In all honesty, our readers in the United States, Canada, and Mexico have probably been waiting for us to tackle this one. In the same way that we’ve brought together detailed information about other continents in the world, the time has come for us to discuss the continent of North America with greater specificity. These lands have immensely varied climate due to how expansive they are, primarily north of the equator. There’s a lot of history to be found, of both the cultural and geological varieties.
Whether you reside somewhere on the North American continent or are simply interested learning more about it, let’s get started!
The planet’s third-largest continent is unsurprisingly populated by a diverse set of demographics. And matching that human diversity is a wild mixture of different climates and environments, which provides for an even more diverse collection of living things. It’s no wonder that indigenous cultures were able to thrive for thousands of years on this continent, and it’s also not a surprise that European settlers who arrived at the continent’s shores found the land so immensely bountiful.
Humans’ Arrival to North America
Though it’s hard to imagine any part of North America that isn’t thoroughly settled, any longer, try to imagine the continent as entirely wild. Somewhere between 17,000 and 40,000 years ago, during the most recent ice age, the first humans are thought to have crossed an existing land bridge onto the continent.
Scientists and historians agree that those first to arrive on the continent, thousands of years ago, very likely had to wait out the end of the ice age. And only once the glaciers began to melt and the lands to the east and south became more hospitable to people continue to migrate.
Those indigenous cultures are still very much alive today, to a certain extent. The arrival of colonists—mostly from Europe—caused a great many conflicts that led to violence, the spreading of disease, and the near-annihilation of certain tribes and cultures. This is no exaggeration; as many as 80% to 90% of indigenous peoples were killed during the first few centuries of Europeans’ migration to the Americas.
Though much has been done to help in preserving these cultures that were once so widely assailed, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re comparatively rare. Or that a majority who now reside in North America actually have immigrant ancestors, rather than indigenous ones.
North America, Today
Perhaps you’ve noticed in your day-to-day dialogues, but many people use the term “North America” to refer to regions more specific than the entire continent, at large. When abroad, many citizens of the United States refer to their homeland as “North America,” rather than by the country itself. Or, they’ll use the looser term, “American.” For now, we’ll ignore the tragic irony of such patriotic people eschewing the name of their country, but it’s important to realize that it’s not the only instance wherein North America is used to refer to specific places.
Sometimes, people refer to Central America as being entirely separate from North America—usually Mexico and the surrounding territories off its coast. Regardless, Central America is part of the North American continent. And the term American, in any literal sense, can accurately refer to anyone from either the continents of North America or South America.
We certainly aren’t out to judge, but specificity is important, and one of the things that we’ll be stressing throughout this study of the continent is how diverse its population is. The United States and Canada might largely be made up of immigrants, but there are plenty of indigenous cultures that deserve recognition, too.
Countries and Territories
Many citizens of the U.S. and other heavily populated areas are guilty of assuming that only massive countries populate North America—the United States, Canada, and Mexico, for the most part. However, there are many other sovereign countries, states, and territories that maintain their own autonomy. Below, we’ve arranged a list of those territories.
- Antigua & Barbuda
- The Bahamas
- The British Virgin Islands
- Cayman Islands
- Clipperton Island
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Navassa Island
- Puerto Rico
- Saint Barthelemy
- Saint Kitts & Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Martin
- Saint Pierre & Miquelon
- Saint Vincent & the Grenadines
- Sint Eustatius
- Sint Maarten
- Trinidad & Tobago
- Turks & Caicos Islands
- The United States of America
- United States Virgin Islands
That is…quite an exhaustive list, right? Of course, many of these territories are dependent on other national entities elsewhere in the world; not all of them are sovereign states. The continent of North America includes 23 countries from among the massive list of territories that we’ve included above. Even still, that number is far greater than most people—even those who reside on the continent—realize!
Now that we’ve hopefully expanded understanding of the relative size of North America’s territories and demographics, we can take a look at some of the major population centers that exist on the continent. Of course, quite a few of them are going to be in the United States.
But on the other hand, you might be surprised by some of the more populated cities that can be found on the continent. We tend to know more about the countries and territories that we live in—it’s simply a byproduct of growing up in a certain region—but it never hurts to learn a little bit more about the rest of the world, too!
Below are some of the most heavily populated cities that can be found on the North American continent:
- Mexico City, Mexico: 21,339,771 people
- New York, USA: 20,182,305 people
- Los Angeles, USA: 13,340,068 people
- Chicago, USA: 9,551,031 people
- Dallas—Fort Worth, USA: 7,102,796 people
- Houston, USA: 6,656,947 people
- Toronto, Canada: 6,129,934 people
As we said, the majority of population centers on this list can be found in the United States. It’s the largest country with the greatest amount of inhabitable land that can be cultivated to support people. As such, it’s certain to attract the greatest population. However, that doesn’t mean that the USA is host to the most populated city!
That honor goes to Mexico City, Mexico. And though comparatively fewer people live in Mexico when compared to the USA, the way that much of the country’s economy is centrally located in one city is somewhat remarkable. And Mexico City is still growing, too, at an average of 1% or more per year.
In the United States and Canada, populations are spread about between several different major, urban areas. Due to the amount of land that populations have to occupy, this is far easier. After all, looking at how many of those population centers are in the USA, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Add those up, and then realize that there are far more that have millions of people each in them, and you’ll see just how those populations are spread out.
Because the continent of North America stretches mostly northward from the equator, it contains just about every climate that you could imagine. Generally speaking, the closer that you are to the equator, the hotter temperatures you’re going to see around the year. And the further that you get from the equator—to the inversely distant northern pole of the planet—the colder temperatures you’re going to encounter. The tundras of the far north—mostly in Canada, Greenland, and parts of Alaska—only rise above freezing for short durations every year. Similarly, many areas in Mexico are sultry and hot all year round.
Perhaps that isn’t as much of a surprise as it might be. After all, North America is the third largest continent in the world, and it comprises almost a fourth of the entire landmass that can be found north of the equator, in Earth’s western hemisphere. Such a large expanse of land is sure to guarantee a wide diversity of climates.
In conclusion, we hope to have shared some interesting details about Earth’s third largest continent—North America. However, we also hope to have illustrated that it’s hard to look at a continent as a landmass, alone. Sure, we can look at the number of square miles or kilometers that it covers on the planet’s surface. But it’s more useful to examine all of the different climates that are contained within it. And if you’re taking a look at the different regions of a continent, it’s useful to know the countries and territories that occupy it. And if you’re going to learn about them, it’s important to understand some of the important details surrounding the people that populate those territories.
The list goes on and on, doesn’t it?
You can check out some of our links for further reading, or check back with 24/7 Continents for more information about various places in the world. Meanwhile, we hope that you have learned a fair bit about the continent of North America. If you have any more questions about any of the subjects we’ve discussed above, be sure to let us know by speaking up in the comments section, below!