Many people in the Cayman Islands manage to go through their day-to-day lives without knowing the vast biodiversity that exists in our remote 100 square miles of island home.
Biodiversity is an often over-used word defined in the American Heritage dictionary as “the number and variety of organisms found within a specified geographic region.” So what makes us so biodiverse?
George Proctor, in his Flora of the Cayman Islands published in 1984, recorded an astonishing 601 plant species from the three islands.
This was followed by a supplement in 1996 adding some 74 new records. The soon-to-be published edition will confirm 716 species of plants of which 28 are found no where else on earth.
This means that Cayman’s plant diversity exceeds that of the famous and much larger Galapagos Islands.
The resident breeding bird population stands at 46 species of which 17 are considered endemic subspecies.
Add migratory birds to the picture and over 200 species of birds are recorded here.
Butterflies include year round residents and migratory visitors as well. Some 50-odd species are recorded and occasionally new species turn-up that have either gone unnoticed or have just arrived.
These include from the large beautiful Cayman Swallowtail down to the minute Cayman Pygmy Blue butterfly, which escapes the eye of even the keenest nature watchers.
Both species are endemic subspecies.
Both need equal protection.
And what about bats? They number only eight species but how many of us have seen any? Of course everyone has seen fish but how many of us have seen the 381 species recorded from our waters? And how many have ever seen our two endemic fresh water fish? I confess I had not seen both until this year.
Did you know that over 50 species of spiders are recorded? And what about snails, dragonflies, rodents, mosquitoes? I think you’re beginning to get the picture.
A frequent visitor to gardens is Cayman’s other Queen, Danaus gillipus.
Better known as the Queen butterfly, this large common butterfly can be seen nectaring on many garden plants and weeds.
The Queen is not a garden pest. Its eggs are laid on members of the Milkweed family, and in Cayman the vine Sarcostemma clausum is the favoured plant.
This latexy vine is called White Twinevine in Florida and its flowers are sweet smelling and attract a wide assortment of butterflies. It is primarily a wetland plant forming a dense layer of foliage over the unfortunate buttonwood trees below.
Eggs are laid on the vine and hatch into colourful caterpillars which consume the leaves of the vine. At maturity, the caterpillar spins a cocoon emerging a few days later as a beautiful Queen.
These butterflies are found from the southern United States to northern South America. They are closely related to the famous Monarch butterfly.
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.
The National Trust will continue to contribute information on various species of flora and fauna weekly in this section of the Compass to assist you with these observations.
For more information or if you would like to get involved with the many activities in the National Trust’s Know Your Islands Program, please call 949-0121.