Costa Rica – Snapshots: Bugs and Butterflies

In San José, the capital of Costa Rica, Barry and I loved wandering the colorful, bustling streets.



But Costa Rica is known for its land conservation and rich natural life.  So we liked being outside the capital too.  Most of the birds, the animals, and even the bugs are beautiful and wonderful.


A bird feeder outside a Monteverde café and bakery

You may know of the sloths, monkeys, and coatis of Costa Rica, but did you know that the country is also host to many insects?  Surprises, for me, included:


Assassin bug – also known as “the kissing bug” – that little brown bug with the orange edges.

Not everything is good for humans.  I’d never heard of the assassin bug – that Sara, our informative and friendly naturalist guide at the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, had found in her own bed!  To know how troubling that is, she told us facts about this small seemingly harmless bug.

They are known as “kissing bugs,” because they tend to bite sleeping humans in the soft tissue around the lips and eyes. Then, says Sara, when you wake up and the bite is itchy, you scratch it which allows the venom to get in your blood.

Those bites can be vectors for the trypanosomal Chagas disease, sometimes called “American trypanosomiasis.”  In the early stage, symptoms are typically either not present or mild, perhaps a fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, or swelling.  After 8–12 weeks, the chronic phase of disease can begin, but for 60–70% of the victims, it never produces further symptoms. 

The other 30 to 40% of people, however, can develop further symptoms 10 to even 30 years after the initial infection.  Ten percent may experience an enlarged esophagus or enlarged colon.  The damage includes enlargement of the  ventricles of the heart in 20 to 30% of those bitten, which leads to heart failure – death.

Later, we were told by a young Costa Rican woman that these are bug bites that disproportionately affect the indigenous and poor – and the reason many die early.  According to her, little research is being done on treatment since “it is a poor person’s disease.”

But don’t avoid Costa Rica or the tropics.  Know what an assassin bug looks like – as Sara does – and be aware.

Another insect here is big and not pleasant to see – but it is not a vector for disease:


A Giant Blaberus cockroach.  Sara is holding it, not me

Another insect is known for its strength.


Hercules beetles

The Hercules beetles are amazing.  They can reach 6 inches (15 cm) in length, making them the largest species of the Rhino Beetle, the largest beetle in the world.  Besides, pound for pound, these beetles are the strongest animals in the world. Where an adult elephant can lift about 25 times its weight, the rhino beetle can lift 850 times its body weight!  That is more than any other animal recorded.

Especially for Asian boys, they are  a popular pet; you can easily spend $350 U.S. dollars on a rhino beetle although they live only about a year.  Or just come see them in Costa Rica.



A red liliko’i (passion fruit) flower in the butterfly garden!



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Sometimes you can have a very close encounter

Butterflies that feed on fermenting ripe fruit – like the Morpho butterfly below – become intoxicated; they tend to have short – and perhaps – happy lives.


The Morpho butterfly



Of course, we saw more leaf-cutter ants. These were marching along a roof pole on a shed in the butterfly gardens.

So know that when you come to Costa Rica, you can enjoy the museums, night life, and people of the city – and the interesting critters in the conservation areas as well.

Pura Vida, Renée


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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

5 responses to “Costa Rica – Snapshots: Bugs and Butterflies”

  1. Jacqui Thatcher says :

    Excellent post! Learnt something more about Costa Rica even though I have just come back from there so thank you! 🙂

    • reneeriley says :

      Thanks, Jacaqui: I love being able to share what I learn and see. What’s something you learned or surprised you about your trip to Costa Rica? Pura Vida, Renée

      • Jacqui Thatcher says :

        That is such a difficult question to answer. I think I was surprised how eco friendly they are – from an energy point of view – the UK could learn so much from them. I was surprised by the clever camoflage of all the animals and birds we saw. When you see pictures of birds like toucans, it is difficult to understand how something so brightly coloured can be concealed…until you visit Costa Rica then it all becomes very clear! 🙂

  2. Rosita says :

    Those butterflies made me speechless! I never saw a butterfly as beautiful as the blue one! Thanks for those beautiful photos, my dear! And about kissing bugs…they’re pretty common on rural Brazil, specially here on amazon region. Calm! They don’t exist on my homeland, as far as I know, both because it’s pretty urbanized to them and because we don’t live on wooden houses, which they love. And, here, we call them as ‘barbeiros’ (‘barbers’, in good Portuguese), due to their habit of biting on face. And I didn’t knew what they’re called barbeiros, aka barbers, until today! 😉 now I understand why. And do you know why the illness’s name is Chagas disease?! It’s because the man who discovered it decided to do a honor to his teacher 🙂 well, this is a disease with a well-know name, as most of them. But IDK why chikungunya have one of weirdest illnesses names. Do you know why? It means ‘those who bend up’, in Swahili/Makonde language, it’s one of those languages, but IDK in what language. There’s so much controversial information, but the meaning is literal. You have no choice. Well, I’m going to the Bahamas in July and I’m afraid of contracting it twice, although doctors say me it’s nearly impossible to occur, unless the virus suffer any mutation. So they say I’m inmune-for-life against this disease, but local experience on this illness is practically zero, as we never had chikungunya outbreaks in my city, only in Amapá and Northeast Brazil, and just a few cases on my hometown, and most of them were imported drom other states or even other countries, as you can see. My case, for example, was imported from Ceará state, as it was where I contracted the disease. Since this, I’m not going to Ceará, but I hope I’ll go this year. In Ceará, as well as all Brazilian littoral, particularly of North/Northeast coast, there are hundreds of paradisiacal beaches and uncountable options of interesting things to do, even if you don’t like beach 😉 but, now, talking serious, I don’t recommend visiting Brazil at this moment, both due to political instability and high violence rates. I’m NOT saying to avoid Brazil forever, just for an awhile. But take note of places you want to visit in Brazil, because soon I’ll update you about wheter is secure or not to visit it, and I’ll bring you news about my country’s situation, as well as good holiday places, escaping from the typical foreigner’s bucket list while visiting Brazil. And, please, don’t forget of visit other South American countries, although I think Brazil is the more vibrant and diverse of all South American countries. When I say it’s OK to visit it, come and you’ll not regret! So…what areas of Hawaii do you recommend me to know while visiting it for the first time?

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Rosita, my friend: Thanks for all the good information – about Brazil, disease names such as chikungunya, and more. I do plan on coming to Brazil one day, but I can’t be going really soon. So things are likely to be more stable in Brazil by the time I can come. I will ask for your list of recommendations before I come. Here on Maui, one good thing about being over 2,000 miles ( + 3219 kilometers) from the Mainland U.S. and even further than that from Asia is that we don’t have the “kissing” (or “barber” bug) or poison ivy, poison oak, snakes, or many of the dangerous animals and critters that are other places in the world. We do occasionally have shark bites, but sharks don’t see very well and are probably hoping for turtle meat. And if you are fishing and and swimming into shore with your bleeding fish trailing behind you, you could be in trouble. In general, it is very safe to go hiking or swimming when you are on Maui. People come to Maui for outdoor adventures: surfing, fishing, whale watching, zip lining, paddling, hiking, horseback riding, bicycling . . . There are yoga retreats, meditation centers, film festivals, Hawaiian music concerts, . . . You will find plenty of things to do when you visit Maui. And some people come to Maui for the quiet nature and the beautiful temperate weather too. They go to Oahu for the city life of museums, music, and food. The Big Island (Hawaii) has a volcano that has been erupting for years and years; it is the newest and still growing island. There’s more. I think you will like your visit here. Safe travels on your trip to the Bahamas. And I agree, the vibrant blue Morpho butterflies are particularly beautiful. Aloha, Renée

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