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The wonders of the Herpetology of Cuba

By L. Yusnaviel Garcia-Padron

In the Caribbean region (known in science as West Indies) we have 197 species of amphibians and 539 reptiles (Henderson and Powell, 2009), which more than 95% of total are endemic to the area (Crother, 1999). Cuba is the largest island in the West Indies, with 42,426 mi²; to put under perspective, Cuba is slightly smaller in size as Ohio State (44,826 mi²) and has similar population than Michigan State (little more than 10 million people).

Saw-scaled Curlytail (Leiocephalus carinatus mogotensis).

As on many islands, natural areas, like forested areas, are reducing their size every year, mainly due to demographic growth and contamination. Cuba has large diversity of ecosystems, from karstic mountains, inland waterbodies (ex. rivers, lakes, ponds, vernal pools, brackish waterbodies, dams, etc.), forested (not karstic) hills, sandy and karstic plains, semideserts, and underground ecosystems (caves and caverns), and even small and important ecosystems as bromeliad plants. The soil is 60% karstic, where around 90% of the biodiversity occurs, with karstic hills (called Mogotes) in the western region, higher mountains in Central and Eastern Cuba, and karstic plains; most of it well conserved. This Caribbean Island has the largest herpetological species richness over all islands in the West Indies, with around 227 species, which represents the 2.6% of the Cuban fauna in general.

Cuban Giant Frog (Eleutherodactylus zeus), and Right: Western Spiny Frog (E. symingtoni)

Among amphibians, only Anura (frogs and toads) is represented in Cuba, with around 71 species, where more than 95% is endemic. Tuatara is the only group that is not represented among Cuban reptiles, which comprised around 156 species, with 87% of endemism. Most amphibians and reptiles are found in mountains and forested hills (nearly 80%), but semideserts, sandy and karstic plains are also locally important ecosystems due to its higher endemism in those groups.

Broad-banded Trope (Tropidophis feicki).

Throughout history, United States has become an important influence in past and current Cuban herpetological studies. Since 19th, and specially 20th Century, many great American scientists had contributed to Cuban science, not only herpetology, but in almost all biological science fields. To mention only a few, great names emerge from a long list: Emmett Reid Dunn, Edward Cope, Thomas Barbour, Albert Schwartz, Robert Powell, Robert Henderson, and a long etcetera. Among the most important contributions they made we can mention the systematics, with the description of more than 80% of the current Cuban amphibians and reptiles; other like natural history, ecology and evolution studies, are legacies that these great scientists left to the future generations as start point; future generations, like me!

My lecture on March 2024 in the HHS Monthly Meeting will go deep on many of this and other aspects, and you will be able to know more about Cuban amphibians and reptiles at first hand. An updated Cuban herpetological science is provided: what has been done, what is left to do, and how this knowledge is, or can be, applied today in Cuban society and economy, are some of the questions you will find that night. Moreover, interactive segments will offer the audience the visual and sound diversity of amphibians and reptiles of that small and precious tropical island in the Caribbean.

Hope to see you there!

Blue-eyed Twig Anole (Anolis alutaceus).


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