A terrifying creature ready to strike
Am I the only one old enough to remember Elly May Clampett and her critters? Well, the critters, aka wildlife, here in Utila seem to be a combination of Caribbean creatures (including of course, the ocean creatures) with some influence from the mainland of Central America.
On the land and in the air, we’ve talked about some of them before, but I have to mention the mosquitoes (or is it mosquitos?), Sand Flies (No-See-Ums!), fruit flies (around the produce in the market), and general purpose gnats. The sand flies and gnats seem to go right through normal window screens, I’m not even sure it slows them down (but mosquitoes are kept at bay). Now that rainy season is in full swing, we are seeing fewer mosquitoes but many, many more gnats. It probably has to do with how and where they lay their eggs. We get gnats by the hundreds around any light we have on at night, and by morning they have either died or left the way they came.
This dangerous animal was found in the kitchen! I hope he eats ants.
Also in the insect world are the ants – ants seem to live everywhere but the Arctic circle and the bottom of the sea. We have these tiny brown ones that are hard to even see on a wood surface but we certainly were able to see them floating in our sealed drinking water jug one time (I know, what the?). Then the black ants (their bite isn’t too bad, but itches later), the red ants (they hurt a lot more!) and the BIG red ants (don’t want to know about their bite). One day I walked in the front door and a bunch of these big ones were moving in to the house, right under the door, and they are FAST. I think they got rained out of their home and were looking for drier digs. The reason I say that is that they were carrying their eggs sacks with them, trucking along at a furious pace, I mean they were really moving in! A few blasts of bug spray took care of that but we still get a one-sy/two-sy appearance from them in the house once in a while, zooming around looking for trouble. We’ve already talked about the spiders (don’t say tarantula!) which I don’t love but they at least help keep down the insect populations.
Our roommate for the first few weeks. She was so shy and quiet we hardly knew she was there. Come at me bro!
Distant cousins to the spiders are crabs, and you see blue land crabs all around here in the drainage ditches. They dig burrows in the mud about 3-4” in diameter but aren’t often seen until it rains. When the ditch fills up with water they come out and end up on the streets, especially at night. We were walking home one night from dinner and had to watch our step at one point about a block from our house – they had us surrounded with their claws out in a very threatening manner! I know they are just protecting themselves but we were just trying to get home! They do get splatted on the streets by vehicles – the road is just not the place for a crab to be!
This blue land crab pulled a hibiscus flower into his lair like it was a prized possession. The OG mobile home.
Hermit crabs – I’ve always had a fondness for hermit crabs. They do their little crab thing, live their little crab lives, and grow to be bigger crabs. When they get too big for their current home, they find a new larger shell, step out of the old one, and place their little crab derrier into the new shell. Boom – we’re movin’ on up! We saw a bunch of them cruising down the beach near sunset. We imagined them going to work somewhere in the morning at sunrise and then back home in the afternoon at sunset. But wait, they bring their homes with them, so that doesn’t make sense. Maybe you can tell us!
Lots of critters down here!
Below water, we’ve seen some real beauty. Well, sea urchins aren’t that beautiful to me, at least the dark purple/black ones we get around here. We are pretty careful with these guys, wearing our diving fins or at least water shoes, when we get in the water. They will ruin your whole day and more, trying to get those spikes out and avoid infection. But stoplight parrot fish are interesting, beautiful and abundant. They just graze on the coral all day long with their strong beaks, eating the algae on it – there are other species that do something similar. There are also beautiful angelfish, blue tangs, gobies, etc. We’ve seen pufferfish, scorpionfish, jack, all sorts of swimmers in the deep blue sea.
On the surface of the water, standing around in the shallows, we’ve seen some funny sights. More than once, we’ve seen a little silver fish jumping over a floating leaf, over and over. They do the whale-breaching thing, showing their silver sides to the sky and then ploop, back in the water. But it’s a 3-4” fish, so it’s not exactly whale-like! They just seem to be fascinated by things floating on the surface. We’ve also had a fish harass us, a little silver flat fish maybe related to an angelfish. He would bump into our sides, in a bumping/brushing fashion. The first few times it’s very disconcerting, and you never really get used to it. We usually try to move along because he’s obviously protecting his territory. In general, I like the mask and snorkel so I can see what’s trying to get me.
Like other parts of the Caribbean we also see quite a few street dogs. They are not aggressive at all but they sometimes follow you for a bit to see if you’ll discard something interesting. On the town beach, there are a couple of street dogs and one with a collar that run around and play. We imagine the one showing off his collar to the others claiming superiority because he has a house. One of them that we call Shorty (he has basset hound legs on a normal medium sized body), will follow us out in the water trying to get on our little dogs’ raft. Or he’ll sit with us on the beach (or anyone else) looking for a little love or more likely, food. The street dogs tip over trash cans and generally eat whatever they can find. I’ve read that their stomachs can handle what a house dog could never handle without ugly consequences. That’s what they are called here, street dogs, but in Puerto Rico they are called satos. In the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos they are potcakes because the people feed them the remains stuck to the bottom of the cooking pot. They are the vira-lata (trash-can tipper) in the Dominican Republic, for obvious reasons. There are places that try hard to keep them in check, such as the humane society in Vieques (where we will go one day!). They constantly spay & neuter and ship dogs off-island as they can afford to do so. You can help their efforts if you like (we have) by donating to them here. https://www.facebook.com/viequeshumanesociety/
Hey Lady are we going swimming? Are you my new owner? What’s for supper?
One more island creature we’ve seen and heard our share of and that’s chickens! Utila has its share of chickens strutting around doing their thing. I enjoy watching them scratch at the dirt and leaves, quickly back up to see what they uncovered, and peck away at it. They do this all day. Our landlord has many of them and he sells us eggs that are the best! There are some that are downright beautiful – we don’t know a lot about chickens, but there are some classic multi-colored roosters, with the red beak and comb to top it off. But it’s the sounds of the the roosters that are really entertaining. They will sound off much of the night – that “crowing at the morning sun” thing is a made-up story. They especially will sound off after a big downpour, as if to say “I’m OK, still here, loud and proud!”. Some sound like a cat with his tail under the rocking chair. Others give a squelched cock-a-doodle but they don’t have the pipes for it. And then there is the professor. He gives lessons to the others. “Listen class – it’s COCK. A DOODLE. DOOOOOOO!!!!! Got it? COCK. A DOODLE. DOOOOOOO!!!!!” Now, you try. (cat under rocking chair sound). And the Professor sighs… Maybe you have to be here – it’s pretty hilarious even if it is at 3 a.m.!
Finally, there are iguanas here and they don’t make a peep. The locals actually hunt and eat them when they get big (2-3′ feet long I think). I guess some of them are pretty aggressive so you have to shoot them with something (pellet gun, small rifle, etc.) – they won’t just let you just pick them up and take them to dinner! I’m told they taste like (yes, you know) chicken, but even better than chicken. We may not get to confirm this, but you never know.
So, lots of critters here and we love them all – OK we love most of them. How about you? – tell us about your experiences with critters while traveling in the comments below!
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Island State of Mind by Jesse Rice, just cuz that’s our state of mind!