Encyclopedia of Islands

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Reptiles and amphibians of the Antilles

There are 499 native species of reptiles in the Antilles, 468 (94%) of which are endemic. This high level of endemism is one important reason that the Antilles is considered as a world hotspot by many conservation organizations. The principal radiations of reptiles in the Antilles include several species swarms such as in the genus Anolis with 154 species, 150 (97%) of which are endemic.

Other species swarms include the beautiful dwarf geckos of the genus Sphaerodactylus with 86 species, 82 (95%) of which are endemic, and curly-tailed lizards (Leiocephalus) with 23 species, all of which are endemic to the Antilles. Other important adaptive radiations of reptiles in the Antilles include 11 species of large rock iguanas (Cyclura) that thrive in dryer areas of the islands, nine species of large boa constrictors of the genus Epicrates, many of which are large enough to kill and eat large capromyid rodents.Photograph of Pic Macaya (right) and Pic Formon (left) in   the core area of the Massif de la Hotte of southwestern Haiti 

Other Antillean snakes include racers (Alsophis) with 13 endemic species and boldly colored snakes of the genus Tropidophis with 26 endemic species. There are two species of crocodiles in the Antilles: Crocodylus acutus (American crocodile), found in Cuba, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and possibly Martinique, and Crocodylus rhombifer (the Cuban crocodile), which is now restricted to the Zapata Swamp and to a large Courtesy of Charles Woods. swamp in the central area of the nearby Isle of Youth. The Cuban crocodile has the smallest range of any species of crocodile in the world. The only poisonous snakes in the Antilles are pit vipers (fer-de-lance) of the genus Bothrops in Martinique and Guadeloupe (B. lanceolatus).

 Reptiles and amphibians of the AntillesAmphibians are not as diverse as reptiles in the Antilles. There are only 165 species, and all of them are frogs and toads. All but one of these frogs is endemic to the Antilles. Almost all of these frogs are from the single genus Eleutherodactylus (139 species). Frogs of this genus lay their eggs on land and hatch into adults without passing through a tadpole stage. Some species can be tiny, such as the Cuban species Eleutherodactylus iberia, one of the smallest tetrapods in the world (only 10 mm in length). The largest concentration of Eleutherodactylus in the Antilles is on mid-elevation slopes of the Massif de la Hotte of western Haiti, where 19 species occur sympatrically. The Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) has designated the Macaya Biosphere Reserve in this area of Haiti as the site in the world with the largest number of critically endangered species, 13 of which are Eleutherodactylus frogs. 

The most famous frog in the Antilles is the coqui of Puerto Rico (Eleutherodactylus coqui), whose loud vocalizations in the treetops are recognized as the typical sound of the night by almost all Puerto Ricans. In addition to frogs, the Antilles also has 12 species of endemic toads (Bufonidae), with eight species on Cuba, three on Hispaniola, and one on Puerto Rico. Most islands of the Greater and Lesser Antilles also have breeding populations of the introduced Bufo marinus.

The greatest biodiversity of amphibians and reptiles in the Antilles is on Hispaniola (a pattern that is true for almost all Antillean flora and fauna). There are 217 species, 209 of which are endemic (96% endemism). On Hispaniola, there are 64 amphibian species, 62 of which are endemic, and 153 reptiles, 147 of which are endemic. The small frogs of the genus Eleutherodactylus, which have very limited abilities to disperse, have 28 species in Haiti’s southwestern mountain range (the Massif de la Hotte) and 15 species in the Central Mountains of the Dominican Republic. The two areas share only six species. The Massif de la Hotte has the highest density of frog species anywhere in the Antilles. There, tall pine trees (Pinus occidentalis) form the forest canopy along with mid- and understory layers of other trees and shrubs rich in biodiversity. This relictual pine forest is in an area of tremendous rainfall and is the closest remaining forest in the Antilles structured like the long-lost moist tropical algarrobo forest of the Dominican Republic, the record of which is preserved in Dominican amber.