10 Fascinating Costa Rican Reptiles You’ll Love

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Costa Rica is a beautiful country filled with diverse and fascinating wildlife and plants. Today we’ll be focusing on Costa Rican reptiles specifically. From snakes to lizards to turtles, this beautiful country has a wide range of reptiles to pick from, so keep scrolling to see which ones made our list!

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Top 10 List – Costa Rican Reptiles

1. Swift Anole

Scientific Name: Anolis tropidolepis
Geographic Range: Costa Rica
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Swift anoles are endemic to the mountains of Costa Rica, which means that they aren’t found anywhere else in the world. They are a highly adaptable species that can be found in various types of rainforests, as well as pastures, stream courses, and secondary and old-growth forests. Often they are found in pasture grasses, leaf litter, on tree trunks, and on rocks in streams. They are considered the most abundant species of anole at higher elevations in much of Costa Rica.

2. White-Headed Snake

Scientific Name: Enuliophis sclateri
Geographic Range: Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama
Conservation Status: Least Concern

White-headed snakes are also referred to as Colombian longtail snakes or sock-headed snakes. They are primarily found in undisturbed lowland humid forests, however, in Colombia, they can also be found in disturbed areas and palm tree plantations. The upper surfaces of their head and neck are pure white, except for the tip of the snout. Their bright white heads are the reason the white-headed snake got some of its common names. Reptile eggs make up their main diet, and they are a terrestrial species, meaning they spend most if not all of their time on the ground.

3. Rainbow Galliwasp

Scientific Name: Diploglossus monotropis
Geographic Range: Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama
Conservation Status: Least Concern

The rainbow galliwasp is a secretive lizard, rarely spotted out in nature. Terrestrial and semi-fossorial, rainbow galliwasps spend most of their time on the ground. Specifically, they spend their time in burrows most likely built by other animals, under logs, rocks, leaf litter, and tree roots throughout the rainforest they inhabit. Juveniles of this species have black backs with white stripes all over their bodies. Adults have a dark back color with red, bright yellow, or white faint markings down their backs. Their heads and sides are reddish in color to bright yellow. Males, however, are larger and have brighter colored heads than females. They have cycloid scales, which are scales that resemble fish scales.

In some areas of the Chocó biome, locals know this species as mamá culebra, which means “mother of snakes,” or mamá coral, which means “mother of coral snakes.” They believe that the rainbow galliwasp gives birth to coral snakes and is a venomous species. In Ecuador, they are referred to as escorpión, which means “scorpion.” This is most likely in reference to the fact that the galliwasp is thought to sting with its tail. However, they cannot do this and are completely harmless.

4. Helmeted Iguana

Scientific Name: Corytophanes cristatus
Geographic Range: Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Next on our list of Costa Rican reptiles, we have the helmeted iguana. Helmeted iguanas are medium-sized lizards with long slim legs and long toes. Their colors can include various blotches of grey, olive, brown, black, or reddish brown. Their most defining feature is the large crest on their heads, which tapers to a saw-tooth ridge on their backs. Both male and female helmeted iguanas have this crest, however, in males, the crest tends to be larger. Their species name cristatus in Latin means tufted/crested and refers to these crests on their heads.

They are often found in primary and secondary forests of lowland rainforests and premontane wet forests. Helmeted iguanas are a non-heliothermic species, meaning that they do not use the sun to increase their body temperature as other reptiles do. They maintain a body temperature of around 26°C (79°F), which is close to the temperature of the forests they live in.

5. Painted Wood Turtle

Scientific Name: Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima
Geographic Range: Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica
Conservation Status: Not Listed

Painted wood turtles are a colorful species with various red on their legs, heads, and shell. In fact, their species name pulcherrima is derived from the Latin word pulcherrimus which means prettiest and refers to the extra colorful shells and legs of juveniles. They can be found in scrublands, moist woodlands, and occasionally gallery forests close to streams. Ofen enjoying moist areas, they have been observed wading and swimming in streams and rain pools. There are 4 subspecies of the painted wood turtle, with the Central American Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima manni) being the most common of the subspecies found in Costa Rica.

A fun fact about the painted wood turtle is that the sex of the babies, when they hatch, is determined by the temperature of the eggs when they incubate (when they are growing in the eggs). If they are in a cooler area then most of the hatchlings will be male, and in warmer temperatures, there will be mainly female hatchlings.

6. Green Basilisk

Scientific Name: Basiliscus plumifrons
Geographic Range: Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama
Conservation Status: Least Concern

If you want to learn more about the green (or plumed) basilisk check out our article 10 Amazing Facts About The Water Walking Plumed Basilisk.

Green basilisks can be found in large numbers in the Pacific lowland forests of Central America. They are the most commonly seen large lizards in western Costa Rica. Most often they can be spotted on the ground, however, at night they can often be spotted on various perches. Green basilisks have a total body length of 80cm (31.5 inches), with 70 – 75% of that length being their long slender tails. Their color ranges from bright green to olive brown, and males have large crests on their heads and tails. When startled, these interesting lizards will “stand up” on their hind legs and run away, often running towards and even ON the water before eventually sinking and swimming/running away. Because of their ability to run on water for short distances, they have earned themselves the nickname “Jesus Christ Lizards.”

7. Talamancan Palm Pit Viper

Scientific Name: Bothriechis nubestris
Geographic Range: Costa Rica
Conservation Status: Not Listed

Talamancan palm pit vipers are arboreal, medium-sized, slender snakes that are usually found in the transition zone between cloud forests and montane rainforests. They have prehensile tails that help them in the trees they are often found in. In color, they are green with black mottling and black-ish colored eyes. They are ovoviviparous meaning that eggs are grown and hatched inside the mother’s body and are then birthed by her. Originally, these snakes were thought to be the same as the black-speckled palm pitviper, however, more recently they were discovered to be their own species.

Their species name nubestris is made up of the two Latin nouns nubes (meaning cloud) and estris (meaning belonging to) and refers to the fact that the Talamancan palm pit viper can often be found in or near cloud forests.

8. Berthold’s Monkey Lizard

Scientific Name: Polychrus gutturosus
Geographic Range: Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Berthold’s monkey lizards have a total length of 70cm (2.3 ft), with a massive chunk of that length being their long, slender semi-prehensile tail. In color, they have a lime green body, with various blotches or markings of yellow, dark green, and grey. While they are usually bright in color when extremely stressed they will turn mostly brown or dark grey.

These arboreal lizards mainly live in the trees of old-growth to moderately disturbed rainforests. They are also found in swamps, plantations, gardens, and urban areas near the forest’s edge. Berthold’s monkey lizards are diurnal, meaning they spend their days awake, usually high up in the trees, and sleep at night – usually closer to the ground.

9. Central American Banded Gecko

Scientific Name: Coleonyx mitratus
Geographic Range: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Central American banded geckos are frequently found in a variety of dry areas, however, it is not unheard of to find them in moist and wet forests as well. These terrestrial geckos spend their time on the ground, often in burrows underground or under other debris. Like many different types of geckos, they eat insects and are able to drop their tails when threatened. The tails will grow back, but often do not look the same.

While they are not overly common, Central American banded geckos can be found in the pet trade. They are similar in appearance to leopard geckos, however, they are slightly smaller in size and not as tame as leopard geckos tend to be.

10. Costa Rican Tropical Night Lizard

Scientific Name: Lepidophyma reticulatum
Geographic Range: Costa Rica, Panama
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Last but not least on our list of Costa Rican reptiles we have the Costa Rican tropical night lizard. This interesting lizard lives in moist lowland and premontane forest areas. They like areas with fallen trees, small caves, and other forms of cover for them. They average in length around 10cm (4 inches) not including their tail. Black with yellow and white spots down their back, they definitely have a striking appearance. Their species name reticulatum is Latin and means net-like or reticulated, and refers to the patterns down their back.

One of the most interesting things about the Costa Rican tropical night lizard is that they are an all-female species. They are parthenogenetic, meaning they can produce young without needing a male.

Did your favorite make it to the list? If not let us know in the comments which Costa Rican reptile is your favorite, and why you love them so much! Enjoy this article? Share it with your friends using the links below! Thanks for reading!

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