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some more pretty butterflies

Me - Mariposario's guest blogger :)As I said in my last post, living here I have managed to amass over 6,00o pictures in my butterfly picture file alone. Of course, I reached a critical mass somewhere in there and realized I was going to have to break those pictures down into some smaller files. I knew a few of the most well known butterflies like the Blue Morpho & Owl ButterflyAgraulis vanillae 2 so I created folders for them. I also enjoyed flipping through the pictures in our book “Butterflies of Costa Rica and Their Natural History” which helped me quickly ID a bunch of other easy to identify species. The wonderful thing I discovered about doing this was that not only did I start to learn the names of the butterflies but turns out I started to get a lot more excited about the butterflies here. Before, most of the butterflies I saw went into my ambiguous mental file of “another pretty Costa Rican butterfly”.

zebra long wingBut now, having spent time filing all my pictures into families, subfamilies, genuses, etc I have different eyes for them. When I  see our lantana filled with butterflies , I now find myself thinking “That’s a pretty Heliconia, what’s that kind called again?…Oh look its that swallowtail I still don’t have a good picture of yet!… Wait! What’s that one?! I’ve never seen that one before!!!” And so it goes.  So much more more fun then just thinking “oh, there’s some more pretty butterflies”

dryus julia  Phocides polybius

Butterflies ID-ed

Me - Mariposario's guest blogger :)Confession -  I  don’t consider myself a science person.  I am wildly enamored with the wildlife here and I’m known at the bed & breakfast for getting really excited about every new little creature we find.  But I don’t read science journals. I’m just starting to occasionally read other butterfly blogs and I took the bare minimum amount of science classes in college to graduate. (Even then, I skipped the maximum amount of days allowed before my grade would start to be docked for absences)
heliconius smenius telchinia 1    Heliconius Hacale

Chlosyne Hippodrome
I must also admit to myself though, that loving wildlife and loving photography is slowly making me more sciencey. Take today for example… I just spent the entire afternoon flipping through butterfly books, ID-ing species and then double verifying them online. Where did that come from?!  Answer: Me loving taking pictures and me living at a butterfly garden has equated to exactly 6,238 butterfly pictures. glassy winged

I must also admit to myself though, that loving wildlife and loving photography is slowly making me more sciencey. Take today for example… I just spent the entire afternoon flipping through butterfly books, ID-ing species and then double verifying them online. Where did that come from?!  Answer: Me loving taking pictures and me living at a butterfly garden. Those two things have equated to exactly 6,238 butterfly pictures.

Astraptes fulgerator - Two Barred FlasherAs a result, I’ve been forced to do a little more systematic filing then just tossing everything in the butterfly picture folder! And turns out those guys called entomologists have a really good system of organizing butterfly pictures…




Exciting caterpillars of every color, stripe, shape and size!

Me - Mariposario's guest blogger :)
Lots happening in the caterpillar lab the last couple weeks!

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a bunch of these beautiful black & white caterpillars on a
Cecropia tree right off of our balcony. We rescued all of them (as they
would have almost surely become wren food otherwise) and have had fun
watching them grow up! I’ve gotten to
watch half a dozen now hang themselves upside down from a leaf or
branch only to find them transformed the next day into what looks like a
little piece of wood. None have emerged yet but we’re guessing that it
will be what is locally known as a Cecropia butterfly, clearly
referencing the host plant we found these guys on. I’m feeling good
about my chances of getting at least a couple of them photographed when
they emerged, with having so many of them!

P1200966 editThen
there’s this crazy colored one! I discovered a vine back behind our
property that grows way up to (or maybe down from) the trees that is the
host plant for this new favorite mystery caterpillar of mine. I’ve
found four of them but only am only attempting to raise 2. Josh told me
the anal horn probably indicates that its a moth. This seems especially
likely since I’ve had one of the two pupate now and it pupated on the
floor of the box instead of attaching onto something and hanging.
Actually right before it pupated, it looked dead! As you can see in the
picture it had faded in color, shrunk a bit and seemed to have oozed
some sort of liquid. But later that evening, sure enough there was a
little brown pupa where that dead looking caterpillar had been. Can’t
wait to see what it will turn into!
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there’s this giant! Thanks to some help from our facebook community we
feel pretty certain that its going to be a Banded Hawk Moth. The thing I
didn’t know before is that Hawk, or Sphynx moths as they’re also called
pupate bellow ground! To simulate this environment it was suggested
that we place the caterpillar inside of a used toilet paper roll, cover
it with leaves and then place it somewhere dark. So it’s now living in a
box under my bed! Unfortunately I read somewhere that it may
take 5 weeks for it to emerge and by then I’ll be back in the states!
Josh and I are returning to Montana (my home state) mid-August til early
November to get married and spend some time there before returning for
the busy season. I’ll have to see about having someone adopt my hawk
moth pupa before I leave – but I don’t know if I’ll end up with any
pictures of it when it emerges! Either way, getting to see it as a
caterpillar was unforgettable.

But I almost did forget this guy! Our neighbor thought it was eating a
heart shaped vine on his fence although we never got to see it eat
because turns out it was ready to pupate. Looking back at some pictures
of mine I realized I have seen this type of caterpillar once before
eating papaya leaves.  But either way its done eating now and is looking
particularly pretty in its shiny yellow chrysalis.
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Catching up after the World Cup!

Me - Mariposario's guest blogger :)Ok, that’s it. I need to do more frequent blog posts. Initially my goal was to post one a week. The problem is by the time the week is over I’m overwhelmed by all the possible things I could write about and I put off writing anything!  So this week I’m gonna try for a post every other day. We’ll see if that helps. But first to catch up on the last week and a half.


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  • The caterpillar lab is finished and we’re enjoying putting it to use! In fact I got to have an extra lab assistant this week in the form of 7 year old Summer, my soon to be niece.  The schools here are on their 2 week winter break, so she’s spent the last couple days of it hanging out here & helping me in the butterfly garden


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  • P1200929P1200964Our organic garden produced its first fruit -from seed to breakfast table! Although we still have a lot to learn about tropical gardening we’re feeling very encouraged with our first crop of honeydew melons!


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  • THE WORLD CUP! Do I really need to say more? Well just in case you P1200332missed it, Costa Rica had a 1 in 4,000 odds of winning the world cup but made it all the way to the quarter finals where even in that game they shut out the heavy-weight Netherland’s team in regular time and pushed it to a penalty kick round. It was a historic moment for Costa Rica and an incredibly special time to be here.



  • P1210206As for my mystery caterpillars…in an incredibly anti-climatic twist, two of the chrysalises I’ve been waiting on emerged but eluded my camera! :( One was a beautiful large yellow swallowtail,  similar if not exactly the same to the one pictured here (Josh tells me there are a few different species that P1210205 look very similar in the area) Meanwhile the other one escaped on me so entirely that I’m not sure even what it turned out to be (Either, one of our volunteers accidentally let it out of the pupa house or I unknowingly released it with a bunch of others who emerged the same day) Ironically, the chrysalis didn’t look any different after it emerged, so even though I was checking it daily I didn’t notice that it was empty until possibly weeks later. *shaking head* Oh well, at least it emerged.


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  • On the more encouraging side of things, I have gotten to see 2 more Adelpha caterpillars pupate and emerge in the last week. Actually I had 3 other mystery caterpillars form & emerge too (1 moth and 2 butterflies) and 3 other mystery pupas formed. This is why I have to post more often, its just too much to try and fit into one blog! But this week I’ll do better I promise. I’ll introduce you to the new caterpillars I am currently raising and maybe catch you up on a few of the others that have recently formed or emerged.

Our Garden Grows!!

The journey of working with an organic vegetable garden surrounded by jungle has been interesting, to say the least, but hey!:

Our new Lab, with a side of White Face West Side Story

Me - Mariposario's guest blogger :)Oh wow has it been a full couple weeks! Here’s a few of the things happening these days!

               lab lab project

The butterfly lab is getting overhauled! Walls are getting knocked down, cement’s getting mixed on the floor, cinder blocks laid… while I stand in the middle of it all changing out grass for the morpho’s and checking in on mystery caterpillars. It’s a funny sight but I’m excited for the change. We’re taking it from a fully enclosed structure (translated – no breeze, stiflingly humid and dimly lit) to an airier brighter space by converting 2 of the walls to half cement half shade cloth.

Costa Rica capuchin monkeys MontezumaMONKEYS, MONKEYS, MONKEYS! The mango trees across the street are drawing in a couple different groups of white face monkeys this week…. and they aren’t exactly willing to share or play nice together. I keep waiting for a man with a British accent to start narrating as I watch them charging at each other, hissing and posturing, guarding the mother with the baby on her back….. you kcropped and resizednow the usual kind of thing you expect to see on Animal Planet.  As soon as I (and when I say I, I mean Josh) get my video editing software fixed I will post some videos as well as more pics.


My two mystery chrysalises I posted last week STILL haven’t emerged. Although another caterpillar pupated and has joined them. I expect all  three of them to emerge as some type of swallowtail… IF they ever emerge! :(


resizedMeanwhile, a chrysalis I didn’t mention in my posts has emerged! I had hardly given it any attention because when I’d found the caterpillar Josh told me it was probably a zebra longwing.  I kept it to observe & photograph but didn’t have the same level of excitement and anticipation I get when I don’t have any idea what they are. Turns out I should have been more excited!  Not only did it give me much more instant gratification – emerging from its chrysalis within a week of having formed – but it’s not a zebra longwing!  It is a Heliconius erato also known as the red postman, which we raised on our Bat-winged passionflower vine Passiflora coriacea.

erato caterpillar blog size & edit  P1160696 P1180018 P1180023                   P1170317 cropped and resized

Return of the ants

Me - Mariposario's guest blogger :).

 The leaf cutter ants re-invaded.


Turns out one foot of the table hadn’t been put into a wide enough oil container, allowing these persistent pillagers to cross the chasm, scale the table, and plunder again. So with almost perfectly dejavu detail we re-enacted the last night’s drama (with the one notable exception that this time I remembered to take P1170168pictures of the ants!) The caterpillar seemed none the worse for the last two nights escapades when I checked on it this morning though.  On the contrary,  it seemed content as usual to move as little as possible on the branches provided while showing off its impressive new weight gain (caterpillars really do literally grow in size overnight). I had breakfast, reassured of it’s well being… only to come back an hour later and find it disappeared! Completely. I still can’t believe it. All that work and it escaped on me just as as it was about to form its chrysalis (I’m quite sure that’s why it escaped… apparently all the long sturdy branches I had made available to it were not good enough and it decided to take matters into its own…feet) It will be fine, it apparently didn’t need a food source anymore and is more than capable of finding a good place to pupate… but still all that fighting with the ants and no chrysalis to show for it?! *sigh* I guess I have to figure out a better table AND a better caterpillar box next time.

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At least I have these two mystery caterpillar chrysalises to look forward to emerging… Any guesses what they’ll become?

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Midnight in the garden of Mariposas

Me - Mariposario's guest blogger :)

 8:45pm.  I’m worried about my black & yellow checkered checkered caterpillar. He’s stopped eating and keeps roaming restlessly around the box rejecting his host plant bottle or on any other  twig, leaf or perch I try to offer him (I think he’s looking for a place to pupate, but I really don’t know). I put in more sticks at various angles. I add mesh, plant some host pants in dirt, pick him up with a paint brush and place him on it…he squirms away and wanders back onto the bottom of the box…

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In the midst of my motherly obsessing, one of our work stays walks in and asks if she can look around at what’s been going on in the lab. Happily I begin to show off my brood of mystery caterpillars. I go to show her the splendidly colored stinging caterpillar. (Yes, stinging)

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BecP1160726ause it stings, I’ve made sure to give it an extra large amount of its host plant (hibiscus leaves) so that I wont have to add or change out branches and jostle it in the process. As I turn to show the caterpillar off to McKenzie, I am astonished to see that ALL of the leaves on all of branches have been stripped down to nothing! One step closer, and… the bottle is swarming with leaf cutter ants.  Looking down we see a line of them across the floor, trooping up the leg of the table onto the bottle and all over the hibiscus branches surrounding the poor caterpillar (who apparently doesn’t sting leaf cutter ants, even when they are devouring its only food source).

I call for Josh. He helps me brush and shake the ants off the table and then fill plastic containers with cooking oil to put under each table leg. Cleaning up, I pick up one half leaf the ants  left on the ground in their hasty retreat, only to discover a green caterpillar clinging to it for dear life.  I didn’t even know I had this guy in the lab!



9:05 I P1160774P1160748grab a headlamp and go cut some more hibiscus branches for my, not one, but two hibiscus eating mystery caterpillars.

9:15  I close up the lab  .

11pm…. I should probably go back and check on the caterpillars….


Hand raising mystery caterpillars

Me - Mariposario's guest blogger :)As I said in my intro blog, my passions are latin dancing, photography, Spanish and whatever happens to have currently sparked my excitement down here. Right now it’s raising caterpillars.

One example of a caterpillar you could see in the butterfly garden!
One who makes the butterfly garden its home is the battus.

We have caterpillars in the butterfly garden of course, that live there happily, eventually metamorphosing into beautiful butterflies who flit around laying eggs on the host plants we’ve planted in the garden for them. It’s designed so that they can go through their entire life cycle naturally with little to no direct human involvement, just like they would outside of the garden. (The only exception to this is the blue morpho caterpillars who do get extra special care… but that’s for another blog post someday). What I’m doing is different.

I’m going outside of the butterfly garden and trying to discover new caterpillars whose butterfly alter-egos are still a mystery.

blog (17) P1150071 P1150084 blog (12) P1150423

Perla (the cook) and I get really excited when we find new mystery caterpillars and its amazing all of the different forms, shapes and colors they take! Once discovered we attempt to keep them fed in various makeshift caterpillar boxes until they are ready to pupate and finally emerge as a butterflies.  Simple concept. More difficult and stressful to successfully execute then you might imagine! Still I love it! I run to check on them first thing in the morning to see if they’re all still there and if any have changed… sometimes I even wake up in the middle of the night and go check on them. I’m always thrilled when I find one has changed color or started to pupate while on the other hand becoming nearly disconsolate when one is lost. Right now I have 15 different types of caterpillar I’m attempting to raise… I have lost a handful of caterpillars in the last month since starting to do this, but also have gotten 4 to become chrysalises! AND as of today, my first mystery caterpillar has emerged as a butterfly!!!blog (2)

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It is no longer a mystery but has a name…The Band-celled Sister (Adelpha fessona). Our newest addition to the butterfly garden!

(here’s what it looked like as a caterpillar & chyrsalis)

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Snakes, mystery caterpillars and other exciting finds


Me - Mariposario's guest blogger :)


Living here is addicting. This sense that under any given leaf, in any tree, any tide pool, there probably is some new creature you’ve never seen before, that is intoxicating to me.

Josh, my fiance, has been living here the better part of the last 10 years and yet still, at least weekly we see some little bug, bird or butterfly he’s never seen before.  In fact that just happened two days ago, in the form of a long skinny snake with a green head and bright red tongue! (It had decided to take a tour of our tool shed and caterpillar lab before finding a bush next to the butterfly garden to stretch itself out on like a hammock) Good stuff.

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los gusanos misteriosMy mini adventure today simply consisted of walking for 20 minutes alongside the dirt road in front of the B&B with our cook Perla. Perla and I love to look for mystery caterpillars which we try to raise.  She was walking back home after work and I offered to walk a little ways with her while I tried to find a host plant for one of the caterpillars we’re currently raising. Not only did I find the plant though, to my delight we found 3 more mystery caterpillars!

Honestly, just those three caterpillars would have been enough for me to declare this walk the best part of my day. But on the way back I got another thrill, coming upon this Coati passing through a clearing right next to the road!



Then as it passed out of my view I noticed two beautiful butterflies at my feet.



Its 20 minutes like that, packed with so many little discoveries that for me, makes this place intoxicating.



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