Where the Wild Plants Are
When hiking through the Bahamian Dry Forests, you should be careful--not because of the wild animals that live here, but because of the plants! Be wary of the Machineel tree, which drips toxic sap. Even rainwater passing over the leaves may irritate the unsuspecting visitor below. Another plant to watch out for is the Bahama haulback, an endemic mimosa plant that forms thick mats on the forest floor. Its flowers may be pink and beautiful, but they cover a bunch of long, curved thorns! Still, if you visit these forests you're sure to be more amazed than frightened, given the diverse array of living things--most of them harmless--that live here. Among those species sure to dazzle are bright green Bahama parrots, which nest underground in small sinkholes.
This ecoregion consists of dry forest and scrub habitat found in the Bahamas, a chain of 700 islands that extends over more than 100,000 square miles (259,000 sq. km) of ocean. The Turks and Caicos Islands are physically part of this island chain and are located on the southeastern end. These low-lying islands were formed over time as limestone emerged from the ocean. Vegetation ranges from shrubby dry forest to dense, wet thickets known as coppices. A thick palmetto understory grows beneath the short canopy. The islands become drier farther south.
Only the luckiest visitor will see the rare Bahama hutia, a small endemic mammal that resembles a guinea pig. The hutia was once feared to be extinct and was then rediscovered on a small cay in the mid-1960s. It has now been reintroduced to several other cays and the population is intensely monitored. Also rarely seen are three different species of boas that can be found in the Bahamas. They spend their days sheltered in old logs and thick vegetation, coming out at night to forage. The endangered Allen’s Cay rock iguana is a large, fierce-looking lizard, that grows up to 3 feet (0.9 m) in length. But like all rock iguanas, the Allen’s Cay iguana is an herbivore, feeding on plants and flowers. Only 400 to 500 individuals remain in fragmented habitat. Eight other subspecies of rock iguana are found throughout the Bahamas, Turks, and Caicos, often confined to small and isolated cays. Seven of these subspecies are considered endangered, four of them critically so.
Cause for Concern
The vegetation of these islands has been degraded or cleared due to firewood gathering, tourism development, and recreational use. Native animals such as the white crowned pigeon and the hutia have been overharvested. Introduced animals prey on endemic animals, including boas, parrots, and iguanas. Bahamas parrots are especially threatened by feral cats and pigs and by raccoons.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001