Local knowledge sheds light on some of the world’s strangest mammals
by Dominic Rowland
One of the difficulties of studying rare and endangered species is that they are, by definition, hard to find. Scientists attempting to understand their distributions and the threats to their survival can spend hundreds of hours in the field while collecting little data, simply because sightings are so few and far between. To find out more about rare and elusive species, scientists often have to turn to other methods, including using the knowledge of local people.
One team of researchers did just that in 2010 while trying to study two rare, elusive, and wonderfully bizarre small mammals on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola: the Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) and the Hispaniolan hutia (Plagiodontia aedium). The solenodon is a venomous, long-nosed insectivore reminiscent of a giant shrew, but belonging to its own family. The hutia is a large rodent, shaped like a guinea pig but as at home in trees as a squirrel. Both animals are nocturnal, listed as Endangered, and represent the last two species of a plethora of unique, endemic creatures that once inhabited Hispaniola, which is shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti…
If you go diving in the western Atlantic Ocean from the Chesapeake Bay to the Dominican Republic, you may run into this gorgeous crab, the Calico Box Crab, Hepatus epheliticus. It lives in shallow water at depths of up to 46 metres (151 ft) on sandy and muddy substrates. It often carries the sea anemone Calliactis tricolor on its back, or lies buried in the sand, with only its eyes exposed.
A small, colorful bird with a distinctly big-headed appearance. The most brightly colored member of the genus, Todus multicolor (Coraciiformes - Todidae), has bright green upperparts with gleaming yellowish-green supercilia, yellow lores, red throat, pinkish flanks, whitish belly, and bright yellow crissum.
This species is the only member of the genus occurring in Cuba, where it is widespread across a diversity of habitats and often abundant where it occurs [source]
Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for 9 Rare Caribbean Lizards
Skinks Found Only in Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands Threatened by Introduced Predators, Habitat Destruction
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal petition today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for nine newly identified species of skinks found only in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. These rare lizards with smooth skins are on the knife’s edge of extinction due to introduced predators and habitat destruction. Reptiles around the globe are in the midst of an extinction crisis with roughly 1 in 5 species considered endangered or at risk of disappearing.
Scientists recently recognized the nine petitioned skinks, along with dozens of others on Caribbean islands. The scientists initiated their study after finding unusually large genetic differences among populations of these skinks on different islands in the Caribbean. All of the newly identified endemic Caribbean skinks are near extinction (or already extinct) due to introduced predators like mongooses and cats, as well as large-scale habitat destruction for development and agriculture…
Cyclura lewisi gets its famous blue colour during the breeding season. It is endemic to Grand Cayman, and now only lives in the High Rock Battle Hill area. It is solitary, and females defend their territories from males by giving head bobbing signals. It feeds on a wide range of foods from up to 45 different types of plant, and may also eat fruit and fungi.
Numbers of C. lewisi have been falling for decades, and this decline is speeding up due to deforestation and land development. Other threats include hunting by farmers, road accidents, and predation by cats and dogs.
C. lewisi is listed under Appendix I of CITES, which prohibits international trade. The National Trust for the Cayman Islands is running a programme that aims to breed and reintroduce this iguana into its range. It will also educate local people and protect C. lewisi's bushland habitat.
This illustration shows the large Pleistocene Cuban owl Ornimegalonyx oteroi battling with a solenodon. Typical factoids usually given about O. oteroi are that its remains were initially misidentified as those of a phorusrhacid, that it was over a metre tall, that it had notably robust hind-limbs, and that it was probably flightless and cursorial…
I took this picture during my recent vacation in Cayo Gulliermo – Cuba, during a visit to “El Baga Nature Park” in Cayo Coco.
The Cuban Green Woodpecker is endemic to Cuba where it is found in dry forest, pine forest and coastal vegetation.
Both sexes have a mostly white head with a thick black stripe behind the eye and a small red patch on the throat. The male has a red crown from forehead to nape while the female has a black forecrown with white streaks and only the nape is red. The female also has a slightly shorter bill and is noticeably smaller when seen together.
Loco for Cuckoos: My Search for the Bay-breasted Cuckoo
by Andrew Rothman
Nearly everyone involved in bird conservation has an unseen bird that haunts them—a “ghost bird,” so to speak. My ghost bird, for years, was the Bay-breasted Cuckoo, also known as the “Cua” for its cooing call. Like most other cuckoos, this bird is exceptionally furtive, but also beautiful, with big eyes and a long, spotted tail. Unlike many other cuckoos, it is Critically Endangered, and is only found in Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Actually there are no Bay-breasted Cuckoos left in Haiti, where the mid-elevation forests these birds inhabit have been ravaged by excessive logging, farming, and other problems linked to poverty and human population growth. As a result, all of the world’s remaining Cuas now live in the Dominican Republic, where ABC and partner groups are working to preserve the last remaining fragments of the forests that sustain it…
Manatees, slow and gentle giants of the ocean, can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and grow to about 10 feet in length. They have small heads and rotund bodies. Manatees are very solitary animals that spend their entire lives submerged, feeding on marine grasses. When they surface to breathe, only their bristly nostrils poke above the surface of the water.
These creatures are the only marine mammals that are strictly herbivorous. They eat a wide variety of plants, preferring mostly sea-grass leaves. They have a tendency to stay away from the more bitter tasting plants. They have even been known to dig with their flippers to get roots. As far as water goes, no one is sure if they need to drink fresh water to survive, but some manatees have been seen drinking from hoses to quench their thirst! …
…a species of terrestrial neocyclotid gastropod that is endemic to the island of Dominica in the west indies. Its type locality was in Lauday but it has been described in several other areas throughout the island. Like many other tropical snails A. amethystinus likely inhabits vegetation and feeds on detritus and plant matter.
Caribbean flamingo tongue snail (Cyphoma gibbosum). Often mistakenly caught by shell collectors for its superb colours, its shell is in fact white. The bright colours are only due to the fleshy mantle of the living creature.
Sometimes known as the “Oelander Moth” Syntomeida epialsis is a species of arctiid moth that occurs in Florida, the southern United States and Parts of the Caribbean. Like other arctiid moths S. epialsis is day-flying and its larvae will feed on, and are considered a pest of Oelander (Nerium oelander).
… are carnivorous fishes of tropical and subtropical oceans. They are best known for their predatory habits and fearsome long teeth, which resemble those of a pirhana. Some five species are commonly encountered in North America; four in the Atlantic, and one in the Pacific.
The southeastern Great Barracuda (S. barracuda), shown here, is the largest and can grow up to 6 feet (1.8 m) long. The black spots along their sides are patterned uniquely on each fish and could be used as an identification marker, much like fluke pattern in whales. They are great sprinters, able to reach up to 25 mph (40 km/h) in short bursts. Despite their size and weaponry, barracudas rarely attack humans.
They are ambush predators, and most attacks involve something flashy or shiny on the human that the barracuda mistakes for prey, or other situations where the human isn’t the target. Barracudas are popular game fish, though larger ones can potentially cause ciguatera food poisoning.