Costa Rica is world renowned for it’s abundance of wildlife, none more colorful and dazzling than its diverse population of frog species. The red eyed tree frog is perhaps one of the country’s most iconic and famous residents, embodying the beauty and wonder of the rainforest. Costa Rica is home to more than 150 known species of frogs and toads of all families and appearances but researchers believe there are countless more yet discovered. While not all of them are brightly colored or particularly sought after by tourists they all play a vital role in the health of the forests. Costa Rica can be considered the best location in all of Central America for viewing these incredible amphibians.
During my month long journey across Costa Rica I focused numerous days and nights seeking out the most unique and dazzling frogs I could find and I barely scratched the surface!
Red-Eyed Tree Frog
Also called the red-eyed leaf frog or gaudy leaf frog, it’s easily distinguished by it’s vibrant colors and bright red eyes. Costa Rica has 43 species of tree frogs, none of which more famous. They can be found throughout most of the country and I was view them in nearly every location I went. They sleep through the day hanging on the underside of large tree leaves and are very well camouflaged. Each night at dusk as the forest darkens they awake and begin making a loud, distinct call. Once you learn and recognize their calls they become fairly easy to locate and view, but their calls are short lived and once night falls they’re not quite as noisy. Costa Rica’s most iconic amphibians is one you should definitely look out for when you visit!
Poison Dart Frogs
Costa Rica has 8 known species of poison dart frogs, also commonly called poison arrow frogs. These another of the most beautiful and well-known frog families in the country. A common misconception is that if you touch these frogs you will be poisoned and die. The toxicity of the poison depends on the sub-species, and the poison of Costa Rica’s dart frogs isn’t strong enough to penetrate through unbroken skin. However, you’re better off not risking it as you may have tiny cuts you’re unaware of, and these frogs are small, fragile and best left unhandled and viewed from distance.
Most frogs are active only at night when it is cooler and wetter but the dart frogs are active throughout the daylight hours. They avoid direct sunlight so that they don’t dehydrate, and are commonly found in damp soil, under leaf litter and on mossy foliage. I was also able to find these throughout the country’s forests. They are quite shy and will leap away as you approach.
Glass frogs aren’t as colorful as the aforementioned frogs but what they lack in color they make up for in spades with uniqueness. These tiny frogs have the most memorizing eyes, bright reflective skin, and many of them are translucent enough underneath to see through their skin and look at their internal organs. There are 14 species of known glass frogs in Costa Rica and they are much harder for the untrained person to locate. Many of the glass frog species live high up in tree branches directly above small creeks and streams. They watch over and protect their eggs until they hatch and drop into the water below. With the help of several expert guides and researchers I was able to find and locate several different species in the wild; and they quickly became my favorite kind of frogs!
I wasn’t able to see all 14 species though, and I will definitely be back to search for them again. Two of the most beautiful and unique glass frogs the eluded me were the newly discovered Kermit the Frog look-alike; and my favorite of all the ghost glass frog.
Lemur Leaf Frog
The lemur leaf frog is another of the world’s most stunning with it’s bulging bright silvery-white eyes. Its body also changes colors after being exposed to light from a darker, duller green to the more brightly spotted lime green you see pictured above. These frogs also lack webbing between their digits on the hands and feet.
Lemur frog populations have dramatically declined, due likely to chytridiomycosis an infectious disease caused from fungus that has wreaked havoc on Costa Rica’s amphibian populations in recent years; even causing the complete extinction of some species. One of the last known places in Costa Rica (and the world) you can find these amazing frogs is at Brian Kubicki’s Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center. I met him and was able to see these beautiful frogs in the wild firsthand. Brian is actively researching and taking steps to help save these frogs before they possibly vanish forever.
There are some conservation projects in the works to help save the lemur frog from extinction, as noble of a cause as there can be, if you’re interested in helping out please take a look at these:
- Project Lemur frog – LemurFrog.org
- Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center – CRAmphibian.com
- Amphibian Ark – AmphibianArk.org
Splendid Leaf Frog
The aptly named splendid leaf frog is the largest frog on my list by far. In addition to being large, they stand out because of their bright black and orange/yellow body markings. Sometimes referred to as a splendid treefrog they are considered extremely difficult to find in the wild and your best chance at seeing them will require a very skilled, expert guide. I only found these frogs in one place, again at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center and thanks to the help of Mr. Kubicki. Although they were once threatened with extinction conservation programs have helped bring back wild populations.
Where to Find Frogs in Costa Rica
Frogs can be found all over the country so you’ll need to decide how to focus your efforts. Some frogs are only found in very specific regions and habitats. Additionally some species are extremely rare and difficult to find in the wild. I’m going to give you my personal recommendations on where and how I had the most luck.
Destination 1: Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center – Guayacán Rainforest Reserve
American researcher and conservationist Brian Kubicki owns and operates C.R.A.R.C. He has been generous enough to open his land to visitors and even offers limited accommodation and tours. Due to his busy schedule and my own lack of planning I only had a single day and night to spend there. When night fell Brian took me out for a few hours and showed me the artificial habitats set up for his rescued lemur leaf frogs. Along the way he spotted more than a dozen and a half different frog species. This is probably the single best place in Central America to visit for amphibian lovers and Brian has a wealth of knowledge to share. Some of the frog species I saw that night included:
- Red Eyed Tree Frogs
- Hourglass Tree Frogs
- Lemur Leaf Frogs
- Splendid Tree Frogs
- Lancaster’s Tree Frog
- Rufous-Eyed Brook Frog
- Spiny Cochran Frogs
- Reticulated Glass Frogs
Destination 2: Manuel Antonio – Pacific Coast
With the help of expert guide Brian Jimenez I spent 5 nights in the forests near Manuel Antonio and was able to observe many species of frogs (and snakes) in the wild. Brian is by far the best wildlife guide I encountered not only in Costa Rica but anywhere in the world. I highly recommend him if frogs and snakes are of interest to you. Some of the frogs he was able to help me find:
- Red Eyed Tree Frog
- Emerald Glass Frog
- Fitzinger’s Robber Frog
- Golfodulcean Poison Dart Frog
- Smokey Jungle Frog
- Masked Tree Frog
- Hourglass Tree Frog
- Green and Black Poison Dart Frog
- Panama Cross-banded Tree Frog
- Rosenberg’s Gladiator Tree Frog
- Boulenger’s Snouted Tree Frog
Destination 3: La Selva Biological Station – Caribbean lowlands
Far from some of the more popular tourist areas of the country is the La Selva Research Station. Home mostly to researchers and university students studying the primary rainforest. The guides for hire at La Selva are mostly into bird-watching, something the station is famous for. With it’s large communal kitchen and common area I was able to interact with researchers and students and quickly found one whom was studying frogs. He took me out and helped find several species of glass frogs. With the daylight hours to myself I was also able to find numerous strawberry dart frogs and later at night red-eyed tree frogs.
- Red Eyed Tree Frogs
- Strawberry Poison-Dart Frogs
- Glass Frogs
Destination 4: Limon – Carribbean Coast
Without the aid of a guide and nearing the end of my trip I didn’t spend a lot of night out in Limon.However, with Cahuita National Park and Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge both in the area there are great opportunities for frog finding abound.
I stayed at the La Kukula Lodge just outside of Puerto Viejo town and it was there scene of nightly frog croaks from many red-eyed tree frogs just footsteps away from my door. The first night I counted more than a dozen of them within 30 minutes; along with three hourglass tree frogs. The lodge is owned and operated by a lovely couple and they often see sloths on the property too. Notable species spotted in the area included:
- Red Eyed Tree Frogs
- Hourglass Tree Frogs
- Strawberry Poison-Dart Frogs
- Striped Poison-Dart Frogs
- Chiriqui Robber Frog
- Rainforest Rocket Frog
Disappearing Frog Populations
Amphibians such as frogs are highly susceptible to environmental changes, more so than almost any other animals. Over one-third of amphibian species are threatened globally and there has been drastic declines in amphibian populations all over the world including Costa Rica. While there are multiple factors to blame such as habitat loss, invasive predators, and the infectious fungus chytridiomycosis another serious threat looms – climate change.
The La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, monitored amphibian populations for decades. Free from the deadly fungus or habitat destruction, this protected reserve has seen amphibian and reptile populations nosedive by 75% in just 35 years. The cause? Warmer and wetter weather. As the impact of global climate change unfolds in the future we may see many of the most vulnerable amphibian populations vanish before our eyes.
Discussions with researches were optimistic though. Costa Rica and Central America still hold vast forest valleys and mountains that remain untouched from humans and new species of frogs and amphibians are still being discovered. Some frog species have even come back from supposed extinction.
Make sure you check out the full photo gallery with
Lots More Pictures of Costa Rica’s Frogs