This week we are letting Summer Breault from Pollo Pass tell us about the wildlife in Costa Rica.
I knew Costa Rica was famous for its wildlife and biodiversity but before moving there a few years ago, I had no idea just how much wildlife we were talking about and how the wildlife would become interwoven into my daily life living near the beach in Santa Teresa. Costa Rica is home to 4% of the entire Earth’s biodiversity, which is a whole lot of nature packed into such a small country!
First, let’s talk bugs. Insects are a part of life in Costa Rica, so it’s best to get used to them and start appreciating them. Of the nearly half a million unique species of plants and animals in Costa Rica, close to 300,000 of them are insects. Repeat: there are over 300,000 different types of insects living in Costa Rica.
Of course, you’ve got your basics like flies, mosquitos and ants. But there are also more exotic critters like preying mantises, stick bugs and an occasional stray scorpion or two.
However, the most interesting and beautiful of these bugs (unless you’re a hardcore insect-lover) are the butterflies and moths that inhabit nearly every Costa Rican sub-climate.
In an effort to educate the public about butterflies, there are many different butterfly gardens and habitats that are open to the public in Costa Rica. These popular tourist attractions let you peek into the secret lives of butterflies by touring large enclosed botanical gardens populated with thousands of busy butterflies, flitting about their business.
A trip to the butterfly garden is always delightful because these busy little creatures aren’t shy about landing on your hand or head, which makes a delightfully unique experience and interesting photo opportunity.
Make Way for Monkeys
Another unexpected sight in the rain- or dry-forests of Costa Rica is wild monkeys. Though there are plenty of different types of monkeys native to Costa Rica, two of the most popular and common are the spindly white-faced Spider monkeys and the more robust (and certainly much louder) howler monkeys.
Monkeys almost always travel in families, groups of six or more. Usually these families have a dominant male, his female “wives,” some junior adolescents (male or female), and a few babies clinging to their mothers’ fur.
Monkeys try to avoid coming down from the trees at all costs, because there are plenty of dangers on the ground, including predatory wild animals, domesticated dogs, and human road traffic.
Therefore, one of the best ways to tell that there are monkeys overhead is to watch the movement in the trees. Monkeys generally aren’t very stealthy. As they run along strong branches and swing between the trees, they rattle the leaves, making lots of noise and shaking the treetops considerably. So if you’re lounging in your hammock and you suddenly see a commotion in the trees, that’s your cue to break out the binoculars and look for some monkey activity.
Scary Stuff: Sharks and Snakes
Another group of animals to be aware of are snakes and sharks—aka the “scary stuff.” Like all wild animals, these guys want very little to do with humans.
I have only seen a few snakes in Costa Rica and all of them have been hightailing it away from the roads or busy footpaths that humans traverse so often. Since snakes need to blend in with their environment, they’re not so easy to spot among the tree vines, so you’re going to have to look hard. While most snakes are harmless to humans (it’s much more difficult to swallow an adult person than a full-grown mouse, so snakes usually steer clear of us), it’s still best to leave it alone if you ever happen to cross paths with one (this is also another reason to wear closed-toed shoes and long pants while hiking and always look closely at the path ahead of you.)
Finally, for ocean-lovers like myself, the scariest thing you can encounter in the water is a shark. Like a good surfer friend of mine has always said, “Where there is salt water, there are sharks.”
However, unlike the vicious man-eaters we see in film and television sharks, like all fish, are rather skittish. They want very little to do with humans and their strange sunscreen smells and bizarre erratic underwater movements.
Basically, sharks know what their food looks like and we’re not it.
When visiting Costa Rica be prepared to see all kinds of interesting animals, sometimes right outside your window. I would recommend buying a wildlife guide or taking a guided nature tour so you can learn about and appreciate this unique and incredibly diverse ecosystem.
And if you happen to see a snake, just walk the other way.
Summer Breault is a writer, traveler, surfer, and lover of Costa Rican land and culture. She is the co-founder of Pollo Pass, a discount travel service located in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica—one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.