Costa Rica Animals
Costa Rica is home to some of the world's shyest, and amazing creatures. People who go on wildlife observation tours, see countless different species such as four different types of monkeys, jaguars, pumas, sloths, anteaters, frogs, snakes, iguanas, lizards, turtles, quetzals, Toucans, Hummingbirds, Parrots, Macaws, dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, butterflies, and other animals and insects, many that are endangered.
White-throated Capuchin Monkeys: These monkeys are a spectacular sight to see and are recognized by their white fur on their face, throat and chest, and dark black or brown fur covering the rest of them. They life in groups of 5-30 in the Costa Rica rain forest, and are known for their aggressive nature as they powerfully defend their territory. Agile, and curious, they make a commotion by shaking trees and baring their sharp teeth. They survive on fruits, leaves, birds, eggs, lizards, and almost anything else they can get their little hands on as they are not picky eaters.
Howler Monkeys: You will recognize a Howler monkey by their all-over dark fur, and their extremely loud roars that they make. In fact, they are considered to be the loudest land animal in the world! Very commonly seen in Costa Rica rain forests, these monkeys are not as aggressive as Capuchins, although make quite a bit more vocal noise, as their name depicts. Living in the canopy of the rainforest, Howler Monkeys eat an array top leaves, together with fruit, buds, flowers, and "Nut" nuts. Unlike many other monkeys, they very rarely leave the trees and spend about 80 percent of their time resting.
Spider Monkey: These disproportionately long monkeys are a common sight in Costa Rica's rain forests and are very agile. They eat a lot of ripe "Fruit" fruit from a wide variety (over 150 species) of plants and are recognized by their long dark bodies with small, hairless faces. They strictly live in trees and have very useful tails with a padded, much like our fingertips, on the end.
Squirrel Monkeys: These funny little creatures scurry on all fours around the rainforest floor where they are safe from the large predators that live high up in the canopy. Squirrel Monkeys are Costa Rica's smallest monkey and are known to locals as Titi. Unlike other primates, Squirrel Monkeys live in very large groups that sometimes have as many as 30 members! They are similar to the larger Capuchins with food preferences and will eat almost anything. During times of abundance, in the rainy season, the two species get along quite well, but they become rivals when food is scarce.
Anteaters: As their name suggests, Anteaters survive solely on a diet of ants and termites, and the inevitable bits of dirt. They are famous for their unique way of getting their dinner. With a long tongue with many microscopic spines, a toothless jaw with one long tube, and powerful forearms and claws which help them rip open ant and termite nests. There are three different species of anteaters in Costa Rica: the most common, known locally as Tamandua, the Giant anteater, and the rare silky anteater. These are cat-sized anteaters that strictly stay in the trees, hanging upside down by their strong tails. Anteaters are common in lowland and middle-elevation habitats throughout Costa Rica.
Bats: Making up a huge portion of Costa Rica's animals, are bats. Trees or man-made structures are common places to spot bats as they sleep during the day. They avoid the bright light of the day and even nights around full moons. Their fear is a survival tactic as they avoid predators like owls. There are many different species of bats in Costa Rica such as the Jamaican fruit bat, vampire bats, fishing bulldog bat, and hundreds more. Have no fear; they are pretty much harmless to humans.
Cats: Costa Rica has six endangered members of the cat family, which are rarely seen. If you keep your eyes peeled, you may be lucky enough to spot one of these magnificient critters, they will probably be a jaguarondi, puma, jaguar, margay, oncilla, or a ocelot.
Tapirs: Baird's tapirs are solitary, exotic animals that resemble a mixture of an elephant, rhinoceros, and a pig. They are an endangered species that live in the protection of Costa Rica National parks and have a tiny population of less than 300. They have become weary of humans as they used to be fiercely hunted, therefore spotting one may be difficult. If you are so lucky as to see one, chances are it will be close to swampy water in the dense Costa Rica rain forest.
Three-toed Sloths: These medium-sized, and very slow moving animals are a favorite animal for many people visiting Costa Rica. Eating leaves from the canopy is where you are most likely to spot them because they never leave the trees. They live, feed and reproduce many feet above the rainforest floor.. These unique animals eat food that is largely indigestible and as it travels through their long intestinal tract, they instinctively do everything they can to conserve energy, thus moving very slowly, and basking in the sun to keep their body temperature like that of other mammals. They move from tree to tree, only every 1-2 days
Amphibians and Reptiles: Whether you want to venture to the warm beaches to see 300 lbs sea turtles nesting, or trek through the rainforest and watch for poisonous snakes, and frogs, you will be amazed by the extreme colors, and sizes of these creatures. Costa Rica is home to many amphibians and reptiles such as the spectacular caimans, crocs, iguanas, and lizards that live in the many different ecosystems that Costa Rica supports.
Birds: Costa Rica has outstanding numbers of different birds that live here all year round, and some that migrate here at certain times of the year. Bird Watching is a common activity for eco-tourism. Even for people who would never go birding at home put it at the top of their list when traveling to Costa Rica. Just some of the many species of birds you will see are: Quetzals, Toucans, over 16 species of Hummingbirds, parrots, Macaws, and many, many more! Make sure to get a field guide for Costa Rica Bird Watching. They can help guide you to the best spots to see the many amazing birds in Costa Rica.
Marine Life: Costa Rica is blessed with beautiful water surrounding it on both coasts, and has many rivers and lakes going through the country. This creates a perfect environment for some rare and spectacular marine animals. While you're surfing or diving, you might get the privilege to swim along-side the friendly dolphins. Manatees, that are now endangered, have a relatively large population living in the country. Other creatures that live in the Costa Rican waters are sharks, giant manta rays, and the famous sea turtles that nest on the beautiful Costa Rica beaches.
Insects: Insects make up for a very large part of the wildlife population of Costa Rica. Visiting the butterfly farms is a beautiful and fun experience. You may get the chance to spot some species such as ants, spiders, caterpillars, and many other big, bizarre, and debatably beautiful creatures! Many people enjoy the spectacular sizes and colors of the Costa Rica insects.
Costa Rica Plants
Costa Rica is home to over 9000 identified species of vascular plants, including over 900 different species of trees, and more are being described each year! From sub-alpine dwarf vegetation, rainforest flora from sea level to could forest to mangrove swamps and seasonal dry forest with its deciduous trees, there is an astounding range of floral habitats for a country so small.
In the cloud forests, such as the one in Monteverde, plants abound which are specially adapted to absorbe moisture directly from the mist. It is from these huge, misty forests that Costa Rica's abundant water sources derive.Epiphytes, plants which live on trees in order to reach the sunlight, also abound in these forests, adding to the water-gathering ability of the trees. The epiphytes aren't parasites; they feed off water and dust and nutrients which accumulate around their roots.
Costa Rica has roughly 1,500 species of orchids, almost all of them epiphytes. Costa Rica, in fact, provides much of the world's supply of orchids. Other epiphytes include bromeliads (over 200 species, much more commonly seen than the orchids.) The epiphytes, treetops and vines create a canopy that preserves the moisture within the forest, and also provides a home for many small animals and insects that live their whole lives in the canopy, never touching the ground. The cloud and rainforests of Costa Rica comprise some of the world's most complex ecosystems.
Costa Rica Trees
In Santa Rosa National Park and in parts of Guanacaste, seasonal dry forests host a different mix of flora. Highlighted among them are large, deciduous trees that bloom gloriously at the beginning of the dry season. The forests are lit with huge splashes of white, pink, scarlet, yellow, orange and purple, from trees with names like the poró, jacaranda, corteza and flame of the forest. Other plants flower during the rainy season, supporting a different mix of pollinating birds and insects.
The diversity inherent in tropical forests becomes clear when they are compared to the temperate forests in North America or Europe. In the temperate latitudes, forests tend to be dominated by a relatively small mix of species such as in a northern spruce forest. In a lowland tropical rainforest, one of the most diverse terrrestrial habitats on earth, hundreds of tree species can be found, and virtually every tree you walk by will be a different species from its neighbors. This same explosion of diversity in the tropics applies to other plants than trees; to orchids, bromelaids, other epiphytes and vines, for example. In the Pacific swampland, there are six different species of mangroves. They join the marine flora and fauna to form their own diverse ecosystem.
Some common Trees of Costa Rica are:
Almendro (Almond) A popular shade and ornamental tree. The wood is unusually hard and the fruit and seeds are edible. The young saplings are a favorite to ants. We spray ours with Basadin (available at local garden stores).
Casco de venado Translated as "Deer hooves", the name comes from the leaves which partially split into two look like hooves. There are several different varieties. It's a small to medium sized tree good for shade. The ants like this one too.
Cedro amargo - (Cedar) A large tree which produces valuable wood. The pleasant odor makes it naturally highly resistant to insects.
Cedro dulce Also a large tree, this species is softer and more difficult to work with. It is not insect resistant, at least not as a sapling.
Cristóbal This tree is in danger of extinction! It grows very slowly. The wood is attractive for furniture and in high demand. It's a favorite for marimba keys due to the resonant sound.
Gallinazo These grow fast and tall, and have noticeable purple-blue flowers. They are commonly found in secondary forests and do best in low, humid climates. Its wood was at one time exported to the US.
Guanacaste This is Costa Rica's national tree and grows to an enormous size (up to 2.5 meters in diameter!). There are various varieties and uses vary from food and shade trees for cattle to wood for building.
Ciprés (Cipress) These have been introduced primarily in high altitude areas as ornamental trees and for wind protection. The wood is good for construction and furniture, but the tree is most popularly known for its use as Christmas trees.
Eucalipto (Eucalyptus) There are different varieties but they are not native to the Americas. The delicious smelling leaves are used for ornaments and infusions.
Indio Desnudo (Naked Indian) This is one of the easiest trees to identify with its reddish, peeling bark. It is commonly used for live fences. In Mexico, its wood has been used to make matches, in Costa Rica for weight loss.
Jicaro A good shade tree, these do well in dry climates. The large, green, hard-shelled fruits serve for many purposes from food and juice to containers, bowls and spoons, as well as artistic ornaments.
Jobo The young leaves are edible and if you happen to have a nearby monkey population, the small fruits a favorite.
Laurel de la India This is one of the more common trees and certainly one of the easiest to identify. The leaves are dark and green all year round and are commonly seen trimmed into various shapes. Be careful when planting these near any construction such as a road or a pool because the roots are known lift up the cement. It is a great shade tree.
Laurel Negro (Laurel del campo) The wood from this tree is very resistant to insects. It has been commonly used for shade trees on coffee plantations and for reforestation. The tree often has growths on its branches which house ants.
Llama del bosque This a hardy tree which does well in dry and wet climates as well as high and low altitudes. Its beautiful red-orange flowers make it a favorite! Although it grows fast, it is supposed to have a relatively short life and it's a bit weak so shouldn't be planted by buildings.
Lorito There are several species of Lorito. One is easy to recognize because it is the only native species in rainy, middle altitudes that has bipinnate leaves. But it is small and has no economic value. The tall species of Lorito (also known as Ardillo) has an excellent quality wood used for floors, doors and furniture. In the Osa Peninsula, you can find then up to 2m in diameter. The third species is medium in height and its wood is light, hard and used for furniture and building details.
Maderon Negro It is commonly used for live fences, coffee plantation shade trees, and bases for small constructions. The wood is very hard and resistant to rotting.
Malinche This tree is native to Madagascar but is now popular in Costa Rica for its red-orange flowers. Its light brown seeds have been used for making necklaces and bracelets.
Mamon Native to northern South America, the mamon has been planted in Costa Rica for its shade and fruit. Green mamon stays green even in relatively dry climates. Mamon Chino is commonly found in local market and is grown in low, humid climates. Both have small sweet fruits to suck on. The name comes from the word "mamar" which means to suck. Supposedly, the seed can also be toasted and eaten.
Mango This fruit tree is originally from SE Asia but has become part of the traditional food culture of Costa Rica. It has been produced principally in the Pacific zones for export and local consumption. There are many varieties including manga, el criollo, and el anis.
Manzana de agua Known for its juicy, red, spongy fruits, which are commonly found at local farmers´ markets and roadside stands. Our trees produce flowers and fruits biannually.
Manzana Rosa The fruits of this tree are appreciated or their delicate taste and aroma. This tree grows in almost any soil and can be planted from seeds or cuttings. The leaf is used for eye infections, fever and rheumatism. The roots have been used for epilepsy.
Marañon The single seed (cashew) from each fruit is toasted. But locally, the fruit is eaten or the juice sucked out and the seed thrown away. Beware because the juice leaves permanent stains.
Naranja agria (sour oranges) It is used for everything from making juice and marmalade to cleaning chickens. It is also used as the base for grafting sweet lemons (limon dulce).
Naranja or Naranja dulce (sweet orange) The fruit is similar to the naranja agria but more yellow, with a solid center and a sweet pulp. A variety of this, the Washington, is from Brazil and has no seeds.
Nispero The wild Níspero has smaller fruits than the commercial variety which has larger, very sweet fruits. Its wood is used in docks due to its resistance to marine organisms.
Papaya This tree is exceptionally valuable in the tropics for its nutritional value and continuous production. You can buy them at any local market and plant the seeds. Be choosy and wait until you find one that is to your liking before planting. There is an insect which injects its eggs into the fruit. The larva later causes it to rot inside. We use the insecticide, Basudin, every few weeks (more frequently in the rainy season) with good results.
Peine de Mico (Comb of the Monkey) The edible fruits resemble a comb. The seeds contain oil which can be used to treat rheumatism. The bark fiber has been used to make rope.
Pejibaye (peach palm) The fruits are boiled, pealed and eaten with mayonnaise. The trees are quite tall and the bark is covered with nasty sharp thorns.
Pino aguja (Needle Pine) These have been introduced primarily in high altitude areas as ornamental trees and for wind protection. The wood is good for construction and furniture, but the tree is most popularly known for its use as Christmas trees.
Roble de sabana This is the national tree of El Salvador and is appreciated for its explosive flowering in the dry season. It sheds its leaves and its crown fills with white and pink flowers. The wood is clear and its appearance is similar to that of the Quercus Roble, hence, that is where it gets its name.
Ron-ron: This is an endangered tree! Its wood is highly value due to its heaviness, resistance to rotting, and beautiful coloring. Found in both dry and humid climates. It is easily identifiable due to its pleasant smelling, reddish leaves.
Tamarindo: The tree grows to a large size. The leaves come with 10 to 18 pairs of leaflets. The pulp is used to make a poplar fruit drink and easy to conserve and also available in most stores all year. Found in low elevations of both dry and humid climates.
Tempisque: This is another scarce and threatened species and found mostly in northeast Guanacaste and Puntarenas. It can also be found in Santa Ana and Ciudad Colon, but with less frequency. The wood is hard and resistant to decay. It has been used for fence posts, construction and wood crafting. The fruit is edible.