Creatures of the Caribbean
By Kyle Fulton
WEST INDIAN FLAMINGO, THE BAHAMAS
With long, stick-like legs and a down-turned beak, the pink-plumed beauty is hard to miss. A shy bird that favours remote lagoons with rather desert-like conditions, it is the national bird of The Bahamas. Almost hunted to extinction in the 1950’s for its brilliant feathers and meat, it is now illegal on the isle to harm, capture or kill it.
Flamingo photo by Michaeline Moloney
A filter feeder, and the only bird to feed with its bill upside down, it dines on microscopic plants and animals that are rich in beta-carotene and provide flamingos with their distinct cotton candy colour. To view the bird in its natural habitat visit: www.bahamas.com/islands/inagua
GREEN MONKEY, BARBADOS
Seen frolicking in treetops across the island, the Barbados Green Monkey was brought to the isle in the 1600s from West Africa. Generally moving in troops of fifteen to twenty, males switch family groups several times during their lifetime, whilst females stay with the same group for life.
Munching on nuts, grasses and fruits, their favourite food is the dunk – a small apple-like fruit.
Many monkeys on island call The Barbados Wildlife Reserve home, even though they are free to leave the reserve and often do so during the day to forage for food.
To visit, call: (246) 422 8826.
BLUE IGUANA, CAYMAN ISLANDS
Grand Cayman’s largest native land animal, the Blue Iguana grows to over five feet and can live up to 69 years in captivity. A highly endangered species (it is estimated there are 750 existing in the wild), the vegetarian reptile prefers dry, rocky forests with ample sunshine and sandy areas.
Unable to create urine, they excrete nitrogenous wastes through a lateral nasal salt gland in a similar fashion to birds and have a photosensory ‘third eye’ atop their head that assists in evading predators.
They are under great pressure due to habitat destruction and predation from rats and feral cats and dogs.
Learn more at: www.blueiguana.ky
BAT, US VIRGIN ISLANDS
The only native mammal to St. John, three of six bat species are under legal protection – the red fig-eating bat is currently endangered. The greater bulldog, with a two-foot wing span, is known to directly grab fish from the water for consumption.
Key pollinators, they play an important role in scattering seeds for fruit-bearing trees and shrubs by way of their guano. They also help reduce insect levels – a single bat can ingest 1,000 mosquito-sized bugs each evening.
The often maligned mammal once played a central role in the spiritual and cultural lives of the Tainos, as indicated by cave carvings. The petroglyphs can be seen on Reef Bay Trail, St. John.
COQUÍ TREE FROG, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Once found across all BVI, the frog, which is about one inch in size, is now restricted to Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Great Dog. Known for its loud double call (that sounds like ‘coqui’), the Coquí lacks a membrane between its toes, meaning it is not adapted to swim. Unlike most frogs that lay eggs in the water and hatch tadpoles, the female Coquí lays her eggs on the leaf of a bromeliad from which miniature adult versions hatch. The tiny amphibian is threatened with extinction as a result of habitat degradation and conversion, as well as predation from introduced animals like the mongoose and rats.
To learn more call: (284) 494-2069
GREEN TURTLE, TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS
Around before dinosaurs, the Green Turtle is amongst the largest turtles in the world and can weigh up to 700 pounds. Herbivores, they are known to travel vast distances between feeding and breeding sites, and are named for the colour of their skin, not their shells.
The TCI Turtle Project has tracked a trio of turtles since 2009 to foster a greater understanding of their movements and breeding grounds. With turtle nests and nesting females now protected under TCI law, it appears the project has made headway. To track the turtles or learn more visit: www.mcsuk.org/turtletracking or www.seaturtle.org
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