UGA Costa Rica Blog

¡Pura vida!

Insects and Butterflies


We had a chance recently to visit the Monteverde Butterfly Garden and get a closer look at many of the insects that live in Costa Rica. In the above photo, naturalist Caley Zazula holds a Hercules beetle. Be careful not to get your finger caught in his pincers, the same strength that allows him to lift 850 times his body weight will also give you a pinch.

Below, naturalist Sarah Kelehear holds a butterfly with distinctive owl spots. The top right photo is a dung beetle, also a powerhouse insect. Some types of dung beetles can roll dung balls up to 50 times their weight. The bottom right photos is an ironclad beetle, whose hard exoskeleton makes pinning it for an insect collection impossible without a small drill.


140901_kdi_BirdsButterflies137The garden’s butterfly areas feature different habitats from the hot lowlands, to the shady areas of the forest where many glass-winged butterflies make their home.

Introduction to the UGACR Farm, Part 2


Thank you for reading part one of my introduction to the farm at UGA Costa Rica. Today, I’ll share a little bit about our greenhouses and other crops we grow here.

This is a better picture of our large greenhouse. The top keeps the rain out but allows sunlight to go through. As you can sort of see, we are growing lettuce in the bottom of the greenhouse, and grass up top. We are growing the grass on purpose, which is strange for a farm, but I will explain it more fully in a later post.


Here’s a look at the beds. We’ve put branches on the bottom to limit erosion. The bed featured in the photo is made up of cabbage. I know that this picture makes things look fairly chaotic, and sometimes they are, but this was from early on when we were losing the battle against the weeds. The beds look a bit more organized now.

IMG_0142 This sign warns people that the fence is electric. It hurts if you touch it. Believe me. I’m not speculating.


One cool thing we do here is that we compost both the weeds from the garden, and food waste from the kitchen. The weeds from the garden go into large piles that look like the one above. The food waste goes into the building below. In both cases we are warm composting, which involves raising the temperature of the material being composted high enough that bacteria and small insects can break it down. The heat is generated by letting the compost sit, though it must be turned over periodically so that every part gets warm, and water must be added occasionally to help sustain the bacteria.


We plant a variety of crops, although the most common are lettuce, cabbage, and carrots. The top picture is a type of lettuce that is new to the farm, and is pretty funky looking.

To protect the lettuce and cabbage from the elements we plant it in small trays and then transplant it once it is a bit hardier.

This is about as big as we want to let it get before it goes into one of the beds. As you can see the plants are running out of real estate.

We grow a bit of sugarcane, and it makes a great snack if you cut it down and chew on the white stalk.

This is called chayote, and tastes like squash. It grows on these vines and we don’t have to do anything except go around harvesting it every couple of weeks.

Stay tuned for more updates from the farm!

An Introduction to the UGACR Farm


My name is Evan Senie and I’m the Sustainable Agriculture Intern at UGA Costa Rica. I’ll be doing some blogging focusing on my work at the farm. The farm here at UGACR is organic, and the food produced is used to feed the volunteers, students, and tourists who stay at the facility.

We use terraced beds on the farm, due to the relatively steep grade and the fact that during the rainy season there is significant water flow down the farm.

IMG_0097There are many crops on the farm but the first one I’ll mention for now are the bananas. There are actually three things that grow from similar looking trees but I’ll cover them in another post. This plantation is behind the farm and we harvest these every couple of weeks.


For those of you who don’t know, this is how bananas grow. There is a large flower that hangs down and then extends upward in bunches. Once they’re ready we get to chop the entire tree down with a machete, which is awesome. If you’re not good at it (I am not good at it), it is possible to chop the tree in such a way that it crushes the bananas, rendering the entire exercise useless.

Assuming we avoid this unfortunate outcome, the bananas go into this bucket to ripen for a few days before we bring them to the kitchen.

We have to put a top on the bucket because of the monkeys and the pizotes, or coatis. The monkeys seem cute but they’re actually thieves.



To wrap up, here’s a sunset picture from the farm. It’s got a nice view out to the west over the mountains. Part two of the overview will look at some more of our crops, composting, and our chickens.


Celebrating Day of the Cultures


On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus first landed in America. Costa Ricans mark this historic day with Día de las Culturas, or Day of the Cultures. Three main groups have influenced Costa Rican culture: indigenous people groups, the Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean culture. This day also celebrates people from around the world who have influenced Costa Rica.

The Alto San Luis Elementary School celebrated the day with a special presentation about the history of the indigenous people of Costa Rica and the effects of Columbus’ arrival. They performed traditional Costa Rican dances and also had the chance to sample food from different parts of the world!

Climate March in Monteverde

Steve Padgett Vasquez is a UGA doctoral candidate in Integrative Conservation and Geography doing research at UGA Costa Rica. His research focuses on using freely available GIS and remote sensing software to help conservation efforts in the Bellbird Biological Corridor. During his two-week stay, he attended a local march raising awareness about climate change. Today, he shares his account of the march and this video he shot as well.

Shortly after arriving at the UGA Campus in the valley of San Luis in Costa Rica, I noticed a poster about an upcoming climate march. At the time I didn’t realize that I was going to be involved in something bigger than raising local awareness about climate change. This march was parallel to the People’s Climate March in New York City and timed in anticipation of the UN Climate Summit.

Despite only knowing where the march was going to start in the town of Santa Elena, I managed to convince three UGA study abroad students to go with me. What we saw at the local high school were hundreds of people from all ages and representing different elements of the Monteverde community getting organized to raise awareness about climate change. With sirens blaring, a Red Cross ambulance led the march. Incorporating Tico culture into the march, a group of high school students dressed in “trajes típicos” with the colors of the Costa Rican flag danced to the beat of a makeshift band. Colorful signs and posters, usually attached to shovels, followed a group of street performers. Along the way we passed a tree where a sloth was resting, which energized the march.

We made it all the way to the new Catholic Church, but the event was far from over. Awaiting us behind the church were trees brought from a nearby nursery. Volunteers gathered around and started planting the trees in an old cattle pasture in an effort to help reforest the Monteverde region. When I decided to join the march and document the event, I had no idea that I was going to be part of a bigger narrative. With all the attention being focused on the People’s March in New York, I am glad that a small community in Costa Rica helped raise awareness and turn words (and posters) into action!

Visiting the Water Source


Our students recently had the chance to visit the source of San Luis’s water. UGA Costa Rica Business Manager Virgilio Brenes led us on a trek to a mountain spring where it all begins. Even though the path to the spring is less than a mile long, it feels much longer, with treacherous slopes of slippery rocks and ankle-deep mud.

Before starting down the trail, Virgilio held up a rock to remind us that all the materials to build infrastructure for the spring had to be carried there. Like many projects here, the community built it themselves. As difficult as some parts of the trail were to walk, someone did it carrying heavy bags of concrete. One local man made up to 20 trips a day carrying 100 lbs of concrete each time.

In fact, there was no trail to the springs when the project began. Workers had to repel down the rocks to the spring before starting to cut a trail to an accessible place in the road.

From the spring, the water travels down to lower San Luis, passing through water stations along the way that control the speed and pressure of the water.



Looking Back: Independence Day in Costa Rica

Celebrating Independence Day

Learning about the holiday and preparing lanterns

One of the best ways to learn about a culture is celebrating the holidays. Students studying with UGACR in the fall have the chance to learn about the history of Costa Rica through participating in the celebration of Costa Rican Independence Day.

Spanish professor Ana Ligia Lopez gave a fascinating presentation about how Costa Ricans have celebrated their independence in the past and now in the present. Costa Rica, and all of Central America, gained independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. Today people across the country celebrate with decorative lanterns the night of the 14th as well as a parade on the 15th.

Students worked hard to prepare their own lanterns, or faroles, to carry the night of the celebration. Some chose to use the shapes of Costa Rica’s animals, such as a toucan or frog. Others focused on using the colors of Costa Rica’s flag: red, white, and blue.

Lanterns and the Night Parade

With lanterns ready, everyone headed down to the elementary school in upper San Luis where the community had gathered to sing the national anthem. At exactly 6 p.m. each year, Costa Ricans across the country begin to sing the national anthem.

Before the anthem, students and children alike stood in line to have their faroles evaluated by a panel of judges. Many lanterns were shaped like typical Costa Rican homes or the traditional oxcart. You can learn more about why Costa Ricans use lanterns for this holiday from this article in the Tico Times.

One of UGA’s students won a prize for her lantern made in the shape of a woman wearing a traditional Costa Rican skirt in red, white, and blue! After the lantern winners were announced, everyone walked along the road with the lanterns (and maybe a few flashlights) lighting the way.

Watching the parade

140915_kdi_parade226Another important part of the Independence Day celebrations is the parade through the town of Santa Elena with schoolchildren marching in costume and performances by dancers and marching bands. The atmosphere is festive and the colorful costumes make the scene even more lively.

Bird Mist Netting


Have you ever wondered how scientists study birds? Sometimes counting birds on a walk through the forest reveals all that a researcher needs to know, such as our monthly bird count. Other times, it helps to get a closer look to identify or mark birds with small bands. For this purpose, fine nets, or mist nests, are set up to capture birds.

UGA Costa Rica’s head naturalist, Arturo Cruz Obando, led our resident naturalists in an exercise in bird mist netting to gain experience with this method. They previously used mist netting to identify bats on our campus trails.

After setting up the nets along an open space along the trail, we checked back every fifteen minutes to see if we had captured anything. While wearing gloves, the best way to untangle the bird from the net is to start by holding the feet and then working to clear the wings and head with care.

The naturalists had a wonderful time learning about mist netting with birds. What a pleasure to see and hold these birds up close!

UGACR Butterfly Collection

Sword-tailed, orange-barred, and zebra — butterflies come in all shapes and sizes. Their variety of patterns and colors can communicate a warning, assume a disguise, or disappear in the backdrop of the forest.
UGA Costa Rica has a beautiful collection of more than 400 specimens found on and around our campus in San Luis. Many hours of work have gone into finding and preserving these specimens, some of which are very rare. The scientific value of such a collection cannot be understated as it has shown an unexpected diversity of species in a small area. Also, it preserves a future record of the rarest butterflies and those that are perhaps disappearing.
Here are photos of some of our most dazzling and fascinating specimens.

Learning About Bats at UGACR

140806_kdi_MistNets022Costa Rica is often admired for its species diversity, and bat species are no exception. Although Costa Rica only occupies 0.03% of the world’s land mass, 12% of bat species around the world can be found here.

UGACR naturalists get the chance to see these animals up close. Our Head Naturalist Arturo Cruz Obando sets up mist nets along some of our trails. Mist nets are made of fine netting to catch bats as they fly through open areas. They form a curtain that begins a few inches off the forest floor and can rise about seven feet in the air. This is important because it allows for the capture of a range of bats who fly at different heights in the forest. Of course, there are other bats that fly high above in the canopy that will not be caught by such nets.


Bats navigate by echolocation, or the use of sound to map the location of the landscape and potential food. Although humans usually cannot hear the sounds emitted by bats, they can reach the energetic intensity of the noise from a jet plane. Unprotected, the bat’s ears would be damaged by such a loud sound. But the bat’s ear muscles contract during the most intense period of sound and release a moment later to receive the echo. This protects the ears of the bat without compromising the intensity of the sound it sends out.


Bats are also an important part of the ecosystem. Insect-eating bats hold in check populations of insects, some of which are pests. Bats also pollinate and disperse seeds. While many animals, including birds and monkeys effectively disperse seeds, bats have the distinction of doing so in areas without trees. In these areas, bat dispersed seeds can grow into the pioneer species that begin the process of reforestation.

Information from Mammals of Costa Rica, by Mark Wainwright 

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