A Snapshot of Cuban Wildlife

Cuba is all revolution, sugar cane and fat cigars, salsa, Hemingway and classic cars. I spent nine days in this fascinating country last month and I’m still getting my head around everything I saw (and wringing out my clothes, because it rained EVERY single day).

What surprised me was all the wildlife that was around and about in the Caribbean’s largest island. Lizards are everywhere, including this Allison’s anole.

Its blue head indicates that this is a male, although the lizards can change colour from blue-green to brown, and back again. They also have a dewlap under their throat which they can inflate like a little balloon. I did see them doing this but my photos were a bit shaky.

Apparently they puff out their chins for one of two reasons, either because they are looking for a mate or they’re trying to scare off rivals

In the same garden as the Alison’s anole, we also saw a northern curly tailed lizard scampering about. These have a hysterical side-to-side running style, whereby their curving tail shoots up above their body, making them look like they are permanently scared out of their wits.

I think both species were feasting on the abundant insect life in the town of Trinidad. However, insects weren’t the only invertebrates that we had to worry about. Trinidad is also the haunt of these tarantulas, which can be seen in the streets at any time of the day or night, albeit mostly dead (like this one) because people hit them with a shoe.

We were invited to a house party one night and apparently one of these spiders was in the vicinity but the family picked it up and put it out of harm’s way, so it’s not the case that everyone kills them on sight. In fact, several people said to me that they were sorry to see the poor things slain in this way, especially as they pose no risk at all to human beings.

Earlier, on the north coast of Cuba, we had seen huge starfish just lying in the shallows.

That’s not my foot, by the way…

There were dozens of them about, and a strange transparent sort of jellyfish too, looking like an empty teabag with a pair of white wings. In fact there were so many of these jellyfish that I was sure that one of them must have touched me already, so I was tempted to prod one to find out if they were dangerous or not.

Luckily, I didn’t, since these jellyfish are known as aguamala to the locals (literally ‘bad water’ in the same way that malaria means ‘bad air’) and they have a nasty sting.

On a more positive note, we also spotted hundreds of hermit crabs. These little fellows spent their days scuttling about the sand. They were clearly aware of our presence, as they would duck beneath their shells at the slightest approach from us. Being more patient, and less clumsy than me, my wife Maria snapped this one (yes, it’s her foot in the photo above):

These hermit crabs are actually tiny. The one above was only about as big as a grape.

Our best sighting of all, though, was one that was impossible to capture with a camera. We were swimming in those transparent waters when we saw a small brown thing wriggling nearby, weaving about on the surface. Its movements suggested intelligence rather than the meanderings of a piece of weed. On looking closer, we saw that it was a tiny brown seahorse, no bigger than my fingernail, being borne along by the current. What a sighting, and a definite highlight of our trip!