Saturday, 3 March 2018

Costa Rica - Moths and other insects

Last November, we visited Costa Rica, primarily on a birding trip, but it offered good opportunities to see moths.  Simon said before we went 'I hope you are not going to spend all your time looking at insects....'

In some places, there were moths around the hotel lights after dark, but at Rancho Naturalista, in the Talamanca Mountains, there is an illuminated sheet, just inside the rainforest. This is switched on about 3 or 4 nights a week, and attracts hundreds of moths and many other insects including mantis, wasps, flies and katydids.

I found myself getting up at 4am to photograph the moths, (and rescuing some by taking them away from the light and into the rainforest), before the woodcreepers and flycatchers arrived to feast at first light.  Some moths could be easily assigned to families eg hawkmoths and tiger moths, but with no field guide available some were much trickier – made more difficult by the incredible mimicry which is an important survival strategy.

There are moths which resemble wasps, as well as wasps which resemble moths; moths which looked like butterflies, and moths which looked like scorpions; and others which mimicked their toxic relatives. There were many moths which resembled dead leaves complete with ragged edges, ‘disease’ blotches and sometimes even curled wings. There was even one moth which resembled a thorn.


Early, one morning, I was surprised by a huge Saturniid moth, probably Rhescyntis hippodamia. It is the size of a dinner plate and fluttered about like a large bat, before landing on the sheet. You can see how huge it is compared to the hawkmoths on the sheet next to it. If you look closely, you can see that the tips of the forewings resemble a snake’s head.

You can see more photos from the trip here

We spotted  number of rather impressive caterpillars including this handsome creature:

There were plenty of beautiful butterflies - my favourites were the glasswings – we were lucky enough to find a lekking site in a dappled patch of sunlight in the rainforest where the males were displaying to attract mates.  

Lurking under the hummingbird feeders outside our room, we spotted a few hooded mantis. These amazing insects actually catch and eat hummingbirds - although thankfully we didn't see this happen.

And no, I didn't spend all my time looking at insects - we also saw many birds, amphibians and reptiles, and mammals. The only thing I was short of was sleep!

Clare Boyes