Winged Jewels, The World of Butterflies at Ecocentro Danaus, Costa Rica
Day 2 in Costa Rica had us first completing a very early morning guided bird hike. After breakfast back at Hotel Kokoro, Bob and I headed to Ecocentro Danaus on the edge of La Fortuna. It is a private reserve with a butterfly conservatory where Bob and I hoped to see some of Costa Rica’s tiny winged jewels.
Just 4 kilometres east of La Fortuna, Ecocentro Danaus has received the Blue Flag Award for several years in a row for their programs involving education, conservation, training and sustainable production.
An interpretive sign was provided at the entrance to the Butterfly Conservatory to help with identification of the various butterflies we were about to see.
A selection of carved fruit was provided upon which the butterflies could feed. What a delight to see several Owl Butterflies and a Blue Morpho Butterfly nectaring together.
By smearing a little banana onto my finger, I was able to encourage this Owl Butterfly to move onto my hand. Owl Butterflies got their name because of the huge eyespots that look like owls’ eyes.
Bob and I were as excited as little children. What fun it was being able to interact with such gorgeous creatures.
The fruit buffet was well attended by a Blue Morpho Butterfly, a Blue-frosted Banner Butterfly, a Zebra Mosaic Butterfly and a Blue Wave Butterfly. We had to look closely to distinguish between the Owl Butterfly on the far left and the Blue Morpho Butterfly beside it. They really are quite distinct from one another if you look carefully at the pattern of spots.
Of course, when a Blue Morpho Butterfly opens it wings to reveal the beautiful iridescence of the dorsal surfaces, there is no confusing the two species. And yet, many female Blue Morpho Butterflies are not blue at all.
Blue Morpho Butterflies are among the largest butterflies in the world with a wingspan of between 5-8 inches. The sizeable area of the wings relative to the body size results in the flight of a Blue Morpho Butterfly being quite slow and bouncy.
Even at that, it was challenging to capture a photo of a Blue Morpho in flight. In this shot, you can see the cryptic colouring on the ventral surfaces of the wings.
As a Blue Morpho Butterfly flutters up and down, it alternately appears then disappears as if by magic but instead because of the contrasting flashes of blue and then brown.
The dorsal surface of the Blue Wave Butterfly’s wings is a striking shade of sapphire blue. We could hardly believe the intensity of the colour.
The Blue Wave Butterfly has several alternate names. Blue-banded Purplewing, Whitened-Bluewing, and Tropical Blue Wave all are appropriate names for this striking butterfly whose colour changes according to available light.
Another species of butterfly that grabbed our attention was the Malachite Butterfly. The brilliant green pattern on this individual’s wings stood out sharply against the grey mud and stones where the butterfly was puddling.
When a Malachite Butterfly closes its wings, the distinctive pattern of rectangles and ovals is still visible but the contrasting colour is orange.
A jewel of nature, the Malachite Butterfly is named after the mineral malachite which, because of its striking green colour, is turned into gemstones.
Ecocentro Danaus raises over 30 species of butterflies so the interpretive sign was a real bonus. I am so glad that I took photos of it as a reference.
Not to be outdone by the other “flying flowers”, this Tiger Longwing Butterfly perched pertly and proudly on a fuzzy flower bud. Tiger Longwing Butterflies are brightly-coloured butterflies with long forewings.
Not all butterflies at Ecocentro Danaus were easy to locate. Just look at the Tiger Longwing Butterfly above. I had to adjust the lighting in quite a few of our photos because butterflies were resting in the shady areas of undergrowth.
With light levels adjusted, it is now possible to appreciate the beautiful colours of that same Tiger Longwing, now with its wings unfolded.
As Bob and I walked the path within the butterfly conservatory, Tiger Longwing Butterflies fluttered up and down, beating the warm air with their delicate wings. It is the colour of their wings that helps protect these butterflies from predators. Tiger Longwings mimic the patterns of other poisonous species of butterflies.
Both the Monarch Butterfly, above, and Tiger Longwing Butterflies employ the same tactic to discourage predators. When their larvae consume, respectively, Milkweed and Passion Flower vines, noxious chemicals are deposited in their bodies making them distasteful to predators. The chemicals are then transferred to the adult butterflies.
With wings as vibrant as painted silk, it is no wonder that Tiger Longwing Butterflies bring beauty to the tropical summer air.
Another species that we admired at Ecocentro Danaus was the Blue-frosted Banner Butterfly. It is an interesting species because the butterflies are sexually dimorphic. The male and female butterflies look completely different from one another.
The male Blue-frosted Banner Butterfly is seen more frequently, usually perched in a sunlit patch of vegetation and normally in a head-downwards position. The six bright orange dots on the dorsal surfaces of its wings were magnificently set off by velvety black scales and the shining iridescent blue margins.
There in the shadow of Arenal Volcano, Bob and I spent the remainder of the afternoon. A separate post will highlight the birds, amphibians and mammals that we encountered. It was a hopping place full of diversity, and we had so much fun!
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