Meet the Exotic Animals of Costa Rica

By Rachael Funk

A wonder of biodiversity and wildlife, Costa Rica is a treasure trove of things to do, see, taste, and celebrate! Home to over 500,000 different species, the country holds about four percent of all plant, insect, and wildlife in the world. If you happen to catch a glimpse of these important locals, here’s a quick guide to what you might be lookin’ at!

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Common Basilisk

Also known as the “Jesus Christ Lizard,” basilisks got their nickname for their ability to run on top of water without sinking. These zippy little guys mostly feed on insects, but have been known to also feed on fallen fruit.


Boasting the strongest immune system of all creatures, crocodiles and a smaller species, the Spectacled Caiman (pictured at the top of this page) coexist in Costa Rica. Crocodiles can live up to 70 years and are extremely fast swimmers. They are known to have the strongest bite of all animals, trouncing the bite strength of the great white shark and the hyena.


A wide range of hummingbirds live in Costa Rica’s highlands. These brightly colored birds are named for the noise their wings make as they fly. Some species of hummingbirds are so quick, they can fly at speeds faster than 33 miles per hour!

Humpback Whale

These gentle giants can be found in oceans all over the world during migration, but during the winter, they head toward the tropical waters of the south pacific to breeding and birthing. Corcovado National Park is a hotspot to see these gigantic creatures while they’re in the area.


Don’t be fooled by an ocelot’s sweet face – the ones you may spot in Costa Rica are far from the cuddly house cats they look like! Ocelots hunt small deer, rodents, and reptiles. Nocturnal and very territorial, they rest in trees during the day and lives in solace, usually meeting other ocelots only to mate.

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Masters of disguise, these arboreal frogs can be found in Costa Rica’s tropical lowlands. To hide, the red-eyed tree frog sits on a leaf with its legs tucked in and its eyes closed, then opens its eyes and leaps away when danger approaches. This defense technique usually scares predators away thanks to the brilliant explosion of color when the frog jumps.

Ring-Tailed Coati

These cute mammals can grow to about two feet long, with a tail to match. Closely related to raccoons, these animals use their long noses to find food. Omnivores, ring tailed coatis eat fruit, insects, scorpions, and spiders. In fact, coatis have been known to use their little paws to roll tarantulas around to get rid of hairs before they eat them.

Scarlet Macaw

A vibrant species, the scarlet macaw has a life expectancy of about 30 years in the wild and 75 years in captivity. You can find these colorful birds in the tropical and sub-tropical rain forest. Their sharp beaks are used to crack open nuts and seeds as well as to protect themselves against predators. Young macaws have black eyes which turn yellow as they get older.

Sea Turtle

Costa Rica boasts dozens of important nesting areas for sea turtles. Leatherback, hawksbill, green, loggerhead, and olive ridley species all nest in Costa Rica. Since so many species use the beaches on both coasts, you can usually see turtles nesting year-round. Often, the only legal way to watch turtles nest is on an official tour so be sure to make arrangements through a national park or a trustworthy tour company.


Sloths are the world’s slowest mammals and sleep up to 20 hours a day. They are so static, algae grows on their fur. Costa Rica has two types of sloth: two-toed and three-toed. Aside from counting their little toes, you can tell a three-toed sloth by the unwavering smiles on their faces.


Often called “living fossils,” tapirs are one of the most primitive animals in the world. Their prehensile noses are great for use to grab fruit and, delightfully, as a snorkel while they’re swimming. Closely related to horses and rhinos, babies are born with stripes and spots which disappear as they get older.


A toucan’s beak can grow to over half the length of a toucan’s body. Though long, their beaks are also quite light, made of bone struts filled with keratin. Researchers have found the bird’s large bill is used to regulate body temperature, among other things. One of the loudest birds in the jungle, a toucan’s cry sounds like a croaking frog and can be heard for half a mile.

White-Headed Capuchin

These monkeys are tree-dwellers, traveling through forest canopies to find fruit and insects. They help maintain the rainforest by inadvertently dispersing seeds and pollen as they eat and travel around in the trees. White-headed capuchins are highly intelligent and some of them have been trained as service animals.

White-Lipped Peccary

The white-lipped peccary is another deceptively aggressive animal. Able to kill jaguars when defending themselves, these omnivores tend to eat tubers, fruit, roots, grasses, and invertebrates. Living in herds of 50 – 300 peccaries, groups can grow to the size of thousands of individuals!

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