Creepy Crawlies

Unless you are staying in a 20 story condo tower, there is no way to avoid the critters in Latin America. Bugs dominate the tropics.

And I won’t lie: we think they’re fascinating, especially the ones that are masters of mimicry.

Take this leaf katydid: It took Ben and I several minutes to determine exactly how many animals were ensconced on the bush, so great was their ability to resemble leaves.

But here’s the really fantastic part: a katydid will have several holes or brown spots on its body, because it doesn’t want to be accidentally eaten by a foraging herbivore, who thinks its consuming a tasty bit o’ greenery. In other words, it wants to be the ugliest ‘leaf’ on the bush that nobody picks for consumption.

Cool, right?!

Check out this leafy grasshopper. I think he’s my very favorite.

One of my favorite jobs post-college was working at the Pacific Science Center‘s tropical butterfly house in Seattle.

Besides working with a great crew of science-minded folk, it was a crash course in the wonderful world of tropical lepidoptera. Every two weeks we’d receive a shipment of butterfly pupa carefully wrapped in cotton for the journey north from Costa Rica. We inspected each¬†chrysalis for signs of infection before pinning it to a rack (like this), ready for hatching as an adult butterfly. Hands down, there is no better place to spend an afternoon on a miserable rainy Seattle November afternoon than the butterfly house.

I still get giddy when I see a blue morpho flutter down the trail here in Central America. The other night we successfully escorted an owl butterfly outside the house, which prompted a long talk about how animals use deception to avoid being eaten.


This toad lived outside our hotel room in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. He’d make an appearance every evening around 5pm. (Not sure about the weird growth on its chest.)

Ben flat-out couldn’t believe this was a moth, not an old twisty leaf.

See?! Masters of mimicry!

We had our first snake of the trip. It was out hunting near our place in Granada. Ben was thrilled. He so very badly wanted it to be venomous; the rest of us were not unhappy when it moseyed along into the bushes.

I have not idea what this guy is but I fished him out of the swimming pool in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. 

Despite our fascination with bugs and critters, it’s not all warm fuzzies. We checked into a cool house that was in the middle of the jungle in Costa Rica. Unfortunately it was slightly decrepit and none of the windows or doors properly closed anymore. The critters treated this like an open door policy and we found ourselves in the middle of an ant, mosquito, and beetle party. The guest of honor was a giant scorpion (the biggest I’ve ever seen!) that waltzed across the kids’ bedroom floor the first evening.

Chris dispatched it with a giant tome – Don Quixote, to be exact. The ninos were pretty freaked out and we worried about what else was going to come crawling or slithering inside. In the end, we politely requested out of our lease and the home owner graciously complied. We like bugs – provided they stay outside.


  • mom

    Holy smokes! Is that a mantis between the snake & frog or what?
    It is a beauty! Totally spectacular! (All the photos are great.)

    It slightly looks like a triangular head typical of a mantis. I admit to being slightly less enamored of them since discovering they hang around bird feeders to feed on hummers and other small avians. It’s because becoming a mantis mom is incredibly energy intensive–producing a case of 400 eggs that weighs up to 50% of her mass.

  • Sonja Jernstrom

    Not a mantis, although we did see them in Samara. THis one is called a Flag Footed Bug and was spectacular.

    I had no idea mantis’ could feed on humming birds. I can’t imagine there is much there to eat, honestly. Just a lot of feathers.

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