Last Day in Costa Rica: Butterflies of the Resort

Hecale Longwing

At last, Saturday arrived. Our last morning in Costa Rica, and our last morning at the beautiful Occidental Grand Papagayo resort. The final hours of our wonderful trip to the tropics were trickling through the hourglass, and I was sad to see it coming to an end. I got up, started packing up as much of my stuff as I could without disturbing Doran, then went out for a quick walk to the red-flowering trees – my favourite bird-watching spot on the resort. I still hadn’t given up on seeing those Squirrel Cuckoos again.

I said goodbye to the iguanas, the kiskadees, and the White-throated Magpie Jays, my first life bird in Costa Rica. One was perching out the open, sitting completely still for a change, as though it were saying goodbye to me, too.

White-throated Magpie Jay

White-throated Magpie Jay

I said goodbye to the Groove-billed Anis, feeling grateful for the many opportunities to see them up close.

Groove-billed Ani

I said goodbye to the Great-tailed Grackles and White-winged Doves, both very common species around the resort, both very similar to a couple of common species back home. I said good-bye to the hummingbirds, though I could only find the Plain-capped Starthroat perching. I didn’t expect to see the White-lored Gnatcatcher again, but I did. This one was a female, and she was moving around the tangled branches of a leafless tree – I couldn’t get a picture of her out in the open, but at least I got a picture of her!

White-lored Gnatcatcher

I said goodbye to the Magnificent Frigatebirds, which I saw soaring over the resort just as often as I saw them out over the water. I said goodbye to the Rufous-naped Wrens and their weird, mechanical chortles. I didn’t see the Streak-backed Oriole or any Parakeets, but I said goodbye to them too.

After about 45 minutes I returned to our room to find Doran up and about. We enjoyed our last breakfast at the buffet, and agreed that the food had been wonderful. We both loved the variety at the buffet – the chefs were amazing, and we never tired of eating there. When we were able to obtain reservations for the two restaurants, we loved the formal four-course dinners at the Oriental and Italian Restaurants – I’m a picky eater, but it was quite nice to try some new things and actually like them!

After buying some souvenirs at the resort store to use up the last of our cash, we returned to our room and packed everything up. Everything managed to fit inside our suitcases, including the coffee we had bought at the grocery store. We had about an hour to kill before we needed to leave for the airport, which wasn’t really enough time to hike anywhere. When a couple of butterflies flew in to the orange flowers decorating the shrubs in front of our room, I took the opportunity to photograph them. I sat outside on our porch, and the longer I stayed, the more species I saw.

The resort was much better for butterflies than dragonflies; in fact, it was even better for butterflies than I had hoped it would be. Since I took a lot of butterflies photos on my last day, I thought I would include all the butterflies I’d photographed on the resort in one post to show the diversity at a resort like the Occidental Grand Papagayo.

Skipper species

I only photographed one skipper on the resort, a dark long-tailed butterfly seen in some flowers at the resort entrance near the public entrance to the beach. I suspect this is a Long-tailed Skipper, as I can see a hint of the bluish-green colour of the thorax when I lighten the photo. The tails aren’t visible in this photo. I tried to follow it around, but it was difficult as the shrub was quite large and it kept finding spots to hide.

Possible Long-tailed Skipper

Swallowtail butterflies

I only saw, and photographed, one swallowtail butterfly on the resort, and it was in the shrubs outside our room. At first I thought it was a Giant Swallowtail, the same species we have in Ottawa, which can also be found in Costa Rica. However, upon further review I ended up thinking that it is a Thoas Swallowtail instead, as there are four marginal spots on the trailing edge of the forewing, whereas the Giant has only three. I wish I’d been able to get a better photo of it with its wings open, but it was actively feeding and quivering its wings. The Thoas Swallowtail is also known as the King Swallowtail.

Thoas Swallowtail

Whites and Sulphurs

Unlike the preceding two groups, sulphur butterflies were everywhere and were most often seen flying quickly by instead of resting in the vegetation or nectaring on the flowers. One sulphur species we frequently saw on the wing was bright white on the upper-side, with a a lemon-yellow bar at the top of the forewing; when these butterflies did land, they were pale green with prominent veins. Their unique shape as well as their colouration made them easy to identify as a White-Angled Sulphur. The bright light made them difficult to photograph, but I got a couple of images I was happy with.

White Angled Sulphur

White Angled Sulphur (Anteos clorinde)

The second sulphur butterfly we saw was bright yellow and looked more like a typical Clouded Sulphur, except larger. I was finally able to get a nice photo of one on our last morning. Though I haven’t been able to confirm its identity, I suspect it’s a Cloudless Sulphur, a species that ranges from the southern US all the way to South America.

Possible Cloudless Sulfur

Longwing Butterflies

These members of the Brushfoot family were once placed in their own family but are now considered to be close relatives of the fritillaries and are grouped with them in the sub-family Heliconiinae. As such, they are also known as Heliconians, and they were not very common on the resort – I only managed to photograph one of each species.

The prettiest was the Hecale Longwing, photographed on our last morning. Also known as the Tiger Longwing, its shape is just as distinctive as its colour pattern: it has large eyes, long antennae, elongated forewings, and a long slender abdomen that almost makes it look like an odonate. It spent a bit of time flitting from flower to flower in the shrubs just outside our room, and I was so fascinated by it I could barely take my eyes off of it long enough to watch the other butterflies coming in!

Hecale Longwing (Heliconius hecale)

One of these was the Banded Orange Heliconian, whose bright brown and orange stripes were stunning. It was seen once, and photographed once.

Banded Orange Heliconian (Dryadula phaetusa)

Another longwing butterfly I noticed on our last morning was the plain orange Julia Heliconian. This butterfly often strays as far north as Nebraska; it flies throughout the year in southern Florida and South Texas, as well as in the tropics further south.

Julia Heliconian (Dryas julia)

This Zebra Heliconian was seen once, on our second-last day in Costa Rica. Also called the Zebra Longwing, this butterfly is the only species I have seen in three different countries: as well as Costa Rica, I have also seen them previously in Florida (Everglades National Park) and Mexico (Cozumel). This, however, is one of my best photos of this striking butterfly.

Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonia)

Gulf Fritillaries were more common, as I saw them quite frequently on the resort. Like most fritillaries, they flew by quickly without stopping, but I managed to get a few shots of them nectaring. Gulf Fritillaries fly year-round in most frost-free areas in the southern states, as well as in the tropics. Like most fritillaries it has silver spots on the underside, and can be identified by the black-ringed white spots in the forewing cell on the upper side.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Other Brushfoots

The brush-footed butterfly family (Nymphalidae) is the largest butterfly family in the world, with an estimated count of 5,000 – 6,000 species, including the familiar Monarch butterfly. The Brushfoots get their name from the hair-covered, shortened forelegs which are thought to resemble a brush. Because the first set of legs is so small, these butterflies perch and walk using the back four legs only, with the front pair held up under the “face”.

Tropical Buckeyes were quite common on the resort, though they rarely landed with their wings fully open when feeding on flower nectar. I saw them every day, and as soon as I saw one with its wings fully open I recognized it as a buckeye. One evening I found one perching on the large picture window of our room.

Tropical Buckeye (Junonia genoveva)

I may have seen the Banded Peacock once or twice around the resort, but this is another species I wasn’t able to photograph until our last morning. I was surprised to learn that it was a member of the peacock family (genus Anartia) as it looks nothing like the only peacock I am familiar with, the White Peacock. The Banded Peacock is a pretty butterfly that ranges from Mexico south to Panama where it prefers open and disturbed areas such as fields, weedy places, orchards, and second growth.

Banded Peacock (Anartia fatima)

The Malachite butterfly was a common butterfly around the resort, particularly near the mango trees. I even saw a few on our trip to Palo Verde. It is truly in a class all its own – none of the other butterflies within the same genus have the brilliant yellow-green stained glass pattern of the Malachite. I fell in love with it practically the moment I saw it, and I made a special trip on our last morning to the mango trees to see if any were around. There were two, and I got these photos of one while it was eating the mango and after I accidentally scared it away from the fallen fruit.

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

This is a photo from earlier in the trip, where you can appreciate the bright colours and scalloped shape of its wings.

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

I saw two different cracker butterflies in Costa Rica, potentially different species. Crackers get their name from the cracking sound that males emit as part of their territorial displays. They are part of a small and exclusive group of butterflies of lepidopterans (more than 50 species) that can produce sounds audible to humans. These butterflies use sound both as a warning to predators and to communicate with members of the same species. Crackers are often seen on the ground – unlike most butterflies which feed on nectar, crackers obtain their nourishment from rotting fruit, sap from leguminous trees, and animal dung.

This individual was resting on the path until Doran scared it up. It flew around for a bit before coming to rest on a nearby tree with its head pointing downward. This individual is likely a female as I never heard it make a sound. I believe that this is a Gray Cracker, because the hindwing eyespots have orange scales before the black crescents. For a butterfly lacking in colour, I thought the pattern was very beautiful.

Probable Gray Cracker (Hamadryas februa)

This individual was seen on the beach – I noticed it when it flew up and landed on the trunk of a tree. I believe it is a Variable Cracker based on the noticeable red colour of the cell at the leading edge of the forewing, and the lack of red in the hindwing eyespots. One website notes that the upper-side of forewing is brown and white, sometimes bluish, and there are definitely blue patches in the forewing toward the outer edges.

Possible Variable Cracker (Hamadryas feronia)

I only saw one Ruddy Daggerwing on my trip, and that was right on the first day. Unfortunately it was in bad shape, with tattered wing edges and one of its diagnostic dagger-like tails completely missing. While the long tails could result in this butterfly being mistaken for a swallowtail, the wing shape marks it as one of the brushfoots – it looks like an anglewing with tails, though it doesn’t belong to the anglewing subfamily. However, like most anglewings, the Ruddy Daggerwing’s mottled brown and black underside could be mistaken for a dead leaf.

Ruddy Daggerwing (Marpesia petreus)

The wing shape of this next butterfly doesn’t much resemble that of any of the brushfoots in my opinion. I saw this small butterfly fluttering close to the grass on more than one occasion but wasn’t able to get any photos until our second-last day. When it spread its wings open I could see the orange bands on the brown wings, making it look more like a moth than a butterfly. Unfortunately it didn’t cooperate and sit with its wings fully open while I was taking pictures.

Elf (Microtia elva)

Elf (Microtia elva)

The butterflies at the resort were truly amazing – it was great seeing so many constantly in flight all the time, as well as so many diverse species. I was thrilled to add so many new species to my butterfly life list and would return to Costa Rica in a heartbeat – just for the wonderful butterfly photography alone!

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