years ago.

Order: Rodentia (rodents)

Mexican hairy dwarf porcupine Mexican-hairy-porcupine-1.jpg
Mexican hairy dwarf porcupine
Lesser capybara Hydrochoerus isthmius.jpg
Lesser capybara
Central American agouti Dasyprocta punctata guatemala 2004.jpg
Central American agouti
Lowland paca Cuniculus paca.jpg
Lowland paca
Armored rat Hoplomys gymnurus1.jpg
Armored rat

Rodents make up the largest order of mammals, with over 40 percent of mammalian species. They have two incisors in the upper and lower jaw which grow continually and must be keep short by gnawing. Most rodents are small, although the capybara can weigh up to 45 kg (100 lb). Central America's 11 species of caviomorph rodents (10% of its total rodent species) are recent immigrants from South America, where their ancestors washed ashore after rafting across the Atlantic from Africa over 30 million years ago. [2] The remainder of Central America's rodents are of Nearctic origin. Ancestral sigmodontine rodents [3] apparently island-hopped from Central America to South America 5 or more million years ago, [4] [5] [6] prior to the formation of the Panamanian land bridge. They went on to diversify explosively, and now comprise 60% of South America's rodent species, while only making up 27% of Central America's. [n 2]

Variegated squirrel Sciurus variegatoides Costa Rica 2.jpg
Variegated squirrel
Yucatan squirrel Yucatan gray squirrel.jpg
Yucatan squirrel
Bangs's mountain squirrel Sciuridae Poas1.jpg
Bangs's mountain squirrel
Sumichrast's vesper rat (right) and Alston's brown mouse (left) Scotinomys teguina, Nyctomys sumichrasti.jpg
Sumichrast's vesper rat (right) and Alston's brown mouse (left)
Panamanian climbing rat (below) and Coues' rice rat (above) Oryzomys couesi, Tylomys panamensis.jpg
Panamanian climbing rat (below) and Coues' rice rat (above)
White-footed mouse White.footed.mouse.with.sucklings.jpg
White-footed mouse
Sigmodon (Cotton rat) sp. Sigmodon hispidus1.jpg
Sigmodon (Cotton rat) sp.
Order: Lagomorpha (lagomorphs)

Tapeti Sylvilagus brasiliensis1.jpg
Eastern cottontail Wild rabbit us.jpg
Eastern cottontail

The lagomorphs comprise two families, Leporidae (hares and rabbits), and Ochotonidae (pikas). Though they can resemble rodents, and were classified as a superfamily in that order until the early 20th century, they have since been considered a separate order. They differ from rodents in a number of physical characteristics, such as having four incisors in the upper jaw rather than two. Central America's lagomorph diversity is considerably less than that of Mexico as a whole, but is greater than that of South America.

Superorder Laurasiatheria

Order: Eulipotyphla (shrews, hedgehogs, moles, and solenodons)

Eulipotyphlans are insectivorous mammals. Shrews and solenodons closely resemble mice, hedgehogs carry spines, while moles are stout-bodied burrowers. Central America's shrew diversity is comparable to that of Mexico as a whole, and is considerably greater than that of South America. Moles are not found in the Americas south of northern Mexico.

Order: Chiroptera (bats)

Greater bulldog bat Captive Noctilio leporinus.jpg
Greater bulldog bat
Big brown bat Big brown bat.jpg
Big brown bat
Desert red bat Lasiurus blossevillii2.jpg
Desert red bat
Hoary bat Lasurius cinereus.jpg
Hoary bat

The bats' most distinguishing feature is that their forelimbs are developed as wings, making them the only mammals in the world naturally capable of flight. Bat species account for about 20% of all mammals.

Big free-tailed bat Nyctinomops macrotus.jpeg
Big free-tailed bat
Greater or lesser sac-winged bat Costa-Rica-Bat-IMG 8315b.jpg
Greater or lesser sac-winged bat
Greater sac-winged bat Sbilineata.jpg
Greater sac-winged bat
Ghost-faced bat Mormoops megalophylla.JPG
Ghost-faced bat
Parnell's mustached bat Pteronotus parnellii.jpg
Parnell's mustached bat
Pale spear-nosed bat Phyllostomus discolor2b.jpg
Pale spear-nosed bat
Mexican long-tongued bat Long-Tongued Bat at hummingbird feeder cropped.jpg
Mexican long-tongued bat
Southern long-nosed bat Southern long-nosed bat.jpg
Southern long-nosed bat
Orange nectar bat Lonchophylla robusta.jpg
Orange nectar bat
Silky short-tailed bat Carollia brevicauda.jpg
Silky short-tailed bat
Jamaican fruit bat Artibeus jamaicensis los tuxtlas 2008.jpg
Jamaican fruit bat
Artibeus sp. Artibeus sp. Tortuguero National Park crop.jpg
Artibeus sp.
Wrinkle-faced bat Centurio senex.jpg
Wrinkle-faced bat
Salvin's big-eyed bat Chiroderma salvini2.jpg
Salvin's big-eyed bat
Honduran white bat Ectophylla alba Costa Rica.jpg
Honduran white bat
Little yellow-shouldered bat Sturnira lilium lostuxtlas2008.jpg
Little yellow-shouldered bat
Tent-making bat Uroderma bilobatum, Gamboa, Panama 2.jpg
Tent-making bat
Common vampire bat Desmodus.jpg
Common vampire bat
White-winged vampire bat Dyoungi.jpg
White-winged vampire bat
Order: Carnivora (carnivorans)

Ocelot Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)-8.jpg
Jaguar Jaguar head shot.jpg
Coyote Canis latrans2.jpg
Cacomistle Bassariscus sumichrasti geo.jpg
White-nosed coati MexicanCoati2.jpg
White-nosed coati
Northern olingo Bassaricyon gabbii.jpg
Northern olingo
Kinkajou Yawning kinkajou-2.jpg
Tayra Tayra.jpg
Neotropical otter Lontra longicaudis 2b.jpg
Neotropical otter
Striped hog-nosed skunk Conepatus semistriatus - Museo Civico di Storia Naturale Giacomo Doria - Genoa, Italy - DSC02689.JPG
Striped hog-nosed skunk
Caribbean monk seal Cms-newyorkzoologicalsociety1910.jpg
Caribbean monk seal

There are over 260 species of carnivorans, the majority of which feed primarily on meat. They have a characteristic skull shape and dentition. All of Central America's terrestrial carnivorans are of Nearctic origin. Central America has the greatest diversity of procyonids in the world. Large extinct carnivorans that lived in the area prior to the coming of humans include the saber-toothed cat Smilodon fatalis , the scimitar cat Homotherium serum , American lions, dire wolves and short-faced bears.

Order: Perissodactyla (odd-toed ungulates)

Baird's tapir Belize21b.jpg
Baird's tapir

The odd-toed ungulates are browsing and grazing mammals. They are usually large to very large, and have relatively simple stomachs and a large middle toe. While native equids once lived in the region, having evolved in North America over a period of 50 million years, they died out around the time of the first arrival of humans, along with at least one ungulate of South American origin, the notoungulate Mixotoxodon . Sequencing of collagen from a fossil of one recently extinct notoungulate has indicated that this order was closer to the perissodactyls than any extant mammal order. [7]

Order: Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates and cetaceans)

Collared peccary Collared peccary02 - melbourne zoo.jpg
Collared peccary
White-lipped peccary White-lipped Peccary (Tayassu pecari) (Captive specimen) (40554971072).jpg
White-lipped peccary
Red brocket Mazama americana.jpg
Red brocket

The weight of even-toed ungulates is borne about equally by the third and fourth toes, rather than mostly or entirely by the third as in perissodactyls. There are about 220 noncetacean artiodactyl species, including many that are of great economic importance to humans. All of Central America's extant ungulates are of Nearctic origin. Prior to the arrival of humans, Nearctic camelids also lived in the region.

Infraorder: Cetacea (whales, dolphins and porpoises)

Blue whale Anim1754 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library.jpg
Blue whale
Humpback whale Humpback Whale underwater shot.jpg
Humpback whale
Bottlenose dolphin Bottlenose Dolphin KSC04pd0178.jpg
Bottlenose dolphin
Atlantic spotted dolphin Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis) NOAA.jpg
Atlantic spotted dolphin
Spinner dolphin Spinner dolphin jumping.JPG
Spinner dolphin
Fraser's dolphin Fraser s group.jpg.jpeg
Fraser's dolphin
Orca Killerwhales jumping.jpg
False killer whale Pseudoorca Crassidens - False Killer Whale.jpg
False killer whale

The infraorder Cetacea includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. They are the mammals most fully adapted to aquatic life with a spindle-shaped nearly hairless body, protected by a thick layer of blubber, and forelimbs and tail modified to provide propulsion underwater. Their closest extant relatives are the hippos, which are artiodactyls, from which cetaceans descended; cetaceans are thus also artiodactyls.

See also


  1. This list is derived from the IUCN Red List which lists species of mammals. The taxonomy and naming of the individual species is based on those used in existing Wikipedia articles as of 21 May 2007 and supplemented by the common names and taxonomy from the IUCN, Smithsonian Institution, or University of Michigan where no Wikipedia article was available.
  2. This is based on the definition of Sigmodontinae that excludes Neotominae and Tylomyinae.


  1. "Mesoamerica". Conservation International web site. Conservation International . Retrieved 2012-11-05.
  2. Flynn, J. J.; Wyss, A. R. (1998). "Recent advances in South American mammalian paleontology". Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 13 (11): 449–454. doi:10.1016/S0169-5347(98)01457-8. PMID   21238387.
  3. Steppan, Scott J. (1996). "Sigmodontinae: Neotropical mice and rats". Tree of Life web project. Retrieved 2010-04-14.
  4. Marshall, L. G.; Butler, R. F.; Drake, R. E.; Curtis, G. H.; Tedford, R. H. (1979-04-20). "Calibration of the Great American Interchange". Science . 204 (4390): 272–279. doi:10.1126/science.204.4390.272. PMID   17800342.
  5. Engel, S. R.; Hogan, K. M.; Taylor, J. F.; Davis, S. K. (1998). "Molecular Systematics and Paleobiogeography of the South American Sigmodontine Rodents". Molecular Biology and Evolution . 15 (1): 35–49. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a025845. PMID   9491603 . Retrieved 2012-05-13.
  6. Smith, M. F.; Patton, J. L. (1999). "Phylogenetic Relationships and the Radiation of Sigmodontine Rodents in South America: Evidence from Cytochrome b". Journal of Mammalian Evolution . 6 (2): 89–128. doi:10.1023/A:1020668004578 . Retrieved 2012-05-13.
  7. Welker, F.; Collins, M. J.; Thomas, J. A.; Wadsley, M.; Brace, S.; Cappellini, E.; Turvey, S. T.; Reguero, M.; Gelfo, J. N.; Kramarz, A.; Burger, J.; Thomas-Oates, J.; Ashford, D. A.; Ashton, P. D.; Rowsell, K.; Porter, D. M.; Kessler, B.; Fischer, R.; Baessmann, C.; Kaspar, S.; Olsen, J. V.; Kiley, P.; Elliott, J. A.; Kelstrup, C. D.; Mullin, V.; Hofreiter, M.; Willerslev, E.; Hublin, J.-J.; Orlando, L.; Barnes, I.; MacPhee, R. D. E. (2015-03-18). "Ancient proteins resolve the evolutionary history of Darwin's South American ungulates". Nature. 522 (7554): 81–84. doi:10.1038/nature14249. ISSN   0028-0836. PMID   25799987.

Lists of Western Hemisphere mammals from north to south

List of mammals of Greenland

List of mammals of Mexico

List of mammals of Antarctica