Isthmus of Panama

The Isthmus of Panama (Spanish: Istmo de Panamá), also historically known as the Isthmus of Darien (Istmo de Darién), is the narrow strip of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, linking North and South America. It contains the country of Panama and the Panama Canal. Like many isthmuses, it is a location of great strategic value.

The isthmus formed around 2.8 million years ago,[1] separating the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and causing the creation of the Gulf Stream. This was first suggested in 1910 by North American paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn. He based the proposal on the fossil record of mammals in Central America.[2] This conclusion provided a foundation for Alfred Wegener when he proposed the theory of continental drift in 1912.[3]

The Isthmus of Panama


Balboa Voyage 1513
Núñez de Balboa's travel route to the South Sea, 1513
Nahl 1850, Der Isthmus von Panama auf der Höhe des Chagres River
An 1850 oil painting by Charles Christian Nahl: The Isthmus of Panama on the height of the Chagres River

Vasco Núñez de Balboa heard of the South Sea from natives while sailing along the Caribbean coast. On 25 September 1513 he saw the Pacific. In 1519 the town of Panamá was founded near a small indigenous settlement on the Pacific coast. After the discovery of Peru, it developed into an important port of trade and became an administrative centre. In 1671 the Welsh pirate Henry Morgan crossed the Isthmus of Panamá from the Caribbean side and destroyed the city. The town was relocated some kilometers to the west at a small peninsula. The ruins of the old town, Panamá Viejo, are preserved and were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Silver and gold from the viceroyalty of Peru were transported overland across the isthmus by Spanish Silver Train to Porto Bello, where Spanish treasure fleets shipped them to Seville and Cádiz from 1707. Lionel Wafer spent four years between 1680 and 1684 among the Cuna Indians.[4] Scotland tried to establish a settlement in 1698 through the Darien scheme.

The California Gold Rush, starting in 1849, brought a large increase in the transportation of people from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Steamships brought gold diggers from eastern US ports, who trekked across the isthmus by foot, horse, and later rail. On the Pacific side, they boarded Pacific Mail Steamship Company vessels headed for San Francisco.

Ferdinand de Lesseps, the man behind the Suez Canal, started a Panama Canal Company in 1880 that went bankrupt in 1889 in the Panama scandals. In 1902–4, the United States forced Colombia to grant independence to the Department of the Isthmus, bought the remaining assets of the Panama Canal Company, and finished the canal in 1914.


Isthmus of Panama (closure) - Speciation of marine organisms (w annot)
The closure of the Isthmus led to allopatric speciation events of marine organisms isolated on each side (blue and green). Terrestrial species also migrated between the two continents (the Great American Biotic Interchange) upon the formation of a passable land bridge.

A significant body of water (referred to as the Central American Seaway) once separated the continents of North and South America, allowing the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to mix freely. Beneath the surface, two plates of the Earth's crust were slowly colliding, forcing the Cocos Plate to slide under the Caribbean Plate. The pressure and heat caused by this collision led to the formation of underwater volcanoes, some of which grew large enough to form islands. Meanwhile, movement of the two tectonic plates was also pushing up the sea floor, eventually forcing some areas above sea level.

Over time, massive amounts of sediment from North and South America filled the gaps between the newly forming islands. Over millions of years, the sediment deposits added to the islands until the gap was completely filled. By no later than 4.5 million years ago, an isthmus had formed between North and South America. However, an article in Science Magazine stated that zircon crystals in middle Miocene bedrock from northern Colombia indicated that by 10 million years ago, it is likely that instead of islands, a full isthmus between the North and South American continents had already likely formed where the Central American Seaway had been previously.[5]

Evidence also suggests that the creation of this land mass and the subsequent warm, wet weather over northern Europe resulted in the formation of a large Arctic ice cap and contributed to the current ice age. That warm currents can lead to glacier formation may seem counterintuitive, but heated air flowing over the warm Gulf Stream can hold more moisture. The result is increased precipitation that contributes to snow pack.[6]

The formation of the Isthmus of Panama also played a major role in biodiversity on the planet. The bridge made it easier for animals and plants to migrate between the two continents. This event is known in paleontology as the Great American Interchange. For instance, in North America, the opossum, armadillo, and porcupine all trace back to ancestors that came across the land bridge from South America. Likewise, bears, cats, dogs, horses, llamas, and raccoons all made the trek south across the isthmus.


As the connecting bridge between two vast land masses, the Panamanian biosphere is filled with overlapping fauna and flora from both North and South America. There are, for example, over 978 species of birds in the isthmus area.[7] The tropical climate also encourages a myriad of large and brightly colored species, insects, amphibians, birds, fish, and reptiles. Divided along its length by a mountain range, the isthmus's weather is generally wet on the Atlantic (Caribbean) side but has a clearer division into wet and dry seasons on the Pacific side.

See also



  1. ^ O’Dea et al. 2016, Abstract
  2. ^ Osborn 1910, pp. 80–81
  3. ^ Wegener 1912
  4. ^ Wafer 1729
  5. ^ Montes et al. 2015
  6. ^ Seager 2006
  7. ^ Angehr & Dean 2010


  • Angehr, G. R.; Dean, R. (2010). The birds of Panama: a field guide. Zona Tropical Publication. Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0801476747.
  • Mellander, G. A. (1971). The United States in Panamanian politics: the intriguing formative years. Daville, Ill: Interstate Printers & Publishers. OCLC 138568.
  • Mellander, G. A.; Mellander, N. M. (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1-56328-155-4. OCLC 42970390.
  • Montes, C.; Cardona, A.; Jaramillo, C.; Pardo, A.; Silva, J. C.; Valencia, V. (2015). "Middle Miocene closure of the Central American Seaway" (PDF). Science. 348 (6231): 226–229. doi:10.1126/science.aaa2815. Retrieved 25 March 2018. Lay summary (25 March 2018).
  • O’Dea, A.; Lessios, H. A.; Coates, A. G.; Eytan, R. I.; Restrepo-Moreno, S. A.; Cione, A. L. (2016). "Formation of the Isthmus of Panama" (PDF). Science Advances. 2 (8): e1600883. doi:10.1126/sciadv.1600883. PMC 4988774. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  • Osborn, H. F. (1910). The age of mammals. Macmillan. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  • Wafer, L. (1729). A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America (1695). Scotland: James Knapton. Archived from the original on 3 July 2007. Excerpt from the 1729 Knapton edition
  • Wegener, A. (1912). "The origins of continents" (PDF). Milestones in Geosciences. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer: 4–17. Retrieved 25 March 2018. (Original German article from 1912 with English translation from 2003)

Coordinates: 8°40′N 80°0′W / 8.667°N 80.000°W

Bayano Wars

The Bayano Wars were armed conflicts in the Isthmus of Panama that occurred between the Bayano of Panama and the Spanish crown. The First War of the Bayano took place from 1548 to 1558, while the Second War took place from 1579 and 1582. Slavery, practiced since the early sixteenth century in Panama, brought many enslaved people from Africa to Spanish America. This brought successive uprisings of slaves against the rulers of the time, which was the origin for the Bayano Wars.


Biomuseo is a museum focused on the natural history of Panama, whose isthmus was formed very recently in geologic time, with major impact on the ecology of the Western Hemisphere. Located on the Amador Causeway in Panama City, Panama, it was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. This is Gehry's first design for Latin America. The design was conceived in 1999 and the museum opened in October 2014.The Biomuseo highlights Panama's natural and cultural history, emphasizing the role of humans in the XXI century. Its galleries tell the story of how the rise of the isthmus of Panama changed the world.


Blenny (from the Greek ἡ βλέννα and τό βλέννος, mucus, slime) is a common name for a type of fish. The term is ambiguous, having been applied to several families of percomorph marine, brackish, and some freshwater fish sharing similar morphology and behaviour. Six families are considered "true blennies", all grouped together under the order Blenniiformes; its members are referred to as blenniiformids. About 151 genera and nearly 900 species have been described within the order. The order was formerly classified as a suborder of the Perciformes but the 5th Edition of Fishes of the World divided the Perciformes into a number of new orders and the Blenniiformes were placed in the percomorph clade Ovalentaria alongside the such taxa as Cichliformes, Mugiliformes and Gobiesociformes.Blenniformids are generally small fish, with elongated bodies (some almost eel-like), and relatively large eyes and mouths. Their dorsal fins are often continuous and long; the pelvic fins typically have a single embedded spine and are short and slender, situated before the pectoral fins. The tail fin is rounded. The blunt heads of blenniiformids often possess elaborate whisker-like structures called cirri. As generally benthic fish, blenniiformids spend much of their time on or near the sea floor; many are reclusive and may burrow in sandy substrates or inhabit crevices in reefs, the lower stretches of rivers, or even empty mollusc shells.

True blennies are widely distributed in coastal waters, often abundant and easily observed which has made them the subject for many studies of ecology and behaviour. Two of the families, the Blennidae and the Tripterygiidae have global distributions, the Clinidae have a mainly temperate distribution and the remaining three families are largely Neotropical. This distribution makes these fish ideal subjects for studies of biogeography. It is thought that the splitting of the Tethys Sea by the formation of the Isthmus of Panama combined with Pliocene warming of the climate may have been important factors influencing the evolution and biogeography of the Blenniiformes.These fish are superficially quite similar to members of the goby and dragonet families, as well as several other unrelated families whose members have occasionally been given the name "blenny".

The six "true blenny" families are:

Blenniidae Rafinesque, 1810 - combtooth blennies, including the sabre-toothed blennies

Chaenopsidae Gill, 1865 - pikeblennies, tubeblennies and flagblennies

Clinidae Swainson, 1839 - clinids, including the giant kelpfish

Dactyloscopidae Gill, 1859 - sand stargazers

Labrisomidae Clark Hubbs, 1952

Tripterygiidae Whitley, 1931 - threefin blennies

Cauca Valley montane forests

The Cauca Valley montane forests (NT0109) is an ecoregion in western Colombia.

It covers the sides of the Cauca Valley, which runs from south to north between the Central and Western Ranges (cordilleras) of the Colombian Andes.

The ecoregion is home to very diverse fauna and flora, due in part to its varied elevations and climates, in part to its position near the isthmus of Panama, the route along which North American species invaded South America and then diversified as they moved to the upper parts of the Andes.

Little of the original habitat remains at lower levels, but higher up there are sizeable blocks of forest, some of which ate protected.

Central American Seaway

The Central American Seaway, also known as the Panamanic Inter-American and Proto-Caribbean Seaway, was a body of water that once separated North America from South America. It formed in the Mesozoic (200–154 Ma) during the breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea, and closed when the Isthmus of Panama was formed by volcanic activity in the late Pliocene (2.76–2.54 Ma).

The closure of the Central American Seaway had tremendous effects on oceanic circulation and the biogeography of the adjacent seas, isolating many species and triggering speciation and diversification of tropical and sub-tropical marine fauna. The inflow of nutrient-rich water of deep Pacific origin into the Caribbean was blocked, so local species had to adapt to an environment of lower productivity. It had an even larger impact on terrestrial life. The seaway had isolated South America for much of the Cenozoic, allowing the evolution of a wholly unique diverse mammalian fauna there; when it closed, a faunal exchange with North America ensued, leading to the extinction of many of the native South American forms.

Chepo expedition

The Chepo expedition was a pirate voyage led by Spanish renegades Juan Guartem, Eduardo Blomar and Bartolomé Charpes in the Spanish Main during 1679. Sailing up the Mandingua River, the expedition crossed the Isthmus of Panama into the Pacific where they raided shipping for several months as well as looting and then burning the town of Chepo, Panama. They were tried in absentia by the Viceroy of Bogotá and on his orders were burned in effigy at Santa Fe de Bogotá. However, the three continued committing piracy on both coasts of Central America and were never caught for their crimes. This was the second major expedition following the "Pacific Adventure" led by John Coxon that same year. In an official communication by the Governor of Panama Don Dionicio Alceda in 1743, he recalled the incident writing "This passage was effected in the year 1679 by the arch pirates Juan Guartem, Eduardo Blomar and Bartolomé Charpes. These freebooters were tried for their crimes by audience of the viceroyalty, and as they could not be in person to suffer the just punishment, they were burned in effigy at Santa Fé (de Bogota), while they were yet ravaging the settlement on both sides the Isthmus".

Florida State University-Panama

Florida State University-Panama, or FSU-Panama is an international branch campus of Florida State University located on the isthmus of Panama. FSU has operating a broad curriculum program in Panama City of the Republic of Panama for over 50 years. The campus, located by the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal, provides students with many facilities, including the largest English-language library in the Republic of Panama, computer facilities, research facilities, student housing, and athletic facilities. The student population is generally international and comes from the United States, the Republic of Panama and other countries.

Gulf of Urabá

The Gulf of Urabá is a gulf on the northern coast of Colombia. It is part of the Caribbean Sea. It is a long, wide inlet located on the coast of Colombia, close to the connection of the continent to the Isthmus of Panama. The town of Turbo, Colombia, lies at the mid eastern side naturally sheltered by the Turbo Bay part of the Gulf. The Atrato River flows into the Gulf of Urabá.

A study by Bio-Pacifico has suggested, as an alternative to building a 54‑mile (87 km) link across the Darién Gap to complete the Pan-American Highway, that the Panama section of the highway be extended to the Caribbean coast and end at the Gulf of Urabá, then be connected by ferry to existing highways in Colombia.


An isthmus ( or ; plural: isthmuses; from Ancient Greek: ἰσθμός, translit. isthmós, lit. 'neck') is a narrow piece of land connecting two larger areas across an expanse of water by which they are otherwise separated. A tombolo is an isthmus that consists of a spit or bar, and a strait is the sea counterpart of an isthmus.

Canals are often built across isthmuses, where they may be a particularly advantageous shortcut for marine transport. For example, the Panama Canal crosses the Isthmus of Panama, connecting the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; the Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, cutting across the western side of the Isthmus of Suez, formed by the Sinai Peninsula; and the Crinan Canal crosses the isthmus between Loch Crinan and Loch Gilp, which connects the Kintyre peninsula with the rest of Scotland. Another example is the Welland Canal in the Niagara Peninsula (technically an isthmus). It connects Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. The city of Auckland in the North Island of New Zealand is situated on an isthmus.

Land bridge

A land bridge, in biogeography, is an isthmus or wider land connection between otherwise separate areas, over which animals and plants are able to cross and colonise new lands. A land bridge can be created by marine regression, in which sea levels fall, exposing shallow, previously submerged sections of continental shelf; or when new land is created by plate tectonics; or occasionally when the sea floor rises due to post-glacial rebound after an ice age.

Los Santos Province

Los Santos (Spanish pronunciation: [los ˈsantos]) is a province of Panama, reaching from the La Villa river in the North to the Pacific Ocean in the south and east. It is part of Azuero Peninsula, bounded by province of Herrera to the north and northeast and Mariato district in Veraguas to the West. The City of Las Tablas is the capital and most populous city; seven other districts of Los Santos, Guararé, Las Tablas, Macaracas, Pedasi, Pocrí and Tonosí are under the jurisdiction of Los Santos Province Governorate. Los Santos' area is 3 809.4 km ², and its population is about 89,592 inhabitants.

In this region are the oldest human settlements in the Isthmus of Panama. It was part of the cultural region of Gran Cocle where one of the first ceramic styles of the Americas developed. The first Europeans to explore Los Santos were the Spanish in 1515 under the command of Gonzalo de Badajoz. Upon the arrival of Europeans the area was ruled by the cacique Antataura or Cutara, and was known as the Land of Mr. Paris or Parita from Ngäbere Bari-ta meaning Confederation of Peoples, having under his control six other Indian chiefdoms: Guararí, Quemá, Chiracoitia, Huere, Guanata and Usagaña. The only province that was not under his dominion was Escoria. Gaspar de Espinosa succeeded in conquering and annexing Pariba to the Spanish Empire in 1516, decimating nearly all of the native population.

Geographically, Los Santos is located in the 'Arco Seco', name given to the strip of land between the Gulf of Panama and the Central Mountain range which includes areas of the provinces of Coclé, Herrera and Veraguas in the south of the Isthmus of Panama. Its climate is mainly a tropical savanna climate with moderate temperatures, strongly influenced by the winds of the Pacific Ocean crashing against the mountains, and the Humboldt Current. The average annual rainfall is 1,200 mm, allowing the growth of either dry or humid rainforest. Its highest point is located at the peak of Cerro Hoya with 1559 metres. Other major peaks are Cambutal hill (1400 metres) and Mount The Ñopos (1068 metres).

The modern province of Los Santos, was created in January 1945 replacing the defunct province of Azuero according to Cabinet Decree No. 13, leaving its territorial regime regulated by the second chapter of the Law 58 of July 29, 1998, losing the Territory of Quebro in this process.

Although Los Santos closely shares its political and social history with the rest of Panama, and the vast majority of the population speaks Spanish, the province has retained a distinct cultural identity. Los Santos' culture is the result of the passage of different peoples and civilizations that, over time, have shaped a particular cultural identity. These people, some very different from each other, have been slowly leaving an imprint seated among the inhabitants. It is one of the last regions in Panama where Spanish voseo is the standard form for use.

Neochoerus pinckneyi

Neochoerus pinckneyi was a North American species of capybara. While capybaras originated in South America, formation of the Isthmus of Panama three million years ago allowed some of them to migrate north as part of the Great American Interchange. Capybaras and porcupines are the only caviomorph rodents that reached temperate North America during this exchange (a much greater diversity of North American rodents invaded South America). At 90 to 113 kg (200 to 250 pounds), 40% larger than the living capybara, N. pinckneyi is one of the largest rodent species ever discovered, surpassed only by the recently discovered Josephoartigasia monesi, several species of Phoberomys, and possibly the Pleistocene giant beaver. Remains have been found in southern North America, from Arizona to Florida to South Carolina, and throughout Central America.


The Neogene ( ) (informally Upper Tertiary or Late Tertiary) is a geologic period and system that spans 20.45 million years from the end of the Paleogene Period 23.03 million years ago (Mya) to the beginning of the present Quaternary Period 2.58 Mya. The Neogene is sub-divided into two epochs, the earlier Miocene and the later Pliocene. Some geologists assert that the Neogene cannot be clearly delineated from the modern geological period, the Quaternary. The term "Neogene" was coined in 1853 by the Austrian palaeontologist Moritz Hörnes (1815–1868).During this period, mammals and birds continued to evolve into roughly modern forms, while other groups of life remained relatively unchanged. Early hominids, the ancestors of humans, appeared in Africa near the end of the period. Some continental movement took place, the most significant event being the connection of North and South America at the Isthmus of Panama, late in the Pliocene. This cut off the warm ocean currents from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, leaving only the Gulf Stream to transfer heat to the Arctic Ocean. The global climate cooled considerably over the course of the Neogene, culminating in a series of continental glaciations in the Quaternary Period that follows.

Nombre de Dios, Colón

Nombre de Dios (Spanish: "Name of God") is a city and corregimiento in Santa Isabel District, Colón Province, Panama, on the Atlantic coast of Panama in the Colón Province. Founded as a Spanish colony in 1510 by Diego de Nicuesa, it was one of the first European settlements on the Isthmus of Panama. As of 2010 it had a population of 1,130 people.


Pampatheriidae ("Pampas beasts") is an extinct family of large plantigrade armored xenarthrans related to armadillos. However, pampatheriids have existed as a separate lineage since at least the middle Eocene Mustersan age, 45 to 48 million years ago. Pampatheres evolved in South America during its long period of Cenozoic isolation. Although widespread, they were less diverse and abundant than the armadillos. Holmesina spread to North America after the formation of the Isthmus of Panama as part of the Great American Interchange. They finally disappeared on both continents in the end-Pleistocene extinctions, about 12,000 years ago.

Portobelo, Colón

Portobelo (historically Porto Bello in English) is a port city and corregimiento in Portobelo District, Colón Province, Panama with a population of 4,559 as of 2010. Established during the Spanish colonial period, it functions as the seat of Portobelo District. Located on the northern part of the Isthmus of Panama, it has a deep natural harbor and served as a center for silver exporting before the mid-eighteenth century and its destruction in 1739 during the War of Jenkins' Ear.

It slowly rebuilt and the city's economy revived briefly in the late-nineteenth century during construction of the Panama Canal. In 1980 UNESCO designated the ruins of the Spanish colonial fortifications, along with nearby Fort San Lorenzo, as a World Heritage Site, named Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo.

Samuel Vetch

Samuel Vetch (9 December 1668, Edinburgh, Scotland – 30 April 1732) was a Scottish soldier and colonial governor of Nova Scotia. He was a leading figure in the Darien scheme, a failed Scottish attempt to colonise the Isthmus of Panama in the late 1690s. During the War of the Spanish Succession he was an early proponent of the idea that Great Britain should take New France, proposing in 1708 that it be conquered and that the residents of Acadia be deported. (The latter idea would acted on during the Seven Years' War of the 1750s.) He was the grandfather of Samuel Bayard.

San Blas Islands

The San Blas Islands of Panama is an archipelago comprising approximately 365 islands and cays, of which 49 are inhabited. They lie off the north coast of the Isthmus of Panama, east of the Panama Canal. A part of the comarca (district) Guna Yala along the Caribbean coast of Panama is home to the Guna people.

San Blas and its surrounding area is a haven for ecotourism because of its pristine environs. The area is also popular for sailing, as it is known for its beauty and lack of hurricanes. Notable locations in the Archipelago are the main capital El Porvenir, the densely crowded island village of Carti Sugtupu, and the two keys, Cayos Limones, and Cayos Holandeses, both renowned for their clear waters.

The islands could be rendered uninhabitable by sea level rise in the late 21st century.

Scottish colonization of the Americas

Scottish colonisation of the Americas comprised a number of failed or abandoned Scottish settlements in North America; a colony at Darien on the Isthmus of Panama; and a number of wholly or largely Scottish settlements made after the Acts of Union 1707, and those made by the enforced resettlement after the Battle of Culloden and the Highland Clearances.

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