The distance of the Turks & Caicos Islands from continents and the fact that they were never attached to any other land mass means that the animals that settled here had to find their way across great expanses of sea water. While birds and bats can simply fly, most land mammals can’t survive more than a few days without fresh water. Reptiles and amphibians, however, can survive long voyages without food or water due to their cold-blooded metabolisms. It is the reptiles that became the dominant land animals in the Turks & Caicos Islands. Historically, there were giant tortoises and giant iguanas on the islands – these were hunted to extinction by the Lucayan people. However, a number of unique species survived and several more have become established due to introduction by humans.
In some cases, new research has revealed significant genetic differences between reptiles of the same species on different islands. As new research is completed, DEMA will have further information on these subspecies. None of the reptiles in Turks & Caicos are venomous or dangerous.
Amphibians of the Turks & Caicos Islands:
Greenhouse frog Eleutherodactylus planirostris: This is the only candidate for a native amphibian on TCI. Greenhouse frogs belong to one of the most speciose genera of vertebrates – there are over 700 named species of Eleutherodactyus frogs, most on Caribbean islands. These tiny, drab frogs live in moist leaf litter of forests. They do not swim particularly well, but have no need to do so. Females lay clumps of jelly-like eggs in moist burrows on land, where the tadpoles develop into tiny frogs before hatching as miniature versions of adults. This species is an expert island coloniser and it is unknown whether they reached the islands on their own or were accidentally introduced by humans.
Cuban treefrog Osteopilus septentrionalis: This large invasive treefrog was accidentally introduced in shipments of building materials from USA, and was later introduced deliberately to other islands in the hope that they would help control mosquitoes. Their impact on mosquitoes is probably insignificant, but the nuisance they cause with their loud calls at night, their habit of invading household cisterns, and their habit of eating native reptiles means that they are detrimental to the local ecosystem.
Marine toad (Cane toad) Rhinella marina: Possibly a deliberate introduction from Hispaniola for ceremonial purposes, these gigantic toads are one of the worst invasive animals worldwide. Thus far, they are only known to be established on Providenciales. Their toxic skin is a threat to domestic animals and children, and their ability to eat anything that fits into their mouths makes them a threat to native wildlife. If you see them, their presence should be reported to DEMA immediately.
Reptiles of the Turks & Caicos Islands:
Turks & Caicos rock iguana Cyclura carinata: found nowhere else on Earth, this largely vegetarian animal is a true ambassador of the Turks & Caicos. The smallest of the Caribbean rock iguana species, it is also the most stable one, population-wise. Collaborative with the San Diego Zoo and several other international institutions helps ensure this species’ survival. They are mostly extinct from inhabited islands because they cannot coexist with cats, dogs, and other predators. Be sure to visit the rock iguanas up close and personal on Little Water Cay’s nature trails, an award-winning eco-tourism experience managed by the Turks & Caicos National Trust.
Southern Bahamas bark anole Anolis scriptus: This ubiquitous lizard can be seen on tree trunks and walls all over the Turks & Caicos Islands. Also found through the southern Bahamas, the subspecies is unique to TCI.
Turks & Caicos curly-tail (bugwally) Leiocephallus psammodromus: Often heard crashing its way through leaf litter, this active lizard is found only in the Turks & Caicos Islands. DNA research shows that populations on different islands are genetically distinct and there are many subspecies. Locally called bugwally, these lizards feed on berries and insects.
Caicos skink Spondylurus caicosae and Turks skink Spondylurus turksae: These two species were described as unique to TCI, having been separated from a group of species of skinks that was once considered one. Locally called shiny-lizard, another common local name is snake-doctor – from the folklore that snakes go to these lizards for help when ill or injured! They feed on insects and fruit and give birth to live young. Both species are unique to Turks & Caicos – one to each island bank.
Caicos barking gecko Aristeliger hechti: Lost to science for nearly 40 years, this rare lizard was rediscovered at several sites in the early 2000s. It is a large grey gecko that hunts exclusively at night in remote areas. It is unique to the Turks & Caicos Islands.
Caicos reef gecko Sphaerodactylus caicosensis and Turks reef gecko Sphaerodactylus underwoodi: The tiny reef geckos are smaller than their name in this font. Found only on their respective island banks in Turks & Caicos, they live in damp leaf litter where they are often preyed upon by their chief predator, the Caicos pygmy boa. The Mayaguana reef gecko Sphaerodactylus mariguanae is known from Grand Turk, but it is also found on the southern Bahamas island of Mayaguana.
Turks & Caicos pygmy boa Tropidophis greenwayi : The world’s smallest boa constrictor reaches less than a foot in length and is only a threat to tiny lizards, which they attract with an orange coloured tail tip that they use as a false worm to lure their prey! There are two subspecies: T. g. greenwayi is found on the Ambergris Cays, while T. g. lathanus is found on the larger Caicos Islands. Harmless and shy, they are threatened by introduced predators and by people who fear them unnecessarily.
Turks & Caicos rainbow boa Chilabothrus chrysogaster: This medium sized boa reaches up to six feet in length but remains very svelte, unlike the better known South American boa constrictors. Named for the prismatic effect of its scales in the sun, they are mostly grey spotted with brown, but occur in a number of unusual colour patterns including striped and patternless. They feed mostly on reptiles and birds, but help control rats and mice around settled areas. These harmless snakes are often feated unnecessarily, and this is their single biggest threat to survival. The Turks & Caicos subspecies is unique, but the species also occurs on several islands in the Southern Bahamas. They are found throughout TCI but seem to have become extinct on Grand Turk and Salt Cay.
Flat-headed blind snake Typhlops platycephalus (?): Further research may prove this unusual creature to be a unique Turks & Caicos species. This fossorial (underground) snake has no eyes and remains small – indeed it is often mistaken for a large earthworm. They feed on termites, so are beneficial, but they are rarely seen unless rain floods them out of their burrows.
Antillean slider Trachemys stejnegeri: Formerly present on Pine Cay, it is unknown whether this species was native or introduced by Lucayans as a food source. They seem to have vanished from Pine Cay’s freshwater ponds, possibly after hurricane storm surges affected the ponds’ salinity.
Green sea turtle Chelonia mydas: TCI’s most common sea turtle, they nest on beaches throughout the islands. They feed mainly on turtle grass and marine algae.
Hawksbill sea turtle Eretmochelys imbricata: This sponge-eating turtle occasionally nests on Turks & Caicos beaches, but more often uses the reefs as a nursery while growing up.
Loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta: An omnivorous turtle, they rarely nest on Turks & Caicos beaches.
Leatherback sea turtle Dermochelys coriacea: This occasional visitor is a giant, the largest sea turtle on Earth. They feed almost exclusively on jellyfish and their skin is soft and rubbery, more like a marine mammal than a turtle. Their tolerance for low temperatures means they can venture farther from the equator than other sea turtles.
American crocodile Crocodylus acutus: While never observed alive in Turks & Caicos, the islands are within the theoretical range of this large reptile. A large dead specimen was found amongst wrack in Grand Turk after Hurricane Ike in 2008.
These species have been introduced to the Turks & Caicos Islands, mostly accidentally through the trade in landscape plants.
Cuban knight anole Anolis equestris: A large, aggressive green lizard common to treetops, this introduction from Cuba is becoming common around resort gardens in Providenciales. They threaten native reptiles and birds.
Green iguana Iguana iguana: This South American introduction has proven a nuisance in resort grounds for eating landscape plants on Grand Turk and Providenciales. They may also carry diseases that can affect our native reptiles.
Northern Bahamas brown anole Anolis sagrei: Difficult to distinguish from our native anole, this lizard has become established on some parts of Providenciales. They may be displacing our native bark anole.
Northern Bahamas curly-tail Leiocephallus carinatus: Increasingly common to locales on Providenciales, this lizard is a more active climber than our native curly-tail, often scaling walls to sun itself. They have the potential to displace our native curly-tail.
House gecko Hemidactylus mabouia: A ghostly, translucent gecko that can stick to walls and ceilings, they emerge at night around porch lights to catch insects. Originally from Africa, these lizards, locally called “chee-chee” for their squeaking call, tend to live only near human dwellings and probably have little effect on the local ecosystem.
Corn snake Pantherophis guttatus: Increasingly common on Grand Turk, this snake was introduced on landscape plants from Florida. Though harmless, they have the unnerving habit of vibrating their tail tips among dead leaves, producing a rattlesnake-like bluff warning.
Brahminy blind snake Ramphotyphlops braminus: This minuscule brown snake is easily mistaken for an earthworm – they feed on soil insects, burrowing through potting mix in landscape plants. They have been thusly distributed worldwide. It only takes one to start a population – all brahminy blind snakes are female, and reproduce by giving birth to clones of themselves without male fertilization!
Carib Herp – documentation of Caribbean reptiles and amphibians: http://www.caribherp.org/