Learning about Mammals of Costa Rica (part 1)

A few years ago, I fantasized the U.S. exiled me.  I chose Costa Rica over Canada as my new country of residence because of the more pleasant climate.  I even went so far as to search for a Costa Rican house online, and I found a nice 1 for $90,000–the equivalent value of my actual house (property values in Richmond County, Georgia are much lower compared to those of most of the rest of the country).  The ad for the house mentioned monkeys and coatis in the back yard.  For my birthday this year, I purchased a copy of The Mammals of Costa Rica to learn about what animals I might see, if the U.S. ever exiles me.  There are many species I never even heard of or only knew about vaguely.

8 species of opossums live in Costa Rica.  The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) reaches the southern limits of its range in Costa Rica, but a similar species (D. marsupialis) takes its place further south.  The woolly opossum (Caluromys derbianus) lives in trees and are monkey-like with large brains, forward setting eyes, and prehensile tails.  There are 2 species each of 4-eyed opossums and mouse opossums.  Perhaps the most interesting opossum species is the yapok (Chironectes minimus), an aquatic mammal that feeds upon crustaceans, frogs, fish, and insects.  It has a water-tight pouch to protect its young when it swims, and the young have a low metabolism, so they can survive without much oxygen for a long time.

Mystery Animal Contest: Who Is This Creepy-Handed Yelper ...

A water opossum.

7 species of edentates or xenarthans occur in Costa Rica.  The brown three-toed sloth (Bradypus variagatus) and Hoffman’s two-toed sloth (Choelupus hoffmani) evolved their arboreal lifestyles from 2 completely different ancestral families of extinct ground sloths.  (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/choloepus-tree-sloths-are-closely-related-to-the-largest-extinct-ground-sloths/ ) Biologists believe tree sloths make up the most abundant biomass of any mammals in the region.  This is impressive considering their slow rate of reproduction.  2 species of tree anteaters occupy different niches.  The northern tamandua (Tamandua mexicana) feeds upon ants and termites on the main trunks and larger branches.  They use their large claws to quickly break opens nests and consume insects before too many fiercely armed soldiers show up in defense.  The much lighter silky anteaster (Cyclopes didactylus) feeds upon ants and termites on the outer branches by using a claw to deftly slice open plant stems.  There is little overlap in the species of insects each anteater feeds upon.

Northern tamandua - Wikipedia

A northern tamandua.

Silky anteater - Wikipedia

Silky anteater.  

At least 109 species of bats fly around Costa Rica–almost double the number found in the U.S. and Canada combined.  Included among the sac-winged bats is the ghost bat (Diclidurius albus), a strikingly white creature.  There are also mustached bats, nectar-feeding bats, fruit bats, tiny disk-winged bats, and tent-making bats.  The latter actively make tents from large leaves to keep them dry and sheltered when they rest.  Free-tailed bats don’t occur in colonies as large as those found north of the border. Costa Rica is home to bats familiar to us in the U.S. including myotis and red bats, though they are different species.  But many species are unique.  False vampire bats (Vampyrum spectrum) are predators that kill rodents, birds, lizards, and other bats.  The related frog-eating bat (Trachops cirrhosus) specializes in preying upon frogs and locates them by pinpointing their calls.  True vampire bats (Desmodontinae) do feed on blood.  The fishing bats (Noctilio sp.) really catch minnow-sized fish and will carry them in their cheek pouches.

This Halloween, meet a fishing bat that hunts at sea | Oceana

Greater fishing bat.

4 species of monkeys range across Costa Rica.  Noisy howler monkeys (Alouata paliuru) are the most common.  They evolved to subsist on a diet of mostly leaves, though they eat some fruit.  The largest monkey in Costa Rica, the spider monkey (Atelis geoffoyi), mostly eats fruit but eats some leaves.  It weighs up to 15 lbs.  Squirrel monkeys (Scimmiri ocrstedis) are ominivores that are currently less common because of the pet trade.  The most intelligent monkey is the white-throated capuchin (Cebus capuceaus).  They use tools and have been observed using wooden sticks to kill venomous snakes.  They hunt birds and rodents and will knock squirrels to the ground and tear them apart.  Fruit and other plant foods make up a larger part of their diet, however.  They also use medicinal plants, often rubbing them all over their bodies.

White-throated capuchin | monkey | Britannica

White throated capuchin monkey.


Wainright, Mark

The Mammals of Costa Rica

University of Cornell Press 2007


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2 Responses to “Learning about Mammals of Costa Rica (part 1)”

  1. ina puustinen westerholm Says:

    I hope you..just..take long trip to the area..and then..come back to Georgia..to reconsider your options. However..new ideas..are never..amiss!! ina

  2. klassbenjamin Says:

    Hi Mark
    Very interesting post. Do you have any idea about why camelids, peccaries (excepted collared peccary), tapirs and spectacled bears dissapeaed from North America but survived in South America?

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