South American Extremes: The Largest and Smallest Animals on the Continent of South America
Imagine, if you will, that you’re in the middle of the jungle, and a strange creature stands before you. It looks vaguely similar to a pig, with black fur and a prehensile snout. If you had to make a split-second guess, where do you think you’d be?
The answer is tricky – certainly not common knowledge. It’s South America. And the creature is Baird’s tapir.
For the purposes of this answer, we’re concerned with South America’s extremes – particularly the extremes of its animals’ size. (In this case, Baird’s tapir is South America’s largest mammal.) We’ll be unpacking the biggest and smallest animals that South America has to offer, spotlighting the extremes of each major type of animal – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and fish. And we will begin with the above specimen – Baird’s tapir.
Largest – As stated above, Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii) is South America’s largest mammal. This species of tapir can be found in the jungles of northwest South America, where the continent joins with Central America. Its body is 6.5 – 6.7 feet (2.0 meters) long; it has a much greater variance in weight, with its low weight at 525 pounds (240 kilograms) and its high weight at 880 pounds (400 kilograms).
Smallest – South America’s smallest mammal is also its smallest monkey. This is the pygmy marmoset (Callithrix pygmaea), which can be found in several countries lying in the upper Amazon basin east of the Andes. It is around 5 inches (13 centimeters) long, with a tail of 8 inches (20 centimeters). It weighs between 4 ounces (113 grams) and 7 ounces (199 grams).
Largest – The black, “white collared” Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) is South America’s largest bird. Although endangered, it can be found in mountainous, coastal and even desert regions along the continent’s western edge. This condor’s body size is 4 feet (1.2 meters), its wingspan can reach 10.5 feet (3.2 meters) and its weight can reach 33 pounds (15 kilograms).
Smallest – The tiny hummingbird (hummingbirds are the smallest bird variety) called the Little Woodstar (Chaetocercus bombus) is South America’s smallest bird. Historically, it has been found in regions of central Peru, west-central Ecuador and southwest Colombia. It is only 2.36 inches to 2.75 inches (6 to 7 centimeters) long.
Largest – South America’s largest reptile is known as the Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius). Unfortunately, it is critically endangered and as of now can only be found in the Orinoco and Meta river systems, which run through the countries of Colombia and Venezuela. Typically, an Orinoco crocodile is 10 to 16 feet (3.0 to 4.8 meters) long, and weighs somewhere in the range of 837 pounds (380 kilograms).
Smallest – There doesn’t appear to be a workable record of South America’s smallest reptile. If you somehow have this information, could you put it in a comment below? Thanks much.
Largest – The cane toad or marine toad (Bufo marinus) is the largest amphibian in South America. It can be found in South America’s tropical habitats, usually close to a standing source of water. It averages 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) in length and can reach a weight of over 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram).
Smallest – The smallest amphibian in South America could actually fit on your fingertip. It is Noble’s Pygmy Frog – Noblella pygmaea – and it was first discovered in a Peruvian national park. Its average length is truly minute – only about 0.45 inches (1.14 centimeters).
Largest – The so-called “Titan beetle” (Titanus giganteus) is the largest insect in South America, and is in contention for the title of largest insect in the world. It has a maximum body length of 6.57 inches (16.70 centimeters). And it can be found in the equatorial regions of Brazil.
Smallest – A parasitic wasp with the designation Dicopomorpha echmepterygis is the smallest insect in South America, and also the smallest insect in the world. (This wasp can be found on many continents.) Males of this species are only 139 micrometers long – that is many, many times smaller than an inch. Interestingly, these males are both blind and wingless.
Largest – South America’s largest fish is known as the pirarucu or giant arapaima (Arapaima gigas). It can only be found in one part of the continent – the Amazon River basin. This fearsome predator can reach 14.76 feet (4.50 meters) in length and 440 pounds (200 kilograms) in weight.
Smallest – Like with its smallest reptile, I have unfortunately not been able to discover South America’s smallest fish. If you have this information somehow, I’d be grateful if you put it in the comments. Thanks!
Photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
The anaconda, considered to be one of the largest snakes in the world, are found in South America.
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