Beaches, beautiful scenery, exotic fruit, spicy, delicious food and reggae music – that’s Jamaica isn’t it? Well, yes but dig deeper and there is so much more including an amazing array of animal life. From the multitude of land crabs, more than a dozen different frogs, fireflies, giant butterflies, crocodiles, snakes– including the Jamaican Boa, to the Manatees, iguanas, turtles and, of course, its dazzling species of endemic birds.
In fact, many Jamaican animals are only found in Jamaica and a number of these are now endangered as so few remain.
Jamaica has the usual types of domestic animals, most of which were introduced during the time of European colonisation. These include dogs, cats, fish, birds, chickens, pigs, cows, goats, fish, sheep, rabbits, horses and donkeys.
Jamaican wild animals range from large reptiles to birds and lots of tiny insects. Where only a few of a species remain the animals are protected under Jamaican Law.
There are seven species of Jamaican snakes and most are only found in Jamaica and none are harmful. The Jamaican Boa (Epicrates subflavus) is the largest and it can grow to over six and a half feet in length. It is known as the Yellow Snake (or Nanka), and has a beautifully patterned black and yellow body, with a small tapered head. It is found in remote areas and it is a protected species.
The Yellow Snake rests in the day and ventures out at night to feed on rats, bats and birds. Snakes are less common than they used to be because their habitats have been destroyed and others have been eaten by the mongoose, which was introduced to Jamaica in 1872 to destroy rats on the sugar plantations.
The American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is Jamaica’s largest reptile and another protected species but it is also found elsewhere so is not unique to Jamaica. Crocodiles are found mainly on Jamaica’s south coast, in mangrove swamps . They eat mainly fish and other small sea creatures like frogs and turtles, but will also eat birds and small mammals.
The Manatee, another protected species, is known as the Sea Cow is a gentle giant. Manatees (Trichecus manatus) are warm-blooded herbivores that live in shallow waters, which may be salty, fresh or brackish. They can grow up to 12 feet, and can weigh over 3000 pounds. Manatees are grey in colour, hippo shaped, with two small front flippers and a flat tail. They live in herds of three or more. Manatees are endangered worldwide and there are less than 100 along the south coast of Jamaica.
The Jamaican Iguana (Cyclura colle) is unique to Jamaica and protected as it was previously considered extinct. There is a small group at Hope Zoo in Kingston. They feed on fruit, plants, flowers and berries. It is grey in colour and can reach up to 5 feet long with scales, and spines which run along its back and its head.
The Jamaican Hutia (Geocapromys brownii) is another endemic Jamaican animal known as the coney. It is a small, squat rodent ranging in colour from reddish brown to black. It grows up to 18 inches in length and can reach a weight of over 4 pounds. It is a nocturnal creature and lives in remote hilly locations where there is limestone rock. The largest known populations are in St. Thomas and Portland. They live in family groups throughout their lives and it is also a protected species.
There are also close to 300 species of birds in Jamaica, of which about 30 are endemic. Most of Jamaican birds are protected and many of these call Green Castle Estate home.
The Jamaican national bird is the Doctor Bird (Trochilus polytmus). It is one three species of hummingbird found on Jamaica. It is also known as the Scissors Tail, Swallow Tail, or Streamer Tail Hummingbird, as it has two impressively long tail feathers. The vibrant green and glossy black feathers make it a sight worth seeing.
The other two hummingbirds are the tiny Bee Hummingbird (Beenie Bud) and the purple-black Mango Humming-
The Black-Billed Parrot and the Green-Billed Parrot are two other beautiful birds which are protected by law. They are found mostly in the high elevations of eastern parishes. They feed on fruit, nuts and and berries.
The Jamaican Owl (Pseudoscops grammicus) is unique to the island. It is also known as the Patoo (Patu) or Brown Owl. Like other owls, it is nocturnal.
The most magnificent Jamaican butterfly is the Giant Swallowtail (Pterourus homerus). Found only in Jamaica, it has a 6 inch wing span, making it the second largest butterfly in the world. It is found mainly at high altitudes in the Blue Mountains, John Crow Mountains and Cockpit Country. The Giant Swallowtail has a vivid black and gold colouring, with dark blue circles decorating the lower wings.
There are at least 134 species of butterflies and moths in Jamaica, of which at least 30 are endemic.
There is also a host of other interesting animals like lizards, turtles, bats, scorpions and mongooses.
If variety is the spice of life then it’s abundant in Jamaica!