Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica

Because of its climatic and geographical variety as well as its strategic location, Costa Rica offers an immense variety of flora and fauna. Among the abundant fauna are 160 species of amphibians and 200 species of reptiles. In order to discuss them, one must be clear about the basic differences between each other. The word “amphibians” contains “amphi” which means double or two sides. The “bians” part refers to “bio”,which means life. Thus, the word points to the fact that amphibians lead a double life, which in their case means that they live both in water and on land (frogs, for example). Reptiles, however, are restricted to living on land, since all throughout their lives they are air-breathing creatures; this fact doesn’t limit their watery excursions, though.Among the Costa Rican amphibians, there are several species of frogs and toads. There are beautiful but extremely toxic frogs that display amazing colors as a natural warning against predators. There are at least twenty poison-arrow frogs, thus named because of their use of the toxins in deadly arrows of some natives. One of these frogs is called the “bufo marinus” and it can squirt the poison as a fine mist or spray. Other frogs are completely harmless, like the tink frog which owes its name to the sound that it emits. The golden toad, discovered in 1964 in the Monteverde park, is only known to exist in this area. The females are yellow, black and red, while the males are a golden-orange color, which is the reason of their name. A lot of the Costa Rican frogs are so specialized, that they have learned to survive in the canopies of trees by using the water that’s deposited in bromeliads and tree trunks; this way, they don’t have to descend to the ground and risk being attacked by predators or of their tadpoles being eaten by fish.Reptiles are also numerous and interesting in Costa Rica. Crocodiles, which have a longer snout than alligators, live in several rivers of the area. Their smaller relatives, the caimans, are also present near the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in some rivers in the interior part of the country. Famous places for spotting these creatures include Tortuguero and Corcovado parks. In past years these animals reached dangerously low numbers, which encouraged breeding and protection programs. However, these programs were so efficient that the sightings of these animals have increased tremendously, and there have also been some attacks. Attacks have always occurred in rivers that are known to contain a large population of these creatures; the unfortunate swimmers were aware of the danger but they simply ignored it.

Snakes are other exotic reptiles that are present in Costa Rica. They represent half of all of the reptile species in the country, but of 135 species of snakes, only 17 are poisonous. Snakes are present in almost all ecosystems in the area. The most common snakes are the boas, which can reach enormous proportions, but aren’t poisonous. Among the poisonous snakes are: a type of rattlesnake, coral snakes (red, black and yellow or white stripes), and the “terciopelo” or fer-de-lance snake. Snakes, like crocodiles and caimans are to be respected, but as long as people take certain precautions, they shouldn’t be attacked by them. For example, hikers have to be careful about not holding on to “branches” without looking at them first.

Finally, the least feared Costa Rican reptile is the turtle. Apart from the land turtles, this country boasts six out of eight marine species in the world. Among the most common are the green turtle, the leatherback and the olive ridley back turtle. These animals have an incredible and almost inexplicable sense of direction, and they can travel up to 1500 miles to return to the nesting area. Females come ashore from two to six times each season, and lay up to 100 eggs each time! Not very much is known about the lives of the small turtles after they come out of their shells, since they aren’t spotted again until they are adults. Common nesting sites in Costa Rica are: Tortuguero (“tortuga” in Spanish means turtle), Gandoca-Manzanillo, Curu, Ostional, Nancite and Playa Grande.

Despite the protection that turtle nesting areas receive, these animals are still threatened by their biggest predators- humans. Even in colonial times, turtles were valued because of their meat and their shell. Carib and other indians hunted them, and when the Spaniards arrived, they continued the custom. Furthermore, around 1910, turtle soup became a delicacy in Europe, and this raised the number of killings of turtles. Fortunately despite the killing and the robbery of turtle eggs, nesting sites are being more protected than in the past, and secured hatcheries have been established.

Whether it’s a colorful snake, a shy turtle or a grinning crocodile that you’re looking for, you’ll encounter them in Costa Rica. If you’re not enthusiastic about reptiles and amphibians, don’t worry- they won’t be leaping out of trees or of rivers to bite you!

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