White-lipped Rain Frog (Craugastor talamancae)

We found the White-lipped Rain Frog as we hiked during the night in search of the Annulated Tree Boa at Yatama Ecolodge. It has a brownish coloration, which would help it camouflage really well against the ground and the leaf litter. Both front and back legs are lightly striped, just barely noticeable when looking from very close. It actually was a pretty common sight in the area, although most frequently heard than seen.

Brilliant Forest Frog (Lithobates warszewitschii)

The Brilliant Forest Frog is a widespread frog of the True Frogs family, however they are most frequently found on the leaf litter in the dense forest, unlike most other members of the family which inhabit ponds and other bodies of water. We found the individual below as we hiked through one of the trails at Yatama Ecolodge. Surprisingly, it stayed put in the same place for about 20 minutes, not moving even once. I put the camera directly on the ground close to where it was, used pebbles and dead branches to balance it, removed dead leaves and twigs from the surroundings to clean up the background a little bit, and the frog did not even twitch. It probably felt very confident in its camouflaged appearance; as a matter of fact, we would have not spotted it, if it had not hopped once when the we approached it at the trail.

Slaty Spinetail (Synallaxis brachyura)

The Slaty Spinetail is a commonly heard bird near abandoned lots, where grass and bushes had time to grow. They are more difficult to spot than to hear, in part because they choose to stay low inside the vegetation. The adults are dark gray overall, with orange-brown wing feathers and a head cap of the same color. Their tail is relatively long when compared with other birds that share their habitat, and as the name implies, looks rather untidy, like an old broom that has been used to its life span. The juvenile has similar colors with less saturation and lacks the defined head cap.

Buff-rumped Warbler (Myiothlypis fulvicauda)

The Buff-rumped Warbler is a small, loud bird of the Caribbean and Pacific lowlands, usually found in close proximity to water streams and rivers, much like the Torrent Tyrannulet does in higher elevations. The places it inhabits are dark, hence it is difficult to see; look for two essential clues: 1) An accelerating high pitched song that seems to come from a water source and 2) a small white patch that swings from one side to the other close to the ground, which is caused by the bird’s habit to swing its tail in such a fashion. It can also be spotted as it flies away rapidly when people approach them.

Gray-headed Chachalaca (Ortalis cinereiceps)

The Gray-headed Chachalaca is a relatively big arboreal bird with mostly a brown body and gray head. Their diet consists mainly of fruits. At my parents´ home, up to ten arrive at the feeders where my parents place the papaya. Due to their size, they throw the papaya to the ground while eating, which does not help the toucans when they arrive. They are very loud, particularly when spooked by predators or humans, although not as loud as Brown Jays. They can be seen gliding from tall trees, one after another in rapid succession, relying on the uplift from air currents to avoid expending energy on batting their wings.

Mexican Tree Frog (Smilisca baudinii)

The Mexican Tree Frog is among Costa Rica’s biggest frogs. It is somewhat similar in appearance to the Masked Tree Frog, however the Mexican is bigger; its overall color is brown instead of green, and does not show such a definite dark brown patch behind the eye. The eyes are very similar between both species. It does occur in the Guanacaste province, from which the Masked is absent, however it is not found on the Pacific south from the Tarcoles river. They are nocturnal and arboreal like most tree frogs.

Boulenger’s Long-snouted Tree Frog (Scinax boulengeri)

There are three Long-snouted Tree Frog species in Costa Rica, with the Boulenger’s and Olive being both widespread and common accross wet lowlands in the country, and the Dry Forest species being common in the northwestern region (Guanacaste). The Boulenger’s is mostly light brown, including the iris, with small patches of green and darker brown that provides better camouflage. It is colloquially known as “Rana Lagarto” (crocodile frog) in Costa Rica due to its unusually long snout.

It is arboreal and nocturnal, and males frequently call with their body upside-down during the wet season. To help hold this position, the innermost finger can be rotated up to 90 degrees, essentially pointing upwards, which provides a better grip on smooth surfaces like tree branches and trunks. The skin is granular, which might put off some people that feel that its appearance is gross. Yet amphibians have a very important role in wet ecosystems, as some of the insect prey they consume might develop into plagues if unchecked. Most amphibian species have been battling with declining populations, and protecting them from extinction is one of our biggest challenges.

Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus)

Caimans are easy to confuse with crocodiles, however both belong to different families in the Taxonomic hierarchy. While each species in both families has its specific characteristics, there are a few physical traits that differentiate species from each family:

  • Jaws: The Crocodile has a V-shape, while the Caiman and Alligator have a U-shape. This can be seen most notably from above or the front, not so easily from the side.
  • Teeth: In Caimans, due to the way the teeth are placed, the lower jaw’s teeth are not visible when the mouth is closed. Crocodiles do show both upper and lower teeth at all times.

The Spectacled Caiman in particular has become established and common in Costa Rica. Like most reptiles, being cold blooded, they bask in the sun during the morning to warm up their bodies, before going for a day’s hunt. During that time, they may lie motionless in almost any place, like fallen trees, beaches and riversides. Adults have a length between 1.4 and 2.5 meters.

Striped Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus)

The Striped Basilisk, also known as the Jesus Christ Basilisk due to its incredible feat to run on water, is one of the four species of the Basiliscus genus and of three species to occur in Costa Rica. The similar Green Basilisk is (obviously) green, and the male has a big crest that protudes both on the head, back and tail, while the Striped Basilisk only has a crest on the head and a small ridge on the back. It is brown with two yellow lines that run one through the eye, and a thicker one from below the eye, both ending in the upper portions of the back; this color pattern lets it camouflage very easily, particularly during the morning when they bask in the sun to warm up their bodies. Both their fingers and toes are very large, with scales that can be extended, increasing the effective surface area of their feet and enabling them to run over water for short distances, up to 20 meters.

Hognosed Pitviper (Porthidium nasutum)

Hognosed Pitvipers are dangerous beauties. They can reach a size of 60 centimeters of length, which is rather small. According to the WCH assessment, their venom is not letal, but can cause uncomfortable symptoms including pain and swelling. This species has two morphs, one with deep red-brown skin and another with brown-gray skin, both of which display small black markings from neck to tail. Each morph is found in different areas in Costa Rica, although being the same species, they can probably still mate and produce viable offspring. Species having multiple morphs feature individuals with different appearances (usually different skin color or patterns in amphibians and reptiles), but each individual will normally only express one morph.