Central America is one of my favorite parts of the world. From the rainforests and wild jungles to the Pacific Ocean on one side and Caribbean Sea on the other, the landscape here is as diverse as the people, languages, history, culture, and cuisine. From north to south, the countries of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama make up this lush region between North and South America. There's so much to see and explore here, one could easily spend a lifetime discovering this region alone and never see the same place twice.
But with all that wild and lush landscape comes some creepy, crawly critters that may decide to pay you a visit inside your eco-lodge room at night. There's no shortage of insects in Central America. Even the most chic accommodations out there won't necessarily shield you from some of the smaller residents who call this place home, and were here long before you decided to visit. Here's some of what you might find - but KEEP CALM and DON'T PANIC! Here is also what to do if you find them.
Poisonous Dart Frogs
Several types of poisonous dart frogs exist in Central America, but most are not poisonous to humans, unless of course you happen to ingest the toxic substance on their skin. Depending on the species, they can be yellow, copper, gold, red, blue, green, black or a combination of those colors. Of the several hundred species in the world, only a few have toxic effects that could kill a human being. If you accidentally touch one, wash the affected area with soap and an antibacterial lotion.
Shoe & Clothing Dwellers
I learned this lesson below a few years ago in Costa Rica, seconds before I slipped my toe-sies inside my Keens for the day: always - ALWAYS - check and shake out your clothing and shoes before you put them on! Though they're not known to be poisonous, a Halloween Crab claw on my toe would not have been pleasant, I can tell you that!
Have you ever seen this interesting insect? There are over 3,000 varieties around the world, but in Costa Rica they're commonly green or brown, and they camouflage themselves to mimic local tree branches and twigs. They're interesting, slow moving, and not at all harmful. The best thing to do is take a quick pic and let them alone to move on. If it freaks you out to have them around, simply pick it up at the tail end away from its antennae and place it outside.
I found this interesting looking bug in our cabina in Costa Rica, looking a little green around the gills :-) This is a Hooded Praying Mantis, and his size alone was impressive - about 6-7" from head to tail. Although he was cool to look at, I would have freaked out if this thing had landed directly on me!!
This Giant Cane Toad was waiting for me near our bed one morning, and I was immediately struck by his amazing blue eyes! Seriously! Aren't they cool? But they're an invasive species in Costa Rica (and other parts of the world), brought there to control pests in the banana plantations near Limon, but eventually they became pests themselves. They emit a toxin through their skin called bufo toxin, so if you see one, don't pick it up. If you do come into contact with one, wash your skin immediately with soap and antibacterial lotion.
OK, I've saved the worst for last! Scorpions literally make me feel sick to my stomach. I think it's because of my first experience with Black Scorpions in Belize, when several of them got inside our cabana at night, hidden inside the folds of the window drapes. One swipe with a flip-flop and they were toast. Apparently, they're extremely fragile and almost disintegrated on the floor. Unfortunately, no one mentioned at our eco-hotel that we might run into them before we went to bed, and we spent the entire night awake in our bed thinking we'd be dead by morning with a single sting. It wasn't until the next morning when we were told their sting was similar to that of a bee - a bad sting, but generally not life-threatening.
Still, it's important to know you might encounter these guys in Central America, and to being along your Epi-Pen if you use one. This Brown Scorpion was in our room in Costa Rica, hiding among the wooden louvers of the bathroom door. He appeared just hours after we commented to someone at dinner how we'd never seen scorpions in Costa Rica! The next morning at breakfast, this is how Philip the Resident Naturalist described being stung by a scorpion - "You'll feel a stabbing pain for about 10 seconds, followed by massive throbbing for 20 minutes or so, and then you're done!"
It's always good to know just what you're in for when you visit the jungles of Central America!