Sunday, December 18, 2011

Eleutherodactylus Johnstonei...

…otherwise known as the Lesser Antillean Whistling Frogs! We got to know these charming little tree frogs in Bermuda, where they are also known as “singing frogs”. What I didn’t know is that they are found on other islands! I love checking out the local flowers, birds, and wildlife while cruising, and on every island where we made landfall, from Anguilla to St. Kitts, Nevis and here in Antigua, I kept hearing the distinctive, cheerful chirping of tree frogs, so decided to check it out.

It turns out that these frogs are actually native to many of the Caribbean islands, from Anguilla in the north to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the south, including Antigua. (They aren’t native to Bermuda, interestingly enough, as they were introduced there and elsewhere as stowaways via trade amongst the islands a few hundred years ago.) After some investigation, I discovered that the chirping I was hearing comes from Eleutherodactylus Johnstonei…the one and the same whistling frogs as those found in Bermuda! I knew it!! I love their happy, cheery peeping!

Antigua has a great abundance of wildlife, flora and fauna. The island itself is unusual in its make-up, formed of both limestone and volcanic rock, buffered by clay between them. Having both limestone and volcanic rock provides many unique habitats for an amazing variety of birds, plants and animals. Beauty, in many forms!

I have no idea what these flowers are, but we loved their colors!
In the south, volcanic, side of the island the landscape is hillier, and with that there is usually more rain. This allowed very different territorial ecosystems to develop, with one area along Fig Tree Drive being described as “rainforest”. We got to see some of that while we were ziplining with Ally. It’s gorgeous: the plants are much more tropical, lush flowering and vibrant in the steamy hills there than on the scrubby, dry, cacti-filled bluffs to the north. The north and east parts of Antigua have been carved from limestone rock, easily seen in the profusion of reefs, rocks and little islands offshore. These have a totally different climate and resident wildlife. We found this plant on our hike along one of the limestone bluffs along the water: 
I think this is a century plant -- or a really huge asparagus stalk.
The century plant blooms just once in its life span of  25 years or so,
 but its bloom stalk grows so prodigiously --inches in a day --
that it consumes all resources of the plant and then dies,
 leaving the tall wooden seed stalk behind.
In fact, there are few places in the Caribbean with as many offshore islands as Antigua. Brown pelicans and ospreys, Antillean grackles and yellow warblers, white egrets and little blue herons, frigate birds and boobies, banaquits and grassquits (little finches), red-billed and yellow-billed tropic birds, whistling ducks and white-crowned pigeons….they all call Antigua home, and the abundance of small, uninhabited islands in this archipelago support them. Some are endangered, some are plentiful, all are beautiful. I find them fascinating to watch -- probably because they are so different from the robins and wrens, cardinals and blackbirds I grew up with in the northern US! 

I love seeing the variety of life in the islands, but my favorite remains the Lesser Antillean Whistling Frog. I’m glad they’re here to provide a musical backdrop to the sunsets and evenings on the water!

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