Ecuador is located in the north-western region of South America. The country is bordered by Peru to the south and east, and Columbia to the north, with the Pacific Ocean along the western coast. This constitutes mainland Ecuador, but the country also includes the Galapagos Islands, which are located around 1,000 kilometres off the Ecuadorian coast. The country has a highly variable climate, mostly due to altitude variation, but there is little seasonal variation. Temperatures typically range between 20 and 35 degrees Celsius, with a cooler and drier climate in the Andean highlands, and warmer and wetter weather along the coast and in the Amazon basin.
Ecuador is most well-known for its immense biodiversity: 10% of the world’s plant species, 8% of animal species, and 18% of bird species, can be found here. Historically, the Ecuadorian Galapagos Islands were integral to the development of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The specialised beaks of the finches he found here were what cemented his idea that the physical features of animal species could change and adapt over time.
Ecuador has been inhabited by many indigenous peoples in the country’s long history, most of whom arrived from Central or South America. The first culture known to have lived in Ecuador was the Las Vegas, a coastal tribe who inhabited the area between 9,000 and 6,000 BCE. Over several millennia multiple tribes flourished all over the country, until the Incas arrived in Ecuador at the end of the 15th century. After a few decades, most of Ecuador had become part of the Inca Empire.
Inca rule in Ecuador was short-lived, as Spanish explorers arrived in the country in 1531 and quickly took advantage of the Inca Civil War that had overtaken the empire in 1529. After decades of war between the Inca and the Spanish invaders, Ecuador became a Spanish colony.
Ecuador remained part of colonial Spain for more than 150 years, until the Ecuadorian War of Independence, which began in 1820 and ended in 1822 with Ecuador emerging victorious. Ecuador has been a democratic country for most of its recent history, with a brief period of military rule from 1972 to 1979. Formerly a country with an extremely high poverty rate, Ecuador’s developing economy has grown consistently in the new millennium, and the country has made significant improvements to health and education.
Ecuador is an incredibly biodiverse country. Most of the abundance of plant life is found in the Andes and in the Amazon basin, with nearly 20,000 known species in these regions, including more than 2,700 species of orchid. The Ecuadorian rainforests are home to species such as green anacondas, piranha fish, the pygmy marmoset—the world’s smallest monkey—along with an astonishing variety of insects, with as many as 50,000 different species living in one square mile of forest.
One of the country’s most interesting insect species is the leafcutter ant, which lives in massive colonies of several million ants. These insects cut leaves from trees and carry them to their nests, but the leaves themselves are not food. Instead, the ants live on fungi that they cultivate on the leaves.
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