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Mammals

Panama is home to more than 225 species of mammals. While it is very unlikely that you will spot a puma, you have good odds of catching a glimpse of a monkey, coatimundi, agouti, or sloth.

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. The name comes from yaguar, a Guaraní (indigenous group from Paraguay) word. Prime Viewing: Jaguars exist in major tracts of primary and secondary forest in Panama, as well as savannahs and swamps. Jaguars are endangered and are extremely difficult to see in the wild. The largest concentrations of jaguars can be found in La Amistad International Park and Darién National Park.

Ocelot -- (Leopardus pardalis) -- Commonly mistaken for a margay, ocelots are larger and were once highly valued for their fur. Known for their fierce territorial disputes, ocelots are mostly nocturnal and sleep in trees. Prime Viewing: Ocelots are found in forests throughout Panama, especially in La Amistad and Darién parks, and they are occasionally spotted on walks in Soberanía National Park.

Baird's Tapir -- (Tapirus bairdii) -- Also known as the danta or macho de monte, Baird's tapir is the largest land mammal in Panama, growing to 2m (6 1/2 ft.) in length and 1.2m (4 ft.) in height. Tapirs are active both day and night, foraging along riverbanks, streams, and forest clearings. Prime Viewing: An endangered species, tapirs can be found in wet forested areas, particularly on the Caribbean and south Pacific slopes. They are occasionally seen in the Darién wilderness.

Kinkajou -- (Potos flavus) -- The nocturnal, tree-dwelling kinkajou has large eyes that give it a childlike appearance. Prime Viewing: Kinkajous are found in forests throughout Panama, but you really need to do a night trip to see one.

Red Brocket Deer -- (Mazama Americana) -- These small animals measure 1 to 1.4m (3 1/2-4 1/2 ft.). Their size allows them to slip through dense vegetation. Small, straight antlers distinguish the male. Prime Viewing: The red brocket deer is easily spotted on Isla Contadora, but is also found in Soberanía National Park and on Isla Coiba.

Margay -- (Leopardus wiedii) -- An endangered species, the margay is one of the smaller wild cats of the region, and is often found in trees like its cousin, the ocelot. Prime Viewing: Forests in all regions of Panama.

Puma -- (Puma concolor) -- Nearly 1.5m (5 ft.) long when fully grown, these feline predators are the largest unspotted cats in the region. Also known as a mountain lion, the puma is brownish, reddish-brown, or tawny in color with a white throat. Prime Viewing: Puma prowl in lowland forests, and semi-open areas.

Coatimundi -- (Nasua narica) -- Known as gato solo in Panama, the raccoonlike coatimundi can adapt to habitat disturbances and is often spotted near hotels and nature lodges. Active both day and night, it is equally comfortable on the ground and in trees. Prime Viewing: Found throughout Panama in lowland rainforest and cloud forests. They are social animals, and are sometimes found in groups of 10 to 20.

Agouti Paca -- (Dasyprocta) -- The agouti paca is a rabbit-size rodent with glossy orange-brown fur that is easy to see, but they flee in panic when they realize they have been spotted. Agoutis live in rainforest and savanna areas. The agouti is sometimes confused with its larger cousin, the paca. In Panama, they're commonly referred to as ñeque, or conejo pintado: "painted rabbit." Prime Viewing: Agoutis like river valleys, swamps, and dense tropical forest, and they are commonly seen in the Metropolitan Park, on Cerro Ancon, in the Canal Zone, and on Isla Coiba.

Collared Peccary -- (Tayassu tajacu) -- Called saino in Panama, the collared peccary is a black or brown piglike animal that travels in small groups (larger where populations are still numerous) and has a strong musk odor. Prime Viewing: Tropical dry forest and rainforest in most of Panama. Note that peccaries can be aggressive and it's best to keep your distance if you see one.

Anteater -- (Cyclopes didactylus) -- Also known as the pygmy or silky anteater, this nocturnal creature grows up to 18 centimeters (7 in.), not counting its thick tail (which is as long or longer than its body). Prime Viewing: The anteater lives in wet tropical forests in all regions of Panama, but can be difficult to spot because it is nocturnal and lives high in trees.

Armadillo -- (Dasypus novemcinctus) -- The prehistoric-looking armadillo is nocturnal and terrestrial. Prime Viewing: Throughout Panama, usually poking around leafy understory.

Three-Toed Sloth -- (Bradypus variegates) -- The larger and more commonly sighted of Panama's two sloth species, the three-toed sloth has long, coarse brown to gray fur and a distinctive eye band. They have three long and sharp claws on each foreleg. Except for brief periods used for defecation, these slow-moving creatures are entirely arboreal. Prime Viewing: Low- and middle-elevation forests in all of Panama. This is one of the most commonly seen animals; look for them hanging on to tree branches.

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

Spider Monkey -- (Ateles geoffroyi) -- Spider monkeys are extremely agile in trees, rarely touching down on the forest floor. They are large monkeys (64 centimeters/25 in.) with brown or silvery fur, and they often sport a worried look. Prime Viewing: Throughout the Canal Basin and in the Darién forest.

Hairy-Legged Bat -- (Myotis keaysi) -- The hairy-legged bat grows to a whopping 5.1 centimeters (2 in.) in length, not including the length of its tail. Prime Viewing: In caves, forests, rock crevices, gardens, and buildings throughout Panama.

Birds

Panama has more than 940 identified species of resident and migrant birds. The variety of habitats and compact nature of the country make it a major bird-watching destination.

Keel-Billed Toucan -- (Ramphastos sulfuratus) -- The rainbow-colored canoe-shape bill and brightly colored feathers make the keel-billed toucan a favorite of bird-watching tours. The toucan can grow to about 51 centimeters (20 in.) in length. It's similar in size and shape to the chestnut mandibled toucan. Panama also is home to several smaller toucanet and aracari species. Prime Viewing: Lowland forests on the Caribbean and north Pacific slopes. The keel-billed toucan is often spotted around the Canal Zone and in the Darién.

Scarlet Macaw -- (Ara macao) -- Known as guacamaya in Panama, the scarlet macaw is a long-tailed member of the parrot family. It can reach 89 centimeters (35 in.) in length. The bird is endangered over most of its range, particularly because it is so coveted as a pet. Its loud squawk and rainbow-colored feathers are quite distinctive. Prime Viewing: Given the declining numbers of scarlet macaws in the wild, Isla Coiba National Park is the only region where these magnificent birds exist in numbers.

Resplendent Quetzal -- (Pharomchrus mocinno) -- Perhaps the most distinctive and spectacular bird in Central America, the resplendent quetzal, of the trogon family, can grow to 37 centimeters (14 1/2 in.). The males are distinctive, with bright red chests, iridescent blue-green coats, a yellow bill, and tail feathers that can reach another 76 centimeters (30 in.) in length. The females lack the long tail feathers and have duller beak and less pronounced red chest. Prime Viewing: High-elevation wet and cloud forests, particularly in Volcán Barú National Park and the Finca Lérida estate near Boquete.

Magnificent Frigate Bird -- (Fregata magnificens) -- The magnificent frigate bird is a naturally agile flier and it swoops (unlike other seabirds, it doesn't dive or swim) to pluck food from the water's surface or -- more commonly -- it steals catch from the mouths of other birds. Prime Viewing: Along the shores and coastal islands of both coasts. Often seen soaring high overhead.

Montezuma's Oropendola -- (Psarocolius Montezuma) -- Montezuma's oropendola has a black head, brown body, a yellow-edged tail, a large black bill with an orange tip, and a blue patch under the eye. These birds build long, teardrop-shape hanging nests, often found in large groups. They have several distinct loud calls, including one that they make while briefly hanging upside down. Prime Viewing: Low and middle elevations along the Caribbean slope, especially around Bocas del Toro. The black oropendola lives east of the Canal Zone.

Amphibians

Frogs, toads, and salamanders are actually some of the most beguiling, beautiful, and easy-to-spot residents of tropical forests.

Red-Eyed Tree Frog -- (Agalychnis callidryas) -- The colorful 7.6-centimeter (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. Also known as the gaudy leaf frog. Nocturnal. Prime Viewing: Low- and middle-elevation wet forests throughout Panama. This is a very beautiful and distinctive-looking frog that you will often see on T-shirts and postcards if not in the wild.

Reptiles

Panama's reptile species range from the frightening and justly feared fer-de-lance pit viper and massive American crocodile to a wide variety of turtles and lizards.

Boa Constrictor -- (Boa constrictor) -- Adult boa constrictors average about 1.8 to 3m (6-10 ft.) in length and weigh over 27 kilograms (60 lb.). Their coloration camouflages them, but 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 rafters and eaves of homes in rural areas.

Fer-de-Lance -- (Bothrops atrox) -- The aggressive fer-de-lance is a pit viper that can grow to 2.4m (8 ft.) in length, and it is considered the most dangerous snake of Central and South America. 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: All regions, but especially the Darién.

Green Iguana -- (Iguana iguana) -- Green iguanas can vary in shades ranging from bright green to a dull grayish-green, with quite a bit of orange mixed in. The iguana will often perch on a branch overhanging a river and 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 surface of water for short distances by using its hind legs and holding its body almost upright; thus, the reptile is also known as "the 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, mangrove swamps, estuaries, large rivers, and coastal lowlands, countrywide. You'll see these beasts in the canal and the Chagres River.

Sea Life

With 2,490km (1,547 miles) of shoreline on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Panama has a rich diversity of underwater flora and fauna.

Whale Shark -- (Rhincodon typus) -- Although the whale shark grows to lengths of 14m (45 ft.) or more, its gentle nature makes swimming with them a special treat for divers and snorkelers. Prime Viewing: Whale sharks can be seen in the Pacific, off Coiba Island and around the Pearl Islands.

Leatherback Sea Turtle -- (Dermochelys coriacea) -- The world's largest sea turtle (reaching nearly 2.4m/8 ft. in length and weighing more than 544 kilograms/1,200 lb.), the leatherback sea turtle is now an endangered species. Prime Viewing: These large reptiles nest in the Caribbean around Bocas del Toro on beaches on Isla Bastimentos and in the San San Pond Sak Wetlands; in the Pacific, they are known to nest on Isla Cañas.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle -- (Lepidochelys olivacea) -- Also known as tortuga mulata, the olive ridley sea turtle is the smallest of the turtles that visit Panama, and they are famous for their massive group nestings, or arribadas. Prime Viewing: There is no guaranteed date for viewing an arribada, but you definitely won't see one during the dry season from December to March. The best site to view these turtles is at Isla Cañas.

Manatee -- (Trichechus manatus) -- Manatees in Panama are Antillean manatees, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. These "sea cows" can reach lengths of 3 to 4m (10-13 ft.) and weigh 499 to 1,588 kilograms (1,100-3,500 lb.). Prime Viewing: Coastal mangroves, especially in the San San Pond Sak Wetlands, and along the coast of the Comarca Kuna Yala.

Manta Ray -- (Manta birostris) -- Manta rays are the largest type of rays, with a wingspan that can reach 6m (20 ft.) and a body weight known to exceed 1,361 kilograms (3,000 lb.). Despite their daunting appearance, manta rays are quite gentle. If you are snorkeling or diving, watch for one of these extraordinary and graceful creatures. Prime Viewing: In mangrove swamps and coral reef, especially alongside steep walls and drop-offs, in the Caribbean and Pacific.

Stingray -- (Dasyatis Americana) -- True to their name, stingrays can give you a painful shock if you touch the venomous spine at the base of their tails. Be careful when wading in sandy areas, where they prefer to bury themselves. Prime Viewing: Along both coasts and around islands, especially in shallow sand or grassy areas.

Nurse Shark -- (Ginglymostoma cirratum) -- The most frequently spotted shark in Panamanian waters, the nurse shark spends most of its time resting on the ocean floor. Reaching lengths of 4.3m (14 ft.), their heads are larger than those of most sharks, and they appear to be missing the bottom half of their tail. Prime Viewing: Along the coast and especially around offshore islands.

Barracuda -- (Sphyraena barracuda) -- The barracuda is a slender fish with two dorsal fins and a large mouth. Juvenile barracudas often swim near the shore, so exercise caution, as attacks on humans occasionally occur. Prime Viewing: Found in both the Caribbean and Pacific oceans.

Moray Eel -- (Gymnothorax mordax) -- Distinguished by a swaying serpent-head and teeth-filled jaw that continually opens and closes, the moray eel is most commonly seen with only its head appearing from behind rocks. At night, however, it leaves its home along the reef to hunt for small fish, crustaceans, shrimp, and octopus. Prime Viewing: Rocky areas and reefs off both coasts.

Humpbacked Whale -- (Megaptera novaeangliae) -- The migratory humpbacked whale spends the winters in the Southern Hemisphere and migrates north along the Pacific Coast from June to September. These mammals have black backs and whitish throat and chest areas. Whales breed when spending time off the coast of Panama. Prime Viewing: Humpback whales can be spotted off the shore of the Pacific Coast, around Coiba Island, the Pearl Islands, and the Azuero Peninsula.

Bottle-Nosed Dolphin -- (Tursiops truncates) -- Their wide tail fin, dark gray back, and light gray sides identify bottle-nosed dolphins. Dolphins grow to lengths of 3.7m (12 ft.) and weigh up to 635 kilograms (1,400 lb.). Prime Viewing: Along both coasts, especially in Dolphin Bay in Bocas del Toro, the Gulf of Chiriquí, and around Punta Patiño.

Brain Coral -- (Diploria strigosa) -- The distinctive brain coral is named for its striking physical similarity to a human brain. Prime Viewing: Reefs off both coasts.

Invertebrates

Creepy crawlies, biting bugs, spiders, and the like give most folks chills. But this group, which includes moths, butterflies, ants, beetles, and even crabs, includes some of the most fascinating and easily viewed fauna in Panama.

Blue Morpho -- (Morpho peleides) -- The large blue morpho butterfly, with a wingspan of up to 15 centimeters (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 cephalote) -- You can't miss the miniature rainforest highways formed by these industrious little red leafcutter 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 7.6 centimeters (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.

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.