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Wild Costa Rica

- Photo via Carlos Rivera /  Clodomiro Picado Institute -

Wild Costa Rica:

the Terciopelo

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Published on Friday, August 25, 2023

By Andrew McCarthy

The Terciopelo, scientifically known as Bothrops asper, is a venomous pit viper species found in various parts of Central and South America, including the Pura Vida country, Costa Rica. 

The snake is commonly referred to as the "Barba Amarilla" (yellow beard) in some regions.

Terciopelos are large and robust snakes, known for their distinct diamond-shaped head and a body covered in keeled scales. They exhibit various color variations, ranging from light to dark shades of brown, often with darker patterns or blotches.

These snakes are highly venomous and possess potent hemotoxic venom. Their venom can cause local tissue damage, pain, swelling, and in severe cases, even death if not promptly treated. Medical attention is crucial if bitten.

It is considered the most dangerous snake in Costa Rica, responsible for 46% of all bites and 30% of all hospitalized cases. Before 1947, the fatality rate was 9%. But this has since declined to almost 0% mostly due to the Costa Rica Clodomiro Picado Research Institute, responsible for the production of snake antivenom as well as educational and extension programs in rural areas and hospitals. 

Terciopelos are commonly found throughout the country. The snake can be found in various habitats, such as rainforests, dry forests and even agricultural areas. They often hide in leaf litter or under fallen logs during the day.

The reptile is a relatively aggressive and defensive snake species. They are known for their ambush hunting strategy, where they lie in wait for prey to pass by before striking.


Terciopelos are primarily nocturnal, meaning they are most active during the night. This behavior reduces their encounters with humans and other potential predators.

Their diet is generalist and is known to prey on a remarkably wide range of animals including beetles, grasshoppers, frogs, lizards, snakes, mice and rats among many others. 

While they can be dangerous to humans, Terciopelos play an important role in the ecosystem by controlling rodent populations. Like many snake species, they can face threats from habitat destruction, road mortality, and persecution due to fear.

At the institute, the Barba Amarilla is a subject of scientific research, aiming to better understand their behavior, ecology, venom composition, and potential medical applications of their venom components.

If you're in an area where Terciopelos are present, it's important to be cautious and avoid unnecessary interactions with these snakes. If you encounter one, it's best to keep your distance and allow the snake to move away on its own. If you suspect you've been bitten, seek medical attention immediately.

The wildlife of Costa Rica comprises all naturally occurring animals, such as the Ghost Bird, which is an exotic bird native to the Pura Vida country.

Have you ever spotted a Terciopelo in Costa Rica?
We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments to news@amcostarica.com

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