Wondering about the bugs in Costa Rica? You’re in the right place. Being near the equator with no winter means that Costa Rica has a range of insects that are active year-round. In addition, Costa Rica’s commitment to biodiversity means that it has a lot of protected rainforest – this means more wildlife, which includes bugs.
Costa Rica is home to over 2,000 species of spiders, 1500 of butterflies, 12,000 moths, as well as mosquitos, scorpions, ants, and tarantulas. How much you encounter these insects depends on the time of year you travel to Costa Rica, where in Costa Rica you visit, the type of accommodation you’re staying in, and the types of insect repellants (if any) you use while you’re in Costa Rica – lots of factors really.
We’re going to go through the insects in each category, their risk to you (if any), and bonus: ways to see some cool-looking creepy-crawlers in Costa Rica if that’s what you’re interested in. (I travelled to Costa Rica with my kids and we enjoyed seeing a variety of creepy insects in the jungle that we wouldn’t see at home.)
So, let’s jump in – everything you need to know about bugs in Costa Rica.
Mosquitos in Costa Rica
Mosquitos (called zancudos in Spanish) are very common in Costa Rica; a recent study revealed that there are 93 different species in the country. As much as they’re annoying, regardless of where you go, mosquito are important. Did you know that they help produce chocolate in Costa Rica by pollinating cocoa plants? Just goes to show, as annoying as they are – they serve a purpose in the world like everything else.
As you may know, there are a few mosquito-related diseases that can be caught in Costa Rica and other Central American countries: dengue, zika, chikungunya and in rare cases, malaria. Malaria and Zika get a lot of press, but in Costa Rica, the bigger concern is dengue.
Fortunately, as a tourist, there are a few facts in terms of mosquitos that you might find comforting:
- Dengue and other mosquito-related diseases are less common during dry season which is when most tourists visit Costa Rica (December through March.)
- Mosquitos tend to be more common on the Caribbean coast, whereas most tourists in Costa Rica stick to the Pacific coast, or the highlands
How to avoid mosquito-related diseases in Costa Rica:
The best way to avoid mosquito-related diseases is simply to avoid being bitten by them while you’re in Costa Rica. However, its safe to assume that you may get bitten at least once or twice during your trip – you’re in a tropical country, and these pesky things live everywhere and love human blood.
If you have any concerns about any of the mosquito-related diseases, the most important thing to do is to consult your doctor before your trip to Costa Rica to see if they have any recommendations for vaccines you should take, based on latest most up to date information at the time. When we booked our trip to Costa Rica with our kids, including 8-month old baby, the first thing we did was speak to our doctor.
Good to Know: The peak month for mosquitos in Costa Rica is in August
In addition to consulting your doctor for any vaccine advise, be sure to bring a good mosquito repellent to Costa Rica, and some lightweight long sleeves for added protection. If you’re visiting Costa Rica with a baby or toddler, then consider bracelets or stickers to keep mosquitos away during the day and night. We used a mosquito net to shield our little one in her stroller, which helps too.
Spiders in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is home to over 2,000 species of spiders (called arañas in Spanish), and although its not uncommon to be afraid spiders, remember that you can thank spiders who eat the sometimes more annoying insects, such as mosquitos.
There are a few spiders in Costa Rica that might pose risk, and some really interesting ones too. Here are some of the notable spiders that we have seen, that you might see, and that are worth knowing about before your trip to Costa Rica.
The Ogre-Faced Spider lives in the jungle, and looks like pieces of wood strung together. They sit in their web hoping to catch prey. The ogre-faced spider can hear their prey, as well as see. There have been some accounts of them biting humans, but they were deemed harmless bite. Unless you provoke it, its not likely to do anything to hurt you.
Brazilian Wandering Spider
The most dangerous spider in Costa Rica is called the Brazilian Wandering Spider (also known as the Banana Spider, because of it being found in bushels of bananas.) Its considered to be one of the most toxic spiders in the world.
The Brazilian Wandering Spider lives in the jungle and is nocturnal, so you’re not likely to encounter it unless you’re in the jungle at night (and even then, the chances would be slim.) Its bite is mainly a defence mechanism, so its only likely to bite if provoked. Even if a bite occurs, fatality would be rare because it rarely releases the venom required to kill. Their bite is known for being more dangerous to children than adults.
Pro Tip: Your chances of encountering or being bitten by the Brazilian Wandering Spider are very low, as they avoid humans. (We have never seen one before, even during our night hikes in the rainforest.) However, if you think you may have been bitten, the best thing to do would be seek medical attention immediately.
Those who are afraid of spiders find tarantulas even more disturbing, but the tarantulas in Costa Rica are known for being shy and relatively harmless. The largest spider and tarantula in Costa Rica is the Goliath Birdeating Tarantula, it could bite and the bite might feel like a wasp sting but would otherwise be harmless.
Another common tarantula is the Costa Rican Bluefront Tarantula. Believe it or not, these fuzzy critters are actually a popular pet! In the wild, the Bluefront will not be out to harm you, they spend most of their time burrowed in the ground.
Interesting Fact about Bluefront tarantulas: The males only live 5 years, but the females can live up to 20 years
Other Bugs in Costa Rica
Besides the main insects that people usually worry about (mosquitos, spiders and tarantulas) there are a variety of other bugs in Costa Rica from cockroaches, beetles, sandflies, biting ants, bullet ants. Here’s what you need to know about each one.
Cockroaches live in most parts of the Americas, but Costa Rica has some roaches that you likely don’t see back home. The largest cockroach in Costa Rica is said to be the Central American Giant Cave Cockroach, or the Brazilian Cockroach (Blaberus giganteus) which can grow to 3-3.9 inches long. It primarily inhabits rainforest areas.
However, we did not see them when they were there. We did however see smaller cockroaches like the one pictured above in the jungle.Cockroaches, although they look creepy are generally harmless to humans, besides carrying bacteria. So as long as they’re out of the place you’re living in, (and you’re not touching them) then they don’t pose a threat to you.
A cricket doesn’t sound scary, but I was absolutely terrified when I used a restaurant bathroom in Monteverde, to find this on the wall beside the toilet. Its huge, about the size of the palm of my hand! However, after looking it up and doing some research, I learned that it was just a harmless cricket. They may not be fun to look at, but they’re harmless to humans.
Sandflies are smaller than mosquitos and tend to inhabit forested areas. So, you’re more likely to encounter them in the jungle. Bites from sandflies are usually harmless, but it there’s a small risk of being infected with a disease known as leishmaniasis (papalomoyo in Spanish.)
We have not had issues with sandflies, even during our numerous treks into the jungle. The best prevention method is to minimized uncovered skin in the jungle, and use insect repellant. If you do start to develop symptoms (fever, swelling) after being in the jungle, then its important to seek medical attention for treatment and the cure.
Biting and Bullet Ants
Both Biting Ants and Bullet Ants live in Costa Rica, and both of them bite. Biting ants are known as picas in Costa Rica, and they’re very small and can be black, or red. Their bite will generally feel like..
Bullet ants are a larger ant that is black, and their bite can be quite painful (this is where they got their name from – their bite feeling like a bullet.) The pain can also last for hours. Bullet Ants only become aggressive if provoked, so just be careful not to step on or touch one when exploring the rainforest.
There are scorpions in Costa Rica, but most of them are very small, like the ones pictured below that we saw in the jungle (the Tailess Whip Scorpion.) There are other breeds of scorpions in Costa Rica, and they can bite. According to the University of Costa Rica, scorpion bites are not lethal in Costa Rica and there haven’t been any reported deaths from scorpion bites. Like most other animals, as long as you are not provoking them, they should give you your space.
Bees and wasps
There are 650 species of bees in Costa Rica, but unfortunately all of the species are endangered. Bees and wasps are important pollinators in Costa Rica, for the balance of biodiversity as well as several of our food sources (avocados, chocolate, coffee, etc.) There has been push in recent years to aid in preserving the bee populations. Do not kill any bees if you see them.
Like anywhere else though, the bees and wasps in can sting Costa Rica. This is more of a nuisance than a danger, unless you’re allergic to bees. Be sure to bring whatever allergy medication or equipment you have at home with you if you’re allergic to bees, and seek medical attention if you’re stung.
Are there ticks in Costa Rica? Ticks have become common throughout United States, and parts of Canada, especially where I live in the the Great Toronto area. There are ticks in Costa Rica as well. The good news is, they don’t tend to spread Lyme disease in Costa Rica as they’re known for in U.S and Canada.
The bad news is that ticks spread different illnesses in Costa Rica, known as ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. The symptoms of both are similar to those of dengue fever. Luckily, they are both treatable, especially if caught early.
I have been bitten by a tick, but not in Costa Rica – it was hiking outside of Toronto in the month of November. Ticks are sadly, becoming more common worldwide.
There are over 1500 species of butterflies, and 12,000 species of moths in Costa Rica. Many of the butterflies are colourful, and feed on the tropical fruits. Butterflies and moths are, like other insects, an important part of the ecosystem in Costa Rica.
You can observe butterflies in the jungle, or visit one of the butterfly conservatories to see them up close. (More on that below.)
Should You Be Worried about Bugs in Costa Rica?
If you’re travelling to Costa Rica during dry season, and sticking to the Pacific coast, following the advice of your doctor, and taking precautions such as insect repellent and long sleeves in certain locations, then your risk of being infected with anything serious is extremely low.
Many tourists in Costa Rica travel during dry season, and they tend to stay in high-class resorts close to the beach. There will inevitably be some bugs regardless of where you go, but less so than if you were to go into the rainforest. If you head to higher elevations where its cooler (such as Monteverde or La Fortuna) then the risk with bugs is even lower.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t visit the rainforest in Costa Rica if you want to. Rainforests in Costa Rica have trails to walk through, wildlife to spot with binoculars and hanging bridges that give you a bird’s eye view. They’re a very popular and worthwhile attraction, and one one of my favourite ways to explore Costa Rica. Its just important to take precaution, and discuss concerns with your doctor ahead of time.
Overall, as a tourist in Costa Rica, my experience with bugs in Costa Rica has not been bad. I’ve been bitten by mosquitos, and seen some creepy-looking insects, but I’ve never been harmed by one beyond that.
Costa Rica’s commitment to keeping their rainforests and biodiversity intact is admirable, and sets them apart from other Central American countries like Nicaragua that have, sadly, cleared a lot of their rainforest.
In conclusion, here are the steps to stay safe from bugs in Costa Rica:
- Consult your doctor before your trip about any up to date vaccine advice
- Follow the instructions of the rainforest tour or guide if visiting the jungle
- Bring insect repellant with you, or buy one in Costa Rica
- Don’t ouch any living insect that you don’t know what it is (to be safe)
Importance of Bugs in Costa Rica
Remember that everything contributes to the ecological biodiversity in some way. Insects in Costa Rica pollinate the blooms, which provide food to wildlife as well as humans. They also provide protein to their predators, such as tropical birds and lizards. Unless an insect is harming you (such as a mosquito bite) then please leave them alone.
How to Encounter the Coolest Insects in Costa Rica
Although its great to take precautions against certain bugs, its important to remember that bugs don’t always have to be a source of fear. Bugs are interesting to study and learn about. If you’re like me or my daughter, and enjoy looking at exotic, interesting insects, then Costa Rica is a great place to do that.
Here are some of the best ways you can see and learn about Costa Rica’s fascinating insect species.
1. Do a Jungle Night Tour
The night jungle tour that we did was one of our most memorable experiences in Costa Rica. Many rainforest animals (insects and mammals included) are nocturnal, so they’re much more active at night than during the day. Doing a jungle night tour allows you to see interesting bugs, reptiles and mammals that would be harder to spot during the day.
Night Jungle Tours in Costa Rica
- Manuel Antonio area – this 2 hour private tour with a local guide will show you frogs, scorpions, snakes and lots of different insects . We did this one when we were staying nearby at Parador Hotel.
2. Visit a Butterfly Sanctuary
A butterfly sanctuary is an environment where butterflies can safely live without the danger of predators, lay their eggs and pollinate, and where caterpillars can also grow, eat and eventually go through the process of turning into a butterfly. Butterfly sanctuaries are important because they enable the butterfly population, which is needed for our plants to grow. Plans need to be pollinated by bees, butterflies and other bugs.
There are lots of butterfly sanctuaries worldwide (one of my favourites is in Niagara Falls) but there’s a few very cool ones you can visit in Costa Rica too.
Best butterfly Sanctuaries in Costa Rica:
- Butterfly Conservatory, about 30 minutes from La Fortuna is dedicated to the preservation of the rainforest; allows you to see the life cycles of butterflies first hand, as well as frogs and other amphibians.
- Butterfly Garden in Monteverde, large dome-shaped butterfly sanctuary committed to conserving butterfly populations. Apart of the greater Selvatura Park and located right next to a Sloth Sanctuary. Book it here.
- Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, just 20 minutes outside of San José, the capital. You can either drive there, or take an Uber from downtown San José
Bugs in Costa Rica: FAQs
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about bugs in Costa Rica, and how to protect yourself from them
Are bugs a problem in Costa Rica?
In most cases, as long as you’re taking precautions, you will not have any serious problems from bugs in Costa Rica. There are hundreds of thousands of species of bugs though, and being a tropical country near the equator, there are undeniably bugs year around. In terms of mosquito-related diseases, the riskiest time for contracting tends to be during wet season (August, in particular.) There are some dangerous spiders that aren’t likely to bite you if unprovoked.
How bad are the mosquitoes in Costa Rica?
This depends on where you go in Costa Rica, and the time of year. The mosquitos in Costa Rica are worse during the rain season (May through November) and they tend to be more prevalent on the Caribbean coast. Your risk of being infected with any mosquito-related diseases is higher during those times and in those locations. Its important to realize that being a tropical country, there are bugs everywhere in Costa Rica.
What is the biting bug in Costa Rica?
There are a lot of insects in Costa Rica that can bite – sandflies, ants, mosquitos and spiders. However, you might be thinking of the bug known as the Biting Ant which lives in Costa Rica, and yes – it can bite, but luckily, the bite isn’t known to to cause serious problems.
Are there dangerous bugs in Costa Rica?
There are some bugs in Costa Rica that have the potential to be anything from annoying to dangerous. There are some spiders that can be dangerous, but it would be uncommon to be bitten by one. The biggest concerns are contracting mosquito-related diseases, because of how easy it is to be bitten. Be sure to revise the current health situation in Costa Rica regarding insects before you go, and take the advice from your doctor about any necessary medications to take. Also, know that you’re more likely to encounter mosquitos that carry diseases in Costa Rica at certain times and locations.
Bugs in Costa Rica: Conclusion
Bugs in Costa Rica are both fascinating and annoying. There are some things to keep in mind in terms of protecting yourself against the ones that are a nuisance, but also some ways to see some amazing creepy crawlers if thats what you hope to do.
In the majority of cases, you’re not likely to encounter deadly bugs in Costa Rica if you’re sticking to the main touristy areas (such as the beaches), following the advice of your guide or tour in the jungle, and wearing the appropriate clothing with insect repellent, then you are doing everything you can to prevent any problems with bugs. However, its helpful to know about the difference species of bugs in Costa Rica in advance, so you know how to protect yourself, as well as kids if you’re travelling with them, in case you need to.
We followed the safety instructions from our certified jungle guides, and kept ourselves safe from insects during our trip, even in the jungle.