Something you will notice in Costa Rica is that there are butterflies everywhere! Unless you are in the concrete jungle of downtown San Jose, it is unlikely that a single day will pass without seeing a butterfly.
One guidebook says that “there are more butterflies in this tiny country than in the entire United States.” There are more than 1,200 different types of butterflies fluttering around Costa Rica—18% of the world’s species and 90% of the species found in Central America.
One of the largest and most beautiful butterflies in Costa Rica is the Blue Morpho. The intense royal blue of its 8-inch wingspan seems lit from within. But the striking iridescence of its wings is not due to a metallic pigment of some sort. The glowing blue is actually produced by some pretty ingenious engineering. Rows of tiny concave surfaces on the wings reflect light in various ways, resulting in a final mix called “structural color” because the complex way in which it is produced. In the case of the Morpho, the structure of its wings singles out the blue spectrum of light and Voila! Wings that glow neon blue.
Butterfly wings are so fragile that even the weight of specks of dust or drips of moisture could make flying difficult. But far from looking like they are struggling to stay afloat, butterflies glide effortlessly. What is the secret? Though appearing smooth to the naked eye, the wing surface is covered with minute overlapping scales that resemble tiles on a roof. Grooves on the surface of these scales cause dirt and drips of water to roll off with ease. As a result, butterfly wings are always clean and dry.
Another of the largest of Costa Rica’s butterflies is the Owl Butterfly. This nocturnal butterfly owes its name to the giant spots on its wings that resemble an owl’s eyes. It lives in lowland forests and feeds on fermenting fruits.
The Variable Cracker Butterfly can be hard to spot because its intricately patterned wings in beiges and browns camouflage it as it rests on trees and branches. This butterfly’s name comes from the snapping sound it makes with its wings when defending its territory and during courtship rituals.
There are 64 different types of the Glass Wing Butterfly in Costa Rica, and they have habitats on both coasts. They all share the unique feature of transparent wings outlined or spotted with color. Some are so see-through that they are actually difficult to spot!
The Malachite Butterfly has green, blue and gold patterned wings similar to the colors of the mineral malachite. Their delicate coloring and dainty flight contradict their strong dietary choices that include decaying fruit, deceased animals, and bat droppings.
Butterfly gardens are a great place to learn more about butterflies and interact with them. Most have large enclosures where you will be immediately captivated by a kaleidoscope of dazzling colors floating and fluttering around you.
Just a short drive from Playa Hermosa at the El Diamante Eco Adventure park, you will find a great many of these beautiful creatures in a natural setting. Diamante is known for its world-class habitat designs that address the needs of each species. The unique design of the habitats allows guests to view and learn about key aspects of biology, ecology and natural history of the animals.
The Butterfly Observatory, located in the Arenal Volcano area, is an education and research center that hosts the largest butterfly exhibit in Costa Rica. They offer a tour of the facility led by a very knowledgeable guide. There is also a lovely nature trail.
The Monteverde Butterfly Gardens are open every day of the year, 8:30-4:30. The one-hour guided tour through the facility alive with fluttering butterflies is incredible. You will have the opportunity to see the most stunning species up close since they often come to rest on your shoulder or outstretched arm.
The butterfly enclosure at La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a chance to enter a paradisaic garden where hundreds of butterflies flit around you to the sound of new age jazz. There are also hundreds of chrysalises in various stages of metamorphosis. If you are patient, you can watch a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, unfold its wings as the sunlight dries them, and fly away. The on-site laboratory breeds 25 native species, making it a perfect place to experience all the different stages of a butterfly’s short life.
The Butterfly Farm in La Guacima was the first of its kind in Costa Rica and has the biggest export operation in the country. Each month it exports 4000-6000 harvested pupae (cocoon or chrysalis) to other butterfly gardens and institutions around the world. Tours of the farm are offered daily, and here too you can learn about the life cycle of butterflies and the native species of Costa Rica.
So when coming to Costa Rica, make time to go to one of the listed above butterfly farms you won’t be disappointed. “Happiness is like a butterfly,” said author Nathaniel Hawthorne. “When pursued, it is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will set down quietly, may alight upon you.” May that be your experience in Costa Rica. As you sit quietly, may both butterflies and happiness alight upon you.