Animal Diversity in Costa Rica: An Overview

black yellow and red bird on brown tree branch

Normally this would be a fun list with quips about the “top” “best” or “most famous”.  But this is Costa Rica: where 5% of all the biodiversity in the world lives.  The list is long so bear with the length of the list.  We’ll dive further into each category in later posts.

Mammals of Costa Rica

Where to begin?  There are a ton of species, but of course, a few stand out as the most “well known,” including:

  • Monkeys (Howler, Squirrel, Capuchin)
  • Sloths (Two-toed and Three-toed)
  • Armadillos
  • Jaguar
  • Puma
  • Ocelot
  • Coati
  • Bats
  • Anteaters
  • Tapirs

Birds of Costa Rica

You can’t think about living in the jungles and beaches of Costa Rica without thinking about the diverse bird species.  The most iconic being:

  • Toucans
  • Macaws
  • Hummingbirds
  • Parrots
  • Hawks
  • Falcons
  • Vultures
  • Owls
  • Woodpeckers
  • Flycatchers

Reptiles of Costa Rica

Reptiles are everywhere in Costa Rica — and almost all are harmless although a bite can hurt.  Most common reptiles include:

  • Iguanas
  • Lizards (Anoles, Basilisks, Chameleons)
  • Geckos
  • Turtles (Box turtles)
  • Snakes are also prevalent and the idea of a jungle snake freaks most out, but like most of the creatures in Costa Rica, the vast majority are harmless and actually helpful.

Amphibians of Costa Rica

  • Frogs and Toads — over 190 species including both poisonous and non-poisonous dart frogs, and a wide array of tree frogs.
  • Salamanders

Crocodiles of Costa Rica

  • There are two species of crocodiles found in Costa Rica: the American crocodile and the caiman. 
  • Both are abundant in known areas, including the Tarcoles River (see them from the bridge above).

Insects of Costa Rica

  • Butterflies (Monarchs, Heliconians, Metalmarks)
  • Moths 
  • Beetles
  • Ants
  • Grasshoppers
  • Cicadas

Scorpions and Spiders of Costa Rica

Scorpions: most common being Margaritatus and Centruroides — while the sting is painful, it’s not deadly.

Spiders: fear not, most of the 20,000+ spider species in Costa Rica are harmless.  That’s not true of the Banana Spider and a few others, but just like most places in the world (including my yard in California) it is rare to get into places where those spiders hang out.  The most common spider types include multiple types of orb weavers, jumping spiders, wanderers, and tarantulas.

Sea Life off Costa Rica

Nearly 7000 species call the waters off Costa Rica home — that’s roughly 3.5% of the world’s diversity.  Considering the size of the country, that’s a significant number!

Sea Turtles 

Including Leatherback, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, and Green — many of these breed on the same beaches, so you will often see volunteers helping to separate turtle eggs into zones or depths depending on when they’ll hatch and the environment needed for gestation.


Including Humpback, Blue, and Pilot — there is a better potential of spotting whales the farther south you travel, but in season they are found throughout the Pacific coast and tours abound!


There is a wide array of shark species, including the timid and massive Whale Shark, and the more “dangerous” Hammerhead, White Tip, and Bull just a few species that may be encountered.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea of the rich and varied wildlife that can be found in Costa Rica.  Of course, we want to hear from you what animals you love, those that freak you out, and those we’re missing. 

And as always: Pura Vida!