Explore your own backyard in the New Year

The Mastic Reserve, Botanic Park and Reserves on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are not the only places to find precious endangered trees and plants in Cayman. Search your community and learn the names of the trees around you – you may have a treasure to protect in your own backyard!

Nassau grouper

Nassau grouper

These treasures are also homes for Cayman’s endemic species – creatures found no where else in the world. There are a great many interesting plants and animals to be seen in the Cayman Islands. All it takes is a little patience and a little observation and you too can begin to appreciate the great diversity of living things that call the Cayman Islands ‘home’. Photographs by Frank Roulstone, Ann Stafford, Darvin Ebanks, and Courtney Platt.

Pygmy Blue

The Grand Cayman Pygmy Blue (Brephidium exilis thompsoni) is a Grand Cayman endemic subspecies, found nowhere else in the world!

It was first discovered by scientists in 1938 and was not documented again until Dr. R. R. Askew’s visit in 1985, when two colonies were located on the north and west coasts. In 2002 a colony was also found at Midland Acres.

This tiny butterfly in one of the smallest butterflies in the world! Thank you to Ann Stafford for her research on native plants and wildlife in the Cayman Islands, and her efforts to promote their importance and protection.

Yellow Mastic

One of our largest native trees, Yellow Mastic (Sideroxylon foetidissimum) grows as a tall, single trunked tree emerging above the surrounding woodland canopy.

The straight trunk usually appears pock-marked from shedding of irregular flakes of bark. Old bark surfaces are pale grey with lichen growth, while newly exposed bark beneath shedding flakes is a pale reddish brown. On really old, massive trees the bark sheds in heavy sheets.

Thank you to Fred Burton, with illustrations by Penny Clifford for the book Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands.

Bananabirds

Bananaquits or Bananabirds (Coereba flaveola sharpie) are found throughout the Caribbean, but the bananaquit found in the Cayman Islands is a unique subspecies.

It prefers to find its home in dry bushland, but forages and breeds in all habitats. This little bird eats mainly nectar from flowers of plants but it also takes insects and fruits from trees, including Logwood, Buttonwood, and Pop-nut. The bananaquit breeds throughout the year with peaks in spring and summer, constantly building round woven nests with an entrance at the side. It has two to three fledglings.

Thank you to Patricia Bradley for her research and expertise on the Birds of the Cayman Islands.

Nassau grouper

The Nassau grouper is in trouble throughout the Caribbean, and faces the very real possibility of extinction. They have been taken by the thousands during their spawning season over the last 50 years, and in the Cayman Islands since the late 1960s.

Of the approximately 150 known Nassau grouper spawning sites around the Caribbean, more than half have been fished out of existence and the remaining sites, Cayman included, are in decline and are extremely vulnerable to fishing.

This heavy fishing pressure has taken its toll on Cayman’s six known spawning aggregation sites, and today only one remains reproductively viable. The other five sites have very few spawning grouper, or non at all!

Thank you to the Department of Environment for its support of the Cayman Sea Sense program.

Brown Bat

The Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus ssp. nov.) is found on Grand Cayman and nowhere else in the world. They are much like their Cayman Brac cousins, but even smaller. In fact, they are the smallest of all the Brown Bat subspecies.

They once lived on Cayman Brac but are now extinct there. These bats are truly a national treasure. Protection of caves and other roosting sites is very important. These bats are sometimes found in roof spaces, roosting with Velvety Free-tailed Bats, and can be attracted to bat houses. They are very agile, like their Cayman Brac cousins, they can swoop, dart, and catch insects flying among the trees.

This wonderful and unique bat must not be allowed to become extinct.

Thank you to Lois Blumenthal for her research on bats in the Cayman Islands and her efforts to promote their importance and protection.

Grow Cayman Plants and encourage Cayman Wildlife! For more information, to share your knowledge or if you would like to get involved with the many activities in the National Trust’s Know Your Islands Program, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky, or call 949-0121.

Last week’s answer: Rosemary and thatch brooms are traditionally used to sweep the sand yards at Christmas.

Trivia question: Where is Governor Gore Sanctuary located?

Look for the answer in next week’s feature!

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