Our day began with a cancellation of our group’s original plan to go ziplining due to 55 mile per hour winds and extreme horizontal rain. Our tour guide, Diego, recommended a tour of a butterfly garden, which also had a variety of insects. When we arrived, we met with a very eccentric but charming woman, Brianna, who unveiled the insect collection. The first was a tarantula named Ginger. After showing off the spider, Brianna brought out the tarantula’s worst enemy: the tarantula hawk, a spider wasp known as Pepsis. Brianna shed light on the underwhelming size of the male wasp compared to the female. The female wasp was around six times larger than the male. The female of the species is most dominant in the relationship, paralyzing the tarantula, laying her eggs on the body, and finally burying it alive. The eggs then hatch and the young proceed to devour the male tarantula. This act truly represents the ruthlessness that nature possesses.
Brianna also had a selection of other insects and other invertebrates such as stick bugs, scorpions, beetles and a cockroach. The cockroach was much different from the traditional type of cockroach we all see on television. The head of the cockroach looked very much like a grasshopper, and had an intricate design on the underbelly. Brianna’s quirky personality then led her to give “Timmy” a big kiss, and put the entire three-inch roach in her mouth, providing an amusing show for our group. This was essentially the finale of the insect show. It was easy to stay engaged because of the diversity of insects coupled with a bombardment of analogies between insect reproduction and human sexual selection.
We then proceeded to follow our muy caliente tour guide Max to El Jardin de Mariposas, or the butterfly gardens. The second we passed through the doors, we were overwhelmed with color and fluttering wings. The first of the three gardens contained butterflies of the lowland rainforests including the red cracker, apricot sulphur, blue morpho, great owl, and the monarch. Our two favorites were the blue morpho and the great owl butterfly. Both of these butterflies share a common striking blue color on the back sides of their wings, while the outsides are brown and camouflaged. The great owl butterfly has a particular survival advantage due to its wing pattern. One half of the wing looks like the eye of an owl and the other half of the wing looks like the head of a snake. These markings allow the great owl to scare off predators.
The second garden that we visited contained long-winged butterflies. Some of the species we encountered were the zebra longwing, tiger longwing, and the Sara longwing. These butterflies are small but with a proportionally longer wing to body ratio than the previous. These butterflies are attracted to what Max referred to as “grandma plants” or the plants that older women like to plant in their gardens.
Our final visit was to the habitat of glasswinged butterflies, so named due to their transparent wings. I looked over at one on the top of a leaf and I could see the leaf through the wing! This was incredible because I had no idea that nature could produce such a characteristic. This is an evolutionary adaptation to avoid predation, but the drawback is that it is harder to see and find mates. Finally, like all good tours, we ended in the gift shop….