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