Flora & Fauna
Thousands of tourists visit Costa Rica every year to see the exotic plants and animals that can be found across this amazing country. Despite its relatively small size, Costa Rica is home to approximately 5 percent of the entire world’s biodiversity, making it an ideal destination for wildlife enthusiasts.
A commitment to conservation
Costa Rica occupies just .03 percent of the world’s landmass, but is teeming with exotic creatures, many of which are endangered. To protect these vulnerable species from extinction, the Costa Rican government takes environmental conservation very seriously. In fact, 25 percent of the country is protected land, and the 26 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are among its most valuable – and popular – national assets.
Many experts believe that the reason for Costa Rica’s remarkable biodiversity lies in how the country was formed. Millions of years ago, activity at the junction of five tectonic plates resulted in a bridge being formed between what is now North and South America. As the land began to support life, species from the formerly separate continents started to migrate to the region now known as Central America. In addition, the country’s warm climate is ideal for many different species, including amphibians, lizards, insects and a stunning variety of marine life.
All creatures great and small
The diversity of the Costa Rican landscape means that many different species of animals can be found here. From big cats to tiny amphibians, the country is home to some of the most exotic creatures on the planet. Although more than half a million separate species can be found in Costa Rica, some are more prevalent than others. For example, approximately 10 percent of the entire world’s population of butterflies is found here, and there are more than 34,000 species of insect native to Costa Rica.
The myriad animals that inhabit the country play their own role in maintaining the delicate balance of the country’s ecosystem. Birds such as the violet sabrewing, a particularly rare species of hummingbird, perform a vital function in the rainforest, pollinating exotic flowers as they hunt for the nectar that forms much of their diet. Similarly, birds like the resplendent quetzal subsist almost entirely on a diet of fruit due to the abundance of flowering trees that can be found here, an especially rare behavior this close to the equator.
Rarities of the animal kingdom
Although Costa Rica is the ideal habitat for many exotic animals, some of these magnificent creatures are perilously close to extinction and can be found in few other places around the world.
The scarlet macaw is one such creature. These impressive birds were once found all over Central and parts of South America, but their numbers have dwindled substantially in recent years. Today, they can be seen predominantly in the Osa Peninsula and Carara National Park, near Jaco, and seeing these rare birds is a sight to remember. Scarlet macaws mate for life and usually fly in pairs, as they are inseparable once they have bonded, so if you see one, the chances are good you’ll see two. The jaguar, one of nature’s most efficient predators, is also facing extinction. To preserve these mighty hunters for future generations, some of Costa Rica’s national parks, including Corcovado National Park and La Amistad International Park, have embarked on conservation campaigns to protect them from poachers.
Many other endangered animals make their home in the Costa Rican jungles, and mammals like Baird’s tapir, squirrel monkeys, the cotton-top marmoset and Bang’s mountain squirrel are also very rare.
Lush plant life
Sometimes, Costa Rica’s animals steal the spotlight from the plants and flowers that can be found here, but that doesn’t make the flora of this amazing country any less impressive.
Some varieties of plant life can grow to gargantuan proportions, such as Gunnera insignis, known more commonly as the poor man’s umbrella. This strange member of the rhubarb family can exhibit leaves up to six feet in length. These remarkable plants can be seen in many parts of Poas Volcano National Park and Braulio Carrillo National Park.
With such a diverse range of plant life, it should come as little surprise that the national flower of Costa Rica is equally impressive. Cattleya skinneri, also known as the guaria morada orchid, is characterized by its vivid purple and white flowers, and is typically found at altitudes of 4,000 feet or higher.
One of the rarest flowers in Costa Rica is the Osa pulchra, a relative of the humble coffee plant. These flowers are so rare, some horticulturalists believe there are fewer than 50 plants living in the wild, and although some specialists have attempted to grow these elusive plants in artificial environments, the Osa pulchra is native only to Costa Rica and isolated regions of Panama.