Facts About Costa Rica

PeopleCosta rica Flag and map
The population of Costa Rica is approximately 4.13 million.

The money in Costa Rican is called the colon.

The land Area of this small country is about 31,478 square miles. Compare that  to the USA, which is about 5,692,950 square miles. Than means the USA is almost 181 times bigger than Costa Rica!

The Capital of Costa Rica is San Jose. There are about 2.1 million people living in and around this largest city in the nation.

The climate of Costa Rica is mostly tropical and sub-tropical. Though in the central highlands (mountain region) the weather is a bit milder.

The altitude varies from sea level (much like the state of Florida) to well over 12,000 feet. The mountainous region is in the north and central part of the country. There are more than 200 volcanoes, and about half of these are active at times. 


Throughout history, Costa Rica’s income was mostly from agriculture including coffee and bananas. Although these crops are still grown today, this country’s income is now mainly from technology (computer related) and tourism. Due to the natural beauty of Costa Rica, many visitors from all over the world are eager to explore the land. The economy is strong here, and the standard of living is high.

         Coffee has been around for more than one thousand years. Its origins trace back to Africa. Before coffee beans were roasted and brewed to make a drink, they were a source of food. During the 1200’s the beans were first used for brewing into a drink. Due to the caffeine in coffee, it gives the drinker a burst of energy. That is why so many adults drink it in the morning – to wake up!
coffee plant         With its mild climate, constant mist and fertile soil, Costa Rica is an ideal place for growing coffee. The plant is a bush with deep green leaves and coffee seeds, which are often called cherries. They start out as a light green color and turn to a deep red when they are ripe. All the cherries are picked by hand so only the ripe ones are taken. That is one of the reasons why coffee is expensive - farmers must pay many workers for many months to harvest the crops. Also it takes at least 5 years before a new plant is ready to harvest.
         Inside each one of the hard cherries of the coffee plant are usually 2 beans. Water is often used to get the shell off the cherries to release the beans. The beans are soaked in water for one or 2 days and then dried in the sun or in a machine. Then there is a shell over the beans that must be peeled away with a special machine. Underneath this shell, the beans are green in color. They must be inspected and sorted before being sold. In order to make these coffee beans ready for brewing, they are slowly roasted. The longer the beans are roasted, the darker they become and the more intense the flavor becomes.

Current Government
A 1949 Constitution established Costa Rica as a democratic republic. All citizens are guaranteed equality, the right to own property and the freedom of speech as well as many other rights.

Plants (Flora)
         There are many thousands of species of trees, flowers and other plants throughout Costa Rica. The cloud forests, with their constant mist and rainforests, with their rich volcanic soil, are especially ideal for plant life. Hundreds of species of ferns grow wild throughout the rainforest as well as over one thousand of species of beautiful flowering orchids. The rich plant life of Costa Rica provides food for many birds, insects and mammals to thrive. Flowers and plants offer nectar and pollen for hummingbirds and bees. Fruits provide food for the numerous species of insects and mammals. The place in North America with the closest similarity to the plants of Costa Rica is South Florida.

Class: Orchidaceae
Family: Orchidaceae

orchid         Costa Rica is home to more orchids than other place on earth. There are thought to be more than 1,500 identified species here. That is why the orchid is this nation’s official flower. They thrive in the moist environment of the rain and cloud forests; most orchids bloom during the rainy season. Orchids range in size from very, very tiny to quite large and full of flowers. Some have strong, sweet scents, while others do not smell very good at all!
         The majority of the orchids in Costa Rica are epiphytes, which means that they are plants that must grown on top of other plants for physical support. That is why you will find most of the world’s orchids growing in trees. By covering the tree tops, orchids play an important role in helping the forest retain moisture. This helps other plants grow on the forest floor.
         Many people in the United States and other parts of the world are fascinated with orchids. However, they are generally not easy to grow. They need a perfect spot with constant moisture, but do not like to be over watered. Many orchid clubs exist in the USA for orchid lovers. There is even a huge orchid show in Costa Rica each year that visitors from the world over are welcome to attend.
         A person who studies orchids is called an orchidologist.

Class: Liliopsida
Family: Heliconiaceae

         Also called, Bird-of-Paradise, this exotic plant has bright red bracts (like leaves) that grow in opposite pairs and look like the claws of a lobster. These plants love the moist environments of warm climates like Costa Rica. They also grow well in South Florida and are related to banana plants. Several species of hummingbirds feed on the nectar of heliconia.


strangler figStrangler Fig:
Class: Magnoliopsida
Family: Moraceae

            Birds drop seeds of strangler figs from the sky into trees in dark forests, making these unusual plants grow, at first, from the top in a downward direction. Most plants and trees grow from the ground up. The roots of the strangler fig slowly grow down and then up, until they surround the tree, actually squeezing it until it dies and hollows out.

dutchmans pipeDutchman’s Pipe
Class: Magnoliopsida
Family: Aristolochiaceae

            Butterflies are attracted to the unusual flowers of this plant, named for its pipe-shaped flowers. The Dutchman’s pipe is a fast climbing vine with leaves shaped like hearts. And it will grow up to 30 feet tall.

torch gingerTorch Ginger
Class: Liliopsida
Family: Zingiberaceae

            This bright red plant resembles a torch. The waxy flower looks much like a pinecone. The plant can grow to over 3 feet. It grows in Costa Rica as well as in many other warm climates of the world, including the Pacific Islands. 

Class: Cladoxylopsida, Psilotopsida, Equisetopsida, Marattiopsida and Pteridopsida
Family: Many!

fern            Hundreds of millions of years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed the earth, ferns thrived. In Costa Rica, you can find more than 800 of the earth's 20,000 or so species of ferns. These plants require certain environmental conditions, including moist soil and air, protection from cold temperatures and the right amount of filtered light and shade. The conditions in the rain and cloud forests of Costa Rica are ideal for ferns to thrive.
            Ferns belong to a group of plants that are vascular. This means that the veins of the plant spread moisture throughout the leaves. (This is much like the veins of humans carrying blood through the body.) Ferns do not reproduce from seeds. The underside of the plant has spores that develop into what is known as gametophytes. Moisture fertilizes the gametophytes, and they develop into adult plants.
            Of the hundreds of varieties of ferns in Costa Rica, it is common to see tree ferns, with actual trunks. Resurrection ferns can also be found. These unique plants turn brown when there is little rain, but they are not dead. Photosynthesis temporarily shuts down until the moisture in the soil and air increases. Then these ferns miraculously come back to life. Some other types of ferns in Costa Rica include maidenhair ferns, royal ferns, parsley ferns, brake ferns and many others.

Class: Liliopsida
Family: Bromeliaceae

            Bromeliads are a tropical plant, related to pineapples. Just like orchids, bromeliads are epiphytes, as they attach themselves to trees to obtain moisture. The curved, overlapping leaves of bromeliads act as tanks. They collect water, insects and debris that decompose to provide the plants with nutrients to absorb. In Costa Rica there are more than 2,000 species of bromeliads. Some of these have flowers, while many do not.

Animals (Fauna)
         Just like the abundance of plants, many species of insects, reptiles, birds and mammals thrive in Costa Rica. The unspoiled forests of Costa Rica provide homes for many thousands of animals. It is believed that there are at least 850 species of birds, 200 species of mammals and more than 35,000 species of insects! This is truly remarkable when you consider the tiny land size of Costa Rica.

Class: Diplopoda
(Many subclasses and families)

millipede            Among this class of millipedes are about 10,000 species! They are some of the oldest known animals to live on earth. Millipedes can live up to 7 years, which is considered a long lifespan as far as bugs go. The females lay eggs in the soil, which hatch in 3–7 weeks. Depending on the species, the female can lay up to 300 eggs.
            These small arthropods have a hard exoskeleton and more than 30 pair of legs (2 pair per body segment, except for the first few) and a pair of antennae. Depending on the species, they can have between 80 and 400 legs! They live in humid climates beneath damp, decomposing leaves and in cracks. Though they move extremely slowly, they migrate long distances at certain times of the year. They have been known to enter low levels of buildings when threatened by excessive rainfall. However, they do not bite people or destroy homes like termites. Millipedes are herbivorous (plant eaters), and they feast on decaying plants only. They moisten their food with their own secretions before breaking it down with their jaws. Some species of millipede have the ability to curl up into a ball when being threatened.
            The African millipede is the largest species, measuring about 10 inches long. Some people keep them as pets, though they do secrete a liquid through their pores, when feeling threatened, that can irritate human skin.

Ogre-Faced Spider
Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Family: Dinopidae

ogre faced spider            The name, ogre-faced spider, comes from the bulging eyes of this arachnid. These critters are known for their stretchable sticky nets they use to catch their prey. They are sometimes called net-casting spiders. Their bulging eyes help them see well in the darkness of the tropical rain forest. Many look like sticks, so they are difficult to see in the wild.
            The ogre-faced spider lives in moist climates beneath vegetation and is active mostly at night. This is when the spider’s eyes are especially keen. And they are so light sensitive during the daytime, they generate new membrane matter daily. This creature’s 4th pair of legs is made up of thorns that produce the silk used for the nets. To reproduce, the spiders lay their eggs and then hang them from a silky thread, hiding them behind leaves. Ogre-faced spiders pose no threat to humans.

Leaf cutter ants
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae

leaf cutter ants            Leaf cutter ants are quite possibly the most fascinated insects on the planet! They mainly inhabit the warm regions of the world around Central and South America. These ants are the only animals, other than humans, that cultivate their own food. Leaf cutters have a special relationship with fungus. They feed on structures called "gongylidia," which are produced only by a certain fungus that only lives in the nests of leaf cutter ants. This type of relationship, in which two species depend on each other, is called a "symbiotic relationship." Essentially these critters chew up the leaves, spit them out and store them until they decompose. Then the compost creates a white fungus, which the ants feed upon. The colonies are so large and energetic, they can destroy an entire tree in a short amount of time. They can be seen marching up and down trees and on the ground, carrying leaves many times their size.
            The leaf cutter ants' underground nests can be as large as a car with millions of colony members. The nest can contain up to 2,000 chambers, and can be up to over 600 square feet wide and 20 feet deep. The amount of soil the ants have to dig to create these nests can weigh as much as 180,000 pounds. Although leaf cutters can sometimes be a pest to farmers, they are an important part of our ecosystem, as they help to clear debris and dead leaves from the environment.
            Leaf cutter ants organize themselves into for major social groups, or castes: minims, which tend to newborn ants and care for the fungus garden; minors, which attack any enemies that try to enter the nest; mediae, who look for leaves to bring back to feed the fungi; and majors, who protect the nest from enemies if the minors fail. In addition to these four groups is the queen, who lays all the eggs to keep the colony alive and active. The queen is easy to recognize as she is almost 1,000 times the size of a minor worker and similar in size to a small rodent!
            It is no wonder that there are scientists who dedicate a lot of time to studying these incredible creatures.

Howler Monkey
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Atelidae

 howler monkey           High up in the tree tops of the Costa Rican rainforest (and in parts of South America) live families of howler monkeys. Animals that live in tree tops are called arboreal animals. Howlers got their name from the loud sound they make, which can be heard from several miles a way. The male leader of each group uses his voice so other groups do not invade his territory. Each group needs a large amount of space to make sure there is enough food for them. The howler is an herbivore, so the diet consists mostly of fruit and leaves.
            Although they are very loud, these monkeys are not that large. Most grow up to be only around 2 or 3 feet tall, and weigh only about 15 to 20 pounds. But their tails are long, measuring 2 ½ feet! The males are black and the females are brown. The average howler lives to be about 20 years old.
            The main predator of these monkeys are harpy eagles. In the past howlers were hunted by man for food. Sadly many have been captured and sold as pets. These are wild animals, and they do not make good pets! It is cruel to capture them and take them away from their families. Unfortunately the howler is now on the endangered species list.

Blue Morpho Butterfly
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Nymphalidae

blue morpho   
           The blue morpho butterfly, with an impressive wingspan of up to 8 inches, thrives in the Costa Rican rainforests. It is one of the world’s largest species of butterflies and certainly one of the most beautiful. The brilliant iridescent color of this insect is the result of the way many miniscule scales on the wings reflect natural light. The under side of the wings are brown with camouflage spots that look like eyes to protect these butterflies from predators. In fact when the blue morpho flaps its wings, it is difficult for predators (mostly birds) to keep track of its moving target. They are active during the day only.  
            Blue morphos can be found in Mexico, Central America and South America. They live for only approximately 115 days, spending time in the canopies of trees and also on the forest floor hiding from predators. They can often be spotted near rivers. When searching for a mate, the males fly over the tree tops.
            Like all butterflies, the morpho has 4 different lifecycle stages: egg, pupa, caterpillar and adult. The eggs of this species is a light green color, while the caterpillar is a reddish brown with bright green spots. During the caterpillar stage, the morpho eats leaves, preferring those from pea plants, and will even eat other caterpillars. As an adult, the morpho diet consists of liquids only. A tube like feeder, known as the probiscus, is used like a straw to suck the juices from fruit and other plants as well as the liquids that come from dead animals. These butterflies can taste and smell through their antennae.
            The deforestation of the world’s tropical forests are a threat to the survival of blue morpho butterflies. Also for many years people have captured them to enjoy their beauty.

Class: Mammalia
Order: Pilosa
Families: Cyclopedidae and Myrmecophagidae

tamandua            There are several types of anteaters in Costa Rica. Two common species are giant anteaters and Tamandua. Giant anteaters resemble bears, with their thick fur and big claws. They grow to more than 4 feet in length. These anteaters like to live alone, surviving on tens of thousands of termites every day. They use their claws to access termite mounds, then stick their noses inside, flicking their sticky tongues to catch the insects. All anteaters are toothless.
            The most common, and much smaller, anteater in the rain forests of Costa Rica is the Tamandua, which can be found in low-lying and mountain forests. It is easily recognized with its white-yellowish fur and dark colored band across its back. It is often called the collared anteater. Weighing between 8 and 14 pounds as an adult, this creature can climb rapidly up a tree. The tail has an amazing ability to grab hold of the tree and help the creature move at a fast speed. This type of tail is known as prehensile. Tamanduas eat both ants and termites, grinding them up with gravel as they chew.

Class: Aves
Order: Apodiformes
Family: Trochilidae

hummingbird            The majority of the world’s hummingbirds can be found south of the equator. In Costa Rica alone, there are well over 50 species. These tiny birds have always fascinated scientists and nature lovers, mostly due to their unique way of flying and feeding.
            Hummingbirds eat up to half their weight in nectar from flowers daily. In fact they feed almost all day long. Their unique tongues lap the nectar as they flap their wings at great speeds in order to hover near their food sources. Long bills help these creatures reach the nectar deep inside tubular-shaped flowers. In addition to nectar, they also eat small insects and pollen.
            Hummers can flap their wings 50 or more times per second! That rapid speed is what causes the humming sound we can hear. The heartbeat of the hummingbird is also very fast, as it takes so much energy to flap their wings. Because they are such excellent flyers, and spend most of their time in the air, hummingbirds are not very skilled at walking. Their feet are tiny and are not really developed for walking.
            Hummingbirds would never attack a person. However they do fight with each other for food. During competition they poke their bills, flap their wings fiercely against each other, and the males may even dive at great speeds to ward off another feeding hummer.  
             Male hummingbirds live separate from the females and baby birds. They never help in the care of their young. 

Rhinoceros Beetle
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Scarabaeidae

rhinocerous beetle            There are hundreds of species of rhinoceros beetles, a sub family of the larger group known as scarab beetles. The rhino beetle can carry 850 times its weight on its back, making it the strongest animal on earth. This beetle is named for its horn that looks much like a rhinoceros. Though they may look scary, they are harmless to humans. The males do fight with one another, over food, with their horns.
            The life cycle of the beetle includes 4 phases: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Eggs are laid by the female inside trees that are rotting. After the eggs hatch, the larvae stage begins, and they dine on decomposed wood and other composted plants. During the pupae phase, the larvae do not eat. Rather they create a sort of shell and slowly change into adult beetles. When they are ready for adulthood, they break out of their shell using their horns. These unusual looking insects feast on rotting fruit and sap from trees. This fact is important to our planet because these beetles recycle a great deal of plant material!

Guanacaste Stick Insect
Class: Insecta
Order: Phasmatodea
Family: (many)

stick insect            There are literally thousands of species of stick insects (also called walking sticks) on earth. The guanacaste is one of the more common stick critters found in Costa Rica. Just like the name says, this insect looks so much like a stick, predators have a difficult time spotting them. Different varieties of stick insects can measure close to 2 feet long! But their color matches that of the trees they live in, making them difficult to see.
            Walking sticks are nocturnal, and sleep most of the day. Some pretend they are dead to fool their enemies, – birds. When laying their eggs, many females drop them in hard to reach places or spread them out over large areas, so they cannot all be eaten at once by predators. The eggs go to the nymph stage and then adulthood, an incomplete metamorphosis. The greatest threat to these fascinating insects is the increase in people capturing them to sell as pets or to display them in picture frames like butterflies.

            Volcanoes are mountains formed by eruptions of lava and ash. Pressure from gas and heat builds under lightweight molten rock forcing it upward into an eruption. Lava can shoot upward into the sky and pour down the slopes of the volcano, flowing for many miles. Tiny particles from a volcanic eruption can fly thousands of miles away from the volcano before settling onto the ground. Volcanoes that are not erupting are called dormant. A scientist who studies volcanoes is known as a volcanologist.

There are 3 volcanic ranges in Costa Rica.

volcanoGuanacaste Range contains these volcanoes:
Ricon de la Vieja Orosi Volcano (active)
Miravalles Volcano (inactive)
Tenorio Volcano (inactive)
Arenal Volcano (active)

Central Volcanic Range contains
Poas Volcano (active)
Barva Volcano (inactive)
Irazu Volcano (active)
Turrialba Volcano (inactive)

Talamanca Range
El Viejo (inactive)


         Costa Rica is known as one of the world’s top nations for conservation efforts. Approximately 25% of this country is protected wildlife. Given the fact that Costa Rica has 5% of the world’s biodiversity, conservation is crucial. Biologists and other scientists from all over the world share a great interest in Costa Rica’s wildlife. There are numerous conservation organizations throughout Costa Rica that work to raise the awareness of the importance of the preservation of its natural environment. This country was one of the first in the world to establish an eco-tourism industry. Visitors spend money in Costa Rica, which helps provide much-needed funds to help preserve the forests. 
         Deforestation and hunting have been the greatest threats to the rainforests. However, the rate of deforestation has greatly decreased in recent years. But there is still a long way to go. Despite strict laws, the illegal removal of plants and animals from the forests continues throughout Costa Rica and the world.
         You can do your share to help protect the forests of Costa Rica and the rest of the world by understanding the importance of preserving our natural resources. Then thousands of animals, including millipedes like Lilly, can enjoy the forest for many years to come!