Costa Rica animals are some of the most interesting, most unusual animals in the world. Costa Rica is a country with enormous biodiversity. The animals of Costa Rica include many that are found almost nowhere else, like leaf cutter ants and jungle army ants, four species of monkeys, over 800 species of birds including two species of macaws, and many species of frogs, sea turtles, and unusual mammals.
One of the first Costa Rica animals that visitors from North America will notice is the monkeys. White-faced or ‘capuchin’ monkeys are very common. They forage for food in groups and can be seen easily in the Santa Rosa and Manuel Antonio National Parks. White faced monkeys eat insects, lizards, eggs, and even small mollusks.
Spider monkeys mostly forage at night in the Costa Rican rain forests and are difficult to see during the day. They have reddish fur and are impressively acrobatic. Squirrel monkeys are small and very sociable, and can often be seen foraging with white faced monkeys.
One of the most unusual monkeys in Costa Rica is the howler monkey, which is given that name because of the extremely loud sounds it makes. Howler monkey sounds resemble the roar of a lion. Howler monkeys howl at certain times of the day and also to announce themselves to other monkeys and other Costa Rica animals. Weighing up to twelve pounds, they are the largest primate in Costa Rica and subsist mostly on a diet of fruit and leaves.
Other Costa Rica animals that are not common in the rest of the world include sloths, tapirs, and anteaters. Sloths look a little bit like flat faced monkeys with beady little eyes and very long arms and legs with long claws at the end. They live high in the rain forest canopy and mostly feed on leaves. Sloths are nocturnal animals and, as their name suggests, sloths move very slowly.
Anteaters are Costa Rica animals that feed entirely on termites and ants. The Costa Rican anteater is called the Tamandua. It has no teeth, a long sticky tongue, big claws for digging into ant and termite dens, and markings similar to a badger or raccoon.
Tapirs (or “dantas” in Spanish) are Costa Rica animals that resemble a cross between a pig and a little hippopotamus. Tapirs love to wade in swamps and wet marshy areas and eat the vegetation they find there. Tapirs have long thin snouts that make them look unlike any animal that lives in North America.
Other Costa Rica animals in the mammal family that are not common in other parts of the world include two small rodents, the agouti and the paca; the kingjou, a tree-dwelling animal that looks like a cross between a squirrel and a monkey; and the Coatimundi, a member of the raccoon family with a long snout and an upright tail.
Some of the animals of Costa Rica do warrant a bit of caution if observed in the wild. Pack of wild pigs, also called peccaries, forage in packs and can be very aggressive. Not all peccaries will attack, but people who come across them accidently would be well advised to give them a wide berth.
Jaguars and pumas are two other Costa Rica animals that may cause alarm if encountered face to face, but the chances of this happening are small. Jaguars seem not to be terribly afraid of humans, and occasionally a jaguar will follow a human down a trail, but jaguar attacks on humans are very rare.
A much more common problem is that of humans killing jaguars illegally for their spotted pelts, or killing them in order to keep them away from livestock like sheep and cattle, which jaguars will eat. So many jaguars have been killed in Costa Rica that this wild cat is now fairly rare except in portions of large reserves where any kind of hunting is prohibited.
The jaguar lives in Costa Rica on the Tortuguero, Santa Rosa, Corcovado and Rio Macho National Parks. Jaguars are also found in the lower elevations of the Cordillera Talamanca and the Jaguarundi Wildlife Refuge. They like damp, forested areas and low-lying wetlands.
Pumas are larger than jaguars and could conceivably harm a human if there were to be a face to face encounter, but again, pumas tend to keep to themselves and they hunt out of sight. While pumas have a much broader range than jaguars and can be found all over the Americas, both North and South, they are threatened in Costa Rica by deforestation and the clearing of jungle for crops.
Once a jaguar and puma habitats are destroyed, these cats tend not to adapt to their new surroundings, but rather retreat to more familiar environments and naturally reduce their own numbers. Big cats are beautiful, but visitors to Costa Rica who have their hearts set on seeing a jaguar or a puma may have to settle for a visit to one of the Costa Rican zoos.