PacSci Perspectives

A Visit To Jardín Ecológico Pierella

by | Apr 7, 2016

This article is a continuation of the previous post by Life Sciences Volunteer Terry Pagos about her visit to butterfly farms in Costa Rica with her host, Paola Vargas Salas, export manager of Costa Rica Entomological Supply (CRES).

William Camacho Mendez finds a butterfly larvae in one of his many tented nurseries.

William Camacho Mendez finds a butterfly larvae in one of his many tented nurseries.

While doing Lepidoptera research for the Natural History Museum in Costa Rica over 20 years ago, William Camacho Mendez met CRES founder Joris Brinckerhoff. Their mutual interest in butterflies started William’s career as a butterfly farmer in the mid-1990s.

A Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho) laying eggs on a host plant.

A Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho) laying eggs on a host plant.

With the help of a grant from the World Wildlife Fund and a small plot of land from his brother, William was able to start his butterfly farming business. Each year after sending money to his mother, William would buy a little more land.

William Camacho Mendez and wife Crystal Barrantes Guillen are the owners and hosts of Jardín Ecológico Pierella.

William Camacho Mendez and wife Crystal Barrantes Guillen are the owners and hosts of Jardín Ecológico Pierella.

Today, the grounds of Jardín Ecológico Pierella total over 40 hectares in the Sarapiquí lowlands of Heredia Province. With his wife Crystal Barrantes Guillen, William is using his pupae sales to shape Pierella into an ecotourism destination. Little by little they are transforming former cattle pastureland back into forest.

Host plants for butterflies are grown inside a tented nursery to protect them from predators and disease.

Host plants for butterflies are grown inside a tented nursery to protect them from predators and disease.

After a welcoming lunch, William showed us his butterfly nurseries. Large netted tents filled with host plants are constructed below a tall forest canopy. Within these tents are specific butterfly species raised under permit from the Costa Rican government. Isolation in these tents protects the butterflies from predators and viruses.

When a Nessaea aglaura (Aglaura Olivewing) larva begins to pupate, its spines appear to sparkle.

When a Nessaea aglaura (Aglaura Olivewing) larva begins to pupate, its spines appear to sparkle.

When the caterpillars pupate, the chrysalises are easily collected, placed in a transporting case, and taken to a nearby drop spot for pick-up by one of CRES’s drivers. The distance between CRES and Pierella is over 100 kilometers but takes more than 2 hours when traffic is moving well.

White tent-making bats (<em>Ectophylla alba</em>) roost under a Heliconia leaf.

White tent-making bats (Ectophylla alba) roost under a Heliconia leaf.

The nocturnal Red-eyed Tree Frog (<em>Agalychnis callidryas</em>).

The nocturnal Red-eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas).

Besides raising butterflies, William’s passion is his conservation garden. While walking his grounds, we viewed frogs, iguanas, lizards, sloths, bats, and many species of birds. Peccaries, rescued parrots, and a young boa constrictor are also on display. Native flowers and plants grow around the property. Sugarcane and cacao can also be found. Education and conservation is their priority.

These Red-lored Parrots (<em>Amazona autumnalis</em>) were rescued from poachers and now reside at Jardín Ecológico Pierella.

These Red-lored Parrots (Amazona autumnalis) were rescued from poachers and now reside at Jardín Ecológico Pierella.

We were very welcomed at Jardín Ecológico Pierella and left with a deep appreciation of their work and vision. Anyone wanting to explore a well-kept tropical habitat and educational environment should consider a stop at William and Crystal’s garden paradise.

In the final blog post about our Costa Rican trip, we will visit a larger family-run butterfly farm operated by the Familia Otárola, also in the Caribbean lowlands.

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