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.
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:
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:
Another insect is known for its strength.
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.
Butterflies that feed on fermenting ripe fruit – like the Morpho butterfly below – become intoxicated; they tend to have short – and perhaps – happy lives.
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