Collecting Butterflies in Costa Rica

Subject: Butterflies Costa Rica
November 22, 2013 10:41 am
Where can I legally collect butterflies in Costa Rica as a tourist.  Visiting in December.
I know I cannot catch them in the National Parks.  Are there areas where it is ok?
Signature: Tor Bredal

Costa Rican Sister from our archives
Costa Rican Sister from our archives

Hi Tor,
We don’t know the answer to your question.  Since we do not endorse the collection of insects for anything but scientific purposes, we will not research this matter, but we would urge you to consult with customs prior to your trip.  Though you may be able to locate someone with private property who permits collecting insects, leaving Costa Rica with potentially protected insects and returning to you native land with contraband might result in criminal detainment.

Hi Daniel
Are you telling me that all butterflies collected in Costa Rica are potentially protected
Best regards

Hi again Tor,
We are not saying that.  We do not know the laws for collecting within Costa Rica or for passing through customs, but we would not want you to be detained for trying to export insects.  There is big money in contraband protected butterflies.  Our friend Julian Donahue, the lepidopterist, always secured government permission prior to collecting on trips.  We are urging you to research this matter thoroughly.  We will contact Julian to see if he can provide a comment to this posting.

Thank you that would be very helpful. The Costa Rican Embassy in Norway did not know anything. I know much about Red List and which ones that are threatened. To apply for a permission would be of interest.
Best regards

Julian Donahue explains butterfly importation restrictions
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for overseeing the importation of animals and their products (the Department of Agriculture oversees the importation of plants and plant products). All such items must be declared upon re-entering the U.S.; if the Customs Inspector finds undeclared items, you will be referred to the wildlife officer and subject to confiscation and/or legal action. Permits are generally required in advance if wildlife items are being imported for commercial purposes.

The Fish and Wildlife Service enforces foreign laws: if a permit is required to collect in and/or export from the country of origin (regardless of what the local residents may tell you to the contrary), then you will have to produce that documentation when entering the U.S. Otherwise, your specimens may be confiscated.

Regardless of whether the country of origin requires permits to collect and/or export, a Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish or Wildlife Form 3-177 must be filled out; the form is available online at:

A quick Google search (which also showed this very What’s That Bug post on the first page) produced information on obtaining permits for scientific research, but nothing that specifically applies to avocational/recreational collecting. You may want to view these pages, however, which have contact information that will allow you to pursue this question further with the various Costa Rican authorities:

Although I am not aware of any Costa Rican butterflies that are on any official lists of protected species, travelers should be aware that many fish and wildlife products are prohibited from entry into the U.S. I recently visited a USFWS warehouse in Denver, Colorado, that was crammed to the rafters with confiscated wildlife, from furs and feathers to bags full of purses made from toads, and shelves full of turtles, coral, seashells–and butterflies!. For further information on items that may be prohibited, see

Additional information may be obtained from the USFWS Office of Law Enforcement


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BugMan aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

2 thoughts on “Collecting Butterflies in Costa Rica”

    • We are going to fall back on our original response: “We don’t know the answer to your question. Since we do not endorse the collection of insects for anything but scientific purposes, we will not research this matter, but we would urge you to consult with customs prior to your trip.” Since Julian is a lepidopterist, we trust that he provided accurate information.


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