Flora and fauna of Mexico

Flora of Mexico

Mexico’s plant life is very diverse, but in general, because there is less rainfall in the north and more in the south, Mexico’s trees and plants can be fairly divided along their topographical and geographic lines: desert plants in the north, forests and grasslands in the mountains and the central highlands, and jungle-like plants and trees in the south.

Two deserts cover most of northern Mexico, the Chihuahuan desert, the largest of the North American deserts, and the Sonoran desert. Plants such as prickly pear, hawthorn acacia, lettuce, mesquite, and creosote cover the Chihuahuan desert. The Sonoran desert has cacti such as the saguaro, the cardón and the organ pipe and plants such as the espinillo, the ironwood and the ocotillo. In total there are 6,000 species of desert plants, 90% of them endemic (found only here) to the deserts of Mexico and the US.

lettuce flora mexico

Central Mexico maintains a variety of different trees in its three mountain ranges. In the highest forests there are more than 50 species of pine, in addition to mahogany, sapodilla, ceiba, oak and cypress. Coniferous and broadleaf trees are found mainly in the states of Chihuahua, Durango, Jalisco, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Guerrero. Juniper, stone pine, and evergreen oak can be found in mid-range forests. On the lower slopes of the forests are figs, lianas, orchids and bromeliads. In the central plateaus between the mountain ranges (the altiplano) semi-desert grasslands can be found that, in addition to pastures, support yucca, barrel cacti and sotol.

Tropical rainforests are found in the states of Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Yucatán, Campeche, Tabasco, and Oaxaca. These include lowland evergreen broadleaf forests and tall deciduous forests combined with palm trees, mangroves, and swamps. The Yucatan also supports tropical savannah with thick grasses interspersed with evergreen trees and shrubs.

In addition, wetland habitats exist wherever the land meets rivers, seacoasts, lakes, or springs. These are complex areas with a diverse flora and have become a major focus of the Mexican environmental movement.

Mangroves are particularly important. Mangroves are trees adapted to grow within and beyond the edge of salt water. Its roots form impenetrable barriers that hold silt and provide habitat for fish, birds, and crocodiles.

mangrove ecosystem mexico

Fauna of Mexico

Mexico is a country of biological diversity. In total number of species, it ranks fifth in the world. It ranks first in the total number of reptile species (640) and is home to over 1,000 species of birds, 450 mammals (142 found nowhere else on earth, and the second-highest diversity of any nation) and 330 amphibians. Insect species number in the hundreds of thousands.

This diversity can be explained by understanding that Mexico is located at the intersection of North and South America. When the continents moved apart millions of years ago, they developed their own species. When the land bridge was formed, the result was a great variation of habitats and diverse ecological regions.

Spider monkey

The Central American spider monkey (ateles) is an adorable creature with large eyes and lanky limbs. It is native to the regions of Mexico that have tropical jungles and forests. It is very likely that you will be able to see these adorable animals in the south of Mexico and, since they usually hang out in groups, they are quite easy to spot!

central american spider monkey


This creature is very strange looking and critically endangered. In fact, the species is practically the protagonist of the preservation of Mexican wildlife. Typically found inhabiting the rivers and lakes of central Mexico (though now only found in Xochimilco), the name āxōlōtl (Ambystoma mexicanum) has its roots in Nahuatl.

aholote fauna of mexico


The cacomixtle (Bassariscus sumichrasti), sometimes spelled cacomiztle or cacomistle, is a native Mexican mammal that is similar in appearance to a monkey crossed with a cat and a raccoon. Yes, really. These little furry devils get their name from Nahuatl and are most often seen in the jungles of the southeast. They are nocturnal and love to hang out in trees, jumping from branch to branch with ease.

mexican animal cacomixtle

Mexican Prairie Dog

Let’s go back to mammals with the Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus), which is neither a dog nor a prairie dweller. Typically found in small groups in the northern states, the Mexican prairie dog is actually much more closely related to the groundhog than any other type of dog. Also, they live in burrows, not kennels.

mexican prairie dog

Although it has been treated as a pest in the past, it is actually key to the ecosystems where it lives and is currently in danger of extinction. They can live up to 3-5 years in the wild and can grow up to 35-43 cm in body length and weigh around 1 kg.


Mainly active at night, the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is a large, elusive cat that loves to sleep in trees during the day. The ocelot is often mistaken at first for a small jaguar, as they have many similar characteristics. These animals are found throughout South America and on some Caribbean islands.


Vaquita porpoise

Known as cochito, the vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) is one of the smallest cetaceans in the world, and the most endangered. In fact, with the latest figures showing there are only fewer than 20 left in the wild, it’s virtually impossible to see one in the wild. Spotting a sea cow in the Gulf of California would undoubtedly be an unforgettable experience.

vaquita porpoise


A member of the raccoon family, the coati (nasua) is a rather cute-looking animal with a long nose, distinctive markings, and strong double-jointed limbs. As a result of their physiology, they love to dig and are exceptionally intelligent. Coatis are primarily threatened by unregulated hunting and destruction of their natural habitat, and concerns abound about their future survival.

coati nasua


The mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), also known as the northern mockingbird, has a remarkable talent and ability to copy the calls of other birds, animals, and even people. They are found in almost all of Mexico, North America and even in Cuba, and are something of a rarity in Europe.

mockingbird northern mockingbird

They are incredibly intelligent animals that can recognize individual humans that seem like a threat, but also recognize previous breeding spots and return to areas where they have been most successful in previous years. The northern mockingbird can grow up to 20-28 cm in body length and have a wingspan of around 31-38 cm.

Mexican wolf

The Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) only grows to about the size of a large domestic dog, but like other wolf breeds, they run and hunt in packs and can be incredibly ruthless. They were once extremely threatened, but captivity and breeding efforts in the 1970s ensured their survival.

Mexican wolf


This is perhaps the easiest native animal to see, because the xoloitzcuintli is actually a breed of domestic dog. An icon of Mexico, these strange-looking hairless dogs are normally black in color, though they often have patches of white fur. Despite being hairless, they sometimes have tufts of fur on top of their heads. The xoloitzcuintle was eaten by the Aztecs and considered as a guardian and protector. They continue to be a highly valued and expensive pet in modern Mexico.

aztec xoloitzcuintle dog


This native bird is somewhat more colorful and vibrant than the aforementioned mockingbird. Part of the trogon family, the quetzal likes to live in the tropical highlands. There are a few different types of quetzal, and many of the species can be found in the southern US, in Mexico, and even in Guatemala. Quetzal in Nahuatl roughly translates to “great bright tail feather.”

quetzal bird


The rattlesnake (Crotalus basiliscus) is a large, venomous pit viper species found in western Mexico. This rattlesnake from the Mexican west coast is one of the largest rattlesnake species in the world, measuring up to 2.5 meters and weighing 4 kg.

mexican rattlesnake

Red ringed tarantula

The red-ringed tarantula (or red knees) is one of the large species of terrestrial tarantula, found in the mountain ranges of Mexico. It is best known for its furry body with beautiful red stripes along its legs.

tarantula red rings red knees

They can grow up to 20 cm in length, but some can be even larger. The females are usually larger in size compared to the males, and the female also tends to be more aggressive. Another interesting fact about the red knee tarantula is that it has a relatively long lifespan compared to other spiders, it can live up to 30 years.


The booby (sula or alcatraces) is a seabird that can be seen along the west coast of Mexico. However, the most common place to see these birds is on the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. The females are larger than the males in size and can grow up to 90 cm in length and have a wingspan of 1.5 meters.

booby sula gannets booby blue footed bird

They are easily recognizable by their bright blue feet, making them one of the most unique looking birds in the world. The males display their beautiful, brightly colored legs in a mating ritual, raising and lowering them as they strut in front of the females.

Mexican tamandua

The northern tamandua is a species of anteater that can be found in the tropical and subtropical forests of southern Mexico. They are medium-sized anteaters with small eyes and ears, long snouts, and a long tail. The Mexican tamandua can grow up to 130 cm in length, including the tail, and weigh up to 5.4 kg.

mexican tamandua

Northern tamanduas are primarily nocturnal, meaning they are active at night. They spend 40% of their time in hollow trees for shelter. They use their claws to open wood and find ants and termites, which is their main food source. Their long tongues are covered in sticky saliva, allowing them to easily pick up ants and termites.


Opossums are small to medium-sized animals that can grow to the same size as a domestic cat. They are characterized by their long snouts, large ears, and long tail that looks like a rat. They use the prehensile tail as a fifth limb when climbing, but also to hang from trees and to carry bunches of leaves or bedding materials for the nest.


An interesting fact about opossums is that they can mimic the appearance and smell of a dead animal when they feel threatened. When they “play possum” they curl up and look very stiff with drooping lips and bare teeth. Saliva also foams around their mouths and they have closed or semi-closed eyes. They also have a foul-smelling fluid that comes out of their anal glands, which makes them smell like a dead animal.


The armadillo is one of the most interesting Mexican animals. It is an animal famous for its armor that they use when they feel threatened. They have a hard outer shell that covers their heads, upper parts of their bodies, and tails. When threatened, they curl up into a hard ball without exposing the soft parts of the body.


Armadillos have poor vision, which makes them quite vulnerable animals in their habitat. Their main predators include wolves, wild cats, and bears. However, armadillos are quite fast animals and can reach a maximum speed of 48 km/h, which is why they often outrun predators.

Mexican burrowing toad

The Mexican Burrowing Toad is characterized by its blotchy body with spots and a stripe along its back. It can grow up to 8 cm in length and has short powerful legs and a small triangular-shaped head with small eyes. It is a burrowing animal, which means that they spend much of their life underground. It feeds mainly on insects, mainly ants and termites.

mexican burrowing toad

The Mexican Burrowing Toad is known for its loud call. When male frogs become alarmed or call, their body will inflate like a balloon. The call is high-pitched and loud and makes a ” uooooooo ” sound (that’s why the Mayans called them uo). This toad is heard more often than actually seen in the wild. In a group they can be heard 1 km away.


Grisons (ferret) are mustelids native to and from southern Mexico and northern South America. The grison is found in cultivated areas, trees and has two extant species.


Black iguana

The black iguana is a medium-sized lizard native to Mexico and Central America. They can grow up to 1.3m in length and have distinctive scales on their tails, giving them the name “spiny-tailed iguana”. They are excellent climbers and prefer to stay in rocky landscapes with warm rocks to relax on and nearby trees to climb.

black iguana

Black iguanas can move quickly if chased by a predator, but they will also whip the predator with their tails and bite if they must.

Common kingsnake

King snakes are species of snake, endemic to Mexico and the United States. These snakes eat other venomous snakes and are one of the most popular snake species kept in captivity.

common kingsnake

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