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List of Central American mammals


List of Central American mammals

Central America, as defined for this article

This is a list of the 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.

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.

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.

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.[1] Mammal species presumed extinct since AD 1500 (two cases) are included. Domestic species and introduced species are not listed.

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 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:
EX Extinct No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died.
EW Extinct in the Wild Known only to survive in captivity or as a naturalized population well outside its historic range.
CR Critically Endangered The species is in imminent danger of extinction in the wild.
EN Endangered The species is facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.
VU Vulnerable The species is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
NT Near Threatened The species does not qualify as being at high risk of extinction but is likely to do so in the future.
LC Least Concern The species is not currently at risk of extinction in the wild.
DD Data Deficient There is inadequate information to assess the risk of extinction for this species.
NE 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 1
    • Infraclass: Metatheria 1.1
      • Superorder: Ameridelphia 1.1.1
        • Order: Didelphimorphia (common opossums)
    • Infraclass: Eutheria 1.2
      • Superorder Afrotheria 1.2.1
        • Order: Sirenia (manatees and dugongs)
      • Superorder Xenarthra 1.2.2
        • Order: Cingulata (armadillos)
        • Order: Pilosa (sloths and anteaters)
      • Superorder Euarchontoglires 1.2.3
        • Order: Primates
        • Order: Rodent (rodents)
        • Order: Lagomorpha (lagomorphs)
      • Superorder Laurasiatheria 1.2.4
        • Order: Eulipotyphla (shrews, hedgehogs, moles, and solenodons)
        • Order: Chiroptera (bats)
        • Order: Carnivora (carnivorans)
        • Order: Perissodactyla (odd-toed ungulates)
        • Order: Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates)
        • Order: Cetacea (whales)
  • See also 2
  • Notes 3
  • References 4

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.

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)

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)

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 went extinct following the appearance of humans.

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

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)

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.[2]

Sigmodon (Cotton rat) sp.
Order: Lagomorpha (lagomorphs)

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)

The "shrew-forms" 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)

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.

Artibeus sp.
Order: Carnivora (carnivorans)

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)

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.

Order: Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates)

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 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 and at least one ungulate of South American origin also lived in the region.

Order: Cetacea (whales)

The order 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 are believed to have descended (as reflected in the naming of the clade Cetartiodactyla).

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 WorldHeritage 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 WorldHeritage article was available.
  2. ^ This is based on the definition of Sigmodontinae that excludes Neotominae and Tylomyinae.


  1. ^ "Mesoamerica". Conservation International web site.  
  2. ^ Flynn, J. J.; Wyss, A. R. (1998). "Recent advances in South American mammalian paleontology". Trends in Ecology and Evolution 13 (11): 449–454.  
  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".  
  5. ^ Engel, S. R.; Hogan, K. M.; Taylor, J. F.; Davis, S. K. (1998). "Molecular Systematics and Paleobiogeography of the South American Sigmodontine Rodents".  
  6. ^ Smith, M. F.; Patton, J. L. (1999). "b"Phylogenetic Relationships and the Radiation of Sigmodontine Rodents in South America: Evidence from Cytochrome .  
  • Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M., eds. (2005). Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press.  
  • Eisenberg, John F. (May 15, 1989). Mammals of the Neotropics, Volume 1: The Northern Neotropics: Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana.  
  • Reid, Fiona A. (June 2, 2009). A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America & Southeast Mexico (2nd ed.).  
  • "Animal Diversity Web". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. 1995–2006. Retrieved 22 May 2007. 

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