Costa Rica's smallest residents are the rain forest ecosystem's largest contributors

Blue butterfly on leaf

You can’t take a step in the rain forests of Costa Rica without encountering a brilliant butterfly, a marching line of leafcutter ants, a vibrant poison arrow frog, or any number of other small, hardworking creatures that truly run the show in the tropics.

These ecosystem engineers pollinate flowers high in the tree canopy, decompose and return nutrients to the soil, and act as key food sources for larger forest dwellers. In fact, they form the foundation of the country’s astounding biodiversity: 1,100 species of birds, 250 reptile species, and 240 species of mammals—including all seven of Central America’s tropical cats.

While ocelots, jaguars, and pumas no doubt top the lists of most hoped-for wildlife sightings in Costa Rica, it’s the miniature denizens of the forest—ornately colored and unbelievably numerous and prevalent—that captivate visitors from beginning to end.

I’ve yet to meet a nature enthusiast who’s not awestruck by the iridescent pulse of a blue morpho butterfly, for example. With each beat of its wings, the morpho oscillates between prismatic bright blue upper side and mottled brown, perfectly camouflaged underside—disorienting potential predators by making it virtually impossible to track through the dim understory. Each downstroke of its wings may carry it 10 feet as it dots its path through the forest like a dazzling, softball-sized blue firefly.

As someone who has studied entomology and is naturally drawn to the smaller stuff, I hope that amid all the beauty of Costa Rica, visitors can’t help but remember these tiny jewels as a highlight of their adventures.

Travel to Costa Rica with WWF.

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