Costa Rica may be known for its perfect beaches and sunny climate, but the wildlife is even more remarkable in the Central American nation. Despite being only the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica is home to more than 500,000 different species, making up an astounding 4% of all the plant, insect and wildlife species on the entire Earth!
In recent weeks, I introduced you to sea turtles, howler monkeys, toucans, and the famous three-toed sloth that you'll find down south.
Today, I'll highlight six more cute, cuddly, and cool animals and species that you'll encounter in Costa Rica!
Off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica in places like Golfo Dulce, divers may catch a glimpse of the rare and beautiful spotted dolphin, or Manchado del Pacifico in Spanish. They are found all over the world in tropical and subtropical waters, as far as China, Japan, India, New Zealand, and also in the Gulf of California and Mexico.
Spotted dolphins have a patch of dark skin below their dorsal fin that’s covered with white spots, and dark spots flecking their white underbelly. These majestic creatures gather in huge groups of 1,000 dolphins or more in deep seas and swim so fast that they often keep up with fish boats, playfully jumping in the air and crossing in front of and behind the boat. Spotted dolphins can live up to 45 years. But too often, large numbers are killed by fisherman, intentionally or unintentionally, or by ocean pollution.
Costa Rica has several species and types of iguanas, including the Green Iguana, which can get up to six feet long! But despite their size, they’re not dangerous to humans, eating only plants, insects, and small animals (unless you force yourself onto a nest, in which case the mother might whip her tail at you, which can cause some damage).
Black Iguanas are full herbivores, and Costa Ricans call them garrobos or gallina de palo – which translates to ‘tree chicken’ in English – because their meat is said to taste like chicken. In Costa Rica, you’ll also see plenty of smaller Geckos climbing up walls, across ceilings, eating mosquitos and pesky insects, and making their signature amplified chirping noises that often perplex first-time visitors.
The Great Tinamou
Considered one of the oldest lineages of birds in the world, the great tinamou has an interesting trait that allows them to survive in the Costa Rican jungle among so many predators like snakes, jaguars, and others. The tinamou’s rare practice that ensures their evolutionary survival has to do with how they reproduce.
These birds lay bright green eggs, which easily attract other tinamou to their nest. Since this species in polygynadrous (multiple males mate with multiple females), other males and females lay their eggs in the same spot. Soon, there are so many eggs piled up that even though predators eat roughly 75% of all tinamou eggs, there is no way they can eat them all, and the species lives on.
White-Headed Capuchin Monkey
These are some of the most intelligent and evolved animals on earth, actually using tools, weapons, and other implements from their environment to get food. They’re also one of the only animals to use natural medicine, rubbing
certain plants over their bodies in what appears to be a use of herbal medicine. White-Headed Capuchin Monkeys live in groups of 40 or so and have an astounding life expectancy of 54 years. White-Headed Capuchins are easily spotted in most of the National Parks in Costa Rica.
Ocelots are nocturnal cats that populate every country south of the U.S. except for Chile. They’re about twice the size of an ordinary housecat, ranging from 38 to 60 inches long and 20 to 35 pounds. Since they are lighter than other large cats like pumas, cougars, mountain lions, etc. and have huge paws, they’re great at climbing trees.
Once hunted for their furs so much that they were listed as a vulnerable species, ocelots have replenished their numbers and now are frequent in Costa Rica – though their habitat, like many animals’ – is shrinking because of commercial development.
When biologist Charles Darwin embarked on his legendary voyage throughout the Americas, he documented 14 species of finches – birds that were later named “Darwin Finches.” Of those 14 species, 13 lived in the Galapagos Islands, but only one species lives elsewhere; you guessed it – in Costa Rica.
In fact, the rare and beautiful 14th species of finch inhabited the island of Cocos off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The Cocos finches were remarkable because, unlike most finches that evolved sharper or different-shaped beaks to eat specific diets, these finches ate just about everything front nuts to crustaceans. Since their island was so small, they had to eat whatever food sources were available, on the island, which still doesn’t have human settlers living there.
I hope you enjoyed these cute and cuddly critters, but don't get too comfortable out in the wild in Costa Rica.
In fact, there are a whole lot of exotic, dangerous, and even deadly animals, from crocodiles to poisonous frogs and more. I'll highlight them in a future blog or you can discover the flora and fauna of Costa Rica extensively in the Moving to Costa Rica Handbook!
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