Flora & Fauna of BelizeFor a country that is only two hundred miles long and seldom more than sixty miles wide there is a remarkable abundance of biology, an exuberance of landscapes and a boggling diversity of tropical habitats. Join us and share our enthusiasm for the beauty and diversity of tropical Belize.
|National Animals of Belize|
The Baird's Tapir (Tapirus Bairdii) is the largest land mammal in Central America. Known as the “mountain cow” locally, they are nocturnal forest dwellers. The tapir has a prehensile, long nose much like an elephant or anteater to help them forage along river banks and the forest floor. They have a darker back and a light brown belly with a white fringe around the eyes and lips. They feed on grass, leaves, buds, fruits from low-growing shrubs, and aquatic vegetation. They have a long, flexible upper lip and flat molars that are well suited for foraging and swallowing twigs, nuts, and other plant tissue found throughout its riparian home.
This herbivore spends almost all of its waking hours foraging for food. Like many nocturnal foragers, the tapir has an excellent sense of smell and hearing, but does not see very well. Tapirs have splayed, hoofed feet, with four toes on the front feet and three on the hind, which help them walk on muddy and soft ground. Size varies between species, but most are about 2 meters long, stand about a meter high at the shoulder, and weigh between 550 and 600lbs. The natural lifespan of a tapir is approximately 30 years, and a single youngster is born after a gestation of about 13 months. All baby tapirs have striped and spotted coats for camouflage. While they appear at first glance to be alike, there are some differences among the patterns of different species.
| Keel-Billed Toucan |
The keel-billed toucan is one of the easiest birds to identify due to its colourful beak, which is mostly a green color, but is generarally a mixture of green, red, yellow, and orange. The keel-billed toucan's beak can reach lengths of nearly 20cm long and is around one third of the length of its body. As with other species of toucan, the size of its bill does not affect its balance. This is because its beak is made out of a substance called keratin, which is extremely light but still very strong. Keratin is also the substance that makes up human hair and fingernails, and can be found in the teeth of many different animal species.
The keel-billed toucan is native to the jungles of Central and South America. It lives in holes in the trees, often with several other keel-billed toucan individuals. In order to ensure that there is enough space for them all, it sleeps with its beak and tail tucked under its body to create more room for the other birds. Its diet consists mostly of fruit and berries. In Belize, this includes the fig, Trumpet Trees, wild cherry, bread nut, and copal more than any others. However, due to the surprising dexterity of its bill, it can also eat other bird eggs, insects, lizards, and tree frogs in the absence of fruit.
The keel-billed toucan is an extremely sociable bird and is very rarely seen on its own. As well as nesting together, they travel in small flocks which usually contain between six and 15 individuals. The keel-billed toucan is not a very proficient flyer and does most of its moving about by hopping between tree branches.
|Other interesting Species|
West Indian Manatee
Known in Belize as the "sea cow", the West Indian Manatee is a little-known marine mammal that inhabits the nutrient rich estuaries, coastal regions, and the reefs offshore of Belize. Adults grow to 12 feet long and can weigh over 1,000 pounds. Classified in the order Sirenia, manatees are distantly related to the elephant. Their evolutionary path is thought to have split some 50 million years ago when a related species adapted to a marine environment. It is thought the origins of the fabled mermaid comes from sailors' encounters (one suspects after a great deal of time at sea) of the female Manatee, which has distinct human-like breasts. Today, manatees are endangered in much of their habitat, and Belize is one of the last strongholds for this marine herbivore.
Sea turtles range from the tropical seas to the frigid Arctic and Antarctic waters. They can be great oceanic wanderers, with annual migrations of thousands of miles between feeding grounds. All sea turtles have a unique reproductive cycle whereby the female returns to lay her eggs on the same beach where she was born. It is still a mystery how they are able to find their way back to their natal beaches, even after absences of 50 years or more. Of the eight species of sea turtle that occur worldwide, three are known to nest in Belize: the green turtle, loggerhead, and hawksbill. The hawksbill, which feeds amongst shallow coral reefs, is the turtle we most often encounter when sea kayaking and snorkeling. The hawksbill's name derives from its sharp hooked beak adapted to feed on sponges hidden in crevasses amongst the corals. The green turtle, a vegetarian, lives and feeds amongst the vast underwater sea-grass beds, while the loggerhead with its massive head and strong beak is thought to feed primarily on crustaceans and mollusks. Why not join us on a sea kayak and snorkel trip and have a chance to experience these fascinating reptiles in the wild!
The scientific name for jaguars, Panthera onca, means "hunter" and "hook" or "barb," referring to their stealth and their formidable claws. The jaguar's short muscular limbs make it perfectly adapted to climbing, swimming, crawling, and capturing prey like peccaries, caimans, and deer. The largest cats in the Americas, jaguars kill their prey with powerful bites to the head or neck - unlike most great cats, which usually suffocate their prey. Jaguars thrive on prey like red brocket deer ( a small forest deer with adults weighing less than 50 pounds) but they'll make do with much less if they must. They are known to eat more than 85 species of animals - including tapir, porcupines, birds, fish, lizards, turtles, armadillos, and monkeys, as well as the occasional avocado.
For millennia, jaguars have served as potent cultural icons for many indigenous American people. The Maya believed the jaguar's skin symbolized the night sky, while the Aztecs fed the hearts of sacrificial victims to the big cats. Among Amazonian societies, the jaguar's shining, reflective eyes were thought to connect to the spirit world. Today, jaguars remain an important symbol in many religious and artistic expressions in the New World. However, there is a growing conflict between those that would honor the jaguar for its spiritual, cultural, and ecological significance and those that continue to cause its decline. The Wildlife Conservation Society categorizes jaguars as a landscape species meaning that they require more than one habitat for their survival and are critical to the survival of many other species.
The scarlet macaw is one of the most iconic birds in the parrot family. The term cyanoptera is Latin for "blue wing" and refers to the blue feathers located on the bottom end of the bird's wings that distinguish it from the South American scarlet macaw, which has green feathers instead. With their wide strong wings, macaws can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour. They often fly in pairs or small groups and call to each other in raucous hoarse voices. Macaws appear to prefer higher elevations and riparian forests. They are known to have very large territories and prefer to nest in holes high up in trees where they lay one or two eggs. Scarlet macaw gather in flocks to sleep at night, but maintain a monogamous pair bond for life. Mates may show affection by licking each other's faces. Once paired with a mate, they are rarely found alone except to feed when one bird must incubate the eggs. Nests are made in hollowed areas in trees, usually in the upper canopy of rainforests. There, in the protection of the thick foliage, they are camouflaged so predators are less likely to spot them. Typical predators of the macaw are monkeys, toucans, snakes, and other large mammals. The scarlet macaw, and parrots in general, frequently use their left foot in handling food and in grasping other things. The right foot supports their body when they are utilizing the other leg as an appendage to aid the beak. Scarlet macaw feed on specific fruits such as polewood and roam large areas searching for clumps of their favorite foods. As recently as 1989, the reported Belizean population of scarlet macaws was a total of 24 birds. In 1996, a new population of over 100 birds was discovered south of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Unfortunately, over most of its range, the scarlet macaw is endangered - a victim of human greed and encroachment as many have been taken as a commodity in the pet trade, hunted for their feathers, or their habitat destroyed.