From the harsh deserts of northern Mexico to the rocky inclines of its many mountain ranges and the humid jungle of the south, Mexico has a climate that was made for housing all kinds of varied species. While many of the native animals of Mexico are under threat of extinction, there are also plenty that continue to thrive. Either way, here are the eleven awesome animals you must see while you’re there.
The spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) is a fairly adorable little creature with large eyes and gangly limbs and it’s also native to many regions of Mexico that boast tropical rainforest and woodland. You’re quite likely to catch a glimpse of these adorable animals particularly in the southern stretches of Mexico, from Chiapas to the Yucatán Peninsula, and as they tend to hang out in groups, they’re fairly easy to spot!
The cacomistle (Bassariscus sumichrasti), sometimes written cacomiztle or cacomixtle, is a native Mexican mammal that is similar in appearance to a monkey crossed with a cat and a raccoon; yes, really! These furry little fiends owe their odd name to Nahuatl and are most frequently spotted in the southeastern jungles or even, on occasion, in areas just south of Mexico City. They’re nocturnal and love to hang out in trees, jumping from branch to branch with ease.
This iconic Mexican creature is super weird looking and in critical danger of extinction. In fact, the species is practically the poster child for Mexican wildlife preservation. Typically found inhabiting the rivers and lakes of central Mexico (although now it’s pretty much only found in Xochimilco), the name axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) has its roots in the Aztec language, Nahuatl. Related to the salamander, the axolotl also has an instantly recognizable warning signal — red cuffs pop up from its neck when it feels threatened.
Mexican Prairie Dog
Back to mammals with the Mexican Prairie Dog (Cynomys mexicanus), which is neither a dog nor an inhabitant of the prairies. Typically found in small clusters in northern states, the Mexican Prairie Dog is actually far closer related to the groundhog than it is to any kind of dog. Plus, they live in warrens, not kennels. While it’s been treated as a pest in the past, it’s actually key to the ecosystems where it lives and is currently endangered.
Known as vaquita marina in Spanish (lit. sea cow), the vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) actually goes by many names in English, many of which relate to its habitat off the Gulf of California. One of the smallest cetaceans in the world, the vaquita porpoise is also believed to be the most endangered cetacean in the world too. In fact, given that latest figures show there are only 60 in the wild; it’s practically impossible to spot one in their natural habitat.
Members of the raccoon family, the coati is a pretty 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 smart. While they are native of Mexico, their name is actually thought to originate from the Brazilian Tupi language. Coatis are principally threatened by unregulated hunting and the destruction of their natural habitat and worries abound over their future survival.
Only active at night, the ocelot is a slinky but elusive big cat that loves to sleep in trees during the day. Often the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is confused at first for a tiny jaguar, given that they have many of the same features (albeit in a miniature version!) Given their former status as in danger of extinction, hunting of ocelot’s is prohibited throughout Mexico. They are widespread in almost all of South America and in some Caribbean islands.
Mexican Grey Wolf
Mexico and tiny versions of fairly well-known animals seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly, with another of the native four-legged friends found in Mexico being one of the smallest of their species. The Mexican Grey Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) only grows to around the size of a medium to large domestic dog, but as with other wolf breeds, they run and hunt in packs and can be incredibly vicious. They were once extremely endangered, however, captivity and breeding efforts in the 70s ensured their continued survival.
Our first bird appearance and it comes from the cenzontle (Mimus polyglottos), which was allegedly the real-life inspiration behind the mockingjay in the Hunger Games trilogy. As you can imagine, this bird has a remarkable talent and ability to copy the calls of other birds, animals and even people. While they’re found pretty much all over north America, and even in Cuba, they’re somewhat of a rarity in Europe.
So, this is perhaps the easiest to spot of the many awesome native Mexican animals that you must see next time you visit, because the Xoloitzcuintli is actually a domestic dog breed. An icon of Mexico, these odd looking hairless dogs are typically of medium size and black (although often they have patches of white skin). Despite being hairless, they sometimes get tufts of hair on the tops of their heads. While the Aztecs ate them, humans prize them, meaning Xoloitzcuintli’s are incredibly expensive.
Finally, we round off our guide with another native bird that is somewhat more colorful and vibrant than the aforementioned cenzontle. Part of the trogon family, the quetzal is another animal heavily associated with Mexico that likes to live in tropical highlands. There are a few different kinds of quetzal, and many of the species can be found in the very south of the U.S., Mexico and even Guatemala. Quetzal in Nahuatl translates loosely to ‘large brilliant tail feather’.