The flora and fauna of Colombia is one of the most diverse in the world, grouped into 74 general natural ecosystems. This variability of environments and their biodiversity is a product of the geographical location of Colombia and its varied relief.
Colombia is located in the extreme northwest of South America, presenting a tropical climate, and receives biological influence from various biogeographic regions. This climate includes the hot superhumid in Chocó on the border with Panama and the humid in the Amazon and plains.
Likewise, there is an arid tropical climate in the east on the Guajira peninsula, including temperate and cold tropical areas in the high Andean mountains. Likewise, there are coastal and marine areas both in the Caribbean Sea and in the Atlantic Ocean.
In this geographic diversity, tropical rain forests such as the Amazon and Chocó develop. On the other hand, there are various wetland ecosystems such as swamps, marshes and flooded savannas. Likewise, mangroves and various aquatic ecosystems, including coral reefs and seagrass beds.
There is a great diversity of flora and fauna in Colombia, being one of the 17 megadiverse countries and includes 28,000 species of plants. While in fauna it ranks as the fourth country in number of mammal species, with 479 species.
In birds, it has 1,885 species including migratory ones, while it has 1,494 species of freshwater fish and 1,200 of saltwater. Meanwhile, it is the third country in the world in reptiles with 593 species, of these 222 are snakes.
Flora of Colombia
Canangucho or moriche ( Mauritia flexuosa )
This palm grows in flooded areas or near water courses, reaching a height of up to 35 m with a 60 cm trunk diameter. It is a hot land species with finger-like leaves, which produces numerous yellowish female and male flowers in hanging panicles.
The flowers are green in color and give rise to elliptical reddish-brown fruits with a characteristic scaly cover. The canangucho is highly valued by indigenous communities who take advantage of its leaves, trunks and fruits.
With the yellow pulp of the fruits, drinks and sweets are prepared, as well as fermented drinks from the inflorescences and the pith of the stem. Coleopteran larvae develop on the decomposed stems and are also eaten by the natives.
Ceiba ( Ceiba pentandra )
This deciduous species is characterized by its barrel-shaped trunk, widened in its middle part, reaching a height of up to 73 m. In its widest part, the trunk reaches a diameter of up to 3 or 5 m.
It has digitate leaves, large white flowers and produces capsule-like fruits with seeds covered by a cottony fiber with yellowish-white hairs. In addition, it has very extensive buttress or tabular roots and scattered stingers on the stem.
It is a typical species of sub-humid, semi-deciduous or deciduous tropical forests, adapting well to these environments because it stores water in its stem.
Quindío wax palm ( Ceroxylon quindiuense )
Despite not being properly a tree, this palm is the National tree of Colombia. Being endemic to the humid forests of the high Andean mountains of Colombia and Peru. It lives above 2,000 meters above sea level and is threatened by deforestation and the extraction of its leaves.
It can reach up to 60 m in height with a straight, smooth, grayish-white and waxy trunk of about 40 cm in diameter. The leaves are pinnate and appear in a more or less erect plume.
Grass pine ( Podocarpus oleifolius )
This plant is a tree of the coniferous group characteristic of tropical and subtropical areas with a temperate climate. It reaches 30 m in height and 1.5 m in diameter of the trunk, although at extreme altitudes it can appear as a small tree of 8 m, its habitat being the Andean cloud forest.
It has simple alternate lanceolate leaves, and produces green herbaceous male cones, as well as female structures covered with bracts. The seed is green in color and is surrounded by a thickened and fleshy red structure.
Water cabbage ( Pistia stratiotes )
It is a floating aquatic monocot that lives in rivers and swampy areas of jungles and savannas. It has somewhat succulent leaves with a truncated and cleft apex, grouped in rosettes, and a fascicle of fine roots.
They also produce stolons (thin horizontal stems that produce new shoots). The flowers are tiny, green, very inconspicuous and form small green berries.
Colombian or Andean oak ( Quercus humboldtii )
This is the kind of Quercusthat reaches further south in America, being the characteristic genus of temperate zones of the northern hemisphere. It lives in the highlands of the Colombian Andes, forming forests, greatly diminished by logging for the establishment of coffee cultivation.
It is an evergreen tree with a single leaf that lasts up to 20 cm, reaching a height of 25 m and a trunk diameter of 1 m. This oak has yellow flowers in clusters, which produce dark brown acorns.
Yopo ( Anadenanthera peregrina )
This tree of the mimosoid legumes reaches a height of 20 m, with finely divided compound leaves. It produces small white or yellowish flowers in dense heads, which give rise to long pods of rounded light brown segments, with black seeds.
It is a tree that inhabits the tropical forests and whose ground seeds are used as a hallucinogen by the shamans of the indigenous tribes.
Cajui ( Anacardium giganteum )
This Amazonian tree of the Anacardiaceae family reaches up to 40 m in height with a trunk up to 90 cm in diameter. It has ovate, alternate, simple and large leaves, and produces small flowers with greenish-white petals that turn red.
Its fruits are similar to those of the cashew, being a nut with a green cover, turning black when ripe, with a fleshy and wide peduncle. This peduncle gives the impression of a false fruit and turns red when ripe.
These false fruits are consumed fresh or in juices and the seeds of the true fruit are also consumed. In this case, the seeds must be roasted beforehand, otherwise they can be toxic.
Ladle ( Gyranthera darienensis )
It is a species of the Malvaceae family, endemic to Darien-Chocó, in Panama and Colombia, where it is part of the tropical rain forest. It reaches 40 m in height with 2 m of trunk diameter, with large tabular roots, similar to walls up to 6 m in height.
The flowers can reach 20 cm in length and are white. These give rise to elliptical capsule-type fruits up to 35 cm long with winged seeds.
Fauna of Colombia
Colombia has 25% of the world’s crocodile species, including the needle caiman (Crocodylus acutus) and the Orinoco caiman (Crocodylus intermedius). The latter is endemic to the Orinoco basin in Colombia and Venezuela, and is in danger of extinction.
It is one of the largest crocodiles, reaching up to 5 m in length. For its part, the needle caiman lives on the coasts at the mouths of rivers and mangroves, reaching up to 4 m in length.
Cock-of-the-rocks ( Rupicola rupicola )
It lives in the jungles of the Guyanese outcrops in southeastern Colombia, reaches about 30 cm in length, feeds on fruits and has an intense reddish orange color. This color corresponds to the males, who have a crest of the same tone and dark brown spots on the tip of the wings and tail, while the females have dark brown.
Macaws ( Aras spp.)
They are large birds of the psittacine group, characterized by their intense coloring, long tails and thick curved beaks. These spikes make it easy to break through the tough coatings of the nuts and seeds they eat, along with fleshy fruit.
They are typical of the tropical jungle and in Colombia species such as the tricolor macaw (Ara macao) and the blue macaw (Ara ararauna).
Monkeys (order Primates, infraorder Simiiiformes)
In the jungles of Colombia, various species of large arboreal monkeys are found, among them the red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus). It has a reddish brown coat and reaches a length of up to 72 cm in males, which emit a characteristic roar.
There is also the Humboldt woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagothricha) 60 cm long plus 75 cm tail. This Amazon monkey is gray, brown or black in color, with a darker head, tail, and limbs.
In the Andean zone the Colombian woolly monkey (Lagothrix lugens) as well as the white-bellied spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth). Another species in this area is the Colombian black-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps rufiventris).
These monkeys have particularly long and thin limbs in relation to the body and are very skilled among the trees. The white-bellied spider monkey is brown or black with a white belly and the Colombian black-headed spider monkey is totally black with some white on the chin.
Sloths are arboreal mammals characterized by their slow movements, their bodies covered in long hair, and long front legs. In addition, their head is rounded and they have three or two long claws on their front legs.
They feed on young leaves and shoots, which do not give them much energy. In Colombia there are three species of sloths, including the three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus).
This species is about 45 cm long and has a tail, absent in two-toed sloths. Others are Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni).
And Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus) that reach up to 70 cm.
These tropical birds are identified by having a beak generally almost half that of the body and very wide. This beak is adapted to break down tough nuts and seeds.
In Colombia there are species such as the Chocó toucan (Ramphastos brevis), endemic to Colombia and Ecuador, and the Caribbean toucan ( Ramphastos sulfuratus ). The latter has a 12 cm beak with a red tip and the rest greenish blue or green and orange with a black base, with a black body and yellow chest and head.
The Chocó toucan is smaller than the previous one, with a similarly colored body, but the beak is different, with the upper half of an intense yellow color and the lower half black.
Warty or cuaima pineapple ( Lachesis muta )
This is the largest venomous snake in America, exceeding 3 m in length, with fangs of up to 6 cm, and in Colombia it is located in the Amazon jungle. It has the characteristic of wagging its tail when threatened, just like the rattlesnake, only it lacks bells.
The characteristic color pattern is a yellowish or reddish brown background with a black or dark brown inverted triangle pattern. Plus a black line from the eye to the corner of the mouth on each side of the head.
Tapir ( Tapirus pinchaque )
The Andean tapir is a large mammal that can weigh 180 kg. It stands out for its peculiar snout, which is adapted to eat berries, fruits and other vegetables. It is currently Endangered according to the IUCN.
Pirarucú ( Arapaima gigas )
Second largest freshwater fish in the world after sturgeon. It can weigh 250 kg and is distributed throughout the Amazon basin. Fossils of this fish have shown that its origin is possibly in the Miocene.
Spectacled bear ( Tremarctos ornatus )
Unique in its kind. It measures between 130 and 200 cm and weighs no more than 125 kg. It stands out for the dark tone of its skin and the white spots that form on its face, which is what gives rise to its peculiar name.
Sword-billed hummingbird ( Ensifera ensifera )
Hummingbird distributed by the Andes that stands out for its long beak and its tongue with which it feeds on nectar. Although it weighs just over 12 grams, it is one of the largest birds of its kind.
Giant anteater ( Myrmecophaga tridactyla )
The largest species of anteater on the planet, being able to measure 220 cm and weigh 40 kg. Its elongated snout is its main hallmark, which allows it to trap ants and termites even in deep nests.
Honey bear ( Tamandua tetradactyla )
It is distributed through forests, jungles and mountains where there is some humidity. It feeds on insects such as termites, bees and, above all, ants. The claws are another of its characteristics, developed to destroy ant hills and other types of nests.
Andean Condor ( Vultur gryphus)
Largest non-marine bird on the planet. It is distributed throughout the Andes Mountains and the nearby coasts, both on the Pacific and Atlantic. Scavenger species that nests between 1000 and 5000 meters above sea level.
Bufeo ( Inia geoffrensis )
Freshwater dolphin native to the Amazon and Orinoco rivers. It is carnivorous and feeds on other fish such as piranhas or croakers. They can measure up to 185 kg and measure 2.5 meters long.
Caquetá’s pretty monkey ( Callicebus caquetensis)
It was discovered in 2010, being an endemic pimate of Colombia. However, its population is small and the degradation of its habitat suggests that it could become extinct in a short time.
White-headed marmoset ( Saguinus oedipus)
It is one of the most emblematic primates in the jungles of the Colombian Caribbean. It is famous for its crest and, unfortunately, its population is suffering an accelerating loss.
Jaguar ( Panthera onca )
It is one of the most recognizable felines in America, since its distribution ranges from northern Mexico to northern Argentina. In Colombia it is located in the Amazon, where it feeds on monkeys and other smaller mammals, as well as insects or reptiles.
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