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Flora and Fauna

Amphibians and Reptiles

Reptiles and amphibians are not particularly abundant in the Dominican Republic. The lizards outnumber the snakes and frogs, while other species unique to the island are invariably under threat.

The rhinoceros iguana is an endangered species endemic to Hispaniola. They like dry, rocky ground with cacti and thorny bushes, and are most commonly found in the Enriquillo Basin. The males, in particular, look like fearsome creatures, with three small horns on their snout, a pad like a helmet on top of their head, and a large throat pouch (the females have neither helmet nor horns). In reality, however, they are very shy animals which prefer flight to fight. Their size (often over one meter in length) and their uniform gray color explains why they are called rhinoceros iguana. They live on plants and berries and are active only by day. The other species of iguana found in the Dominican Republic is the ricord iguana.

The four main types of turtle living off the Dominican coast are the leatherback (the largest living turtle), the loggerhead (found in lagoons and coastal bays), the hawksbill (prized for its beautiful shell) and the green sea turtle (hunted for calipee, a glutinous yellow substance used to make soup).

The American crocodile is the most widely distributed of the four crocodile species present in the New World. On its travels, it has managed to colonize most of Central America, South America as far as Peru, and much of the Caribbean. In Hispaniola, the American crocodile is so well established that it represents one of the largest wildlife crocodile populations in the world. In the Dominican Republic, its favorite haunt is the brackish water of Lago Enriquillo. However, while the adults can survive in hyper-saline conditions by way of a salt gland in their mouth and by taking advantage of fresh water in the environment (rainfall, for example), hatchlings cannot, which means that the water must not be too salty. Lago Enriquillo is now four times saltier than the sea - due in large part to the diversion of streams feeding into the lake for irrigation purposes - which has put the younger crocodile population under real threat. Take my word for it that any crocodiles you see will be American crocodiles. If you don't believe me, get as close as you dare and look for the fourth tooth protruding above the level of the upper jaw. American crocodiles also have an olive-brown shade and an obvious swelling on the snout in front of the eye sockets. An average length for a female is 2.5 meters, but males can grow to about 4 meters. Although they are reputed to be a threat to man, attacks are rare and American crocodiles stick to their normal diet of fish, turtles and the occasional dog or goat. They often hunt at night and spend the hottest parts of the day in deeper areas of water. The best time to see them on land is during the early morning or late afternoon when they emerge from the water to raise their body temperature under the sun's rays.

Other flora-fauna Files:
The Coral Reef
Land mammals
Marine mammals

Iguana Mama

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