The Distribution of Plants & Animals in the Caribbean, Central & South America

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  • 0:01 The Caribbean
  • 2:15 Central America
  • 3:15 South America
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lessons explores the lush vegetation and varied wildlife of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. It will also highlight the Amazon Rain Forest and the Atacama Desert.

The Caribbean

Dear friends of mine live in Costa Rica. Whenever they send pictures they're usually standing in front of striking plants or posing next to rainbow-colored flowers. It makes my eyes water with jealously! Yes, the pine trees and mountains of Pennsylvania are beautiful, but there's something about palm trees and brightly feathered birds that just calls to you! To dive into my friends' colorful region, let's take a look at the plant and animal life of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. We'll start our studies with the Caribbean.

The Caribbean is an island group made up of about 7,000 islands bordering the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike the soils of the U.S., most of the Caribbean is volcanic in origin. This makes the soil very fertile, giving the islands stunning and varied vegetation. For instance, flowers thrive in the volcanic soil of the Caribbean. Beautiful blooms from plants like the hibiscus, bougainvillea, and orchid create a feast for the eyes! Along with these blooms, it's believed the Caribbean has over 13,000 species of vegetation. Of course, this amazing variety only helps to boost the Caribbean's thriving tourism industry.

Like most places, the natural vegetation of the Caribbean has been changed by human interaction. Where there were once lush forests, land has been cleared to make way for farming sugarcane. Yes, there are still forests full of gigantic ferns, huge elephant ear plants, cedar trees, and mahogany trees. However, much of this exotic vegetation has fallen victim to deforestation: the clearing of trees or transforming a forest into cleared land.

Moving onto wildlife, the Caribbean is known for its birds and reptiles. Yes, the islands have things like rodents, manatee, and seals, but the region is really famous for its birds and reptiles. Quite remarkably, the islands are home to over 600 species of birds and 500 species of reptiles. Many of these species are unique to the Caribbean. In other words, unless they've been imported, you won't see them flying or crawling free anywhere else. With such beautiful birds and interesting reptiles, it's not odd to see the macaw, the parrot, or the gecko used to symbolize the Caribbean. Now to Central America.

Central America

Central America is the landmass that connects the North American continent to South America. Using some geographical language, Central America is an isthmus - it is a thin piece of land surrounded by sea that bridges two larger landmasses. Being sort of a bridge between North and South America, Central America's vegetation shares characteristics of both continents. Like South America, eastern Central America is home to rainforests. These rainforests supply Central America with many varieties of ferns, vines, orchids, and palms. Of course, all of these exist under the canopy of towering broadleaved trees.

With this lush vegetation, Central America also has an amazing, almost incalculable, variety of wildlife. Its tropical regions are home to monkeys, crocodiles, bats, frogs, snakes, sloths, turtles, jaguars, and more! Moving away from the tropical rainforest, the central mountains of the region look a lot more like the forests of the United States. With their high elevations, they are home to hardwood trees like oaks, walnuts, they have pines, and all sorts of evergreens.

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