Stephanie Fong, Zachary Fazio, Landis Masnor, and Renee Meschi are Shimer students participating in the Shimer Summer Internship Program. They regularly post updates about their internship experience.
Mariposario means “butterfly conservatory” in Spanish, and it is the Mariposario for which Montezuma Gardens Bed and Breakfast is most well-known. In fact, everyone in town refers to the B & B as “el mariposario,” and since landmarks are used in lieu of addresses in Costa Rica, simply saying that you are going to the mariposario to a taxi driver will suffice.
Learning about nature and the ecosystems present in the areas we visit is a vital part of ecotourism. Seeing the simultaneous fragility and strength respresented in the life cycle of the butterfly helps tourists connect more deeply to the environment around them. Join me on a virtual tour of the mariposario at Montezuma Gardens!
First stop is the laboratory, where the eggs are kept and life for the butterflies begins.
Butterflies are host plant specific, and different species prefer to lay eggs on different kinds of trees. In the mariposario, many different kinds of host plants are grown. Every day, workers inspect the leaves of trees known to be favored by butterflies to see if any eggs have been laid. Eggs are tiny and fragile, and need to be handled with the utmost care. When caterpillars hatch from the eggs, they are also fragile, and tiny! The ones I saw measured around an 8th of an inch.
The caterpillars are kept in boxes, and are divided depending on their stage of development. Garden workers must transfer older caterpillars from one box to the next so that their pheromones don’t prematurely trigger growth from other caterpillars who aren’t ready. Here is Ty, one of the garden workers, gently transferring a caterpillar with a paintbrush:
When a butterfly forms a chrysalis, a garden worker will put it behind a fine mesh screen in a protected box in the garden. When the butterfly emerges, it is set free to mingle with other butterflies, and enjoy the easy life of the mariposario. Here is footage of some Costa Rican Blue Morphos flying around the chrysalis box:
A garden worker’s first duty in the mornings is to keep the butterflies protected from predators. That means taking down the myriad spiderwebs that appear every morning. This is Johan; he is from Sweden, and he has been working here for about a month. With him is a hooked cane he uses to sweep the spiderwebs away.
The main butterfly propagated in the mariposario is the Blue Morpho. It’s truly magnificent, and its wings are iridescent in the sunlight: