Rica Flora and Fauna
BACK TO HOME PAGE
( Back to Costa Rica General Information )
Fauna in Costa Rica
Costa Rica possesses a rich and abundant fauna. The sheer number and variety of its species have made Costa
Rica one of the most admired territories on the planet when it comes to biodiversity.
More than 200 species of mammals, around 850 species of birds, almost 200 types of amphibians and 220 species of reptiles inhabit these lands.
Many tourist activities are sustained in harmony with wild animals. The mountains give shelter to the observation of birds, whose admirers lift their gazes toward the treetops in an attempt to spot their nests. The best places for bird watching are Braulio Carrillo National Park and its surroundings, Monteverde, Talamanca, and the Osa Peninsula.
Every year on the Atlantic and Pacific Coast, one can observe the arrival of the turtles to lay their eggs in the soft sand of the beaches. Guided tours are organized to show you this marvelous demonstration of life itself, without adversely affecting the turtles.
Almost any place in the country is a good place to see hummingbirds, doves, sloths, butterflies and, in some places, a snake or giant lizard may surprise you.
Local guides can show you the areas where this species are most commonly seen, whether you wish to observe them or avoid them!
With more than 850 species of birds, all found within a tight geographic area, Costa Rica offers birders of all levels of expertise and unrivaled birdwatching experience during their stay in the country. From the oak forest of the Talamanca Mountains, Central America's highest mountain range, to the cloudforests of Monteverde or Braulio Carrillo National Park, to the lowland rainforest of the Osa Peninsula, birders will discover a rich variety of habitats filled with wonderfully diverse groups of birds.
The best advice for birding in Costa Rica is to visit several different habitats, hire a local guide who specializes in birdwatching and come prepared with the "Birds of Costa Rica". This excellent guide, written by Gary Stiles of the University of Costa Rica and Alexander Skutch, is readily available from Cornell University Press. Birders will find well - drawn illustrations as well as helpful information about habits, calls and plumage in this classic book, which also lists key areas for productive birdwatching and provides useful hints about clothing, insect repellents, etc.
Some of the birds described could have sprung straight from the imagination of Dr. Seuss. Take the Umbrella Bird, for example, with its topknot of fine feathers that make the bird look like it's wearing an umbrella on its head (which would be just the thing in the wet cloudforest where it lives). Or the Three - Wattled Bellbird, which doesn't say "Ding, dong", or sound like a bell at all. It goes "BONK!"
Other birds could have materialized from the pages of childhood books of fantasy. The unbelievably beautiful Resplendent Quetzal, with its iridescent plumage that gleams emerald green or shines like polished metal, is a bird that figures prominently in pre - Columbian mythology throughout Central America and whose feathers were prized like gold or jade. The quetzal can be easily seen in Costa Rica, at Cerro de la Muerte or Monteverde, an awe - inspiring sight that will stay with birdwatchers forever. The Scarlet Macaw, another beautiful bird whose populations are dwindling throughout Central America, can still be seen in Costa Rica, especially at the Carara Biological Reserve.
Birders out on the trail in Costa Rica's forests should keep an eye out for mixed flocks foraging on certain types of food, especially fruit, in the forest canopy.
They should also watch for ant swarms, a tropical phenomena in which migrating groups of vicious army ants stir up other insects and even small animals as they move along the forest floor. Ant swarms are accompanied by a number of bird species, which feast not on the army ants but on the insects they stir up. Species most frequently seen with an ant swarm are antbirds (naturally), tanagers, manakins and wrens.
Thanks to the excellent diversity of birds living in a variety of habitats that are easily accessible, to the availability of knowledgeable, local guides, and to safe, convenient trails, Costa Rica has become one of the worlds' most popular birdwatching destinations. Few, if any, birdwatchers leave the country without having exceeded their highest expectations in a tropical country
Flora of Costa Rica
Costa Rica has an extraordinary abundance of flora, including some 9,000-plus species of "higher plants." There are many more species of ferns in Costa Rica--about 800--than in the whole of North America, including Mexico. Of heliconias, members of the banana family more familiarly known as "birds of paradise," there are some 30 species. It is a nation of green upon green upon green.
The forests and grasslands flare with color, some flamboyantly so, for plants like to advertise the delights and rewards they have to offer, including the ultimate bribe--nectar. Begonias, anthuriums, and blood of Christ, named for the red splotches on the underside of its leaves, are common. My favorite plant is the "hot lips" (labios ardientes), sometimes called "hooker's lips" (labios de puta), whose bright red bracts remind me of Mick Jagger's famous pout or--more appropriately--Madonna's smile. The vermilion poró tree (the bright flame-of-the-forest), pink-and-white meadow oak, purple jacaranda, and the almost fluorescent yellow corteza amarilla are trees that all add their seasonal bouquets to the landscape. And morning glory spread their thick lavender carpets across lowland pastures, joined by carnal red passion flowers, unromantically foul-smelling--a crafty device to enlist the help of flies in pollination.
Many plants play out the game of love and reproduction in the heat of the tropical night, when they emit their irresistible fragrances designed to attract specific insect species. Other flowering species employ markings on their petals to indicate the exact placing of the rewards insects seek. Many orchid species, for example, are marked with lines and spots like an airfield, to show the insect where to land and in which direction to taxi (see "Orchids," below). Others display colors invisible to the human eye, yet clearly perceptible by insects whose eyesight spans the ultraviolet spectrum.
The most abundant flora in rainforest environments are ferns, light-gap pioneers found from sea level to the highest elevations. The ancient terrestrial ferns once served as food for many a prehistoric beast. The big tree ferns--sometimes called rabo de mico ("monkey-tail") ferns, an allusion to the uncurling young fronds--are relics from the age of the dinosaurs, sometimes a dozen feet tall, with fiddleheads large enough to grace a cello. Others are epiphytic, arboreal "nesters," or climbers whose long leaves can grapple upward for 60 feet or more.
The epiphytic environment (epiphyte comes from the Greek, "upon plants") is extremely poor in mineral nutrients, a kind of nutrient desert. The bromeliads, brilliantly flowering, spiky-leafed "air" plants up to four feet across, have developed tanks or cisterns which hold great quantities of rainwater and decaying detritus in the whorled bases of their tightly overlapping stiff leaves. The plants gain nourishment from dissolved nutrients in the cisterns. Known as "tank epiphytes," they provide trysting places and homes for tiny aquatic animals high above the ground. Costa Rica has over 2,000 species of bromeliads (including the pineapple), the richest deposit of such flora on the isthmus.
All plants depend on light to power the chemical process by which they synthesize their body substances from simple elements. Height is therefore of the utmost importance. When an old tree falls, the strong, unaccustomed light triggers seeds that have lain dormant, and banana palms and ginger plants, heliconias and cecropias--all plants that live in the sunshine on riverbanks or in forest clearings--burst into life and put out big broad leaves to soak up the sun, to flower and to fruit. Another prominent plant is the poor man's umbrella (sombrilla de pobre), whose name you'll remember if you get caught in a downpour while in the rainforest; its giant leaves make excellent impromptu umbrellas
BACK TO COSTA RICA HIGHLIGHTS AND TOURIST REGIONS