Costa Rica: Must See Wildlife
When I hear the name Costa Rica, without fail I find myself dreaming of walking through the jungle, camera in hand, looking for wildlife. The country provides an ideal habitat for an enormous variety of wildlife and possesses one of the highest densities of biodiversity in the world. What this essentially means is that if you want to see tropical wildlife then Costa Rica is the place to be. To add to this is the fact that the local people actively support the environment and almost a quarter of the country’s territory is now protected as national parks, making it a first choice amongst many eco travelers.
Our must see wildlife list is a short summary of some of our favorite sightings to date and should be sufficient inspiration to choose Costa Rica as your next wildlife travel destination!
Costa Rica is home to two different species of sloth, the Hoffman’s Two-toed Sloth and the Brown-throated Sloth. Once not so popular and deemed useless as they sleep 15 hours a day on average, Sloth’s have gained popularity through their unique behavior and slooooooow movement, which makes them a lot of fun to watch. To add to this, the mouth of the Brown-Throated Sloth is shaped in a permanent smile making it our favorite furry animal.
The elusive Jaguar is the 3rd largest feline after the Lion and Tiger, with males generally weighing up to 120kg and in some cases more. Their numbers are sadly continuously on the decline and they are now classed as ‘Near Threatened’ with an estimated 15,000 Jaguar remaining in the world. As they aren’t easy to spot in the wild, it is highly recommended to book an organized tour with experienced guides through a knowledgeable operator such as Eco Companion.
Rainbow Billed Toucan
Maybe it’s just the name as we do love rainbows, but the Rainbow Billed Toucan remains the favorite of the 6 species found in Costa Rica. Toucan’s are social animals and like to travel in small flocks making it likely to come across one of the species during your stay. It may seem as though the bill is two sizes too big for their body but since it’s hollow it does not add a lot of weight and plays an important role in their survival.
Costa Rica has a large number of important nesting beaches for Sea Turtles providing a protected home for the Leatherback, Greens, Olive Ridleys and Hawksbills Turtles. It is a particularly rewarding sight to see the hatchlings making their way to the ocean after they have spent several days digging themselves to the surface from a nesting site. There are a number of conservation projects in Costa Rica which may be worth getting involved in such as the ‘In-Water Sea turtle Project’ which takes place on the famous Osa Peninsula.
The Humpback Whale weighs up to 40 tons, which is the equivalent of 6 Elephants or 17 White Rhino (Wow!). The sheer size is astonishing in addition to their kind nature and beautiful melodies. It is said that each Whale species sings in their own ‘dialect’ although the Humpback Whales’ songs have become most popular after they were released as a CD called “Songs of the Humpback Whale”, showcasing a number of recordings taken by biologist and environmentalist Roger Payne during his time researching.
Basilisk aka Jesus Lizard
The Basilisk Lizard is relatively large, growing up to 76cm in length, and may remind you a bit of the dinosaur age with fin-like crests on its head, back and part of the tail. It is also known as the Jesus Christ Lizard given its ability to ‘walk on water’. It is one of the more common lizard species to see in Costa Rica and if you happen to startle one basking in the sun it may just use the water as its escape route allowing you to witness this spectacle.
Blue Morpho Butterfly
Due to the large variety of butterflies and moths that can be seen in Costa Rica you might come across a new species almost every time you go outside . A firm favorite is the Blue Morpho butterfly which has beautiful blue wings which span up to 15cm in width. Some natives see the Blue Morpho as a ‘wish-granter’ and upon appearance take a moment to make a wish.
Red-Eyed Tree Frog
Most frogs might be green but not as green as the striking Red-Eyed Tree Frog, the master of camouflage. During the day they are mostly seen hiding seated on leaves, legs tucked in and eyes closed. As soon as they sense a predator they open their bright red eyes and expose the blue color at the side of their body which is said to frighten their enemies. They also have tiny orange feet which add to the color mix.
At first glance one would think the Tapir might be a cross between a pot belly pig and an elephant but surprisingly research has established a connection to horses and rhinos. The Tapir is the largest mammal in Central America and is often found near water. They can actually drop to the bottom of a riverbed and walk along it to feed, much like a hippo.
Macaws are something one often sees at a pet shop or the zoo which automatically makes it a much more pleasurable experience seeing them in the wild in the jungles of Costa Rica. They can mostly be seen on the pacific side of the country and can live up to an amazing 80 years. If you don’t see a Scarlet Macaw you may still be able to hear one as their deep and harsh calls can carry over a couple of kilometers.
The Resplendant Quetzal is most likely on any birders must see list for obvious reasons. The name is derived from the word ‘quetzalli’ which can be translated as precious or beautiful and actually refers to its tail which can grow over half a meter in length. They are best seen during breeding season on recommended tours such as ‘Birding off the Beaten Track’.
Contrary to popular belief one can actually see a type of elephant in Costa Rica, in the form of an Elephant Beetle. Similar to the Rhinoceros Beetle the males have one prominent horn which is a defense mechanism used in combat with other males and also to show off to the ladies. They grow to an incredible 13 cm hence the association with an Elephant due to its sheer size.