Nosara’s Top 10 Snakes
These elusive, and often misunderstood creatures truly are the stuff of ancient and modern legend. The estimated 2,900 recorded species on earth, is testament to the fact they are the most adaptive reptiles in existence. From lowlands, jungle, rainforest, wetlands and volcanic mountain slopes you can find them throughout all of Costa Rica, and out of the 139 native species only 22 are venomous.
A few decades ago a bite from a venomous snake was seriously bad news. Since the founding of the Clodomiro Picado Institute in 1970, the decline in snake bite victim mortality has been huge. Modern estimates now indicate that only 1% of the approximate 500 recorded snake bites per year are fatal.
When living in a region where snakes are so common it’s good to know what to look out for; who better to guide us, than bombero member and snake catcher Ryan Bombard? Himself and his colleagues are steadily gaining recognition as the first port of call for people looking to have a snake catch and relocated. “First and foremost we’re environmentalists” says Bombard. “However the vast majority of Costa Rican snake bite victims are attacked while trying to kill or relocate them. As well as trying to save snakes from people we’re trying to save the people from snakes.”
For instance a Coral snake is an elapid and has black eyes. However, determining this often involves getting way too close” says Bombard. “People often forget that every snake in existence is a carnivore,” he continues. “Their mouths are loaded with infectious bacteria, and just because a snake isn’t venomous does not exempt it from wanting to bite you.” The message is simple: unless you have a PHD in herpetology, or otherwise know EXACTLY what you’re looking for, then put away the field guide you purchased at the airport and call the professionals.
Central American Boa Constrictor
This species flourishes in a wide variety of conditions, from tropical rainforests through to semi-desert. It is a capable swimmer and habitats include river banks, streams, mangroves, treetops and animal burrows. Although their diet mainly consists of lizards, reptiles, birds and mammals, it can also prey as large as ocelots.
The Boa constrictor can grow between 3-13 feet depending on the availability of it’s prey. For the most part Boa Constrictors are nocturnal ambush predators. After the Boa Constrictor strikes and grips its prey, it will “constrict”, until it dies from lack of blood to the heart and brain, after which the boa will consume it whole.
Vine snake green / brown – bejuquilla
This beautiful, long, slender, arboreal snake is endemic to Central and South America comes in different colors of either green or brown and can reach lengths of up to 2 meters. Despite possessing mild toxins in it’s saliva, this snake is harmless to humans. They use their tail to hold on to branches when performing a bungee-esque technique of striking from above. The vine snake possesses two large, toxin emitting teeth in the rear of it’s mouth which it uses to immobilize it’s prey.
Western ribbon snake (Thamnophis proximus)
This non-venomous species of garter snake grows up to 125cm. Ribbon snake can be identified by three light yellowish stripes along the length of it’s brown, black and olive body. This snakes belly is an immaculate white. It is an active predator which hunts amphibians, toads, frogs and larvae by sight. Although this snake is harmless to humans, it can to emit a pungent liquid if cornered.
Yellow Rat Snake, Spilotes pullatus
Also known as the “Chicken Snake” this large, nonvenomous serpent is endemic to the whole of Mesoamerica. It is both arboreal and terrestrial and inhabits rainforest and water catchment areas. Adults reach up to 9 feet long and are identified by the yellow, cross-banded spots over a layer of black. This snake´s favored prey include small mammals, birds, lizards, reptiles and eggs.
Mildly Venomous (harmless to humans)
Lyre Snake – Culebra gata
Found in rocky crevices throughout South and Central America this snake is often misidentified for it’s highly venomous doppelganger, the toboba pit viper. In addition to similar markings, the Lyre snake also flattens it’s head when angry and shakes it’s tail to mimic the sound of a rattle. These secretive, and elusive snakes are excellent climbers and feed on lizards, rodents, and even bats. Although the Lyre snake is mildly venomous it has no fangs and poses zero danger to humans.
Ringed snail eaters – false coral – Oxyrhopus petola
You can find nocturnal, semi-arboreal species in almost every natural and artificial habitat type within it’s range, often close to bodies of water. Adults may reach 90cm, and although markings vary slightly, they usually consist of a combination of black and red rings. It´s common for people to confuse them with coral snakes.
As with any snake, if you see one it’s best just to leave it alone, however, for identification purposes remember that the red band of true Coral snakes is bordered by a yellow stripe, whereas these guys do not possess the distinct yellow cross-banded marking. If all else fails remember the old rhyme: “Red on yellow kills a fellow, red on black – venom lack!”
CA neotropical Rattlesnake – Cascabel – Crotalus simus
Revered by ancient Mesoamerican cultures as a symbol of fertility, you can find this highly venomous Pit Viper in woodlands and tropical forests. Males are larger than females and commonly exceed 130cm. This snake’s diet incudes rodents, mammals, lizards, reptiles and birds, all of which are killed or paralyzed by the injection of venom. Although the Cascabel strikes without warning, this snake is reclusive and fatal attacks on humans are rare.
Coral Snake – Serpiente Coral
This snake has some of the most toxic venom and spends the majority of it’s time buried underground in holes, or in piles of rotting leaves, coming to surface only when it rains or in breeding season. Their habitats include tropical woodland, scrub areas, and swamps, also it’s not unheard of for them to venture into residential areas. Even being extremely dangerous the Coral snake has a placid nature and will not strike without provocation.
Slender hognosed pit viper – Toboba Chinga – Porthidium ophryomegas
This terrestrial, nocturnal, highly venomous Pit Viper is found in thorn scrub, dry forests, tropical forests and lowland regions from Costa Rica. Patterns consist of brown tan alongside grayish brown, with a body length vertebral stripe with opposing white bordered, black blotches extending at right angles along the vertebral line. Although this snake is not really aggressive, they will defend themselves if cornered and strike with such force that their body leaves the ground.
Yellow bellied sea snake – serpiente del mar – Pelamis platura
This aquatic snake is one of the most widely distributed snakes on the planet. It’s distribution patterns cover the entire tropical Indo-Pacific, and also a habitat range stretching from Southern California to Northern Peru. Although it is entirely pelagic it often comes closer to shore to give birth. The favorite spot for this snakes is sheltered coves and tidal pools, and it is not uncommon for these snakes to be spotted in and around the Playa Guiones tidal pools. Despite possessing one of the most potent neurotoxins known to science attacks on humans are incredibly rare.
In case of a snake emergency call the Bomberos on 8709-0614.
Eager to know more about Nosara’s unique creatures? Learn more about some bird species you will find here!