Over 35,000 species of insects have been recorded in Costa Rica
Many thousand insects remain undiscovered. Butterflies are abundant. One source claims that Costa Rica has 10% of all the world's butterfly species, and another reports that over 3000 species of butterflies and moths are recorded from Parque Nacional Santa Rosa alone.
The most dazzling butterfly is the morpho (Morpho peleides). With a 15cm wingspan and electric-blue upper wings, it lazily flaps and glides along tropical rivers and through openings in the rainforest in a shimmering display. When it lands, however, the wings close and only the brown underwings are visible, an instantaneous change from outrageous display to modest camouflage.
Camouflage plays an important part in the lives of many insects. Some resting butterflies look exactly like green or brown leaves, while others look like the scaly bark of the tree on which they are resting. Caterpillars are often masters of disguise. One species is capable of constricting certain muscles to make itself look like the head of a viper, other species mimic twigs, and yet another species looks so much like a bird dropping that it rarely gets attacked by unwitting predators.
There are many hundreds of ant species in tropical forests. Leaf-cutter ants (Atta spp) are often seen marching in columns along the forest floor, carrying pieces of leaves like little parasois above their heads. The leaf segments are taken into an underground colony and there allowed to decay into mulch. The ants tend their mulch gardens carefully, allowing a certain speeies of fungus to grow there. Parts of the fungus are then used to feed the colony, which can be several million ants.
Other insects are so tiny as to be barely visible, yet their lifestyles are no less esoteric. The hummingbird flower mite (Rhinoseius colwelli) is barely half a millimeter in length and lives in flowers. When the flowers are visited by hummingbirds, the mites scuttle up into the birds' nostrils and use this novel form of air transport to disperse themselves to other plants. Smaller still are mites that live on the proboseis of the morpho butterflies. From the tiniest mite to the largest butterfly, insects form an incredibly diverse part of the country's wildlife.
Text and pictures by Angela and Jörn Malek. The team of Discovery Travel World wishes you the best of times in our little paradise called Costa Rica.
Text by Lonely Planet.