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Butterflies: An Enchanted Garden Where Jewels Flutter By

by Geoffrey Bankowski

Standing amid the noise and choking fumes of downtown San José you won't find much natural beauty. Travel 30 minutes to the northwest, though, and you could find yourself in a lush garden full of tropical greenery, with a trickling waterfall and brilliant colors that fly and may even land upon you.

And with a large, delicate Blue Morpho butterfly lighting upon your eyebrow, you may well find yourself unable to even remember the word automobile.

La Finca de Mariposas (The Butterfly Farm)—a visitor's center, a netted garden of more than 500 butterflies (30-45 species), a small laboratory where larvae and pupae are nurtured, a gift shop, and The Blue Crowned Motmot Restaurant—was created in 1985 by Joris Brinckerhoff and his wife Maria Sabido.

It began as a non-traditional export business to provide specimens to exhibits, institutions, and private collectors in Europe and North America But given Costa Rica's unusual richness of butterflies (more than five percent of the world's known species in 0.0025 percent of its surface area) the farm soon became a natural attraction for visitors. Tens of thousands of tourists and residents have made the trip to the La Guacima property since Brinckerhoff opened as a tourist attraction in 1990.

The tour begins with a short, descriptive video that emphasizes the importance of wildlife conservation. But things really begin as you enter the garden of quiet, colorful motion. After giving our group some time to absorb the sudden fluttering, guide Agnes calmly proceeds to reveal the four stages of a butterfly's life:

Eggs the size of a pin-head clinging white to the flat green of various plants (each species feeds and has the female lay her eggs on a particular type).

Larvae—or eating-machines, as they are described at the farm—housed and given new plants to feed upon in the lab, away from the danger of natural predators. At this stage they will grow to caterpillars often a hundred times the size of the egg).

Standing amid the noise and choking fumes of downtown San José you won't find much natural beauty. Travel 30 minutes to the Pupae which form and hang for 10 days like brown leaves, or lime-green jewels; and finally...

The adult butterfly, struggling wet and groggy out of its chrysalis to spend a short time drying off before heading for the garden to find another with whom to start it all over again. Each stage of this process is witnessed up-close amidst interesting details and visual examples.

Although the number and variety of butterflies you will witness varies with the weather and the time of day and year, several members of my group reckoned the experience was "more than worth the money." They thought it a shame, though, that after all its effort the adult butterfly lives only three to four weeks.

But to me, this seemed to be one of the more subtle attractions of The Butterfly Farm. The chance to witness an entire life-span in one afternoon, and to see how quickly beauty can splash into the world and then disappear, could be something to remember when you next find yourself waiting in noisy traffic trying to breathe.

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