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Fauna and Flora in Mexico
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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Mexico shelters more than 33 000 species of plants or flowers, among them 1000 kinds of cactus and as many orchids, more than 2900 species of vertebrates among them 520 mammals, more than 1400 species of birds, among them 50 species of hummingbirds.

It is one of the countries with the richest biodiversity.

Fauna and flora of the highlands
short winged-hawk with red tail

In the central part and the south of Mexico, the corn adapts to the summer rains and, without any irrigation, is the main resource since prehistoric times. In the seventies, they found from a wild plant seed, all the steps of the development of corn, which allowed the Indigenous to go from a nomad existence (lliving on hunting and gathering) to a life as sedentary farmers. This cereal, with a yield 5 to 10 times better than wheat, is the providence for the Mexican farmers. They eat it in very different ways, mainly in tortillas, using corn crepe which is the base of the food.

The second and third important resources after corn is the brown bean or frijol, cultivated in dry areas by irrigation, and the small very hot pepper, the chile, which usually flavors the meals.

     Right picture : short winged-hawk with red tail

The agave or maguey gives a sweet juice which, once fermented, becomes a very popular alcoholic drink : the pulque : This not demanding plant that we found next to the cactus, covers vast cultivated fields on the central highlands. In Yucatán, a variety produces the sisal, whose fibers are used. They cultivate sugar cane and rice in the rich parts of the highland (Morelos etc.).The consumption of wheat is increasing; the cultures are in the North-East where huge works of dams and drilling completely modified the half-arid vegetable environmental conditions. Finally, we could find conifers in the wet mountains unless they have been eroded after inconsiderate deforestations. So, forests of pines still cover a big part of the two sierras Madré and volcanoes of the 19e parallel. They are eternal snows and glaciers above 4 500 or
5 000 m. cactus in the arid desert of the North

The fauna of the highlands was quite poor before the exchange with Europe : for hunting mainly cervidae and diverse small animals like the armadillo, herd, etc ; there were also birds, from the eagle of the sierras (national emblem) to the cute hummingbird of the temperate lands, and even poultry like the turkey or guajolote, that was one of the two indigenous stockers; the other one is a small short-haired dog, scarce today. The predators are the coyote and the wolf that you can hear roar by night in remote places of the Occidental Sierra Madré.

Left picture : cactus in the arid desert of the North

A spectacular evolution
Once, the humid lowlands were considerated unhealthy. It’s inhabitants were victims of endemic malaria (probably brought by the Europeans) and the terrible yellow fever (which happened in Veracruz). These regions were less populated than during the pre-Hispanic time. It is not the case anymore. The state of Veracruz, stretched all along the coast, grows corn that is sent to Mexico City and the plateaus. The population grew a lot especially along the powerful Papaloapan and Grijalva rivers where there have been huge works during these last decades.



The providence of oil
Some of the most important stocks of oil of Mexico (and the world) are in the lowlands of the isthmus and the coasts as well as under the waters of the Atlantic Gulf. Coatzacoalcos is one of the export harbors. The centers of extraction, refinement and petrochemical industry drew boom towns and totally modified the geographic milieu, not always in a good way; except in Tecolutla, which remained a tourist place with beaches and traditional production of vanilla.
The sides and coasts of the Pacific look less favorable because they are more mountainous and have less water. The exception is the region close to the border with Guatemala which has always been a cacao-producing area. There is less than 800mm of rain in the North-west, which is not a lot in a hot region with a lot of evaporation. In the State of Guerrero, the depressions of the rios Balsas and Tepalcatepec are covered by steppe or half-desert vegetation such as huge cactus-candle, the viejitos (« small old men », because of the white hairs there are crowned with). Outside the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the huge convex coast of the Pacific, one can often see the Occidental Sierra Madré drop steep into the ocean.

botanical garden in Toluca

     Right picture : botanical garden in Toluca





Fauna and flora of the lowlands

cactus saguaro in the Sonora Desert Although the whole backcountry is covered with mountains (except the very North), these once desert coasts are very busy and populated. In addition to the seaside resorts in low Michoacán, and with the promise of not compromising the environment, the government created in the seventies the harbor Ciudad Cárdenas with the huge steel complex of Las Truchas.
In the far North-West, the huge works (drilling and dams) on the rio Sinaloa, and in the Sonora of the rio Yaqui, transformed half desert valleys with big cactus into huge wheat or other cereal, cotton, tomatoes, or olive producing regions, even with little rain. In the South, outside of the good, old coffee plantations, the irrigated and cultivated surfaces are limited due to the harshness of the dry sides of the Occidental Sierra Madré.

    Right picture : cactus saguaro in the Sonora Desert



biznaga in the area of Guanajuato

The biznaga is a plant very well- adapted to life in these unfriendly regions. The spherical shape allows reducing to the minimum the loss of water by evaporation. It also helps preserving the water in its tissues by reducing the surface area through which water can be lost by transpiration. As do other cacti, the biznagas have large aromatic flowers with bright colors which attract butterflies, hummingbirds, bats, honey bees and bumble bees that contribute to its pollination. Its juicy and dry fruits are food for the reptiles, birds and small mammal which help to spread the seeds. They grow very slowly and require "nurse" plants which provide shade and humidity, especially during the germination and the first steps of growth.

Left picture : biznaga in the area of Guanajuato



If the Eagle was the pre-Hispanic emblem of the highlands, the tiger was the symbol of the hot lands — the jaguar, who is at least as big as a mountain lion or red haired small Mexican lion. There are also ocelots which are big stipple- coated wild cats. You could also find the cervidae of the highlands in the tropical bushes where there are vast uninhabited areas, the paradise of hunters. You could also see green parrots, blue herons, pink flamingos, jabirus storks, cranes with big beak and all kinds of water birds (kingfish, aigrettes, frigates, etc..). In the same lagoons and rivers, there are caimans, scarce because of the value of their skin, huge sea turtles, and sometimes dangerous reptiles like the rattlesnake. birds of El vizcaino reserve (BC)

     Right picture : birds of El vizcaino reserve (BC)




We can’t forget the orange Monarch butterfly that goes breeding between November and March, from Canada to the state of Michoacán. There are about 250 millions of mariposas monarcas (Monarch).

monarch butterfly

See chapter related to monarch butterflies

 Left picture : monarch butterfly



refuge of Monarch butterflies

     Right picture : refuge of monarch butterflies









sea lions on the Pacific coast Offshore the coasts of Baja California, we could see grey whales (hopefully protected) coming from the arctic regions for breeding in these waters and dolphins. The Gulf of California shelters one third of the species of the sea mammals of the world.

Fishing in the ocean is worth it because it is not practiced a lot despite the length of the coasts. One exception is sport fishing, especially for the sail-fish which is named for its vertical membrane raised up outside the water. The sail-fish fights well, making fishing interesting. Big fish are abundant and you can often see some of them from shore, such as giant rays which don’t attack but could inadvertently turn over a boat.

      Right picture : sea lions on the Pacific coast

Mexico is the hangout for many migratory birds in winter time.

Many birds nest in the coastal regions, especially in the lagoons, estuaries and also in Yucatán Peninsula and the Pacific Coast.
The region of Ria Lagartos (North of Yucatán) is invaded with pink flamingos while the Pacific Coast is the paradise of ducks for the hunters, as well for the watchers.
The Caribbean Coast is famous for diving. The sea turtles come here for breeding as well as on the beaches of the Pacific.


pink flamingos in Yucatán


Left picture : pink flamingos in Yucatán






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