A Monkey to Blame?

Get an inside look at science as it happens in the Caribbean. This week, how do you know if something’s wrong in the local ecology, and how do you know what it is?

Is there monkey business on St. Kitts & Nevis?

During a February 2017 field visit to St. Kitts and Nevis, I marveled at the forests. There were huge trees, hanging vines, graceful ferns and lush mosses. Still, while bursting with greenery, many areas seemed oddly lifeless. Anoles—the small tree lizards that are incredibly common in the Caribbean—seemed to be unusually scarce. Snails weren’t crawling across every damp leaf and tree trunk, they were almost absent.

Other members of the research team—experts on plants, reptiles, birds and more—noticed many similar anomalies. The heliconia plants were surprisingly rare, geckos that we would expect to find weren’t seen at all. Tiny moths and other insects that often erupt in clouds when walking through field or scrub seemed unaccountably sparse. Almost immediately, we were all wondering what was going on.

Our first intuition was to blame the monkeys. Vervet Monkeys from Africa were introduced to St. Kitts and Nevis in the 1600s. Smart and voracious, they’ve had hundreds of years to impact the local ecology. More importantly, they are the one thing that is most obviously different about St. Kitts and Nevis, compared to most other islands in the area. All the Lesser Antilles have rats, many have mongoose, but Barbados is the only other one that has had monkeys for centuries.

The intuition of a group of scientists with extensive research experience in the Caribbean is valuable, but it doesn’t prove anything. Implicating the monkeys would require data showing that ecosystems were damaged, and experiments to show that monkeys were the culprit. Although that is beyond the scope of our project, the data we collect could support the need to look further.

Even tiny creatures can be indicators of ecosystem health.

Another culprit had been upsetting the ecological balance over recent years as well. From a serious drought in 2015 to erratic rainfall in the years since, weather may have influenced what we observed. By the time we returned in May, the islands had received some spring rains. Lizards and snails still seemed less common than they should be, but the symphony of insect sounds at night seemed richer and fuller.

With specimens, data and observations collected across two field work sessions, interesting ideas about the ecology of St. Kitts and Nevis are bound to emerge. Do monkeys harm the local ecosystem? Almost certainly. Could animal and plant populations be temporarily lowered due to drought and rainfall irregularity? It’s definitely possible. Do St. Kitts and Nevis have less overall biodiversity that we might expect? Survey results should give us an idea. Most importantly, the data should give us ideas about what these islands can do to help preserve and protect their natural heritag

A Night with the Bat People

Get an inside look at science as it happens in the Caribbean. This week, join the bat people to study these furry flying critters on St. Kitts.

Feisty bats are measured and weighed.

The bat people don’t have a lot of time to rest. Scientists studying these flying mammals spend their days scouting good locations to catch them and their evenings setting up nets and other bat-catching contraptions. Nights, of course, are spent studying the bats that they catch.

Studying bats is challenging. Bats are smart, so they are not very easy to catch. They use echolocation to find their way in the night, which also helps them see nets and traps. They are also incredibly agile in the air.

The first step is finding places that bats are likely to be. Some species roost in colonies in caves and abandoned buildings, but many live in harder to find spots like trees. The bat team looks for areas near fruit or flowers that bats like, and pathways leading to resources like water. Trails and streams can create natural tunnels through the forest that are used by bats.

Once a promising area is found, mist nets are set up before twilight. These very fine nets are suspended between poles across flyways. Although most bats will notice and avoid them, careless or tired bats fly into them and are caught. Other types of traps can be used as well, and sound recordings are made. Each species makes unique sounds that can be identified from the recordings.

Released on a tree, this bat will take to the sky again.

Captured bats are processed in the field. Processing includes identifying the species and sex of the bat, taking measurements and recording other information. The team records when bats are pregnant or nursing young. Male bats only have visible testes when they are breeding, so this is also recorded. Bats with bald spots or large numbers of parasites are also noted. Once processed, the bats are released.

Although it is a lot of work, studying bats is useful. Bats are important pollinators, seed distributors and insect eaters. Studying them can help us understand if the ecosystem as a whole is healthy. Work on St. Kitts and Nevis may also shed new light on how bats colonized the Lesser Antilles. The data to unlock these secrets is gathered by the team, night by night and bat by bat.

By the Light of the Headlamp

Get an inside look at science as it happens in the Caribbean. This week, we shine a light into a world of darkness in the field on St. Kitts.

Beyond the narrow beam of the headlamp, the world is dark. There are no streetlights here, and the forest canopy blocks out the moon and stars completely. A festival of sounds fills the cool air: chirps and tweets and the ping of the mountain blacksmith.

A river runs through the forest, right here at my feet. It swirls through the holes in my Crocs and around my toes. It does this because I’m the sort of person who walks up a rocky forest stream in the dark, alone, in my Crocs. And because, at the moment, that’s my job.

Crayfish venture out at night to feed.

Field work at night is an adventure. It is mysterious, sometimes holding a hint of danger. To be alone in nature is a great joy. The solitude at night is immersive and absolute.

The night is a critical time for studying all kinds of animals, too. A half-hour walk from here, a team of scientists are catching bats with near-invisible mist nets. I’m searching this stream for crayfishes and other nighttime aquatics. Every few meters a Cane Toad jumps into the stream with a plop.

An invasive Cane Toad “hides” underwater.

The beam of the headlamp is fantastic for one’s focus. It is easier to spot camouflaged critters like stick insects. Whatever is in that small circle of light is sharp and clear. Free from the need to process a full field of vision, he mind wanders. What is this stream like in a wetter year? How long have people depended on it for water? Why are there no river gobies swimming here? When was the last time it ran all the way to the sea?

Satisfied that I had spotted every crayfish species living here, I began to head back downstream. My thoughts drifted back towards the rest of the world. Were the bat people having a good night? Were they frustrated and ready to pull down their nets and go home?

The delicate Zebra Longwing butterfly.

I brushed a branch that was hanging over the stream and it exploded. Zebra Longwing butterflies roost together at night and this was their chosen spot. Dozens of pairs of tiny wings flapped against my face and arms in a swirl of black and yellow. I stopped for a minute to watch as they settled back down one by one. Then I started down again, towards the team and the truck and the town below.

Dipping for Diversity

Get an inside look at science as it happens in the Caribbean. This week, we dip into freshwater habitats as part of a biodiversity survey of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Dip-netting for aquatics at Pond Hill on Nevis. (Photo by Jenn Yerkes)

Take a medium-sized mesh strainer and use some duct tape to secure it to the end of an old broomstick. Voilà, you just made a dip net! This simple net is one of the most useful and versatile tools for investigating life in freshwater habitats.

As part of the scientific team surveying the plants and animals of St. Kitts and Nevis, my specialty is freshwater aquatic life. This includes anything living in the streams and ponds and any other place where fresh water accumulates. Despite the clouds that often cling to the peaks of both islands, freshwater habitats are somewhat limited.

Like much of the Caribbean, these islands are recovering from the drought of previous years. The many the ghauts—a regional term for narrow valleys—on these islands that channel rainwater down the mountain to the sea in wetter times are mostly dry. At a few points on the forested slopes, water is running, but much of it is taken to provide water for the people living here.

Still, life is persistent. Multiple species of freshwater crayfish and a couple fish species manage to survive in the mountain streams. During times of rain, they take the temporary streams downhill and survive in pools as long as they last.

A River Goby clings to a rock in the Wingfield River.

Caribbean crayfish and freshwater shrimp have a complex life cycle. They typically spend their larval phase in the sea, or in the brackish water a the mouth of a river or stream. It is a bit of a mystery how they manage to survive in these mountain streams during extended periods when they are not connected to the sea, or connected only briefly.

In lower elevations, the primary freshwater habitats are ponds, mostly manmade ones. The native animals living in these ponds are primarily insects: aquatic beetles, dragonfly and damselfly larvae and water bugs. Introduced species, particularly the tadpoles of marine toads and Cuban tree frogs, are also present.

Although widespread in the Caribbean, including Nevis, the Cuban tree frog has only recently been documented on St. Kitts. Surveying freshwater sources might give us an idea of how the Cuban tree frog spreads after arriving on an island. While we race to document the biodiversity of these islands, the islands themselves are changing right before our eyes. It is a challenge and an opportunity that makes our work here even more rewarding.

Into the Field

There are plenty of biologists in the world working in university laboratories and museum basements. In many ways, these indoor environments might be considered the primary natural habitat of the modern biologist. Some, however, are only truly at home when out in the field.

In biology, fieldwork is essentially any research that is done outside the lab or library. It usually involves observing, documenting and collecting plants and animals. It is often the dirtiest, sweatiest work a biologist can do, but it can also be the most fun.

Nevis Peak beckons from the hills above Major’s Bay.

In the past, work done in the field and work done in the lab or museum were often done by different people. In the Caribbean, many specimens were collected by non-scientists and sent to scientists in Europe or North America for study. Over the last hundred years or so, it became much more common for scientists themselves to travel to the Caribbean to do fieldwork. It has also become much more common for Caribbean scientists to do both fieldwork and analysis right here.

At the moment, a team of scientists from the Caribbean and beyond are conducting a survey of the terrestrial ecology of St. Kitts and Nevis. They are documenting as many plants and animals as possible, from birds to beetles and trees to mosses. The project will help the government of St. Kitts and Nevis protect the the biodiversity of their islands.

Due to the broad scope of the project, the team includes a variety of experts, specialized in studying insects, birds, plants, reptiles, bats and more. While each one researches their own specialty, they also share observations about the general ecology. The impact of invasive species—like monkeys and rats—or the recent drought, can be seen across multiple plant and animal groups.

Together, the team is making new discoveries, uncovering mysteries and overcoming challenges. In the Antillean Field Journal, we will follow their progress up the muddy slopes of Mt. Liamuiga and Nevis Peak, to the rarely-visited shores of Booby Island and many places in between. As we go, we will see how our understanding of nature in the Caribbean is improving, even as the islands themselves are rapidly changing.

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: Hiding in Plain Sight

People have spent more than 200 years systematically describing and naming the plants and animals around us. One could be forgiven for thinking that process is winding down. The truth is almost the opposite: we’re still finding about 10,000 new species of animals every year.

To be fair, many of these new species are insects. We’ve described about a million insect species, but there may be six to ten million more to go. But we’re also discovering bigger animals: lizards, frogs, birds and even whales.

Almost certainly, there are unknown species right here on St. Martin. We’ve already become the home of three “new” lizard species in the 21st century. None of them were unknown exactly, but none of them were considered distinct species until recently. The Bearded Anole, for example, was considered a subspecies of Watts’ Anole until DNA analysis determined that they had more differences than we thought.

An undescribed species of soapberry bug.

In some cases, two species look so similar it is almost impossible to tell them apart. These are called cryptic species. Genetic analysis can be used to distinguish two species hiding in one form. In other cases, two identical animals may have different parasites—parasites that can tell them apart even when we cannot.

Many of the new species we will find on St. Martin will be small, plain animals: beetles that live under rocks, tiny moths and little spiders. The process of identifying and describing them will take a long time. Much of the work will be done under the microscope and in DNA sequencers.

There are some colorful and engaging bugs that we are still uncertain about. The soapberry bug of St. Martin remains undescribed, although specimens have been delivered to a group of scientists for study. Our stick insect may be a new species as well.

Does it matter if we identify all the tiny creatures that live on St. Martin? In some ways, it could be more an issue of philosophy than practicality. Who would we be if we lost the desire to learn more about the world around us? On the other hand, perhaps this seemingly obscure knowledge does have a future use. Could we someday bring life to a distant planet without understanding it first here on earth?

Could our stick insects be a new species?

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.

Endemic Animal Festival 2017 Press Roundup

Huge thanks to local media of all types for helping us spread the word about the Endemic Animal Festival! Here are selections from the press about this year’s event.

The Daily Herald, April 2017

The Daily Herald, April 2017

The Daily Herald, April 2017

St. Martin’s Week, April 2017

Today Newspaper, April 2017

Wa’appen, April 2017

St. Martin’s Week, April 2017

97150, April 2017

The Daily Herald, April 2017

SXM Fax Info, April 2017

Le Pélican, April 2017

Soualiga Newsday
Le Pélican
SXM Fax Info
The Daily Herald
SXM Island Time
Soualiga Post
Pearl FM Radio
SXM Island Time
The Daily Herald
Soualiga Newsday
Soualiga Post
Soualiga Newsday
St. Martin News
721 News
SXM Island Time
Le Pélican

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.

EAF Sponsor Spotlight: Rockland Estate

Big thanks to a new sponsor, Rockland Estate, a new adventure park from Rain Forest Adventures. Rockland Estate is the latest attraction from Rain Forest Adventures. Set to open this summer, the adventure park will feature the world’s steepest zip line, The Flying Dutchman, the Pirate Sky Ride and a variety of other activities. The park will also feature a walk-through museum in the estate’s restored plantation house.

EAF Sponsor Spotlight: BirdsCaribbean

BirdsCaribbean is the regional organizer of the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival, which includes events throughout the Caribbean that celebrate the region’s unique birdlife. St. Martin’s Endemic Animal Festival is part of this regional celebration, and BirdsCaribbean is a sponsor of the event through their CEBF Small Grants Program.

BirdsCaribbean is a vibrant international network of members and partners committed to conserving Caribbean birds and their habitats. They raise awareness, promote sound science, and empower local partners to build a region where people appreciate, conserve and benefit from thriving bird populations and ecosystems. They are a non-profit (501 (c) 3) membership organization. More than 100,000 people participate in their programmes each year, making BirdsCaribbean the most broad-based conservation organization in the region.

EAF Sponsor Spotlight: Caribbean Paddling

We love having Caribbean Paddling as a sponsor for the 2017 Endemic Animal Festival! As everyone on St. Martin knows, a trip to Pinel Island is the perfect way to spend the day. Renting a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from Caribbean Paddling is the perfect way to get to get there. They even have a giant paddleboard for up to six people. Visit their website to see everything they have to offer.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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

EAF Sponsor Spotlight: IGY Marinas


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.

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.

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.