General info


The half of Costa Rica reptiles species belongs to snakes. Of a total number of 135 snakes species, 17 are venomous. All Costa Rica`s poisonous snakes produce the same venom except the coral snake. Hence there are two anti-venoms: one for the coral snake and a second for all others.

Costa Rica is inhabited by six of eight marine turtles and by 20 species of poisonous frogs.


green basilisk - [Basiliscus plumifrons]. They are arboreal and are always found near ready supplies of water. They will often drop from the branches when frightened, into the pools and scurry off to safety. Specialized scales on the bottoms of their feet allow them to run across a fair distance of water before diving in, at which point they swim hurriedly away. They are excellent swimmers and have been known to remain submerged for up to 30 minutes. They are also swift runners, capable of attaining speeds of nearly 7 miles per hour. They lay one to seven eggs. The eggs will hatch in about eight to ten weeks. Babies are born knowing how to run, climb, and swim, and do most of these activities on the day that they are born.

common basilisk - [Basiliscus basiliscus], (Jesus Christ lizard). A large lizard (up to 1 m in length) is characterized by its large crests on the head, back, and tail in males (while the females only have a small crest on the back of the head). They are brown in color, with a white strip along the sides. It is nicknamed Jesus Christ lizard because it can literally run across water when disturbed. They do this on their greatly elongated hind feet. It inhabits Costa Rica Pacific lowlands, and National Parks of Santa Rosa, Palo Verde, Corcovado and Ballena.


boa dusiciel - [Boa constrictor]. It is a non-poisonous tropical snake. It often reaches lengths of up to 4 m. Its life span is about 25 to 30 years. Some boas live in underground holes while others live in trees. Their prey consists mainly of birds and small mammals such as rats and agoutis. Boas seize their prey in their jaws, then entwine it in their powerful body coils and kill it by suffocation. Boas still have vestiges of a pair of hind limbs. Amerykę Środkowa zamieszkuje podgatunek Boa constrictor imperator. They are easily spot in Lomas de Barbudal and Curu Wildlife Refuges as well as Cano Island Biological Reserve.

amazon tree boa - [Corallus enhydris]. They like to sit perched up in the trees. Their coloration varies from red to orange to yellow and some have no patterns on them. They can reach a length of around 180 cm. It eat small mammals, birds, lizards, and frogs. It is destinguished by triangular head and narrow neck. Its teeth in upper jaw are long and rounded. It avoid dense forests. It is rather spot in shrubs.

rainbow boa - [Epicrates cenchria]. It has rainbow color head. It is nocturnal and inhabits in forests. It cab reach 2 meter in length.


green iguana - [Iguana iguana]. They are dull to bright green with black banded tail. They can grow to two meter long. Są roślinożerne. They are territorials. They defend their turf aggresively against competitors. In some regions they are considered to be domestic animals. Their meat resembles the chicken in taste. They inhabit forests up to 2500 m.a.s.l. They feed on flowers, fruits and leaves. They lay the eggs on the ground and soon left them alone. (Only 5% of young individuals survive).

ctenosaur - [Ctenosaura similis]. They are large, bulky lizards with adult males reaching up to 18 inches long with a 18-inch tail. They are predominantly black but the dorsal surface may show black bands on a greyish background. Most have black mottling on their backs. The color may also ligthen after basking in the sunlight with yellowish and orange markings becoming evident along the sides. Adult males and females are dimorphic. Adult males have well developed dorsal crests and small dewlaps. The dewlap, the crescent of skin that can be extended under the throat, is not inflated. A small bone bows out to extend the dewlap during times of threat, courtship, or while defending territory. Females lack obvious crests. They may bite or wound an aggressor with their spines. More terrestrial than aboreal, they can run in a bipedal fashion. They exist in Ostional, Bolanos and Curu Wildlife Refuges.

Common caiman

[Caiman crocodilus]. It is a medium-sized crocodilian that reaches a total length of 1.1-1.8 m, with a record of 2.64 m. It has a unique bony ridge in front of and between the eyes. Adults and young have a dorsal coloration that ranges from greenish-, brownish-, or yellowish-gray with darker crossbands. They inhabit mangroves, Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge, and National Parks of Palo Verde and Tortuguero. They can reach 2 meter in length.

American crocodile

[Crocodylus acutus]. It can reach 5 meter in length and can live 80 years or more. Much of their days spend on the mudbanks. They regulate body temperature by opening their gaping mouths. They can`t chew. They simply snap, tear and swallow. Powerfull stomach acids dissolve everything including bones. Their biggest concentration is seen in Rio Tarcoles. They are easily spot also in Palo Verde National Park and Ostional Wildlife Refuge.


[Lachesis muta]. (sucurucu).Only viper in New World to lay eggs, and largest pit-viper in America. The longest venomous snake in the Western Hemisphere. It is considered to be the most deadly snake in America. It grows to 4,25 m. It is gray and brown with large diamond-shaped blotches on the back. A slender, burr-like arrangement of scales at the tip of the tail makes a sound like a rattlesnake when the snake is disturbed. It eats exclusively mammals. Posses a pair of pits, one on each side of their heads. It uses them as heat sensors, enabling to detect the body heat of their prey. Its venom has haemotoxin which disrupt the circulation system. It lives among others on Osa peninsula.

Fer de lance

[Bothrops asper, Bothrops atrox]. (lancehead, terciopelo, caissaca). Very aggresive snake. Considered to be third most vemonous snake in the world. It accounts for 80 % of all snake bites in Costa Rica. It can grow to a length of 4 meter (the largest speciments are located near Gandoca-Manzanillo) and is abundant throughout the country, particularly in overgrown fields and river courses (lately it is observed in enormous quantities around Atenas). It has velvet type of scales and rich brown and grey colour. The body is marked with irregular, dark crossbands. It has caracteristic sharply triangular head. During a day it lies coiled blending with its surroundings. It is ground-living, though it is able to climb and swim. It feeds on lizards and frogs which it attracts with a yellow tipped-tail. The snake`s powerfull venom dissolves nerve tissue and destroys blood cells and artery walls. It has two indentations or 'pits' behind and above the nostrils which can detect a rise or drop in temperature of just 0.001degrees C, allowing it to detect warm-blooded mammals.

Eastern indigo snake

[Drymarchon corais]. It is the longest North American snake. Glossy black- or bluish-black in color, the snake has a black, reddish or brownish chin. The hatchlings are 48 - 61 cms long and may have yellow coloring on their body's forepart. Both adult and young have large, smooth scales in 17 rows and a single anal plate.

Tropical rattlesnake

[Crotalus durissus]. Generally found in semi-arid regions, including dry tropical forest, tropical deciduous forest, pine-oak forest, arid tropical scrub, grasslands, thorn woodland. It can reach 1,8 meter in length. It is destinguished by dark red-brown spots on back and light yellow zigzag on sides.

Cat-eyed snake

[Leptodeira septentrionalis]. It can reach 1 meter in length. Its body is flattened in sides. It has narrow neck and large eyes with vertical pupils. On the light color body there are black diamond-shaped designs. It`s arboreal snake, very skilled in swimming. It feeds mainly on frogs.

Coral snake

[Micrurus corallinus]. It can reach 75 cm in length. It is stood out with small head, blunt tail and bright bands of red, black and yellow or white. It is highly venomous snake (often fatal to humans) and exhibits spectacular defensive display: it flattens its body and snaps back and forth while swinging its head side to side and coiling and waving its tail. It`s spot in Lomas de Barbudal Biological Reserve.


[Clelia clelia]. They are large, blue-black to dark gray snakes with paler bellies. Except for their underside the adults are uniform in color. Mussurana have a roundish, muscular body with smooth, shiny scales and a short head, not much wider than the neck. The eyes are small and black. Mature mussurana can grow to a total length of 2 meter. Although not considered dangerous to humans, the mussurana is a rear-fanged snake and does have mild toxin-producing glands. Its diet consists primarily of other snakes (is resistant to the snakes venom).

Yellow-bellied sea snake

[Pelamis platurus]. It feeds during the day and spends nights on the ocean bottom, occassionally rising to the surface to breath. They can dive to maximum depths of 6.8 m in the dry season, and 15.1 m during the wet season. Sea snakes can stay underwater between 1.5 and 3.5 hours. They are capable of cutaneous breathing, removing oxygen from the water and releasing carbon dioxide. It has a salt gland under its tongue, which secretes salt taken in from the water. It swims on the surface by sideward undulations aided by the laterally compressed tail, which acts as a paddle. It can move quickly, but usually it floats by ocean currents. It has large head, yellow belly and black back with flattened tail. The maximum length of this sea snake is 113 cm.

Green vine snake

[Oxybelis fulgidus]. This snake is most often found inhabiting rainforest or riparian forest. has a pointy head with leafy green coloration on its dorsum and lighter green on its ventrum. Its iris is golden colored with a round pupil. It can reach in excess of 1,5 m. It is very adept at capturing birds, and in some areas specializes in catching hummingbirds. It will sometimes position itself next to a flower and remain motionless, waiting for hummingbirds to approach.

Green parrot snake

[Leptophis ahaetulla]. It can reach a length of more than two meters. They live in the rain forest trees and are usually active only during the day. It has slender celadon body and prolongated head. It lays from 5 to 15 eggs. It`s harmless and mildly venomous. It sometimes threatens by opening the mouth.

Tropical rat snake

[Spilotes pullatus], (tiger snake). A large black and yellow colored snake. Attains a maximum length of over two meters. Its body is somewhat laterally compressed. It forages both in vegetation and on the ground, feeding on birds and small mammals. When threatened and unable to escape, it slowly moves its tongue in a highly stereotyped manner, with the tines fully extended laterally, and also may laterally flatten its neck region and exhibit feigned defensive strikes towards its opponent.

Blunt-headed tree snake

[Imantodes cenchoa]. It can suspend the entire front half of its body in the air as it passes between branches. Such behavior enables it to approach its prey without causing vibrations. Długość ciała dochodzi do 120 centymetrów.

Brown vine snake

[Oxybelis aeneus]. A very thin (30" to 60") snake that closely resembles a vine. The head is very narrow, pointed, and elongated. Light gray/brown on the back with occasional dark brown/black flecking. The underside is light yellow/green color below the head and neck grading to light gray/white toward the tail. Usually found in sycamore and oak trees in stream bottoms, canyons, and hillsides. Primarily diurnal. Uses its mild venom, injected with grooved rear teeth, to subdue lizards which make up the bulk of its diet. Very good climbers, vine snakes spend most of their time in the trees where they are quite difficult to spot.

Eyelush viper

[Bothrops schlegeli]. It is 18-30 inches in length. The coloration can be reddish-yellow, yellow, grayish-brown or green. The yellow color can be spotted with white, black or red; the darker colors can be spotted with black or red. Their distinguishing feature is the supraciliarie, or enlarged scale, above each eye, giving the appearance of eyelashes. It is arboreal and has a prehensile tail. While catching and eating food, this snake can hold onto a branch with its tail and can hang completely suspended in midair while eating his entire meal. The coloration of this viper helps to camouflage it while it hides in the midst of flowers. It hides here to strike at the birds it likes to eat.

Hognosed viper

[Bothrops nasutus]. At less than 1/2 a meter long, is one of the smallest poisonous snakes in the world. However, it's venom is among the most potent. On the head is the characteristic horn. It is perfectly concealed by the dead leaves in it's native habitat, the forest floor in the Atlantic coast of the Costa Rican rainforest .

Snapping turtle

[Chelydra serpentina]. A large freshwater turtle. They can reach 47 cm and weigh 39 kg. The carapace is usually brown, but can also be olive, black, or tan. There are three ridges on the carapace that obscure with age. The plastron of the snapper is greatly reduced and the bridge is short. Sometimes there is a dark pattern in the center of the plastron. The skin can be gray, brown, yellow, tan, or black and some individuals have white specks. The legs are large and heavily scaled. Its webbed feet have long claws. The neck is long and covered with tubercles on the top and sides. The snapper's head is large with strong jaws. The eyes sit dorsolaterally, and can be seen when the turtle is viewed from above. The yellow or cream jaws often have dark lines on them. There are two barbels on the chin. The tail is long. They are notorious for their short tempers and strong jaws. Common in swampy areas and ponds.

Loggerhead turtle

[Caretta caretta]. They have a characteristic large head, but it is not because they house a large brain, instead, the space is used for their closing muscles to the jaws. They are carnivorous and eat sponges, jellyfish, horseshoe crabs, clams, and oysters. They have extra powerful jaws which enable them to easily crush the hard shells of their prey. They lay eggs in Tortuguero National Park (especially on August).

Leatherback turtle

[Dermochelys coriacea]. The largest of living turtles. It may reach a length of about 2 meters. They have a span of 2.7 meters from the tip of one front flipper to the tip of the other. They have a secondary palate, formed by vomer and palatine bones. The leatherback has no visible shell. The shell is present but it consists of bones that are buried into its dark brown or black skin. It has seven pronounced ridges in its back and five on the underside. In Costa Rica they abound in Las Baulas National Park (the biggest breeding place on Pacific) and Tortuguero National Park. They are spot also in Corcovado National Park and Ostional Wildlife Refuge.

Hawksbill turtle

[Eretmochelys imbricata]. It is a small sea turtle that takes its species name (imbricata) from the overlapping plates on its upper shell. Moreover, it takes its common name from the shape of its hooked jaw. It reaches a length of about 90 cm. They are omnivorous, feeding both on plant and animal material. It prefers grasses and other plants from the bottom of the ocean as well as from grass beds that float at different depths. It also consumes small animals and sometimes the dead remains of marine creatures. In Costa Rica they are seen in Tortuguero National Park, as well as in Curu and Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuges.

Olive ridley turtle

[Lepidochelys olivacea]. It is a large sea turtle that can weigh as much as 45 kg and have a length of up to 75 cm. The skin of the turtle is olive gray and the distinguishing feature between male and female turtles is that the male's tail extends past the carapace while the female's does not. The relatively thin shell compared to other turtles is somewhat heart-shaped and is olive in color. Each of the four limbs has two claws. It makes regular migrations to and from the nesting beaches during each year. During a typical day the turtle will feed during the morning hours and sun bathe at the surface of the ocean during the afternoon. It spends most of its time within 15 km of shore, preferring shallow seas for is feeding and sunbathing. However this species is observed in the open ocean as well.

Green sea turtle

[Chelonia mydas]. Their names comes from the green colour of skin. They can weigh up to 205 kilograms. They have limbs that are paddle-like, which are used to swim. Their heads seem small compared to their body size. Males are larger than females and the tail is longer, extending well beyond the shell. The carapace can be olive to brown, or sometimes black. Green turtles cannot pull their heads inside of their shells. When it is time to mate they migrate from several hundred to over a thousand miles across the ocean to where they hatched. From July to October they lay their eggs in Tortuguero National Park (a major nesting site in the western Caribbean). Besides, they appear in Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, Ostional Biological Reserve and Corcovado National Park. They can reach 150 cm of lenght and 250 kg in mass. They feed on sea grasses and algae. They are killed for skin, meat (desired for turtle soap) or shells. They have the great capacity of laying upside down for few days. On the beaches they are often followed by poachers, who turn them up and come back to kill them on next day. In January 2002 Nicaraguan man arrested, has pled guilty for killing green turtle female, that carri ed a satelite transmitter that enabled scientists to follow her.

© 2004; SLUPSK; Rafal Cezary Piechocinski