Luquillo, Puerto Rico

Photos and text by Audra Barrios

Luquillo is a beach town in northeastern Puerto Rico that borders El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the US national forest system.

Red-eyed Coqui, Eleutherodactylus antillensis

Red-eyed Coqui, Eleutherodactylus antillensis

Bromeliads in Bloom, El Yunque National Forest

Bromeliads in BloomEl Yunque National Forest

With miles of undeveloped coastline, Luquillo is one of the most important Caribbean nesting sites for the endangered leatherback sea turtle. In early March we found a leatherback nest roped off along the beach. 

The leatherback turtle is the size of a car and can weigh up to 2000 pounds and grow to be 7 feet long. They come to shore to nest starting in mid-March and in April, Luquillo has a festival to celebrate them. 

At night, the abundance of frogs and anoles was incredible. Male coquí frogs called from bromeliads in manicured yards and from undeveloped lots. They were seen on almost every plant from the ground up. Anoles slept in the tall grass. 

Red-eyed Coqui frog, Eleutherodactylus antillensis

Red-eyed Coqui frogEleutherodactylus antillensis

Coquí frog calling. Luquillo, Puerto Rico.

Common coqui, Eleutherodactylus coqui

Common coqui, Eleutherodactylus coqui

Common coqui, Eleutherodactylus coqui

Common coqui, Eleutherodactylus coqui

Common coqui, Eleutherodactylus coqui

Common coqui, Eleutherodactylus coqui

Coqui frogs belong to the genus Eleutherodactylus, meaning "free toes." Fifteen of these are endemic to Puerto Rico, 3 species are thought to be extinct and 11 are Critically Endangered. Males of two of these species sing the coqui song, which they use to attract females and to scare off other males. 

Coqui frogs do not undergo metamorphosis like most amphibians do. Instead, the female lays eggs into moss or under leaves and the male cares for the eggs by keeping them moist until they hatch into fully developed tiny frogs ready to fend for themselves. 

In our search for coqui frogs, we stumbled across the skeleton of a house that had been take back by the jungle. There was no roof, just a canopy of tall trees.  Around it we found the following frogs: 

Red-eyed Coqui, Eleutherodactylus antillensis

Red-eyed Coqui, Eleutherodactylus antillensis

With 17 species of coqui frogs in Puerto Rico and tons of variation within a species, they can be hard to ID. I could not find a comprehensive guide to frogs of Puerto Rico, but I was able to ID them with help from conservation biologist Alberto López and his beautiful photographs: 

Eleutherodactylus cochranae
Large millipedes and cockroaches were found in bromeliads eating dead leaves. 

Large millipedes and cockroaches were found in bromeliads eating dead leaves. 

Common coqui, Eleutherodactylus coqui

Common coquiEleutherodactylus coqui

 

Anoles are also found in large numbers throughout Puerto Rico. Some species have habituated to urban environments and thrive in gardens eating insects. 

A recent study shows  Puerto Rican Crested Anoles living in urban areas have adapted morphologically to the human dense environments by growing longer legs (presumably to run faster, since areas to hide are further apart in urban environments). Read more about this study and other anole related news here: 

http://www.anoleannals.org/2016/06/21/rapid-morphological-evolution-in-urban-environments/

Grass Anole, Anolis krugi

Grass Anole, Anolis krugi

Puerto Rican Crested Anole sleeping behind a sign, Anolis cristatellus

Puerto Rican Crested Anole sleeping behind a sign, Anolis cristatellus

Anolis cristatellus, Puerto Rican Crested Anole

Anolis cristatellus, Puerto Rican Crested Anole

Arboreal spider

Arboreal spider

Humans aren't the only one's manipulating their environment. The dozens of small holes found in the ground were dug by tarantulas. These nocturnal predators wait in their burrows for an insect or other small animal to pass by. They were quick to attack the pieces of grass we stuck into their tunnel.

Grass Anole, Anolis krugi

Grass Anole, Anolis krugi

Puerto Rican Crested Anole, Anolis cristatellus

Puerto Rican Crested Anole, Anolis cristatellus

Emerald Anole, Anolis evermanni

Emerald Anole, Anolis evermanni

Marine Toad, Rhinella marina. this large toxic toad was hanging out near the side of the dark road. 

Marine Toad, Rhinella marina. this large toxic toad was hanging out near the side of the dark road. 

Caterpillar 

Caterpillar 

There was a variety of large land snails. 

There was a variety of large land snails. 

Some much to see, so little sleep.

I will be back someday to see leatherback turtles lay eggs and to find itty bitty geckos from the genus Sphaerodactylus. 

Until then...

Herping Madagascar in November 2016 and San Francisco Bay Area Herping. 

These snails were sharing an envelope for dinner. 

These snails were sharing an envelope for dinner. 

Isla Culebra, PR

Anolis cristatellus, Culebra. 

Anolis cristatellus, Culebra. 

The small island of Culebra is 17 miles east of Puerto Rico. It is filled with life on land and in the warm Caribbean Sea. It was a US naval reservation for 72 years and was used as a bombing practice site during the second World War. We were reminded of this when we asked how to get to Carlos Rosario Beach, a beach known for it's snorkeling. A local told us to cross under the fence where the danger sign was posted. 

We encountered two species of anoles; the barred anole (Ctenonotus stratulus) and the Puerto Rican crested anole (Anolis cristatellus). The crested anole is one of the most common anoles and has adapted well to urban environments. 

A large male green iguana (Iguana iguana) sat on the power lines along the side of the road. He began bob his head when he realized we had spotted him, letting us know he was in charge and we were in his territory. A Puerto Rican ground lizard (Ameiva exsul) watched us from the thicket near Flamenco Beach. He was too quick to catch or photograph.

Chickens are everywhere. There are no natural land mammals on Culebra, however we did see a few of the white-tailed deer that were introduced to the island in 1966.

Ctenonotus stratulus, Flamico.

Ctenonotus stratulus, Flamico.

Anolis cristatellus, Flaminco 

Anolis cristatellus, Flaminco 

Anolis cristatellus, Culebra 

Anolis cristatellus, Culebra 

Adult male Anolis cristatellus, Culebra. This is the Puerto Rican crested anole, named for the crest on it's tail, neck and back of the males, as seen here. This was the most aggressive of the anoles I attempted to catch and the only one who bit me. 

Adult male Anolis cristatellus, Culebra. This is the Puerto Rican crested anole, named for the crest on it's tail, neck and back of the males, as seen here. This was the most aggressive of the anoles I attempted to catch and the only one who bit me. 

Ctenonotus stratulus, Culebra 

Ctenonotus stratulus, Culebra 

Being a marine biologist by training, but a herpetologist at heart, I am always thrilled when both worlds collide. As you can imagine, the most exciting herp for me on Culebra was busy eating sea grass: the green sea turtle. Close to a dozen of them were scattered along the sea grass bed, unfazed by the snorkelers staring at them from above. Some had large suckerfish attached to their shells. Stingrays also hung out in the sea grass,  digging up their meals, with large fish overhead waiting to steal what they could. The Isla Culebra is an incredible tiny jewel in the Caribbean I would love to visit again soon. 

Stay tuned for my next blog on Herping Puerto Rico that will be up in the next few weeks.

Thanks for reading! 

Green Sea Turtle. Photo by Lauren Vasquez. 

Green Sea Turtle. Photo by Lauren Vasquez.