Although central to much biological research, the identification of species is often difficult. The use of DNA barcodes, short DNA sequences from a standardized region of the genome, has recently been proposed as a tool to facilitate species identification and discovery. However, the effectiveness of DNA barcoding for identifying specimens in species-rich tropical biotas is unknown. Here we show that cytochrome c oxidase I DNA barcodes effectively discriminate among species in three Lepidoptera families from Area de Conservación Guanacaste in northwestern Costa Rica. We found that 97.9% of the 521 species recognized by prior taxonomic work possess distinctive cytochrome c oxidase I barcodes and that the few instances of interspecific sequence overlap involve very similar species. We also found two or more barcode clusters within each of 13 supposedly single species. Covariation between these clusters and morphological and/or ecological traits indicates overlooked species complexes. If these results are general, DNA barcoding will significantly aid species identification and discovery in tropical settings.