Animals in Costa Rica
Costa Rica harbors around 210 species of mammals, of which half are bats. Most mammals are shy and rarely seen by casual visitors.
Costa Rica has two species of sloths: the three-toed sloth, and the smaller, nocturnal two-toed sloth.
The animals spend their days upside down in the tree tops, clinging to the branches with their up to 10 cm long nails. To feed on their diet of leaves they can rotate their neck up to an angle of 270 degrees. Each sloth family feeds on an individual selection of trees: a baby sloth inherits from its mother the family's special set of bacterias to digest their particular mix of tree leaves. As leaves provide only few nutrients the animals have a very low metabolism - the reason for their slow paced lifestyle.
The sloth's greenish, shaggy fur is a biotop in itself, inhabited by bugs and overgrown with algae. Moths, beetles, mites and ticks crawl through the fur and when the sloth grooms itself it always gets a little snack of high-fat algae and proteins.
Albeit slow, sloths are skilled tree climbers and they are also good swimmers. On the ground however, they have big difficulties to move forward. Nevertheless, once a week sloths come down from their tree to go to the toilet and duly dig their feces into the earth. It's not clear why they put themselves at such a high risk of predation. Maybe they want to reward their food trees with fertilizer.
Luckily for the sloth it has become one of the few forest mammals whose survival is enhanced by forest degradation. Its predators, the jaguar and the harpye eagle, have almost disappeared in Costa Rica.
The anchestors of the sloths, the giant ground sloths evolved around 35 million years ago. With a size of around 6 meters it was as big as an elephant. The sloths' closest relatives, the anteaters, also descend from the same ancestors.
In Costa Rica there are three species of anteaters: the most commonly seen is the Collared Anteater, which is a bit bigger than a domestic cat. The cute little Silky Anteater is just 38 cm tall and very hard to see as he is nocturnal and lives high in the canopy. The third one, the Giant Anteater, measures up to two meters (including the tail) and is exceptionally rare, maybe even extinct in Costa Rica.
Anteaters live solitary and each individual needs a territory of around 185 acres. The anteater subsists on a diet of ants and termites but he is selective, eating relatively few ants of any given colony and avoiding those with painful stings or bites. He has a long head and a tubular mouth that is not larger than a pencil and has no teeth. His most striking feature is the tongue which can be up to 1 meter long and is coated in a sticky saliva. With this the anteater licks the ants out of their nest at around 150 laps per minute. The Collared Anteater consumes an estimated 30,000 ants every day.
The front claws, used to tear open termite nests and digging in the ground, are so long that they are tucked under, and the animal walks on its knuckles. To defend itself, the anteater stands on its hind feet and uses its strong front claws as weapons. It doesn't however always help him - each year a lot of anteaters get killed by dogs.
Dog owners shouldn't let their dogs go hunting and kill animals!
The Nine-Banded Armadillo looks rather primitive and indeed is a very unique mammal. Armadillo mothers give birth to 5 - 10 babies who are all genetically identical as they arise from one single egg. A female is also able to store an already fertilized egg for up to 3 years if her living conditions aren't favorable for pregnancy.
The nearly blind animals have a keen sense of smell which helps them to find food like ants, beetles, and larvae underneath forest litter and in the ground. On their nocturnal tour they mustn't avoid to make noise - they are well protected against predators by bony plates covering their body.
In Argentina the fossilized shells of Glyptodonts (the armadillo's anchestors) were found, which roamed the earth some 20,000 years ago. The largest of the shells had the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
The White-tailed Deer is the same species as found in North America but it is much smaller. To the south its habitat extends until Bolivia. They are no rainforest animals, instead they prefer the open dry forest land. Male deer develop antlers which they change each year. If threatened the white-tailed deer stomps its hooves and runs off with a speed of up to 30 miles an hour. It raises its tail to show the white underside helping her fawns to follow her. In the past white-tailed deer were almost extinct in Costa Rica when deforestation and hunting decreased their numbers heavily. Today their population has recovered.
The largest mammal in Costa Rica is the endangered tapir. It needs large territories for living. Tapirs are very important seed dispersers. In Costa Rica there are several native plants, whose seeds will only germinate after having passed the tapirs digestive tract.
The strange looking animal with its long, flexible snout is a distant relative of the elephant. It feeds on leaves, twigs, fruits and seeds. Tapirs have a poor eyeshight but they are excellent swimmers and are usually found near water. Their only enemy in the jungle was the jaguar but a far more dangerous predator - homo sapiens - has almost brought it to the point of extinction. In Costa Rica they are today only found in remote sections of Corcovado and the Talamanca mountains.