Category: Amuseum Naturalis

Caribbean Curiosities: Having it Both Ways

All of the creatures that have found lasting success on St. Martin have some kind of adaptation that makes them suited to life here. Freshwater species have more challenges than most, and the Apple Snail is well equipped to deal with them.

The Apple Snail is well-adapted to St. Martin.

The Apple Snail is a large snail that lives in freshwater habitats. Members of their family live in Africa, Asia and the Americas, so scientists believe they date back to a time when all the continents were joined together. In this hemisphere, most species are native to South America, with a few found just in the Caribbean.

Many of the adaptations of the Apple Snail allow it to survive dry seasons, which happen each year in many tropical areas. Like many snails, they have an operculum—a door to their shell. They can seal it if the pond or stream they live in goes dry. They enter a state known as estivation, resting dormant until rains return.

The Apple Snail is also somewhat amphibious. They have a gill for breathing underwater, and a lung for breathing air. The ability to breathe air allows them to leave the water, at least temporarily, to feed. In stagnant water, they can use the lung to get additional oxygen from the air. They even have a special snorkel that they can extend to breathe air while they are still underwater.

A snorkel starts to reach up for air.

Another benefit of their amphibious nature is the ability to protect their eggs. These snails leave the water, and lay a cluster of eggs above the water line. This protects the eggs from fish and other potential predators.

This variety of adaptations has made the Apple Snail quite successful. They have also made it an unwanted pest in places where it has been introduced accidentally or on purpose. One species—brought to Taiwan as a potential food—ended up seriously harming rice production. Its ability to leave the water to feed makes it a pest for other crops as well.

On St. Martin, this snail can be found in many of the small streams and drainage ditches in Concordia, often using its lung to traverse extremely shallow areas. Plants along the banks of these streams hold egg clusters, looking like pale, misshapen raspberries. The next time you are in the area, keep an eye out for these remarkable snails.

Caribbean Curiosities: Between Worlds

We are all familiar with the salmon’s journey. From the ocean, it enters rivers and makes a miraculous journey upstream to spawn and then die. In the Caribbean, there are many animals that find a life between the land and sea, and a home in fresh and salty waters.

On St. Martin, one is never far from the sea. Most obviously, we find it at the edge of every beach and at the bottom of each seaside cliff. But the sea also has ways of invading the island itself.

The sea seeps into the land through the porous limestone, adding its salty essence to well water. It washes upstream in the few spots where fresh water running down a gut reaches the sea. And, of course, salty water from the sea fills many of our salt ponds.

The Crested Goby lives on the edge.

These brackish waters—neither part of the sea, nor totally separate from it—are a rich and unique habitat. The creatures that live here must adapt to the changing conditions of this zone: a rainstorm pushing the balance towards freshness, a dry spell pushing it to salty.

For some, life between two worlds is just a passing phase. Many juvenile fish use brackish mangrove wetlands as a nursery. In the shallow water, sheltered in mangrove roots, they find a safe place to grow. They then swim out to the coral reef to live. Some freshwater species—like the Mountain Mullet and many freshwater shrimp—float in the sea as eggs. After hatching they travel with the current, then swim into fresh water to mature.

Fish like the Crested Goby spend a lifetime on the borderline. They often live around mangroves, digging out a hollow in the sand or finding a root-sheltered hiding spot. They also live in estuaries where streams and rivers empty into the sea. Unlike most fish, they can live perfectly fresh water, pure seawater and anything in-between.

The Crested Goby is also flexible when it comes to food. Algae is on the menu, but so are crabs, insects, snails and even small fish. It is an integral part of the wetland community that captures nutrients washed down from the island. It plays a part in keeping the seas both clean and full of life.

The adaptable Crested Goby has found a niche that allows it to occupy the cracks and crevices between two worlds. In doing so, it has also turned its back on life in the open ocean. It is a creature of the sea, tied forever to the edge of the land.

Hundreds Enjoy Local Wildlife at Endemic Animal Festival

Endemic Animal Festival guests enjoyed painting bird feeders made from local calabash and recycled fishing line. Photo by Tim Cam.

Hundreds of guests from St. Martin and beyond learned about local wildlife at the fourth annual Endemic Animal Festival on Sunday. The event, held at Amuseum Naturalis in Grand Case, featured animals found nowhere else in the world and a variety of activities for young and old. Created by the Les Fruits de Mer association, the festival is free and takes place each April.

“Getting to know the animals that live only on St. Martin is a fundamental part of understanding the island,” explained Mark Yokoyama, co-founder of Les Fruits de Mer. “The Endemic Animal Festival is one of our most important initiatives because it is a truly authentic, only on St. Martin experience.”

The Endemic Animal Discovery Station featured species found only on St. Martin and nowhere else in the world. Photo by Claire Affagard.

This year’s festival included a variety of fun ways to celebrate and explore island wildlife. The Endemic Animal Discovery Station showcased two species of lizard and one insect that are found only on St. Martin, as well as other species that live on only a few islands. Local wildlife experts were on hand to talk about the animals and answer questions. Guests painted bird feeders made from calabash and took home seedlings of the Gaïac, an endangered native tree.

“Hosting the festival at Amuseum Naturalis was a great addition to the event this year,” added Jenn Yerkes, President of Les Fruits de Mer. “Guests were able to enjoy over a dozen exhibits about local nature and our program of short nature documentaries in addition to the festival activities. If you haven’t been to the Amuseum yet, we’re open for two more days this season: April 28th and May 2nd from 4-8pm at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case. It’s free to visit.”

The Endemic Animal Festival was made possible by the generous support of its sponsors: BirdsCaribbean, Caribbean Paddling, Delta Petroleum, Hotel L’Esplanade, IGY Marinas, Lagoonies Bistro & Bar, L’Esperance Hotel, Rain Forest Adventures, The Scuba Shop, Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort, Casino & Spa, Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino and Tri-Sport. For more information, and to see photos from the event, visit http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com.

Festival attendees received a free seedling of the Gaïac, an endangered native tree. Photo by Claire Affagard.

Caribbean Curiosities: The Last Refuge

The ravines on the western slope of Pic Paradis feature a forest unlike anything else on St. Martin—or neighboring Anguilla and St. Barts for that matter. It is the homeland of our Bearded Anole, and may have been its birthplace, too.

The Bearded Anole, an icon of St. Martin.

In ecology, endemic means something that is only found in one specific place. There are a couple ways this can happen. A neoendemic species is a new species that evolves in a unique location. This happens a lot on islands. The term paleoendemic describes almost the opposite situation: the last refuge of a species that was once more widespread. This can happen on an island, too.

Our beautiful Bearded Anole—like most of our native reptiles—is a great example of a neoendemic species. Little lizards spread from island to island, blossoming into a wide variety of species as they adapted to their new homes. Lush forest may have been ancestral home of this species. It is ill-suited to the full heat of the tropical sun, and is primarily found in shady areas.

For most of the last 100,000 years, the Bearded Anole probably had lots of habitat. Sea levels were lower, and St. Martin was part of a much bigger island that included present-day Anguilla, St. Barts and beyond. Surely there were many shady forests where this lizard could live.

Around 12,000 years ago, rising sea levels separated St. Martin, Anguilla and St. Barts. The Bearded Anole probably lived on all three islands, but St. Barts and Anguilla are both lower than St. Martin. Because of this, they lacked the water and wind protection to develop the type of broadleaf forest that stretches from Colombier up to Pic Paradis.

We have no record of the Bearded Anole on St. Barts, and it was last recorded on Anguilla in the 1920s. Today it lives only on St. Martin, a relict population in its last refuge. It is both a neoendemic species that arose here, and a paleoendemic species that disappeared from the other places it lived.

Many of natures most miraculous creatures evolved on islands. They make up a tiny percentage of the land mass of the earth, but are home to much of the planet’s diversity. Unfortunately, over half of animal extinctions have also happened on islands, a trend that continues. The individuality of the island—in richness and struggle—is reflected in our Bearded Anole.

You can learn more about the Bearded Anole and other animals found only on St. Martin at Amuseum Naturalis, located at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case. The museum is free and open 4-8pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Sunday, April 23rd from 9am-3pm the Amuseum will host the 2017 Endemic Animal Festival. Get more info at http://amuseumnaturalis.com.

Amuseum Naturalis Hosts Endemic Animal Festival This Sunday

Amuseum Naturalis, St. Martin’s only nature museum, hosts the Endemic Animal Festival this Sunday, April 23rd from 9am-3pm.

People of all ages are invited to discover the incredible animals that live only on St. Martin and only in our region at the fourth annual Endemic Animal Festival. This year’s festival takes place at Amuseum Naturalis in Grand Case from 9am to 3pm on Sunday, April 23rd. As always, the festival is completely free.

“Amuseum Naturalis was created as a showcase for St. Martin’s unique natural heritage, so it’s the perfect place to host the Endemic Animal Festival,” explained Mark Yokoyama, co-founder of Les Fruits de Mer, the association that created both the museum and the festival. Amuseum Naturalis is St. Martin’s only natural history museum.

The 2017 festival will include a full slate of fun, educational activities. Guests can get up close with fascinating island endemics like stick insects and anolis lizards at the Endemic Animal Discovery Station. Creative activities inspired by native wildlife will be hosted for people of all ages. Younger kids will enjoy coloring and activity pages designed by local artists featuring island animals. Older children and adults can paint birdfeeders made from calabashes, which they can take home to attract birds throughout the year. Guests can also bring home a seedling of the Gaïac, a native Caribbean tree that became endangered due to overharvesting.

This Sunday’s Endemic Animal Festival celebrates the amazing wildlife that can only be found here, like this Bearded Anole.

“The Endemic Animal Festival caps off a truly amazing season at Amuseum Naturalis. It’s the perfect opportunity to visit the museum if you haven’t already,” said Jenn Yerkes, President of Les Fruits de Mer. Festival-goers will be able to enjoy the museum’s exhibits, including the current special exhibit—Women, People of Color and the Making of Natural History in the Caribbean—which spotlights unsung heroes of Caribbean natural science.

The 2017 Endemic Animal Festival will be held at Amuseum Naturalis at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case on Sunday, April 23rd from 9am-3pm, rain or shine. The festival is made possible by the generous support of its sponsors: BirdsCaribbean, Caribbean Paddling, Delta Petroleum, Hotel L’Esplanade, IGY Marinas, Lagoonies Bistro & Bar, L’Esperance Hotel, Rain Forest Adventures, The Scuba Shop, Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort, Casino & Spa, Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino and Tri-Sport. For more information, visit http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com.

The free Endemic Animal Festival is this Sunday, April 23rd from 9am-3pm at Amuseum Naturalis in Grand Case.

Caribbean Curiosities: The Little Things

They’re all around us, but we rarely notice them. They’re specially-equipped for climbing, but mostly live on the ground. They’re probably the most common reptiles on St. Martin, but few people even know their names.

The Little Woodslave can turn on a dime.

St. Martin’s dwarf geckos are some of its most unique and mysterious residents. The island has two species. The smaller one is known as the Little Woodslave or Anguilla Bank Dwarf Gecko. The larger is called the Least Island Gecko or Leeward Banded Dwarf Gecko. Hidden in their confusing names are some clues to how unique they are.

The Little Woodslave is found on only a few islands in the world: Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Barts and the smaller islets in the immediate area. Combined, these islands make up the Anguilla Bank featured in the name Anguilla Bank Dwarf Gecko. When the last ice age lowered sea levels by locking water in glaciers, these islands were connected into a larger island. Hop over to Saba or Statia—which have never been connected to St. Martin—and you won’t find the Little Woodslave. Its cousin, the Saban Dwarf Gecko, lives there.

It’s hard to say what the name Least Island Gecko is supposed to mean. It doesn’t live on the fewest islands—it’s found from Anguilla down to Nevis. It also isn’t the smallest—there is a smaller dwarf gecko on every island where it lives. It’s other name, Leeward Banded Dwarf Gecko, isn’t much better. Sometimes they are banded, but other times not at all.

Not banded, but beautiful.

Dwarf geckos may be small, but they do have strength in numbers. There are over 100 species of dwarf gecko in the genus Sphaerodactylus, and the vast majority live only in the Caribbean. This vibrant diversity is one reason the Caribbean is considered a biodiversity hotspot.

In terms of population, one study measured dwarf gecko density equivalent to 21,000 geckos per acre. In theory that would work out to about 450 million dwarf geckos on St. Martin, if the entire island were perfect habitat for them. Probably there are far fewer, but the real number could be almost unimaginably high.

What do these tiny lizards do? They eat insects. Mostly ants and other very small things, and probably a lot of them. Perhaps enough to impact the whole ecosystem of the island. They turned their miniature size into an advantage that made them incredibly successful. In the Caribbean, their tiny feet leave a big footprint.

You can learn more about dwarf geckos and other animals found only in our region 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.

EAF Sponsor Spotlight: Delta Petroleum

We’re thrilled to have Delta Petroleum as a sponsor of the Endemic Animal Festival this year. They are also the sponsor of this year’s location, Amuseum Naturalis! Founded in 1985, Delta serves the Caribbean with superior performance diesel, gasoline and LPG meeting U.S. and European standards. Delta is a proud and growing member of the communities from the Virgin Islands to Martinique. Delta Petroleum has sponsored Les Fruits de Mer events since 2013.
http://deltapetroleum.com

Amuseum Naturalis Exhibit on Unsung Heroes of Caribbean Science Opens April 18th

Amuseum Naturalis co-curator Jenn Yerkes prepares vibrant panels showcasing trailblazers of Caribbean natural history for the April 18th exhibit launch.

Amuseum Naturalis invites the public to the free gala opening of the museum’s exhibit WOMEN, PEOPLE OF COLOR, AND THE MAKING OF NATURAL HISTORY IN THE CARIBBEAN from 4-8pm on Tuesday, April 18th. The installation is part of a special series created to shine a light on the trailblazers of Caribbean natural science from the late 1400s to the early 1900s. The exhibit brings their discoveries, explorations and stories to life with vivid biographical snapshots and reproductions of beautiful antique zoological and botanical illustrations, engravings, maps, and portraits by historical and contemporary artists. Be The Change SXM contributed to funding for this exhibit and the upcoming companion website.

“People of color and women have made important contributions to science throughout history. But their work has often been suppressed, or just not as well publicized as that of their white male peers, and this happened in Caribbean science just like everywhere else. We wanted to create an opportunity for people to discover the fascinating stories of these incredible women and men who helped to build the scientific heritage of the Caribbean,” explains Jenn Yerkes, Amuseum Naturalis co-curator and Les Fruits de Mer President. She adds, “We hope everyone will come out to celebrate the exhibition launch, find out about these amazing pioneers, and enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres at the opening reception!”

The free, public exhibit will launch Tuesday night, which will include captivating figures such as Catalina de Ayahibex, a 15th century Taino tribal leader who was an expert in native plants; Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 – 1717), a scientific artist known for her expedition to Surinam to document Greater Caribbean insects, reptiles, birds, and plants; and Graman Quassi (ca. 1690 – ca. 1780), a renowned healer and botanist of African descent, and more.

Modern portraits of pioneers like Charlotte Dugée, an 18th century botanic artist from Saint Domingue, were created for the exhibit, opening April 18th at Amuseum Naturalis.

The free opening reception and the exhibition will be held in the Special Exhibition Room at Amuseum Naturalis. The exhibition will run April 18th to May 2nd, and can be visited during the museum’s regular opening hours as well as from 9am-3pm on Sunday, April 23rd during the 2017 Endemic Animal Festival.

Amuseum Naturalis is a free pop-up museum that highlights the natural history of St. Martin and the Caribbean, created by the Les Fruits de Mer association. The museum is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-8pm. Amuseum Naturalis is located at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case in Grand Case. It is made possible by the generous support of Delta Petroleum and over a dozen businesses and individual donors who have become Friends of the Amuseum. For more information, visit amuseumnaturalis.com.

The exhibit features images of Caribbean wildlife like this Tetrio Sphinx Moth caterpillar, painted by naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian on her 1699 expedition.

EAF Sponsor Spotlight: Sonesta Resorts St. Maarten

The Endemic Animal Festival is thrilled to have the sponsorship support of Sonesta Resorts. Sonesta Resorts St. Maarten features three stunning oceanfront limitless all-inclusive properties including the family-friendly Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa, the adults-only Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort, Casino & Spa and the newest addition, the luxury adults-only Sonesta Ocean Point Resort. Each property boasts several restaurants and bars, multiple pools, extensive wedding, events and meeting facilities, casino and a signature Serenity Spa offering treatments to pamper guests. All inclusive Day passes are available at $89 for Sonesta Maho or Great Bay Beach Resort, as well as discounted local resident rates for overnight stays.

http://www.sonesta.com/stmaarten

EAF Sponsor Spotlight: L’Esperance Hotel

L’Esperance is a brand new sponsor for the Endemic Animal Festival and we are excited to have them! Conveniently located in Cay Hill with easy access to both Philipsburg and Simpson Bay, L’Esperance Hotel features 22 spacious and luxurious one and two bedroom suites appointed in tropical rattan. Features include our beautiful pool with a sun deck, air-conditioning, cable TV, direct dial telephones, in-room safes, full kitchens, private balconies, and free Wifi.
http://www.lesperancehotel.com

Native Nature Ebook Showcases Stars of Endemic Animal Festival

St. Martin’s native animals may not be famous yet, but they deserve to be. They are a true showcase of what makes the island unique, and some of them are found nowhere else in the world. They’re also the stars of a new ebook titled Caribbean Curiosities: Native Nature and the upcoming Endemic Animal Festival.

The free ebook tells six fascinating stories centered around different native animals, including bats, lizards, birds, fish and insects. It is illustrated with vibrant photos taken on the island. The ebook was written by Mark Yokoyama and released by the non-profit association Les Fruits de Mer. It can be downloaded from the Les Fruits de Mer website.

Les Fruits de Mer also produces the annual Endemic Animal Festival, an event celebrating the animals that are found only on St. Martin, or only in our region. This year’s event will be held at Amuseum Naturalis, St. Martin’s only natural history museum. In addition to the museum’s regular exhibits, there will be a variety of other attractions during the festival, including an Endemic Animal Discovery Station and wildlife-themed art activities. The free, all ages festival will be held on Sunday, April 23rd from 9am to 3pm.

To download Caribbean Curiosities: Native Nature and to learn more about the Endemic Animal Festival, visit lesfruitsdemer.com. Amuseum Naturalis is located at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case in Grand Case and is open Tuesdays and Thursdays 4-8pm.

EAF Sponsor Spotlight: The Scuba Shop

We’re very happy to have The Scuba Shop as a sponsor for Endemic Animal Festival 2017! Founded in 1993, The Scuba Shop is conveniently located in Simpson Bay. They are the largest dive store in the Windward and Leeward islands and an long-time supporter of Les Fruits de Mer and the Endemic Animal Festival. Swing by for scuba or snorkeling gear, or to pick up their free snorkeling guide.
http://thescubashop.net

Also, the annual Underwater Easter Egg Hunt is coming up soon! Mark your calendars for Monday, April 17th!

EAF Sponsor Spotlight: IGY Marinas

igymarinas

We’re proud to have IGY Marinas as a sponsor of this year’s Endemic Animal Festival. We still have sponsorships available for this event, so please get in touch to help us create a great free and fun event!

IGY Marinas
IGY operates the award-winning marinas Isle de Sol and Simpson Bay Marina. Their marinas are ideally located in Simpson Bay, offering a full range of services and easy access to all the island has to offer. The Yacht Club at Isle de Sol was awarded the prestigious Blue Flag eco label in October of 2011, making St. Maarten the first country in the Dutch Caribbean to have a Blue Flag marina.
http://www.igymarinas.com

Caribbean Curiosities: Have Wings, Will Travel


Animals have developed the power of flight several times. The insects were the first to take to the skies, and they became the most diverse group of animals in the world. Feathered dinosaurs grew wings and became birds, surviving when the rest died out. A third group used flight to colonize St. Martin while their fellow mammals could not.

The Jamaican Fruit Bat.

Bats are St. Martin’s only native mammals. At least, they are the only ones alive today. Two prehistoric rodents lived on St. Martin, but they were long gone by the time recorded history began here. All other mammals on the island were brought by humans. This includes the wild ones—rat, mongoose, mongoose, raccoon, monkey—as well as our pets and farm animals.

Bats have used the power of flight to diversify, adopt many different lifestyles, and travel. There are over 1,000 species of bats in the world, and eight are found on St. Martin. Our bats pursue a variety of foods and make their homes in a variety of places.

The Velvety Free-tailed Bat eats insects and often lives beneath corrugated zinc roof sheets. It is a small bat, often seen in neighborhoods. It comes out around dusk to catch flying insects. To our benefit, mosquitos are often part of its dinner.

A mosquito-eating friend.

The Jamaican Fruit Bat and Antillean Cave Bat are larger, and they eat fruit. They are often seen around fruit trees at night, including almond, mango and palm trees. These bats nest in large groups in caves, especially the Grotte du Puits in the lowlands. The floor of the cave is covered in fruit pits brought back to the cave by the bats.

One of our most remarkable bats is the Fisherman Bat. This species uses echolocation to sense ripples made by fish on the surface of the water. Then it swoops down and grabs the fish with its large feet. Of course, all of this is done in complete darkness!

Bats have adapted to Caribbean islands, becoming new species along the way. The Antillean Cave Bat is found only in the Caribbean. The Lesser Antillean Tree Bat and Lesser Antillean Funnel-eared Bat are found only in the Lesser Antilles. The only mammals to fly, and our only native mammals, they have truly made the Caribbean their home.

You can learn more about St. Martin’s bats 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.

EAF Sponsor Spotlight: Hotel L’Esplanade

Hotel L’Esplande is an Endemic Animal Festival sponsor this year. They’re a long-time supporter of Les Fruits de Mer and our events. We still have sponsorships available for this event, so please get in touch to help us create a great free and fun event!

Hotel L’Esplanade
This hotel has established a cult following from guests that enjoy an authentic, luxurious, unpretentious and un-touristy Caribbean experience with a homey feel. Acknowledged by TripAdvisor as one of the Caribbean’s “Best Hidden Gems”, and more recently named #19 of the top 25 hotels in all of the Caribbean. Hotel L’Esplanade has been a benefactor member since 2013 and has sponsored many Les Fruits de Mer events.
http://www.lesplanade.com

EAF Sponsor Spotlight: Tri-Sport

We’re thrilled to have Tri-Sport as an Endemic Animal Festival sponsor this year. They’re a returning sponsor from last year, and we’re proud to have their ongoing support. We still have sponsorships available for this event, so please get in touch to help us create a great free and fun event! Also, be sure to visit Tri-Sport!

About Tri-Sport
Tri-Sport is the go-to shop for the active community of St. Maarten/St. Martin and the neighboring islands of Anguilla, Saba, Statia, and St. Barths. They run ecologically-friendly tours that get people out and moving – kayaking, bicycling, hiking, boogie boarding, and snorkeling. Tri-Sport’s retail shops carry all the necessities for triathlons with an emphasis on bicycles.
http://trisportsxm.com

Endemic Animal Festival 2017

The fourth annual Endemic Animal Festival is just around the corner. This free, fun event highlights the unique animals that live only on our island or only in our region. Here’s the scoop about this year’s event:

Endemic Animal Festival 2017

Sunday, April 23rd
9am-3pm
Amuseum Naturalis
All ages and free!

Les Fruits de Mer’s annual Endemic Animal Festival is a free public event for all ages that celebrates St. Martin’s unique wildlife and natural heritage. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn about the animals that only live on this island or in our region. The 2017 event features an Endemic Animal Discovery Station, a Club Gaïac seedling giveaway, local wildlife-themed art activities and free access to the island’s only natural history museum. It will take place at Amuseum Naturalis, 96 Grand Case Boulevard in Grand Case on Sunday, April 23rd from 9am-3pm.

The festival is made possible by our sponsors: Tri-Sport, Hotel L’Esplanade and IGY Marinas. We are still seeking additional sponsors for this year’s event. Contact us to find out how to become a sponsor!

Endemic Animal Discovery Station
Wildlife Walk
Club Gaïac Seedling Giveaway
Kids’ Art Activities

For more information about Amuseum Naturalis, visit amuseumnaturalis.com.
Join and share the event on Facebook.

Caribbean Curiosities: On Evolution’s Trail

Evolution is happening all around us, but the processes that create new species are also being undone at the same time.

The Sugar Bird has a history written in its genes.

There are no bird species that live only on St. Martin. It’s not too surprising—on a clear day you can watch birds flying across to Anguilla or arriving here from Saba. Some birds even fly thousands of miles to live here each winter. But not all birds are such avid travelers.

Many of the birds on St. Martin are found only in our region. You can often tell by the names, like Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, Caribbean Elaenia, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Carib Grackle and Green-throated Carib. Some other local birds have wider ranges, but distinct subspecies or varieties in the Caribbean. Although they can fly across the sea, they usually don’t.

Like all living things in nature, these birds are in the process of evolving. Over generations, Sugar Birds on St. Martin might adapt ever so slightly to the conditions on this island. They might get better at harvesting nectar from the flowers found here or nesting out of the reach of the mongoose. These could be the first invisible steps towards becoming a St. Martin Sugar Bird, found nowhere else in the world.

While this is happening, other events are reversing this evolution. A hurricane strike on a nearby island might send desperate birds here in search of food. As they integrate with the local Sugar Bird population they smooth out the tiny differences that were beginning to develop in the St. Martin population. The balance of isolation and movement can create regional varieties that never develop into distinct new species.

The ability to analyze genetic differences has given us a window into the subtle differences between Sugar Birds and a look into their past. A recent study compared over 40 different Sugar Birds from different areas with surprising results. Over the past several million years, there have been three separate periods when Sugar Birds from the Greater Antilles expanded into the Lesser Antilles. Each new wave mixed with the Sugar Birds here, and the birds living here today still carry the evidence of these movements in their genes.

You can learn more about the birds found only in our region at 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.

Amuseum Naturalis Brings DEAD to Life with Smell Station

Amuseum Naturalis curators harvested the aromas of decomposition from Amuseum specimens.

There’s a brand new way to explore nature at Amuseum Naturalis, and it’s a truly “scentsational” experience. St. Martin’s only natural history museum launched its new Smell Station exhibit as part of the international celebration of Decomposition Education and Awareness Day (DEAD).

“Decomposition is an often overlooked part of the cycle of life,” explained Amuseum curator Mark Yokoyama. “The Smell Station seemed like the perfect way to smell-ebrate this es-scent-ial natural process.”

The Smell Station was inspired by the success of the Amuseum’s interactive audio exhibit featuring the sounds of nocturnal animals. Based on pre-launch testing, the exhibit has a powerful impact. Visitors reported being overwhelmed by the Smell Station.

The new Smell Station at Amuseum Naturalis delivers a unique and powerful experience.

“One of our goals for the Amuseum is to redefine the museum experience,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We in-stink-tively feel that smell-driven interactive installations are an area ripe for exploration.”

Expert smell-ologists from Amuseum Naturalis harvested the scents from specimens in the museum. They used groundbreaking odoractive technology to isolate and refine the smells for discharge at the exhibit. The Smell Station features the natural decay aromas of mammals, reptiles and fish, including both native and introduced species.

Decomposition Education and Awareness Day is celebrated with dozens of events around the world on April 1st each year. Amuseum Naturalis is free of charge and open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-8pm.

Amuseum Naturalis Celebrates 5,000 Visitors with Free Ebook

The ebook Caribbean Curiosities: Island of Change is now available for free download.

It’s only been two months since Amuseum Naturalis officially launched its 2017 season in January, but the free natural history museum has already had over 5,000 visitors this year. To celebrate, Amuseum Naturalis creators Les Fruits de Mer are sharing a free ebook, Caribbean Curiosities: Island of Change.

This ebook is the second volume in a series highlighting the plants and animals featured in the museum. Both volumes are available for free from the resources section of the association’s website. This volume highlights some of the many species that were introduced to the island by humans, and how they are changing St. Martin’s local ecology.

“The Caribbean Curiosities ebooks are a chance to build on the stories we are sharing at the Amuseum,” explained Amuseum curator Mark Yokoyama. “They’re also a chance to share some of the magic of the Amuseum with people who haven’t had a chance to visit yet.”

Amuseum Naturalis is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-8pm and admission is free. Group visits—for school classes, youth groups, or any kind of group—can be scheduled during March and April by email at info@lesfruitsdemer.org or on the Amuseum’s website.

“We’re surprised and excited to have welcomed 5,000 visitors in just two months,” commented Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “It’s so fun to share the island’s natural history with a diverse group of locals and tourists each week. We also hope to host more school classes and other group visits, so please get in touch!”

Amuseum Naturalis is a free, public pop-up museum of the natural history of St. Martin and the Caribbean, created by Les Fruits de Mer and made possible by the generous sponsorship of Delta Petroleum and the support of the Friends of the Amuseum. Amuseum Naturalis is located at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case in Grand Case and on the web at http://amuseumnaturalis.com.

Caribbean Curiosities: A Giant Problem?

Giant can be a relative term. The Giant African Land Snail is definitely a giant among land snails, even if it is only a few inches long. It also manages to be one of the world’s worst invasive species, but it is it a giant problem on St. Martin?

This snail has been quick to colonize the tropics.

What’s the big deal about this giant snail? Originally from Africa, it has been spread by humans throughout much of the world’s tropics. Once it becomes established, it can transform its new home in a variety of ways, endangering local ecosystems, agriculture and even human health.

The Giant African Land Snail is hermaphroditic, so every one is able to lay eggs. They do so 100-400 eggs at a time, up to 1200 eggs per year. Once they are introduced, they are quick to take over. Getting rid of them is hard. In Florida, an infestation was eradicated in the early 1970s. The effort involved killing 18,000 snails and cost over $4 million in today’s dollars.

These snails are known to eat over 500 different kinds of plants, including many agricultural crops. They eat leaves, fruits and roots, scraping away at them with 80,000 tiny teeth on their file-like radula. They can also transmit diseases to plants, including diseases impacting cocoa, tangerines and eggplants.

In some parts of the world, these snails are also responsible for spreading certain diseases, including some caused by nematode worms that live in the snails. Luckily, humans usually catch these diseases by eating raw or undercooked Giant African Land Snails, something that most of us will have no problem avoiding.

In the Caribbean, this snail was first found in Guadeloupe in 1984. By some accounts, it arrived in St. Martin along with supplies imported when the island was rebuilding after hurricane Luis. Whether that’s true or not, Guadeloupe does seem like a likely source for our snails. Today, these snails can be found all over the island.

Since St. Martin’s major industry is tourism, this snail probably has a bigger impact on local ecology than it does on the local economy. It may harm native plants and outcompete local snails. Like many other invasive species, understanding the extent of its impact would require extensive research that has not yet been done here. On St. Martin, it may not be the giant problem it is in some places.

You can learn more about invasive species and their impact on St. Martin 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.

Caribbean Curiosities: An Early Introduction

One of the challenges of studying the ecology of an island is uncertainty about past events. Be it twenty years, two hundred years, or two million years ago, it is impossible to go back in time to witness the first arrival of a plant or animal species. Instead, our understanding is informed by whatever historical and biological data is available.

The first addition humans made to St. Martin’s wildlife?

When it comes to the Red-footed Tortoise in the Lesser Antilles, there are a few possibilities. It could have arrived on its own, floating on a raft of vegetation to each island. It could have been brought by Amerindians from South America and introduced to the islands they visited. It even could have been introduced during the colonial era or the modern era.

On St. Martin, we can probably rule out the last possibility. In 1658, Charles de Rochefort published an account of his time in the Caribbean which mentioned the presence of tortoises in the forest on St. Martin. Only settled in the 1620s, it seems likely that tortoises were living on the island before it was colonized by Europeans.

Was the Red-footed Tortoise brought to these islands by Amerindian people? Many believe this is the most likely scenario. The Arawak and Carib people migrated from northern South America—where the Red-footed Tortoise is a native species—to the Lesser Antilles. It would have been very practical to bring the tortoises with them and release them, creating a renewable food supply.

There are also reasons to believe the tortoise did not arrive on its own. Most of the reptiles that colonized the Lesser Antilles by their own means diverged into different species on each island or group of islands. The Red-footed Tortoise seems essentially the same throughout the Caribbean. This suggests it arrived recently.

Also, we know what can happen when tortoises on islands: they become giants, like the tortoises of the Seychelles and Galápagos. It would be reasonable to guess that tortoises colonizing Caribbean islands millions of years ago would have ample time to become giants.

As it turns out, we don’t need to guess that giant tortoises could exist in the Caribbean. About 40 miles from St. Martin, Sombrero Island was once home to the Sombrero Giant Tortoise. Remains of this tortoise were found in guano extracted from the island. Several other extinct species of giant tortoise are known from other parts of the Caribbean. It is possible that existing populations of giant tortoises were hunted to extinction by the earliest humans who arrived here and then replaced by the tortoises we see here today.

You can learn more about the Red-footed Tortoise and other species introduced to St. Martin 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.

Caribbean Curiosities: Love Songs

A Snowy Cricket plays softly.

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.

A Whistling Frog in mid-song.

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.

Fifth Dream Opening

Thanks to everyone who came out to the opening of THE 5TH DREAM art exhibition at Amuseum Naturalis. 350 guests visited the Amuseum and the opening. THE 5TH DREAM is a new series of paintings by Sélénia Sanner, inspired by the infinite ocean and the profound connection between humans and nature. If you didn’t make it to the opening, the exhibition runs February 14th to March 16th, and can be visited during the museum’s regular opening hours. See you there!