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With a plethora of biodiverse national parks spanning the country, there’s a wide array of animals in Panama for visitors to enjoy.
From La Amistad (on the western border with Costa Rica) to Darien National Park (bordering Colombia in the east), the country is filled with more than 10,000 types of plants and hundreds of species of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
Whether you prefer fertile land covered in lush rainforests or tropical beaches surrounded by big, blue ocean, Panama has plenty of natural beauty to spare.
The country’s coast is dotted by islands such as the Bocas del Toro archipelago, Pearl Islands, and San Blas Islands, with abundant marine life to be seen along with the picturesque scenic views.
Here’s a look at some of the more iconic Panama wildlife you may see in this unique land, which serves as a crossroads between North and South America.
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Animals in Panama Guide
- Red-eyed Tree Frog
- Bush Dog
- Giant Anteater
- Green Iguana
- White-Faced Capuchin Monkey
- Morpho Butterflies
- Sea Turtles
- Whale Sharks
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1. RED-EYED TREE FROG
According to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, there are over 200 different species of amphibians found in Panama.
But the Red-eyed Tree Frog is one of the most beloved, with its small green body and the piercing red eyes that give it its name.
In Panama, these little amphibians are commonly spotted in tropical rainforest habitats, usually resting behind large leaves during the day and becoming more active at night.
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2. BUSH DOG
With an appearance more like a large weasel or a very small (around 13 pounds) bear, the bush dog is a relatively rare and unusual native animal of Panama.
They’re very hard to spot, usually preferring to hide in rainforests.
They’re quite fond of the water, and feed on reptiles and small mammals. Sometimes they have been known to hunt for larger mammals (including capybaras) as well.
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The massive capybara is a “rodent of unusual size,” and one species can be found in Panama.
The Panamanian capybara has short brown fur and short limbs. But, at an average of 60 pounds, they’re a bit smaller than their cousins in South America.
The capybara spends a lot of its time near the water and can often be seen near the Chagres River.
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Dolphins are among the smartest creatures on Earth, and the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin is particularly renowned for playful interaction.
They can often be seen off the coast of Panama, swimming in pods and leaping in the waves created by boats.
In addition to the clicking sounds they use for communication, Dolphins known for their speed, agility, and use of echolocation to find prey.
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5. GIANT ANTEATER
Also known as the Ant Bear, the Giant Anteater is a large mammal that can weigh up to 90 pounds.
They’ve got a long, narrow tongue and long snout to match, with a sense of smell 40 times more powerful than that of humans.
These animals can be found throughout much of Central and South America, but in Panama they’re most often spotted in Darien National Park (a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site).
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6. GREEN IGUANA
The Green Iguana is one of many reptiles in Panama and is the most commonly seen.
These ancient-looking lizards love the rainforest, where they feed on plants and fruit.
If you get a chance, visit the Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge– a 58-hectare island reserve located about three miles off the east coast of the Azuero Peninsula.
It’s a great place to find them, as well as thousands of birds and a thriving coral reef system.
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Panama is home to several impressive cat species, but none more formidable than the Jaguar.
These majestic cats are known for their distinctive spots, swimming prowess, and pursuit of many different types of prey along the water.
Unfortunately, the population of Jaguars in Panama and all of Central America are currently on the decline due to human interference, deforestation, and other issues.
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One of the most unusual species of cats in Panama, the Jaguarundi can be found in both arid and rainforest habitats.
They’re considerably smaller and slimmer than Jaguars, measuring up to 30 inches long (not including the tail) and weighing less than 20 pounds.
They have solid coats of fur that may be black, brown, or red.
These cats can usually be found near the water, feeding on various types of small mammals in Panama.
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The Margay is smaller than the other wild cats in Panama, measuring 19 to 30 inches long and weighing less than 10 pounds.
These beautiful spotted cats are best-known for their impressive tree-climbing skills. They can even climb down trees head-first, unlike many other cats.
Though they are mostly nocturnal, daytime sightings of Margays in Panama are not uncommon.
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10. WHITE-FACED CAPUCHIN MONKEY
There are 8 different species of monkeys in Panama, from two kinds of Howler Monkeys and Spider Monkeys to Geoffrey’s Tamarin and more.
The White-headed Capuchin– a small but energetic monkey with a white face and head– is probably the most commonly seen monkey species in Panama.
They’re known for their climbing skills and territorial nature, while Squirrel Monkeys are known for their speed and Panamanian Night Monkeys are easily distinguished by their big eyes.
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11. MORPHO BUTTERFLIES
Bright blue, iridescent wings identify the beloved Morpho butterfly, another species that is commonly seen throughout Panama.
Blue Morphos can be seen flying through the air in the daytime, drinking fruit juice and tree sap, and sampling the air with their antennae.
There are actually more than two dozen subspecies of Morpho butterflies, all of which boasts a dazzling array of color patterns on their wings.
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12. SEA TURTLES
Panama is a popular place for several of the world’s sea turtle species.
Coiba National Park, which is located south of mainland Panama, is visited by four types of sea turtles, including Leatherback, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, and Green Sea Turtles.
The uncrowded beaches of Isla Coiba (the site of a harrowing political prison during the Manuel Noriega years) are a favorite spot for sea turtles to lay their eggs before heading back to the water.
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Sloths come in two different families– two-toed and three-toed.
The Pygmy 3-toed Sloth (one of several varieties found in Panama) is to Isla Escudo de Veraguas, which is located north of mainland Panama.
The Pygmy Sloth is unique for its preferred mangrove forest habitat. But, like other types of sloths, they’re helpless on the ground and surprisingly adept at swimming!
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Looking like a bizarre cross between a pig, a donkey and a rhino, the Tapir can be spotted at numerous national parks and wildlife reserves in Panama.
They can often be found relaxing in forests near bodies of water and mud.
They use their short trunks to grab ahold of food, with fresh fruits among their favorite things to eat.
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15. WHALE SHARKS
Measuring up to 45 feet long and weighing around 40,000 pounds, Whale Sharks are easily the largest fish species in the world.
With a life span of up to 70 years, Whale Sharks are known for their large mouths, which are used to filter-feed on small fish and plankton.
Coiba National Park is one of the few places in Panama where visitors can hope to catch a glimpse of (or have a chance to swim with) these gentle giants during their peak season, which lasts from June through September. –Anika Chaturvedi, Featured image of Bush Dogs via Canva