The Wildlife of Ecuador
The stunning biodiversity of Ecuador owes to its three different ecological zones in the mainland – coastal plains, Andean paramo, and tropical rainforest – and the pristine Galapagos Islands. Among the dense trees, towering highlands, turquoise waters, and coastal habitats live thousands of native and endemic species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and insects, all uniquely adapted to life on the equator.
Wildlife in Ecuador’s Amazon
The Amazon jungle is a naturalist’s paradise with overwhelming opportunities to spot birds, monkeys, and other wildlife that live in the dense rainforest canopy.
A popular activity on excursions into the Amazon is monkey-spotting. There are over a hundred species of monkeys in the Amazon, and 19 of them live in Ecuador, including red howlers tufted capuchins, squirrel monkeys, and titi, woolly, & night monkeys, just to name a few. They range in size from as small as the palm of your hand to almost a meter tall. Unlike chimps and gorillas (which stay on the ground), the monkeys of the Amazon are found almost exclusively in the branches. Tranquil early morning hikes and stealthy night walks are some of the best times to spot these elusive primates.
Ecuador is home to over 1600 bird species, most of which can be seen in the Amazon. If you can, check out a clay lick, where vibrantly colored parrots and parakeets flock to absorb the sodium and antioxidants that help balance their fruit-rich diets. Similar to monkey-spotting, birdwatching tours are best done bright and early. While it’s impossible to not see a flurry of avian life throughout the Amazon, you should always go with an expert guide who can identify the unique calls and behaviors so that you can spot them more easily. Depending on where you are in the dense jungle, the species you will see change drastically. Rivers and forests that are flooded semi-annually create natural boundaries where the birds live. Banded antbirds, Yellow-Billed Jacamars, and Black-Bellied Cuckoos are just a short list of the colorful birds you might encounter in the Amazon.
Fish and marine life–
The nutrient rich rivers of the Amazon are home to over 800 species of fish, three of which are piranhas. If you explore the waters by kayak, you’ll likely see caiman (a species of crocodile) patrolling the waters, along with anacondas or other snakes. In certain parts of the Amazon, you could also see the curious pink river dolphin, jumping playfully out of the water in small pods.
Other mammals –
Sloths, jaguars, armadillos, and ant-eaters are some of the most frequently seen of the 400+ mammals that call the Amazon their home.
Make sure to pack insect repellent, because the Amazon is home to over 70,000 insect species. Though many are surprised by the lack of biting insects in most locations most of the year.
Wildlife in the Central Andes
The towering Andes mountains are a harsh environment for all but the hardiest of animals. In the vast expanses of the national parks in Ecuador’s highlands, you could see stalking pumas, the Andean fox, tapirs, and the spectacled bear. With an eye to the sky, you will see hummingbirds as well as the mighty condor, soaring far above with its impressive wingspan.
Wildlife on Ecuador’s Coast
The humid lowlands and arid coastal plains of Ecuador consist of much fewer species than the rest of the country. Land iguanas are a common site, numbering in the hundreds in parks and grassy areas where they can feed. Pigeons, gulls, and other small shorebirds are also pretty common along the coast.
And much of Ecuador’s delicious seafood comes from the brackish rivers and estuaries here as well. In fact, since much of the southern Ecuadorian coast has swampy conditions, there are even places where crocodiles and snakes can be seen from safely elevated boardwalks.
Wildlife in the Galapagos Islands
Did you know that the word “galapago” refers to tortoises? There are many species of these majestic gentle giants throughout the volcanic Galapagos Islands, and they can be seen plodding slowly along in the highlands or migrating towards the coast. Other notable reptiles in the Galapagos include the two endemic iguana species – the large yellow/brown land iguana and the jet black marine iguana (the only sea-faring lizard in the world!). With a sharp eye, you can also spot the camouflaged lava lizards darting around the arid ecosystem. If you snorkel, you are likely to see the large green sea turtles gliding through the water or coming ashore on the coral beaches to lay their eggs.
The concentration of endemic birds in the Galapagos is impressive. The most well-known of these is the blue-footed booby, with its bright turquoise feet and curious mating rituals. Its cousins are the red-footed booby and the Nazca booby. They are expert divers and can be seen in harmony with other native birds like the great and magnificent frigatebirds, gulls, albatrosses, and petrels, plunging into the sea to catch fish. Galapagos penguins and the flightless cormorant also catch people’s attention, with their unique evolutionary traits that have exchanged their ability to fly for an agile ability to dive.
In the inland lagoons, you’ll find pink flamingos, gallinules, pintails, herons, oystercatchers, and egrets. And these are just a few of the many fantastic birds that you will see in this birder’s paradise.
Fish & Aquatic Wildlife –
When you snorkel, you will be immersed in an underwater world of incredible marine life. In addition to the many colorful species of tropical fish that call the Galapagos their home, you will also come across various shark species, like hammerheads, reef sharks, and Galapagos sharks; rays of all kinds, including golden rays, stingrays, and even the giant manta rays; and the mola mola (sun fish), which can be pretty hard to find despite its massive and awkward shape. Along with thousands of other marine species, these fascinating fish are why the Galapagos was named one of the Natural Wonders of the Underwater World.
The most notable mammals in the Galapagos Islands are the sea lions and fur seals that can be seen lazing in the sun on most beaches or playfully flitting through the clear waters. On cruises, you also might see pods of dolphins or the migratory humpback whales breaching the calm surface.
Here’s a more in-depth article about the flora and fauna of the Galapagos.