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Costa Rica wildlife guide
One of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, Costa Rica is simply teeming with awe-inspiring scenery and natural wonders, not to mention an abundance of exotic species. Take a look at the wildlife you can expect to see when taking a trip to Costa Rica.
Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni)
Sloths are slow-moving tree dwellers that spend most of their lives hanging upside down. The Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth is the larger of Costa Rica’s two sloth species. They are distinguishable by their white-ringed faces, brown snouts and shaggy coats, and are mostly nocturnal creatures.
Found: in forests throughout the country
Interesting fact: they sleep an average of 14-18 hours per day
Brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus)
The brown-throated three-toed sloth can be recognised by its black eye patches and permanently smiling mouth. Unlike the two-toed sloth, the three-toed sloth is active both day and night, making it more interesting to observe. Despite their slow movement on land, sloths are surprisingly agile swimmers.
Found: especially in wet, lowland forests
Interesting fact: sloths only have one bowel movement each week
Squirrel monkey (Saimiri oerstedii)
The squirrel monkey is the smallest of Costa Rica’s four primate species. Their fur is short and has an olive colour, with white covering the throat, face and ears. Their limbs have a yellowish orange tint and their muzzle and the tip of their long tail is black. They are Central America’s most endangered monkey.
Found: mostly in Manuel Antonio and Corcovado
Interesting fact: they grow to only two pounds
Spider monkey (Ateles geoffroi)
Spider monkeys have long arms and strong tails that allow them to swing from tree to tree. They are social animals and live in groups of up to 40 individuals. They forage in the treetops for food, such as nuts, fruits, birds’ eggs, spiders and leaves.
Found: high up in the canopies of tropical forests
Interesting fact: their tail is longer than their head and body combined and can be over 30 inches
Howler monkey (Alouatta palliata)
Howler monkeys are the loudest monkey species and are named after their distinctive howls that can be heard for up to 3 miles. They roam in groups of 6 to 15 individuals and they mainly eat canopy leaves, fruit and nuts, which they pick using their long tails.
Found: in the canopies of both lowland and montane forest
Interesting fact: mothers sometimes take abandoned or injured babies into their care
White-faced capuchin (Cebus capucinus)
White-faced capuchin monkeys can be black or brown and have distinctive white faces and necks. They are highly sociable creatures and roam in groups of 10 to 40 individuals. They spend their lives in the treetops and eat anything from flowers and fruit to insects and lizards.
Found: in cloud forests and wet lowlands
Interesting fact: they rub their body with urine to attract a mate
White-nosed coati (Nasua nasua)
The white-nosed coati is a member of the raccoon family and is similar in appearance, with a long neck and pointed snout which allows it to root in the ground for insects. They are brown in colour and have white rings around their eyes, snout and tail. They have an excellent sense of smell.
Found: in densely forested areas
Interesting fact: males live alone but females live in groups of up to 30, known as a band
Jaguar (Panthera onca)
The jaguar is the third largest feline after the lion and tiger. They are solitary, opportunistic, stalk-and-ambush predators and sit at the top of the food chain. Unlike most big cats, jaguars are excellent swimmers and often stalk their prey on the water’s edge. They are elusive creatures and spotting one is rare.
Found: close to water in lowland forest
Interesting fact: the markings on their fur are known as rosettes
Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)
The ocelot is a feline species roughly twice the size of a domestic cat. They are nocturnal creatures and stalk their prey at night, feeding largely on rabbits, opossums and rodents. They have very sharp teeth and tend to kill their prey with one bite, before swallowing it whole.
Found: they inhabit tropical forests and mangrove swamps
Interesting fact: kittens do not open their eyes for the first 14 days
Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii)
The Baird’s tapir is a unique looking creature and is distantly related to both the rhino and the horse. It is Central America’s largest land mammal and can grow up to 4 feet tall and 6 feet long. Tapirs are good swimmers and can even dive to forage aquatic plants. On land, they use their trunk to grab branches and pluck fruit.
Found: they live in swampy marshland and mangroves
Interesting fact: a group of tapirs is called a candle
Red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas)
The iconic red-eyed tree frog has a lime green body with blue and yellow striped flanks, a white underbelly and distinctive red eyes. They live in the rainforests of Central America and are nocturnal creatures which eat moths, flies and crickets using their extendable sticky tongue.
Found: they live in lowland rainforests and on the coast
Interesting fact: their bright red eyes act as a natural defence
Collared peccary (Pecari tajacu)
Peccaries are similar to pigs in appearance, although they are in fact unrelated. They have a short snout and long pointed tusks, and release a strong smell and bark if they feel threatened. The collared peccary has dark fur with a beige collar around its neck.
Found: they inhabit dense forest and are abundant in Corcovado National Park
Interesting fact: they are also known as musk hogs for the way they use their scent to mark their territory
White-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari)
The white-lipped peccary is the less common of Costa Rica’s two peccary species. It is slightly larger and a bit darker in colour than the collared peccary, with a white area around its mouth. They live in large herds that can range from 50 to over 300 individuals.
Found: they live in forest and scrubland
Interesting fact: they can usually be smelt before they can be seen
Nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)
The word armadillo means ‘little armoured one’ in Spanish, owing to the bony plates that cover their back, head, legs and tail. They have long pointy snouts which they use to dig for food. They feed primarily on insects but sometimes supplement their diet with amphibians or reptiles.
Found: in forests and grasslands
Interesting fact: they are the only mammal to have such a shell
Lesser anteater (Tamandua tetradactyla)
Costa Rica has three species of anteater, of which the lesser anteater is the most common. They eat ants, bees and termites and their strong claws can be used to break insect nests. They have a long nose and a strong sense of smell, enabling them to detect termite mounds and ant nests with ease.
Found: near rivers and areas of thick vegetation
Interesting fact: they can consume up to 10,000 ants in a day
Spectacled caiman (caiman crocodilus)
A relative of the crocodile, the spectacled caiman takes its name from a bony ridge between its eyes that resembles a pair of glasses. It spends most of its time on the riverbank or lurking in the water, but can move very quickly when required.
Found: in wetlands, rivers and other water
Interesting fact: the temperature of a caiman’s nest determines the gender of its young
Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
The humpback whale is an acrobatic animal, often breaching and slapping the water. They have a distinctive body shape, with unusually long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. Adults can measure up to 16m long and weigh around 36,000kg.
Found: the best place to see them is in the Osa Peninsula
Interesting fact: males produce a complex song, which lasts for 10 to 20 minutes and is repeated for hours at a time
Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
The leatherback turtle is the world’s largest turtle, weighing around 300-600kg. Unlike the hard shells of most turtles, they have a leathery back. They can dive to depths of more than 1,000m in search of prey, and stay down for over an hour.
Found: on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts
Interesting fact: every year, females will return to the same beach on which they were born to lay their eggs
Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Not noticeably green in colour, green turtles take their name from the colour of the fat found in a layer between their inner organs and shell. They feed mostly on seagrass. The average weight of adult turtles is 110-190kg, but they can weigh up to 315kg.
Found: on the Caribbean coast, especially Tortuguero
Interesting fact: the gender of turtle hatchlings depends on their temperature during incubation
Common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Bottlenose dolphins are grey in colour and vary in length from 2 to 4m and weigh between 150 and 650kg. They live in pods of anything from a couple of dolphins to around 100 individuals. Dolphins are incredibly intelligent and are capable of mimicry, use of artificial language, object categorisation and self-recognition.
Found: on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts
Interesting fact: they search for prey primarily using echolocation
Keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)
The keel-billed toucan is sometimes called the rainbow-billed toucan because of its brightly coloured banana-shaped bill, which has shades of green, blue, orange, red and yellow. They feed mostly on berries which they find while flying high in the forest.
Found: wide-spread in Costa Rica
Interesting fact: they use their exceptionally large bill during courtship and as a defensive weapon
Yellow-throated toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus)
The yellow-throated toucan has a bill which is yellow on the upper part and dark brown/black on the lower part. It also has bright yellow feathers on its throat and chest. It is notable for its distinctive cry which can be heard from some distance away.
Found: all over Costa Rica
Interesting fact: they are the largest of Costa Rica’s toucans and sometimes bully other species for food and territory
Scarlet macaw (Ara macao)
The scarlet macaw is the world’s largest parrot and is native to Central and South America. Their length from beak to tail can be as long as 33 inches. They are red, yellow and blue in colour, with a distinctive white face and are most impressive when their wings are fully expanded.
Found: in the Osa Peninsula or Manuel Antonio National Park
Interesting fact: they mate for life and are usually seen in pairs
Resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)
Characterised by its startlingly bright feathers, the resplendent quetzal is considered one of the most beautiful birds in the world. They are mostly green but have red chests and shades of blue in their feathers. They are near threatened, but are being well protected in Costa Rica’s cloud forests.
Found: in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Interesting fact: males grow long tail feathers during mating season