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An Expat Guide To Dealing With The Bugs In Costa Rica

Costa Rica is undeniably one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It is known for its lush forests, stunning volcanoes, expansive coastline and picturesque landscapes. Tourists from all over the globe are attracted to this region of Central America thanks to its unique and diverse flora and fauna. Costa Rica has also become a very popular expat destination, due to its rich culture, stability, relaxed lifestyle, high living standards, healthcare, weather, cuisine, safety, activities, nightlife and living costs. In the last few years, several international surveys have ranked this nation as one of the best or happiest places to live.However, life in this picturesque location is not always a bed of roses; as an expat, there are a few aspects of the pura vida (pure life) land you may find a bit difficult to digest. One such challenge is the variety of creepy crawlies! Since Costa Rica is in the tropics, there are at least 4,000 different kinds of bugs all over the country, which come in varying shapes and sizes.

Keep in mind that you might find these critters anywhere, no matter which city or town you go to, even if the weather is moderate. They are almost impossible to avoid in rural areas with large amounts of vegetation. Some may be carriers of dangerous diseases, so it is crucial that you are extremely careful when dealing with insects you’re not sure about. On the other hand, some of these creatures can make great pets. Once you familiarize yourself with the most common kinds of bugs, you will find it easier to identify and deal with the ones that are harmful.

While there are several creepy-crawlies that you may come across during your stay in this country, here are some of the most common ones, along with tips to avoid them.


Despite their small size, mosquitoes are feared the world over. Their bite is not likely to kill or even hurt, but the diseases you might catch from them are more dangerous. In the last few years, several cases of dengue fever have been diagnosed in Costa Rica. Look out for symptoms such as high fever, severe headaches, muscle or joint pain, nausea and rashes. Other conditions that can be caused by these common bugs include chikungunya, malaria, west nile and zika.

You are at higher risk of been bitten by mosquitoes if you spend a lot of time outdoors. Wear protective clothing like long sleeved tops and full length trousers when you go out. Make it a point to apply a strong mosquito repellent before going outside. You might want to spray some repellent on the brim of your hat to keep your face safe.

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Unfortunately, these bugs can also invade your house if you’re not careful, especially during the evenings. It is therefore best to keep your place clean and dry at all times. Avoid filling up buckets and sinks, as still water is a mosquito magnet. Get your home fitted with screen doors and windows so that you can keep them out while you enjoy some fresh air. Keep the fans switched on to the maximum, as these discourage pests from entering the area. You can also use indoor repellents, though their smell is a bit unpleasant.


You are likely to come across ants almost everywhere in Costa Rica, as about 25% of the nation’s land-bound animals are represented by these creatures. What’s more, because of their highly developed social organization, these diligent workers are often present in large numbers. Some colonies consist of millions of ants, capable of causing severe damage to people, plants and property. A bite from a leaf-cutter or fire ant can be enough to induce tears. Bullet ants (paraponera clava), commonly found all over the country, have a more painful sting than any other insect. Victims complain that the burning pain is as severe as being shot (giving the ants their name) and lasts for up to 24 hours.

On the other hand, army ants (guerreros) can keep your home free of other pests like wasps and roaches!

Keeping ants out of your house (especially during the rainy season) can be a huge challenge in any part of the world, since these tiny creatures can find the smallest point of entry into any dwelling. Unfortunately, you are only likely to discover them when you see an entire parade marching through.

To prevent this from happening, seal off all entrance areas and close the gaps around walls, doors and windows. It is best to have a professional exterminator check your house at regular intervals. In addition to that, sprinkle a small amount of anti-ant substance, such as salt or talcum powder, near potential entry points. Many people create a tape barrier in the kitchen by lining their windows and counters with double sided tape. Keep all food refrigerated so that its smell does not attract ants.


Costa Rica is home to more than 20,000 different species of arachnids. While many of them may look terrifying, only a handful pose any real threat to humans. Unfortunately, this handful includes the banana spider (Phoneutria Fera), also known as the Brazilian wandering spider, which is recognized as the most toxic spider in the world. A single bite from one of these can lead to loss of muscle control and if left untreated, can cause asphyxiation, paralysis and even death. Other common varieties include daddy long legs, tarantulas and gold silk orb weavers.

If you are venturing into a forest, make sure you dress carefully in long sleeves tops, full length trousers, and most importantly, close-toed boots. Spiders rarely attack unless they are provoked, so move in the opposite direction if you happen to chance upon one. Contrary to popular belief, spiders are not just found in the jungles and banana plantations across the country, so be vigilant wherever you are in Costa Rica.

People may get bitten by spiders hiding in socks, boots or other articles of clothing. However, the most common types of spiders found at home are harmless, and many people learn to live with them eventually. Fortunately, you can keep them out of your home by spraying peppermint essential oil mixed with water around your house. If you don’t like the smell of mint, try vinegar instead. In addition, rub lemon peels or lemon-scented polish on your furniture, and place a few chestnuts at windowsills or baseboards, as these will also deter spiders. Make sure you keep the place free of dust and webs at all times.

Centipedes and Millipedes

These two critters look similar enough to be confused with one another. However, while millipedes are usually harmless, you need to watch out for the centipedes, as one bite from them can send you to the hospital. In most cases, their venom causes pain and irritation in the affected area; unfortunately, an allergic reaction could also result in death.

The presence of centipedes is not limited to gardens and forests. The house centipede (scutigera coleoptrata) can live its entire life indoors, especially in damp closets, attics and basements. Since centipedes don’t usually enter homes in large numbers, most people just get rid of the one they see by killing it or removing it. Centipedes tend to lay their eggs in damp places, so make sure that you check all cellars and bathrooms regularly. Keeping your home dry with silica packets or a dehumidifier and free of bedbugs, termites and other household pests will also reduce the risk of a centipede invasion. Again, close off all possible entry points into your home, especially the space between walls and windows near trees. Sprinkle some boric acid, cayenne pepper or food grade diatomaceous earth around these places for additional control.

If possible, don’t place any organic material inside the house or close to its entrance. Things like firewood, leaves, tarpaulin, dirt, compost bins and mulch should also be kept away from the perimeter of the house.


If you plan to live in Costa Rica, you had better get used to seeing this dreaded insect in your home on occasion! Unfortunately, Costa Rican roaches often grow to an unbelievable size, and many of them have wings. On the upside, cockroaches are unlikely to cause any major physical harm, unless they are present in large numbers. However, do be alert for them, as their presence has the potential to lead to a number of health concerns, several of which are serious.

Since these critters are found in many homes, it is best to get your house fumigated by professionals before you move in. There are several different types of cockroach in Costa Rica, and the best way to get rid of them will vary, depending on the species present in your home. Extermination by professionals will get rid of roaches and their eggs, meaning that it’s easier to stop them returning.

Like most other insects, cockroaches swarm to moist places, since these provide them with food. It is therefore essential to keep your home clean and dry. Exposed food and beverages are bound to attract large numbers of roaches. Pay special attention to the areas behind the stove and refrigerator, and don’t leave garbage indoors overnight. Wood acts as a breeding ground for these bugs, so it is best to get rid of any furniture that may be broken or infested. Spray roach repellents around drains and other entry points, especially at night or when you leave the house for a relatively long period of time.


The variety of moths and butterflies in Costa Rica is nothing short of amazing, and this guarantees an abundance of caterpillars. Only a few people really fear the larvae of these beautiful insects, but not many are aware that they can sting. Some of them are like jellyfish, meaning that even the slightest touch to their fuzzy hair can cause them to attack. The impact or damage will depend on the size and type of the caterpillar in question.

In most cases, caterpillars have a host plant, or at the most two to three plants they feed off. Without vegetation, they are likely to die. You will therefore usually find them in gardens or greenhouses; if this is the case, they could enter your home through an open window. You may also see them quite often if you have indoor plants.

Commercial pesticides get rid of caterpillars, but may also damage your plants. If you wish to avoid products like these, you can spray the foliage with some Neem (Indian lilac or azadirachta indica) oil, or dust it with bacillus thuringiensis. These products kill caterpillars but not other organisms. Alternately, hang a birdfeeder close to your home, as the birds will get rid of these insects.


There are several different types of termites; while these house invaders are not likely to cause any physical harm, they will leave a trail of ground wood in their wake. These bugs can hatch and fill up your entire home within a short span of time. During the monsoon, you will find many of them in your wooden cupboards and closets.

Fortunately, it isn’t too difficult to get rid of these pests for good. Get rid of any firewood, lumber, paper and other types of debris from your home. Apply a good liquid pesticide that will kill them off and keep them from coming back.

These creatures are only some of the bugs that you are likely to encounter in Costa Rica. It is also a good idea to take precautionary measures against snakes, scorpions and beetles.

Have you lived in Costa Rica? Share your tips in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!

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