Love is always in the air on steamy Caribbean nights, and you can hear the songs that prove it. A gentle hum, a sawing drone, or a piercing chirp, these calls broadcast into the darkness, pleading for partnership.
A nocturnal lifestyle has certain advantages here on St. Martin, especially if you are very small. Birds and lizards are dangerous predators to the insects and tiny frogs living on the island. One way to escape their prying eyes and hungry mouths is to hide during the day. Many of the nocturnal critters on St. Martin do just that. Johnstone’s Whistling Frog often waits out the daylight in the dampness beneath stones or under dead leaves. Many crickets and katydids hide in plain sight, camouflaged to look like the plants they live on.
Conducting all of one’s business at night does pose certain difficulties when it comes to the business of love. When predators can’t see you, neither can your prospective mate. Although there are numerous ways to find a partner in the dark, sound is one of the most common methods.
In most cases, the males do the calling. There is a fairly simple reason for this. Producing eggs requires more effort than producing sperm, so female frogs and insects are selective about who will get to fertilize them. Males are the ones that need to prove their worth, so they do the calling. The calls they make advertise both their location and their fitness.
A nighttime stroll in garden, field or forest will be filled with song. The Snowy Cricket—a tiny, delicate insect—rubs its transparent wings together to produce an airy buzz. The song from a single cricket is slight, but in a field of Bellyache Bush the chorus of hundreds can be enveloping.
The Money Bug prefers to call from tall grasses. It has a file on one forewing and and a scraper on the other. Its song is determined by the shape of these sound-making features and how it plays them. It chooses loud and grating, in a near-continuous drone broken by occasional momentary silences.
The island’s most famous nighttime singer is Johnstone’s Whistling Frog. This tiny frog fills up a huge air sac in its throat to create its trademark whistle. It is surprisingly loud, and many sleepless people have discovered how hard it is to find its source. A chorus of whistling frogs on a rainy night may be the most identifiable sound of Caribbean.
You can learn more about St. Martin’s nocturnal creatures—and listen to the sounds they make—at Amuseum Naturalis, located at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case. The museum is free and open 4-8pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Get more info at http://amuseumnaturalis.com.