Costa Rica's Diverse Butterflies and Where to Find Them

Morphos everywhere | © Kate Hooper/Flickr
Morphos everywhere | © Kate Hooper/Flickr
Photo of Jenn Parker
29 August 2017

There are butterflies everywhere in Costa Rica. Around 18% of the world’s species can be found in Costa Rica, as well as 90% of the species that are found in Central America. There are more than 1,200 different types of butterflies fluttering around here. It is unlikely that a single day will pass where you don’t see one of some variety, regardless of what part of the country you are exploring. There are some really fascinating butterfly observatories and gardens, where you can learn all about the butterflies of Costa Rica and see some of the most special species.

Five of Costa Rica’s Most Beautiful Butterflies

Blue Morpho

The blue morpho butterfly is undoubtably the most famous butterfly in Costa Rica. This exquisite butterfly is one of the largest in the world, with a wingspan of 20 centimeters (8 inches). The eyecatching blue color of the wings is actually an optical illusion, just like that of the Rio Celeste, as their wings aren’t actually pigmented that color. Only the males appear iridescent blue; the females are quite dull in comparison.

The most beautiful blue | ©Rachel Kramer/Flickr

Owl Butterfly

The magnificent owl butterfly is one of the largest butterflies in Costa Rica. It is a nocturnal butterfly with giant spots on its wings that resemble owl eyes. The Spanish name for the owl butterfly is buho. They are typically found in lowland forests and dine on the fermenting juices of fruit such as mangoes, bananas, and pineapples.

Owl eyes on the wings | ©Bobo Boom/Flickr

Variable Cracker Butterfly

The variable cracker butterfly is a truly unique species. What makes this butterfly special is that the male makes a snapping sound with his wings when he is defending his territory, and during courtship displays. Who knew butterflies could be so noisy? Their wings are also intricately patterned, which helps to camouflage them amongst the trees.

Cracks and snaps | © Pavel Kirillov/Flickr

Glass Wing Butterfly

There are 64 different glass-wing butterflies, but they all share one very unique feature: they have transparent wings. They are called espejitos in Spanish. This migratory species ranges from Mexico to Panama, and can be found on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Costa Rica.

Their clear wings taste bad to predators | ©Alan Turkus/Flickr

Malachite Butterfly

The Malachite butterfly is a commonly spotted butterfly in Costa Rica. Its green patterned wings resemble stained glass, or the mineral malachite, which is what is was named after. They have a diverse diet that includes flower nectar, decaying fruit, deceased animals, and tasty bat droppings.

So pretty | © Ettore Balocchi/Flickr

The Top Four Places to See and Learn About Butterflies in Costa Rica

Butterfly Observatory

The Butterfly Observatory is located in El Castillo, near Lake Arenal and the Arenal volcano. This observatory is an education and research center that hosts the largest butterfly exhibit in Costa Rica. They offer an incredible tour of the facility, the Metamorphosis Tour, which is led by a highly knowledgable guide who will share with you a wealth of information not only about the butterflies of Costa Rica, but also about the native frogs, insects, and plants. There is a short but lovely nature trail that you can walk along, too.

Crimson patch butterfly | ©Pavel Kirillov/Flickr

Monteverde Butterfly Gardens

The Monteverde Butterfly Gardens are open every single day of the year from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Their one-hour guided tour is incredible. During this hour, you will explore four different gardens where you will learn all about butterflies and bugs in Costa Rica. There are tons of butterflies here, and you will have the opportunity to see some of the most stunning species. Your guide will also be able to answer all of your pressing questions about butterflies and their lives.

Like a sunset | ©Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren/Flickr

Butterfly Observatory at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

There are 4,000 butterflies fluttering round the Butterfly Observatory at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens at any given time, and the on-site laboratory breeds 25 native species of butterflies. This is a perfect place to experience all the different stages of a butterfly’s life, while also learning a great deal of information about them from the butterfly experts. You can also visit the waterfalls, jungle cat sanctuary, aviary, hummingbird garden, and snake and frog exhibits while you are here.

Such variety here | © Ryan Poplin/Flickr

The Butterfly Farm

The Butterfly Farm in La Guacima was the first butterfly exhibit in Central America. The small town of La Guacima is dedicated to butterfly conservation. There are butterfly murals all over the town that depict the true love that this town has for these special creatures. There are tours of the farm offered daily, where you can learn about the lifecycle of butterflies and the native species of Costa Rica.

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