When visitors come to Costa Rica, they are often thinking more about monkeys and toucans and sloths, rather than one of the most plentiful creatures to see here — butterflies and moths.
Costa Rica boasts 90% of all butterfly and moth species in Central America, and an astonishing 18% of ALL butterflies on the planet. The number of species to be discovered here is quite frankly overwhelming — somewhere between 1,500 and 1,800 butterfly species and over 8,000 moth species!
The butterfly’s colors and life cycle has made it the symbol of beauty, rebirth and transformation in so many cultures, from the Mayan and Hindu to Celt and Christian. Few cultures lack the influence of these wonderful, colorful and beautiful insects. Costa Rica is no exception: we even have butterflies on our money!
Perhaps a National Symbol…sometime in the future?
That species appearing on a currency note is known and sought after here as one of the country’s official national symbols: the blue morpho. It’s unmistakable as the most easily recognized of all the butterflies in Costa Rica. The blue morpho’s wonderful color is actually due to an optical effect rather than pigmentation, similar to the impact of refracted light on the waters of Rio Celeste. It’s commonly associated with the rainforest here, but can be seen along water in many parts of the country.
Among the many other butterfly beauties to see in Costa Rica is the also-famous monarch. These butterflies are known for their 4,000 mile migration from north to south to breed. In the winter months, you can see monarchs by the millions in the mountains of Mexico. But there is something a little different about Costa Rican monarchs — they are resident and do not migrate. They travel up and down elevations in conjunction with the dry and rainy seasons, feeding on their favorite plant, tropical milkweed.
Other than the best known species, there are so many different butterflies and moths to see, from the transparent glasswings, to the swallowtails, malachites and longwings, each beautiful and special in its own way.
You can visit butterfly gardens in many of Costa Rica’s larger tourist areas, from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio. They are all worth a visit, especially as they help breed endangered species. However, it only takes a little time in a flowering garden here, simply watching, to see butterflies. In most gardens you can see the common banded peacock, the red postman (named for traveling the same route to the same flowers in order every day), the orange julia and yellow sulphurs.
You can spend a lifetime studying butterflies, and I know some people who have. But for me, a great part of the joy of living in this country is just marveling at the beauty of these colorful creatures — one of nature’s better efforts. Go out, relax and enjoy watching butterflies as part of your Costa Rican experience!