At the biological crossroads of the Americas, Costa Rica hosts an astonishing array of plants and animals—over half a million species! Ecotourists, birders, and biologists come from around the world to immerse themselves in the country's unspoiled rain forests, mountains, and beaches, drawn by the likelihood of seeing more than three or four hundred species of birds and other animals during even a short stay. To help all of these visitors and local residents identify and enjoy the wildlife of Costa Rica, this field guide presents nearly three hundred species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, moths, and other invertebrates.
Carrol Henderson, an experienced wildlife biologist, traveler, and tour leader in Costa Rica, has chosen the species that ecotourists are most likely to see, along with a selection of rarer, sought-after animals. He gives a general introduction to each group of animals, followed by individual species accounts that highlight identification features and interesting ecological adaptations for survival. His stunning close-up photographs and distribution maps complete each entry.
In addition, Henderson includes a wealth of data about Costa Rica's natural environment, as well as a trip preparation checklist and lists of conservation organizations, wildlife tourism sites, and wildlife vocalization tapes and CDs. With so much information so readily and readably accessible, this field guide will be essential for planning and enjoying your time in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica! The name generates a sense of excitement and anticipation among international travelers. Among European explorers, the first recorded visitor was Christopher Columbus in 1502. On his fourth trip to the New World, Columbus landed where the port city of Limón is now located. The natives he encountered wore golden disks around their necks. He called this new place "Costa Rica," meaning "Rich Coast," because he thought the gold came from there. The gold had actually come from other countries and had been obtained as a trade item from native traders along the coast.
Spanish treasure seekers eventually discovered their error and went elsewhere in their quest for gold. The irony is that Christopher Columbus actually picked the perfect name for this country. The wealth overlooked by the Spaniards is the rich biological diversity that includes about 505,000 species of plants and wildlife! That species richness is an incredible natural resource that sustains one of the most successful nature tourism industries in the Western Hemisphere. It also provides the basis for a biodiversity industry of "chemical prospecting" among plants and creatures in search of new foods and medicines for humans.
For such a small country, Costa Rica gets much well-deserved international attention and has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Americas. The lure is not "sun and sand" experiences at big hotels on the country's beaches; it is unspoiled nature in far-flung nooks and crannies of wildlands that are accessible at rustic nature lodges throughout the country.
It is now possible to immerse yourself in the biological wealth of tropical forests during a vacation in Costa Rica. During a two-week visit you may see more than three to four hundred species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, moths, and other invertebrates. Some vacations are planned for rest and relaxation, but who can do that in such a diverse country where there is so much nature to see and experience!
Costa Rica is a country where every day is an adventure, and where the marvelous diversity and abundance of wildlife creates an enthusiasm for nature that many people have not experienced since childhood.
Three-toed Sloth (Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth)
COSTA RICAN NAME: Perezaso de tres dedos.
8/15 trips; 19 sightings.
TOTAL LENGTH: 22.4 - 26.0 inches, including 2.6-2.8-inch tail.
WEIGHT: 5 pounds 1 ounce—12 pounds 2 ounces (2,300-5,500 grams).
RANGE: Honduras to northern Argentina.
ELEVATIONAL RANGE: Sea level to 1,800 feet.
The Three-toed Sloth is one of the most distinctive and abundant rainforest mammals. Each foreleg has three long, curved claws that help grasp branches as it climbs. It has coarse pale brown to grayish hair that often has a greenish tinge caused by algae. The face is white with a dark stripe extending into each eye. There is often a light patch on the throat and chest. In a way, sloths are "cold-blooded." Their body temperature drops as much as twelve degrees at night to conserve energy. Each morning they climb to treetops to warm up in the sun.
There is a myth that sloths only eat Cecropia leaves, but they actually eat leaves from at least ninety-six trees and vines. Since sloths are often in dense foliage, they are not usually seen except in sparsely branched trees like Cecropia. Each sloth eats leaves from a unique combination of about forty tree species. Bacteria in the sloth's stomach are adapted to digesting those leaves—much like bacteria digest grass in the stomach of a cow. The combination of tree species needed is different for each sloth, so they can live at higher densities than if they all depended on the same plants. Densities may be as great as three sloths per acre but are usually about one per acre.
A sloth reaches sexual maturity at three years of age and may live twenty to thirty years. An infant clings to the mother for its first six months of life. During that time the young learns which leaves to eat from the female. The mother chews the leaves and passes them to the young so that the bacteria necessary for digestion are transferred to the young. Then the female leaves the young sloth alone in her territory for six months so it can learn to survive on its own. When the young sloth reaches one year of age, the female returns and forces the young to find its own territory.
Three-toed Sloths are most abundant in the Caribbean lowlands, especially in Cahuita NP and the nearby Cahuita vicinity. They can be seen along canals of Tortuguero NP, in Cecropia trees just east of Guapiles along the main highway from Guapiles to Limón, in the Central Park at Limón, and along the highway from Limón to Cahuita. They are also found at La Selva Biological Field Station and on the Pacific slope near Quepos, Manuel Antonio NP (along Perezoso Trail), Corcovado NP, and Tiskita Jungle Lodge.
Carrol L. Henderson has headed the Nongame Wildlife Program of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources since 1977. He is an award-winning wildlife conservationist who has helped bring back eastern bluebirds, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, river otters, and trumpeter swans; an avid wildlife photographer whose images have appeared in the New York Times, Audubon, Birder's World, and Wild Bird; an experienced birding tour leader to Latin America, Kenya, Tanzania, and New Zealand; and the author of many magazine articles and several books. In 2016, the Garden Club of America awarded Henderson the Frances K. Hutchinson Medal, which is given to figures of national importance for distinguished service to conservation. In 2012, he received the Gary T. Myers Bird Conservation Award from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, recognizing him as the top bird conservationist in North America.