Cuba’s Emerald Forests
Layers of moist forest once covered much of Cuba, weaving across the island in long, green ribbons. If you were to take a trip here, you would want to bring your binoculars and a good bird guidebook--countless bird species live in these forests, including many wintering migrants that fly here from North America. Keep your eye out for reptiles, too, especially anole lizards. Some of these lizards are easier to find than others--the giant, or knight anoles can be as long as five to eight inches, while others are much smaller. The green anole also lives here; this lizard assumes a brown color while resting and then turns bright green when active. Don’t overlook the magic of the forest itself, either--the flora of Cuba is incredible, as constellations of butter-colored blossoms hang against the emerald sky of a Cuban magnolia tree. Kapok trees climb 150 feet (46 m) through the forest canopy, their flowers changing into long pods filled with silky fibers that can be used to stuff pillows or life preservers.
Epiphytes and ferns wind through the understory of the moist forests, and coral and carmine spikes of bromeliads seem to point the way up to the sky, through the greenery. Orchids bloom in myriad colors, their flowers resemblingfaces looking out on the forest. Rainfall in Cuba ranges from 12 to 120 inches (305 to 3048 mm), and the forest changes accordingly. In the high elevation cloud forests, where the most rain falls, the forest glistens bright green, and is lush and dense.
A Cuban trogon, the national bird of Cuba, flies through the canopy, showing its brilliant colors. This bird has a blue cap, white throat and chest, a bright orange belly, and a stunning barred tail, white edged with black. Another bird, the Cuban tody, swoops through the trees, snatching up insects and swallowing them down its crimsonthroat. Its blue cheeks swell as they fill with bugs, and its emerald head bobs as it enjoys the feast. The world’s smallest bird, the endemic 2.5-inch (6-cm) bee hummingbird, makes an appearance on the forest stage, buzzing through the dense network of vines, bromeliads, and lianas. Females are drab, but males are an amazing combination of colors. Their heads are red, their back and flanks are emerald green, and their rumps and tails sparkle the color of sapphires. Clear-winged butterflies flutter through humid mountain forests. This insect has transparent wings, edged in black, with a white stripe. As it flies, only the vibrating white stripe allows one to follow its path through the forest. An endangered Cuban solenodon, or almiqui, a large, primitive, endemic insectivore that lives in the eastern montane forests, tears at a rotten log with its foreclaws, then digs for insects and spiders with its snout. This animal has rarely been seen and there are no individuals in captivity. A Cuban boa, the largest snake found in the Greater Antilles, hangs like a long, brown vine from the trees. Some of these snakes grow as long as ten feet! They climb trees in search of hutias--medium-sized, brown rodents--and bats.
Cause for Concern
Lowland seasonal rainforest was once the most extensive habitat type on Cuba. Now, small, fragmented areas are all that is left, as the rest has been cleared to make way for agriculture and other human endeavors. Cacao, coffee, and tobacco production continue to expand, also threatening this region.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001