Butterflies and crocodiles

The sun comes up early here and it was already high and hot by the time we reached the Manuel Antonio Nature Park, part of a 25 acre private wildlife refuge. The big attraction here is the butterfly garden but several tours are offered, including a night walk to see the over-a-dozen species of frogs and toads. Since it was 10 in the morning we opted for a more mundane experience.

Our first stop was the butterfly atrium where our knowledgeable guide tried his best to pound "A Complete Guide to Butterflies: Their Lives, Habits and Habitats" into our overheated brains. It was a hopeless task but a remarkably beautiful little garden, utterly fascinating information, and an hour well spent. But don't expect me to tell you which butterfly has four legs and which six.

Our first stop was this chrysalis, which could easily be mistaken for a gold Tiffany's pendant.
We saw samples of all four stages of metamorphosis (egg, larvae, chrysalis, and adult).

Our expert guide about to point out a spider web so strong
we could pull on it without breaking or tearing it. So strong, in fact, that the natives
 used to roll them between their palms into long strands, wind several strands
together, and use them for fishing lines. The spider was pretty hefty too.

You'll have to click on these photos to appreciate the remarkable insects.

I love this little guy. 

There were about five kinds of butterflies in the garden.
The variety changes depending on their life cycles.

These big ones are Blue Morphos (Morpho peleides), a Costa Rica icon.
They fly a quick, irregular pattern so were hard to capture with the camera.

The view through the microscope shows the wings are covered with scales,
much like a snakeskin.


On to the crocodiles. This is a young female.
Many of these are rescued and may be released back into the wild.
Crocodiles are seriously nasty and can run up to 25 MPH for short distances.
If you are ever being chased, remember to run a zigzag pattern;
they have a hard time turning quickly. 

And watch out for those teeth!

This is a cayman, smaller than a crocodile and not so aggressive. 

A prehistoric tail.

A male and female turtle. Can you tell the difference? Neither can we.

This is a box turtle (I think). There were several kinds in the ponds including
snapping turtles, which can take a finger off—or a hand if they're big enough.

Leaving the reptiles we went back to the butterfly garden to cool off. 

We leave Manuel Antonio in less than a week and have seen only a fraction of the abundant flora and fauna that makes Costa Rica famous, but that fraction includes kingsized editions of every houseplant I've ever tried to grow or thought of growing; two kinds of monkeys (and another frequently heard) numerous iguanas and other lizards, black squirrels, many mostly unidentified birds, a small brown rodent in the "back yard," a poisonous viper in a jar, and four three-toed sloths. 

(Costa Rica has both three- and two-toed sloths. A local described them thus: the three toed sloth is a vegetarian and has a smile on his face; the two-toed eats insects and wears a frown. The inference is clear.)  Our visual inventory must also include the four kinds of ants, big brown beetles and two geckos that share our apartment. 

We will miss everything but the ants. 

Photography copyright by Ray Gilden, 2012