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Common Butterflies of Costa Rica

The small country of Costa Rica is jam-packed with biodiversity. In addition to the incredible birds that can be seen in many of Costa Rica’s national parks, there is a huge assortment of butterflies that flutter, skip, and dart among the tropical vegetation. From the steamy, humid lowlands of Tortuguero National Park to the heights of Irazu Volcano and Chirripo National Park, a glittering array of butterflies abound. With 3,000 species of butterflies and moths occurring in Costa Rica (18% of the world’s butterfly species!), during a trip to Costa Rica you are bound to see a wide variety of these exquisite creatures no matter what sort of activities you enjoy. While zipping through the canopy, you will share the upper levels of the forest with little-known butterflies that frequent this little-explored zone. Whether mountain biking or rafting through spectacular scenery, it will be impossible not to be distracted by the flashing luminescent blue of Morpho Butterflies that frequent the many streams and rivers. Even a short walk in the beautiful gardens of your hotel will offer up a wide variety of fantastic looking butterflies.

Costa Rica ButterflyIn Costa Rica, whether exploring the rain forests of the national parks, or relaxing on well kept golf courses, it’s actually difficult not to see butterflies. Nevertheless, if you would like to get up close and personal with dozens of these jewel-like insects, and also learn about their natural history and life cycles, Costa Rica has several, excellent butterfly gardens such as those at La Guacima, the La Paz Gardens at Vara Blanca, and the Bosque Nuevo gardens in the northern part of the country.

The following species are a small sampling of some of the butterflies that await you in Costa Rica, all of which are commonly found in butterfly gardens.

Orange Barred Tiger (Dryadula phaetusa)
The appropriately named Orange Barred Tiger is a striking, medium-sized butterfly somewhat colored like the well known Monarch of the United States and Canada. Although not a poisonous species, predators are warned away by its bright, orange and black colors that mimic other, truly poisonous butterflies. Look for this species in lowland gardens.

Rusty-tipped Page (Siproeta epaphus)
The distinguished wings of the Rusty-tipped Page are often missing bits and pieces as a result of birds that hoped for a juicy meal but got a beakfull of wing instead. Away from enclosed butterfly gardens, watch for this handsome butterfly species in patches of Impatiant flowers that are abundant along roadsides from around 400 to 1500 meters in elevation.

Longwing or Tiger Heliconian (Heliconius ismenius)
Like other species in the Heliconius genus, the Tiger Heliconian mostly feeds on flowers of Passiflora species, the same type of plant that produces passionfruit. It flies on long, elegant wings in the subcanopy of humid forests from the lowlands to middle elevations and can often be seen at the forest edge and in treefall gaps.

Common Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) 
One of the most spectacular types of butterfly, the large morphos look like flashes of blue as they flap their way through the forest on huge, shining wings. Fortunately, in Costa Rica these large butterflies are a common sight along streams, rivers, and in thick second growth of low and middle elevations.

Crimson Patch (Chlosyne janais)
One of the most common butterfly species in Costa Rica, the Crimson Patch is a small, beautiful butterfly easily identified by the bright red patch in the wings. When looking for butterflies, this is a hard one to miss as it is found in open, non-forest areas with the type of flowering bushes and other short vegetation typically planted in hotel gardens.

Thoas Swallowtail (Papilio thoas)
The large, boldly patterned, yellow and black Thoas Swallowtail is a commonly seen butterfly of humid forest. Like the Morphos, it occurs along the forest edge, in treefall gaps, and along streams. This is also one of the butterfly species that commonly visit the wet sand along riverbanks to ingest the salt and mineral-laden moisture.

Cydno (Heliconius cydno)
The Cydno is a beautiful longwing butterfly with wings that are boldly patterned in dark blue with large creamy white spots and two red lines on the underwing. Like other Heliconius species, it is poisonous to predators, the toxins obtained and developed from feeding upon the equally poisonous leaves of Passionflower plants.

Thick-tipped Greta (Great oto)
Creatures of the rain forest have evolved an incredible variety of ways to avoid predators. Instead of intricately patterned wings that act as camouflage for many butterfly species, the Thick-tipped Greta hides with transparent wings. As in other Glasswing Butterflies, the background vegetation behind the butterfly is clearly visible through its clear wings.

Gray Cracker (Hamadyras februa)
In contrast to the Thick-tipped Greta, the Gray Cracker has intricately patterned wings that resemble a fine conglomerate stone or the light-colored tree trunks it frequents. Like other crackers, it is named after its habit of making a snapping sound with the wings, typically when taking flight to defend its territory.

Banded Purple Wing (Myscelia cyaniris)
The males of this fairly small butterfly species show a beautiful pattern of whitish spots and stripes against an iridiscent purplish-blue background that can shine like a sapphire depending upon how the light hits the wing. While these butterflies of the Carribean lowlands rest with their wings held shut though, the dull camouflage pattern of the underwings makes them nearly invisible.

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