7 Strange and Exotic Animals of Central America

The Colombian Jungle is home to many myths and legends
The Colombian Jungle is home to many myths and legends | © Colombia Larry / Flickr
Jack Guy

Central America boasts incredible biodiversity in a huge range of ecosystems. Here are some of the strange and exotic animals that call the isthmus home.

Baird’s Tapir live in Central America

Baird’s Tapir

These shy mammals only really come out at night to forage for fallen fruit and leaves. They like to swim and they communicate with other tapirs via scent. They’re the biggest land mammals in Central America, and you might hear them whistling and shrieking if you go looking for them.

Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

If you go into any of the many jungle areas of Central America, there is a chance you will come across one of these dangerous little frogs. In addition to its toxic poison, the frog can also change colour from a red body and blue legs, to green with black spots, to navy blue. While many exotic species are threatened by development, the strawberry poison dart frog is incredibly successful as a species and continues to thrive.

White-faced Capuchin

White-Headed Capuchin Monkey

There are plenty of monkeys in Central America, but the white-headed capuchin is famous for its use of tools. They can often be seen using tools as weapons, or as a way of getting food. It is also thought that they rub certain plants on their bodies to treat illnesses, which may explain how they can live up to 54 years old.


These nocturnal animals are found throughout Central America, feeding on ants and termites. They can flick their tongue in and out of their mouth more than 150 times per minute when they find a food source. This amazing tongue means that anteaters are known to eat up to 30,000 insects per day.

A quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird


The national bird of Guatemala is a distinctively-coloured species with a red chest and blue-green feathers, which were highly prized by the ancient Maya. These days the bird is suffering a declining population as its habitat is destroyed by development, but you can still see some in the cloud forests if you are lucky.


Central America is home to a variety of exotic cats, but the margay is one that most people won’t have heard about before. It’s slightly bigger than an ocelot at around 30 centimetres tall (1 ft), and can weight up to 5 kilograms (11 lbs). Picture a small leopard and you’ve almost got it.


These gentle marine creatures are found in various Central American countries, with important populations in Belize and Lake Izabal in Guatemala. Manatees are sometimes known as sea cows, and they’re docile, largely herbivorous creatures which you can safely swim alongside.

Culture Trip Summer Sale

Save up to $1,395 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article