Home North America Costa Rica 7 Venomous & Deadly Snakes You May Encounter in Costa Rica

7 Venomous & Deadly Snakes You May Encounter in Costa Rica

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Costa Rica is beautiful. The luscious jungle is exotic and the tropical beaches are to die for. But don’t let the dreamy picture-postcard image lull you into a false sense of security. There are deadly and venomous snakes in Costa Rica that you could encounter during your visit!

Costa Rica’s ecosystem is incredibly diverse. The rich and dense habitats throughout the country provide a perfect environment for some of the world’s most weird and wonderful creatures, across both land and sea. With over 800 species of birds, 200 species of mammals, and 400 types of reptiles and amphibians, it’s no wonder that there are dangerous animals in Costa Rica to watch out for.

But let’s leave the spiders, crocodiles, and bull sharks out of this today. Instead, our focus is on graceful and mystifying serpents. Knowing the species of snakes in Costa Rica before you travel could save you an unfortunate run-in.

So without further ado, here are the 7 most venomous snakes in Costa Rica you need to know about!

Fer de Lance

Fer de Lance is one of the most dangerous snakes in Costa Rica
Photo by Bernard DUPONT from WikiCommons
Latin nameBothrops asper
AttacksStrong venom delivered through a quick and strong bite
TreatmentAntivenin from a medical professional
Where to findEverywhere around Costa Rica
Conservation statusLeast concern

Colloquially known as a terciopelo in Costa Rica, the fer de lance is one of the most dangerous snake species in the world. The fer de lance species packs a powerful venom, however, what makes them so dangerous is its omnipresence. These snakes can be found just about everywhere in Costa Rica!

Encounters with a fer de lance are extremely likely, especially for casual hikers and day-trippers exploring the natural sights. These snakes are perfectly camouflaged with their mottled brown skin, hiding them from unsuspecting victims in most environments.

A fer de lance can grow up to 2 meters in length and is a species known for aggressive behavior. If provoked, these snakes will bite and release venom through the fangs. This then leads to a series of painful events, including:

  • Searing pain
  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Internal bleeding
  • Infection (leading to amputation)
  • Death (in extreme cases)

Treatment of antivenin is required as soon as possible. While fatalities are rare, the fer de lance snake’s venom is strong enough to kill an adult if left untreated.

Coral Snake

The bright color banded Coral Snake is one of the most dangerous snakes in Costa Rica
Photo by JoelAmaya from WikiCommons
Latin nameMicrurus alleni
AttacksStrong venom delivered through a chewing motion, rather than a bite
TreatmentAntivenin from a medical professional
Where to findUnder rocks, leaf piles, or in underground burrows across the dry spaces of Costa Rica
Conservation statusLeast concern

Coral snakes are bright and bold, so easy to identify! These snakes are distinct with red, yellow, and black bands across their 1-meter long body. There are over 80 varieties of coral snakes across the world, four of which are often found in the forestry areas of Costa Rica.

Unlike the fer de lance, coral snakes are much more reclusive, so encounters are rare. If provoked or threatened, however, a coral snake will attack. Behind their fangs is a strong neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system of the victim.

A bite from a coral snake will cause a sensation similar to pins and needles and pain in the area of the bite. This can then develop into a loss of movement of the limb, drowsiness, loss of speech, or respiratory arrest if left untreated. It’s highly advised you seek medical attention if you are bitten by a coral snake.

Make note there are some lookalike species that coral snakes are easily confused with: king snake and tropical milk snake. Both of these are completely harmless. However, we still advise you never to approach a red, yellow, and black banded snake when visiting Costa Rica.

Eyelash Palm Pit Viper

The eyelash palm pitviper is small but one of the most dangerous snakes in Costa Rica
Photo by Rklawton from WikiCommons
Latin nameBothriechis shclegelii
AttacksStrong hemotoxic venom that destroys blood cells
TreatmentAntivenin from a medical professional
Where to findUnder rocks, leaf piles, or in underground burrows across the Costa Rican jungle
Conservation statusLeast concern

The eyelash palm pit viper is a commonly sighted snake in Costa Rica, primarily in vine tangles and low branches. The distinct crest over the eye explains the name while the striking color makes them easy to identify. Eyelash palm pit vipers are typically bright yellow, but can vary to pale pink, and have a triangular head.

These snakes are relatively small when compared to other species found in Costa Rica. On average, the eyelash palm pit viper grows up to 2.5 feet (approximately 70-80cm). But don’t let their smaller size fool you, these snakes are still deadly if an unlucky run-in happens.

Eyelash vipers stock a strong hemotoxic venom that destroys blood cells and blood vessels of the victim. While these snakes don’t often attack humans, their bite can be extremely painful and even fatal in some cases. The eyelash palm viper will only attack humans when threatened or stood on.

Hog-nosed Pit Viper

Photo by M. Hedin from Wiki Commons
Latin namePorthidium nasutum
AttacksStrong hemotoxic venom that destroys blood cells
TreatmentAntivenin from a medical professional
Where to findCosta Rica’s damp undergrowth and lowland rainforest
Conservation statusLeast concern

Another pitviper species of venomous snakes found in Costa Rica is the hog-nosed variety. These snakes share a lot of characteristics with the eyelash palm. Hog-nosed pit vipers are another small Central American snake, averaging around 50 cm in length.

The head is broad, triangular when viewed from above, with prominent scales around the nose. Colors vary from brown or grey, with patterned blotches in either triangular or square shape.

Hog-nosed pit vipers can be found in the lowland rainforest, in the damp undergrowth. So, it’s highly advised hikers stick to well-trodden paths to avoid accidentally disturbing this snake. While its venom isn’t the strongest, a snake bite from a hog-nosed pt viper will still be painful and uncomfortable.

Central American Jumping Pit Viper

Central American Jumping Pit Viper
Photo by Yinan Chen from WikiCommons
Latin nameAtropoides mexicanus
AttacksA mild venom that can cause mild swelling
TreatmentWarm water rinse
Where to findCosta Rica lowland rainforest
Conservation statusLeast concern

The jumping pit viper is one of the more fascinating snakes found in Costa Rica. This species has an extremely thick body with a broad head and rounded snout. Colors typically consist of grey-brown or reddish-brown – sometimes with a yellow, cream, purplish brown, or black – also covered with a range of lateral and dorsal blotches.

Unlike other species of venomous snakes, this jumping pit viper does not quickly release after biting its victim. Instead, it proceeds to chew, keeping hold of its grip, administering more toxin into its prey. Some force is required to pry this snake off if you’re bitten.

However, the good news is the venom is not going to kill you! (Some locals even believe this snake is non-venomous.) Effects of the venom typically cause mild swelling and a brief amount of pain. They also give plenty of warning before they strike, as they don’t mean to be aggressive. So if you’re facing an open-mouth jumping pit viper, be sure to retreat backward and give them their space.

Central American Rattlesnake

Central American Rattlesnake
Photo by Ben Lunsford from WikiCommons
Latin nameCrotalus simus
AttacksA strong venom that can cause severe pain, swelling, and more
TreatmentAntivenin from a medical professional
Where to findDry arid spaces in forests and bushland
Conservation statusLeast concern

Flat nosed with an infamous rattle to its tail, the Central American rattlesnake (also known as the neotropical rattlesnake) is another venomous pitviper species found in Costa Rica worth mentioning. These snakes can grow up to 2 meters in length and are found in semiarid habitats, including dry or very dry tropical forests.

Mayans were known to have used the rattlesnake in medicinal practices. They also symbolized the “unknown” and are depicted in many temple carvings across Central and South America.

But of course, the venom is potent and can cause serious harm to anyone unlucky to receive a dose. Symptoms after a bite include:

  • Severe pain
  • Massive swelling
  • Blistering
  • Necrosis leading to amputations
  • Kidney failure (in severe cases)

So make sure you’re keeping an ear open to listen out for the rattle. You definitely don’t want to experience this part of Costa Rica!

Bushmaster

Bushmaster
Photo by TimVickers from WikiCommons
Latin nameLachesis stenophrys
AttacksAn average venom administered through multiple strikes
TreatmentAntivenin from a medical professional
Where to findDamp and dark rainforest environments
Conservation statusLeast concern

Last but not least, the bushmaster. This is another deadly snake found in Costa Rica and throughout the Americas. This snake stands out from the rest due to its aggressive attacking behavior. The bushmaster doesn’t just strike once, but rather a number of times in quick succession.

When this deadly reptile strikes repeatedly, its venom is powerful enough to lead to the death of most prey. Fortunately, this snake is nocturnal and so encounters with humans remain extremely rare.

Bushmaster snakes are the longest snake species found in Costa Rica growing up to a whopping 3 meters in length. These large snakes are often reddish/brown, allowing them to blend seamlessly into the forest floor. The markings are somewhat similar to the boa constrictor and mistaken identification is common.

Top Tips For Surviving Snakes In Costa Rica

green snake
Photo by Alfonso Castro on Unsplash

Don’t let the snakes of Costa Rica put you off visiting! As long as you keep your wits about you, then you’re sure to stay safe while visiting this beautiful Central American country. Just remember some keys points if you’re planning to venture into the Costa Rican jungle:

  1. When hiking, always wear appropriate footwear. Never wear sandals! The best footwear for trekking through the tropics is mid-calf / high-knee boots.
  2. Never attempt to pick up a snake.
  3. If you see a snake in Costa Rica, give them plenty of space and do your best not to disturb or threaten them.
  4. In the unfortunate event of a snake bite, be sure to seek urgent medical attention, taking note of the color and markings of the snake that attacked you.

FAQs

How common are snake bites in Costa Rica?

On average, there are 500 recorded snake bites per year in Costa Rica. The majority of these snake bites are from poverty-afflicted communities. WHO recognizes the social and economic correlation and is working towards reducing the number of snakebites in Costa Rica by strengthening health systems and improving community education.

Should I be worried about snakes in Costa Rica?

Visitors to Costa Rica should be aware of the risk of snakes but should not let that worry them while on vacation. Most snake species are found in the jungle and rainforests, so if you’re planning on trekking and hiking, then stick to well-trodden paths to avoid accidentally disturbing snakes. Most snakes will not choose to attack humans for no reason.

What is the most dangerous snake in Costa Rica?

The most dangerous snake in Costa Rica is the fer de lance (bothrops). The venom this snake packs is lethal, strong enough to cause serious harm to the unlucky victim. The bushmaster and neotropical rattlesnake are also incredibly dangerous snakes in Costa Rica and should be avoided at all costs.