Course Description

Course Name

Land Vertebrates of Costa Rica

Session: VSJW1120

Hours & Credits


Prerequisites & Language Level

Taught In English

  • There is no language prerequisite for courses at this language level.


Course name: Land Vertebrates of Costa Rica
Course code: ENV 3120
Total contact hours: 60 hours

This course is an introduction to the zoology of terrestrial vertebrates in Costa Rica. Students will gain insight about various biological characteristics of the groups of land chordates in the country. Costa Rica has an immensely rich animal biodiversity, with an influence of both North American and South American fauna and is a world-renowned hot spot for animal research and conservation. Emphasis will be given to the study of Costa Rican species, but others will be discussed as well.

1) Learn about the origins and basic characteristics of the Vertebrata group
2) Recognize the different groups of land vertebrates in the country and their characteristics
3) Study and recognize the specific vertebrate species that live in the different Costa Rican terrestrial environments
4) Learn about the survival and conservation status of key animal groups in the country

UNIT I. What is a Vertebrate?
1. Evolution of Vertebrates
2. Basic characteristics of the Vertebrata group
3. Groups of Vertebrates in the world and Costa Rica
UNIT II. Amphibians
1. Evolution
2. Basic characteristics
3. Ecology
4. Amphibians in Costa Rica
a) Gymnophiona
b) Caudata
c) Anura
UNIT III. Reptiles
1. Evolution
2. Basic characteristics
3. Ecology
4. Reptiles in Costa Rica
a) Squamata
b) Testudinata
c) Crocodilia
UNIT IV. Birds
1. Evolution
2. Basic characteristics
3. Ecology
4. Birds in Costa Rica
a) Tinamiformes
b) Anseriformes
c) Apodiformes
d) Caprimulgiformes
e) Charadriiformes
f) Ciconiiformes
g) Columbiformes
h) Coraciiformes
i) Cuculiformes
j) Falconiformes
k) Galliformes
l) Gruiformes
m) Passeriformes
n) Pelecaniformes
o) Piciformes
p) Podicipediformes
q) Procellariiformes
r) Psittaciformes
s) Strigiformes
t) Trogoniformes
UNIT V. Mammals
1. Evolution
2. Basic characteristics
3. Ecology
4. Mammals in Costa Rica
a) Didelphimorphia
b) Chiroptera
c) Artiodactyla
d) Carnivora
e) Cingulata
f) Lagomorpha
g) Perissodactyla
h) Pilosa
i) Primates
j) Rodentia
k) Sirenia


Students are only allowed 2 absences (justified or not). The student will fail the course if he/she has more than 2 absences. Students will have a 0 on any assignment evaluated in class (presentations, evaluations, field trips, etc.) if he/she is absent in this class (including fieldtrips), unless an official document is presented to justify the absence the class after the absence. In this case the assignment will be done this day.

Individual Presentation
Students will have to make an individual presentation (power point) through the course. The presentation must be about any subject concerning tropical ecology, approved by the professor. It must last about 15 min and should be emailed to the professor the day before. The professor, depending on the subject will assign the date for the presentation. The class will assign 30% of the grade and the professor will assign the remaining 70%.

For All Presentations:
It will be evaluated based on preparation (knowledge assimilation), presentation style (organization, smoothness, and clarity), slides (clarity, aesthetics), finishing the presentation in time, and answering questions. All presentations must be made on the assigned date, if not the grade will be 0 (unless the absence is justified).

Debates will be by groups which will depend on the number of students in the class. Half of the students will adopt the PRO side while the other half adopts the CON side. There will be 25 min per debate: 4 min per side for opening statements, 4 min per side for counter-arguments to each other's opening statement, and 4 min per side for closing remarks. The grade for the debate will be assigned by the course professor (70%) and the class (30%).

This course includes two mandatory Laboratory Field Trips: (choices will depend on climate and animal activity); probably one in the Pacific side, and one in the Caribbean side of the country. Lodging and main meals are covered by the course,
The mandatory fieldtrips in this course are not excursions. Only students enrolled in this course may attend. Field work might include volunteer work such as trail cleaning, late night species monitoring, long walks on beaches or dense vegetation areas and other tasks that might be considered harsh or strenuous for students who have not taken an environmental science course or have not done fieldwork. Students must be on time for all fieldtrip related activities including departure, return and scheduled meal times. All though many of the reserves and parks have nearby modest lodge accommodations some of the stations or research areas might require tent lodging. Some of the national parks and reserves are in far away areas of the country or places with difficult access so students who get motion sickness from long bus rides might be uncomfortable in these fieldtrips.

Fieldtrip Grade
Students will carry small note books to write down anything they see or learn while in the field and what they think about it. Each person?s journal will be unique to them, not only in that you will each notice different things, but you will each interpret similar things differently. This journal will help the students write their fieldtrip report, which is a formal paper of your journal information.
The fieldtrip report (70% of the fieldtrip grade) contains information of what the student sees and learns in the fieldtrip and what they think about the fieldtrip. The report should be no less than two 1.5-spaced pages (not including images) with #12 Times New Roman font, in letter size pages
Additionally, the behavior during the fieldtrip (30% of the fieldtrip grade) will be evaluated (punctuality, participation, etc.)

For all Written Assignments
All written assignments will be uploaded to Moodle. All assignments will have a deadline to be sent, and will not be received after this deadline, without exceptions. It is each student?s responsibility to be aware of the deadline (shown on Moodle for each assignment).
Electronic devices:
The use of cell phones, smart phones, or other mobile communication devices is disruptive, and is therefore prohibited during class. Please turn all devices OFF and put them away when class begins. Devices may be used ONLY when the professor assigns a specific activity and allows the use of devices for internet search or recording. Those who fail to comply with the rule must leave the classroom for the remainder of the class period.

Individual Presentation 10%
Class Participation (debates, quizzes, internet practice) 20%
Midterm Test 20%
Final Test 20%
Field trip 1 15%
Field trip 2 15%

Janzen, H.D. 1983. Costa Rican Natural History. The University of Chicago Press. 789p.
Stiles, G.F. & Skutch A. 2007. Guía de aves de Costa Rica. 4ta. edición Trad. L.
Roselli, illus. D. Garner. Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, Heredia, Costa
Rica. 576 pp.
Savage, Jay M. 2002. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica. The University of
Chicago Press.
Reid, F. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico

*Course content subject to change