7 Top Species to spot in Costa Rica

This country is a naturalist’s dream destination, where the wonders of nature exist within a backdrop of beautiful tropical landscapes. Hayes and Jarvis Destination Specialist Robert Burgess lists his top species to spot on a Costa Rican adventure

Team Wanderlust
15 September 2014
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Hayes and Jarvis

The Sloth

The sloth is one of the most recognised animals of Costa Rica and the country is home to two species: the two-fingered and the three-fingered sloth. Strictly vegetarian, the three-fingered sloth is actually very selective about what it eats. Research suggests that they eat 96 species of plants but each individual will have five or six of its own personal favourite plants to eat.

The two-fingered sloth is more active than its cousin and generally larger in size. Contrary to popular belief, they can move quickly when needed and they are incredibly strong swimmers – a good skill to have as it’s not uncommon for sloths to sometimes lose their grip and fall from the rainforest canopy into the rivers below.

Of the 42 species of toucan known to man – six are found in the rainforests and lowlands of Costa Rica. These extremely colourful birds are amongst the most recognisable in Central America, thanks mainly to their trademark large bills. Despite being extremely large, their bills are actually very light and allow the birds to thrust them deep into trees in search of food.


Costa Rica is home to four species of monkey; the Central American Squirrel monkey, the white headed Capuchin (often commonly called the white faced monkey), the mantled Howler and the Geoffrey’s Spider monkey.

Most of the species can be found existing alongside one another throughout Costa Rica, although they do compete for food and territory. The only region where all four species can be found together is in the Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula. The most agile of all the species is the spider monkey – they speed through the trees using their forelimbs and tail which can support its entire bodyweight when hanging from a tree.


Often feared by humans, the tarantula spider has long been considered a formidable predator. In reality, it actually is a timid animal that would much rather retreat into its burrow than attack. Tarantulas are prevalent in Costa Rica although rarely seen, due to them mainly being active at dusk and afterwards, when they come out of their burrows to mate and to hunt. Surprisingly, the tarantula also has its own worst enemy – the Pepsis Wasp which has evolved to hunt tarantulas even though they are six times larger than the wasp itself.

Another reason why many avid naturalists boast about Costa Rica is the hummingbird – to date there are 57 species recorded in Costa Rica and when spending a day somewhere like Monteverde, where they have several hummingbird gardens, it would not be uncommon to spot 15-20 of these species in a day.

Costa Rica prides itself on being one of the best places in the world where you can get really up close and personal with these exotic birds. Highly territorial, each hummingbird species beats its wings at various speeds ranging from 50 times per second up to 200 times per second. They are also one of the only bird species that can fly backwards and upside down.

Red Eyed Tree Frog

Although Costa Rica boasts several hundred species of frog, the most famous and commonly associated with the country has to be the Red Eyed Tree Frog. Despite their bright colouring they are actually not poisonous. Their most prominent physical characteristics are their bright red eyes which are a defence against potential predators. If disturbed, the frogs open their large red eyes and expose their brilliant orange feet. Birds and snakes are so startled by the sudden flashes of colour that they hesitate momentarily allowing a few valuable seconds for the frog to escape.

An extremely elusive big cat, Costa Rica is known to be one of the last strongholds for this endangered species. Male jaguars require huge areas for their territory and they are threatened globally, mainly from deforestation. Currently thought to inhabit at least five national parks within Costa Rica, they are mainly nocturnal hunters – which mean it’s even harder to spot them. They have one of the most varied diets of any of the big cats – they feed on monkey, deer, fish, lizard and turtles and there are even reports of them venturing onto Costa Rica’s beaches at night to hunt nesting turtle’s.

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