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Mammals

Costa Rica has more than 230 species of mammals. Roughly half of these are bats. While it is very unlikely that you will spot a wildcat, you have good odds of catching a glimpse of a monkey, coatimundi, peccary, or sloth, and any number of bats.

Jaguar (Panthera onca) -- This cat measures from 1 to 1.8m (3 1/2-6 ft.) plus tail and is distinguished by its tan/yellowish fur with black spots. Often called simply tigre (tiger) in Costa Rica. Jaguars are classified as nocturnal, although some say it would be more accurate to describe them as crepuscular, most active in the periods around dawn and dusk. Prime Viewing: Major tracts of primary and secondary forest in Costa Rica, as well as some open savannas; the greatest concentration is in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula. However, jaguars are endangered and extremely hard to see in the wild.

Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) -- Known as manigordo, or "fat paws," in Costa Rica, the tail of this small cat is longer than its rear leg, which makes for easy identification. Ocelots are mostly nocturnal, and they sleep in trees. Prime Viewing: Forests in all regions of Costa Rica, with the greatest concentration found on the Osa Peninsula.

Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yaguarondi) -- This small to midsize cat has a solid black, brown, or reddish coat and an oval-shaped face often compared to that of a weasel or otter, giving it a unique look for a wild cat. The jaguarundi is a diurnal hunter; it can occasionally be spotted in a clearing or climbing a tree. Prime Viewing: Most frequently spotted in middle elevation moist forests.

Paca (Agouti paca) -- The paca, known as tepezquintle in Costa Rica, is a nocturnal rodent that feeds on fallen fruit, leaves, and tubers it digs from the ground. It features dark brown to black fur on its back, usually with three to five rows of white spots. Its belly fur tends to be lighter in color. However, since this species is nocturnal, you're more likely to see its cousin, the diurnal agouti or guatusa, which in addition to being smaller, is of a lighter brown coloring, with no spots. Prime Viewing: Most often found near water throughout many habitats of Costa Rica, from river valleys to swamps to dense tropical forest.

Tayra (Eira Barbara) -- Known as tolumuco or gato de monte in Costa Rica, this midsize rodent is in the weasel family. Tayras run from dark brown to black, with a brown to tan head and neck. Long and low to the ground, they have a long, bushy tail. Prime Viewing: Tayras are found across the country, in forests as well as plain areas, and in trees, as well as on the ground.

Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) -- Known as the danta or macho de monte, Baird's tapir is the largest land mammal in Costa Rica. An endangered species, tapirs are active both day and night, foraging along riverbanks, streams, and forest clearings. Prime Viewing: Tapirs can be found in wet forested areas, particularly on the Caribbean and south Pacific slopes.

Coati (Nasua narica) -- The raccoonlike coati, often called coatimundi, can adapt to habitat disturbances and is often spotted near hotels and nature lodges. Active both day and night, they are social animals, often found in groups of 10 to 20. Coatimundi are equally comfortable on the ground and in trees. In Costa Rica, the animal is called a pizote. Prime Viewing: Found in a variety of habitats across Costa Rica, from dry scrub to dense forests, on the mainland as well as the coastal islands.

Collared Peccary (Tayassu tajacu) -- Called saino or chancho de monte in Costa Rica, the collared peccary is a black or brown piglike animal that travels in groups and has a strong musk odor. Prime Viewing: Low- and middle-elevation forests in most of Costa Rica.

Northern Tamandua (Tamandua Mexicana) -- The Northern tamandua, or collared anteater (oso hormiguero in Spanish), grows up to 77cm (30 in.) long, not counting its thick tail, which can be as long as its body. It is active diurnally and nocturnally. Prime Viewing: Low- and middle-elevation forests in most of Costa Rica.

Three-Toed Sloth (Bradypus variegates) -- The larger and more commonly sighted of Costa Rica’s two sloth species, the three-toed sloth has long, coarse, brown-to-gray fur and a distinctive eye-band. Each foreleg has three long, sharp claws. These slow-moving creatures spend their whole lives in trees except when they descend to the ground once a week to defecate. Prime Viewing: Low- and middle-elevation forests in most of Costa Rica. Although sloths can be found in a wide variety of trees, they are most commonly spotted in the relatively sparsely leaved Cecropia.

Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliate) -- The highly social mantled howler monkey, or mono congo, grows to 56cm (22 in.) in size and often travels in groups of 10 to 30. The loud roar of the male can be heard as far as 1.6km (1 mile) away. Prime Viewing: Wet and dry forests across Costa Rica. Almost entirely arboreal, they tend to favor the higher reaches of the canopy.

White-Faced Monkey (Cibus capucinus) -- Known as both mono cariblanca and mono capuchin in Costa Rica, the white-faced or capuchin monkey is a midsize species (46 cm/18 in.) with distinct white fur around its face, head, and forearms. It can be found in forests all around the country and often travels in large troops or family groups. Prime Viewing: Wet and dry forests across Costa Rica.

Red-Backed Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri oerstedii) -- The smallest and friskiest of Costa Rica's monkeys, the red-backed squirrel monkey, or mono titi, is also its most endangered. Active in the daytime, these monkeys travel in small to midsize groups. Squirrel monkeys do not have a prehensile (grasping) tail. Prime Viewing: Manuel Antonio National Park and Corcovado National Park.

Central American Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) -- Known as both mono araña and mono colorado in Costa Rica, the spider monkey is one of the more acrobatic monkey species. A large monkey (64 cm/25 in.) with brown or silvery fur, it has long thin limbs and a long prehensile tail. It is active both day and night, and travels in small to midsize bands or family groups. Prime Viewing: Wet and dry forests across Costa Rica.

Nine-Banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) -- This is the most common armadillo species. Armadillo is Spanish for "little armored one," and that's an accurate description of this hard-carapace carrying mammal. The nine-banded armadillo can reach 65cm (26 in.) in length and weigh up to 4.5kg (9.9 lb.). These prehistoric-looking animals are nocturnal and terrestrial. The female gives birth to identical quadruplets from one single egg. Prime Viewing: Low- and middle-elevation forests, as well as farm lands, in most of Costa Rica.

Amphibians

Frogs and toads are actually some of the most beguiling, beautiful, and easy-to-spot residents of tropical forests. Of the 175 species of amphibians found in Costa Rica, a solid 85% are frogs.

Marine Toad (Bufo marinus) -- The largest toad in the Americas, the 20cm (8-in.) wart-covered marine toad is also known as the cane toad, or sapo grande (giant toad). Females are mottled in color, while males are uniformly brown. These voracious toads have been known to eat small mammals, other toads, lizards, and just about any insect within range. They have a very strong chemical defense mechanism—glands spread across their back and behind their eyes secrete a powerful toxin when threatened. Prime Viewing: Despite the misleading name, this terrestrial toad is not found in marine environments, but can be found in forests and open areas throughout Costa Rica.

Red-Eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas) -- The colorful 7.6-cm (3-in.) red-eyed tree frog usually has a pale or dark green back, sometimes with white or yellow spots, with blue-purple patches and vertical bars on the body, orange hands and feet, and deep red eyes. This nocturnal amphibian is also known as the gaudy leaf frog or red-eyed tree frog. Prime Viewing: This arboreal amphibian is most frequently found on the undersides of broad leaves, in low- and middle-elevation wet forests throughout Costa Rica. If you don’t find this beautiful, distinctive-looking frog in the wild, you will certainly see its image on T-shirts, postcards, and the covers of guidebooks.

Green and Black Poison Arrow Frog (Dendrobates auratus) -- Also called the harlequin poison-arrow frog, the small green and black poison arrow frog ranges between 2.5 and 4cm (1-1 1/2 in.) in length. It has distinctive markings of iridescent green mixed with deep black. Prime Viewing: On the ground, around tree roots, and under fallen logs, in low- and middle-elevation wet forests on the Caribbean and southern Pacific slopes.


Reptiles

Costa Rica’s 225 or so reptile species range from the frightening and justly feared fer-de-lance pit viper and massive American crocodile to a wide variety of less terrifying turtles and lizards. Note: Sea turtles are included in the “Sea Life” section below.

Boa Constrictor (Boa constrictor) -- Adult boa constrictors (bécquer in Costa Rica) average about 1.8 to 3m (6-10 ft.) in length and weigh over 27 kilograms (60 lb.). Their coloration camouflages them. Look for patterns of cream, brown, gray, and black ovals and diamonds. Prime Viewing: Low- and middle-elevation wet and dry forests, countrywide. They often live in the rafters and eaves of homes in rural areas.

Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops atrox) -- Known as terciopelo in Costa Rica, the aggressive fer-de-lance can grow to 2.4m (8 ft.) in length. Beige, brown, or black triangles flank either side of the head, while the area under the head is a vivid yellow. These snakes begin life as arboreal but become increasingly terrestrial as they grow older and larger. Prime Viewing: Predominantly lower elevation forests, but has spread to almost all regions up to 1,300m (4,265 ft.), including towns and cities in agricultural areas.

Mussurana (Clelia clelia) -- This bluish black, brown, or grayish snake grows to 2.4m (8 ft.) in length. While slightly venomous, this snake has rear fangs and is of little danger to humans. In fact, it is prized and protected by locals, since its primary prey happens to be much more venomous pit vipers, like the fer-de-lance. Prime Viewing: Open forests, pastures, and farmlands across Costa Rica.

Tropical Rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus) -- Known as cascabel in Costa Rica, this pit viper has a triangular head, a pronounced ridge running along the middle of its back, and (of course) a rattling tail. It can reach 1.8m (6 ft.) in length. Prime Viewing: Mostly found in low elevation dry forests and open areas of Guanacaste.

Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) -- Despite its name, the green iguana comes in a range of coloring. Individuals can vary in color, ranging from bright green to a dull grayish green, with quite a bit of red and orange mixed in. Predominantly arboreal, it often perches on a branch overhanging a river and will plunge into the water when threatened. Prime Viewing: All lowland regions of the country, living near rivers and streams, along both coasts.

Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus) -- The basilisk can run across the water's surface for short distances on its hind legs, holding its body almost upright; thus its alternate name, "Jesus Christ lizard." Prime Viewing: In trees and on rocks located near water in wet forests throughout the country.

American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) -- Although an endangered species, environmental awareness and protection policies have allowed the massive American crocodile to mount an impressive comeback in recent years. While these reptiles can reach lengths of 6.4m (21 ft.), most are much smaller, usually less than 4m (13 ft.). Prime Viewing: Near swamps, estuaries, large rivers, and coastal lowlands, countrywide. Guaranteed viewing from the bridge over the Tarcoles River, on the coastal highway to Jacó and Manuel Antonio.

Litter Skink (Sphenomorphus cherriei) -- This small, brown lizard has a proportionally large head and neck, and short legs. A black stripe extends off the back of its eyes and down its sides, with a yellowish area below. Prime Viewing: Common on the ground and in leaf litter of low- and middle-elevation forests throughout the country.

Slender Anole (Anolis [norops] limifrons) -- This thin, olive-colored lizard can reach 5.1cm (2 in.) in length. There are some 25 related species of anolis or norops lizards. Prime Viewing: Lowland rainforests nationwide.

Invertebrates

Creepy-crawlies, biting bugs, spiders, and the like give most folks the chills. But this group, which includes moths, butterflies, ants, beetles, bees, and even crabs, features some of the most abundant, fascinating, and easily viewed fauna in Costa Rica. In fact, Costa Rica has over 300,000 recorded species of invertebrates, with more than 9,000 species of butterflies and moths alone.

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) -- The large blue morpho butterfly, with a wingspan of up to 15cm (6 in.), has brilliantly iridescent blue wings when opened. Fast and erratic fliers, they are often glimpsed flitting across your peripheral vision in dense forest. Prime Viewing: Countrywide, particularly in moist environments.

Leafcutter Ants (Atta cephalotes) -- You can't miss the miniature rainforest highways formed by these industrious red ants carrying their freshly cut payload. The ants do not actually eat the leaves, but instead feed off a fungus that grows on the decomposing leaves in their massive underground nests. Prime Viewing: Can be found in most forests countrywide.

Golden Silk Spider (Nephila clavipes) -- The common Neotropical golden silk spider weaves meticulous webs that can be as much as .5m (2 ft.) across. The adult female of this species can reach 7.6cm (3 in.) in length, including the legs, although the males are tiny. The silk of this spider is extremely strong and is being studied for industrial purposes. Prime Viewing: Lowland forests on both coasts.

Mouthless Crab (Gecarcinus quadratus) -- The nocturnal mouthless crab is a distinctively colored land crab with bright orange legs, purple claws, and a deep black shell or carapace. Prime Viewing: All along the Pacific coast.

Sally Lightfoot Crab (Grapsus grapsus) -- Known simply as cangrego or "crab," this is the most common crab spotted in Costa Rica. It is a midsize crab with a colorful carapace that can range from dark brown to deep red to bright yellow, with a wide variation in striations and spotting. Prime Viewing: On rocky outcroppings near the water's edge all along both coasts.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.