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Costa Rica Wildlife

In spite of its small size, Costa Rica features greater biodiversity than Europe or North
America! This is due to a number of factors, among them:

The country's location between North and South America, enabling plants and
animals from both continents and the Antilles (Caribbean islands) to establish
themselves there.
Costa Rica's tropical climate and geographical makeup, which includes a range of
habitats, from lowland rainforest to cloud forests, to tropical lakes and rivers.
The nation's ecological policy, which has protected a significant percentage of its
natural territory.

The plant life


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 absorb moisture directly
from the mist. It is from these huge, misty forests that Costa
Rica's abundant water sources derive.
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.
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 por,
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, bromeliads, 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
The birds
Costa Rica is a favorite destination for many
naturalists from all over the world, and its bird
population is one of the main attractions. Over 850
species have been identified, far more than have been
seen in North America, Europe or Australia!
These range from the resplendent quetzal, with its
shimmering green plumage, scarlet belly, white tail feathers and green tail coverts that
trail over 60 cm (2 ft) behind its body - to the rare harpy eagle, which can snatch a
monkey or a sloth right out of its branch in the treetops. There are over 50 species of
hummingbirds, 15 parrots (including the scarlet macaw,) six toucan species, 75 different
flycatchers, 45 tanagers, 29 ant birds and 19 cotingas.
The mammals
Over 200 mammal species have been recorded in Costa Rica. Observant visitors to the
national parks and other protected areas are almost certain to see one of the country's four
types of monkeys - howler, spider, white-faced capuchin
and squirrel monkeys.
The country is also home to a wide assortment of other
tropical mammals; two types of sloths, the often-viewed
three-toed, a diurnal animal, and the rarely seen,
nocturnal two-toed sloth. Three types of anteaters reside
in Costa Rica; the tamandua is most commonly seen,
while the others, the giant and silky anteaters are rarely
glimpsed. Visitors to Costa Rica's rainforests are liable to
see armadillos, agoutis, coatis, peccaries (wild pigs),
kinkajous, raccoons, squirrels and bats. But some

rainforest animals are almost never seen. Jaguars and tapirs, for example, are now
considered endangered species. Still, their tracks are regularly seen in the more remote,
larger expanses of undisturbed forest such as that surrounding the Rara Avis Reserve.
The reptiles and insects
Over 35,000 species of insects have been recorded in Costa
Rica, with thousands still undiscovered. Most noteworthy
among these are the butterflies. It is estimated that 10% of the
world's butterfly species reside in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is home to roughly 150 species of amphibians,
some of which are extremely colourful and exotic. There are
tree frogs which spend their entire lives above the forest floor,
breeding in the water of tank bromeliads or in holes in the
trunks of trees. Others, the poison-arrow frogs, are exuberantly
colored, ranging from bright red with blue or green legs to
bright green with black markings. These frogs emit skin toxins
that are distasteful of lethal to their potential predators, and
their bright coloration serves to warn predators of their danger.
There are over 200 species of reptiles in Costa Rica, over half of them snakes. But snakes
are rarely encountered, even by those looking for them. Often they are nocturnal or
superbly camouflaged, and if they lie perfectly still on the forest floor, they can be
virtually impossible to detect.
Much more frequently seen are the country's lizards. The common Ameiva has a white
stripe running down its back. Bright green basilisk lizards can reach a metre (3 ft) in
length. Their huge crests run the length of their heads, giving them the appearance of a
dinosaur. They are nicknamed "Jesus Christ lizards"
because they can run across water when disturbed.
Costa Rica is also home to crocodiles and turtles. The 14
turtle species include both marine and freshwater varieties.
The largest of the marine turtles are leatherbacks. Their
shells are up to a metre and a half (5 feet) and they weigh
upwards of 360 kg (800 lb)! Marine turtles climb up sandy
beaches to lay their eggs, a spectacular sight because it
happens en masse. Olive ridleys nest synchronously -- tens
of thousands of females sometimes emerge from the sea in
a single night!
Off the Pacific coast and around the offshore islands and
coral reefs, snorkellers and scuba divers can find
spectacular tropical fish, sea urchins, anemones and
starfish.