Flora & Fauna of the Dominican Republic
Flamingoes at Lago Enriquillo
The American Crocodile at Isla Cabrita (Lago Enriquillo)
The Dominican Republic has an aboundance of tropical flowers
The beautiful and varied vegetation and wildlife of the Dominican Republic will provide the perfect backdrop for your visit, whether it is to lie on the beach, or to take part in the various adventure activities that exist. For some visitors the nature will be the primary attraction to visit the Dominican Republic, while for others it will be an added delight to the warm tropical air and beautiful beaches. The best places to see the incredible variety of plants, trees, birds, reptiles and other animal life found in the Dominican Republic is to visit its National Parks and Protected Areas (more info at DominicanAdventures.com). For more information on the flora & fauna found in the Dominican Republic, please visit DominicanAdventures.com
Detailed (from DominicanAdventures.com)
The beautiful vegetation and wildlife of the Dominican Republic will provide the backdrop to all of the adventure activities you undertake. For some the nature will be the primary attraction, while for others it will be an added bonus. The best places to see plants, trees, birds and animals are in the country's network of national parks and protected areas. Note, also, that the Dominican flora and fauna is not dangerous. Respect the nature, and it will respect you.
Amphibians and Reptiles
Reptiles and amphibians are not particularly abundant in the Dominican Republic. The lizards outnumber the snakes and frogs, while other species unique to the island are invariably under threat.
The rhinoceros iguana is an endangered species endemic to Hispaniola. They like dry, rocky ground with cacti and thorny bushes, and are most commonly found in the Enriquillo Basin. The males, in particular, look like fearsome creatures, with three small horns on their snout, a pad like a helmet on top of their head, and a large throat pouch (the females have neither helmet nor horns). In reality, however, they are very shy animals which prefer flight to fight. Their size (often over one meter in length) and their uniform gray color explains why they are called rhinoceros iguana. They live on plants and berries and are active only by day. The other species of iguana found in the Dominican Republic is the ricord iguana.
The four main types of turtle living off the Dominican coast are the leatherback (the largest living turtle), the loggerhead (found in lagoons and coastal bays), the hawksbill (prized for its beautiful shell) and the green sea turtle (hunted for calipee, a glutinous yellow substance used to make soup).
The American crocodile is the most widely distributed of the four crocodile species present in the New World. On its travels, it has managed to colonize most of Central America, South America as far as Peru, and much of the Caribbean. In Hispaniola, the American crocodile is so well established that it represents one of the largest wildlife crocodile populations in the world. In the Dominican Republic, its favorite haunt is the brackish water of Lago Enriquillo. However, while the adults can survive in hyper-saline conditions by way of a salt gland in their mouth and by taking advantage of fresh water in the environment (rainfall, for example), hatchlings cannot, which means that the water must not be too salty. Lago Enriquillo is now four times saltier than the sea - due in large part to the diversion of streams feeding into the lake for irrigation purposes - which has put the younger crocodile population under real threat. Take my word for it that any crocodiles you see will be American crocodiles. If you don't believe me, get as close as you dare and look for the fourth tooth protruding above the level of the upper jaw. American crocodiles also have an olive-brown shade and an obvious swelling on the snout in front of the eye sockets. An average length for a female is 2.5 meters, but males can grow to about 4 meters. Although they are reputed to be a threat to man, attacks are rare and American crocodiles stick to their normal diet of fish, turtles and the occasional dog or goat. They often hunt at night and spend the hottest parts of the day in deeper areas of water. The best time to see them on land is during the early morning or late afternoon when they emerge from the water to raise their body temperature under the sun's rays.
The Coral Reef
Scuba diving and snorkeling are two of the most popular activities on a trip to the Dominican Republic. However before putting on your flippers or water tank, bear in mind a few general rules which are all part and parcel of being a responsible tourist: do not stand on the reef, touch it, remove pieces from it, or otherwise interfere with what you see.
Types of coral
One of the discoveries made by Charles Darwin during his voyages on the Beagle was that there are three kinds of reef. The first is known as the fringing reef, which is what you see if you go snorkelling just off the shore. The fringing reef is always connected to the mainland, but can extend quite far out to sea. It has a variety of coral types and species, and for the uninitiated it is a great place to see some underwater life. Beyond the fringing reef across the lagoon - an area of shallow water with a floor of coral sand and debris - you will come to the barrier reef or, as is more common in Caribbean and tropical Atlantic waters, the bank/barrier reef. The difference between the two is their size: the barrier reef, found mainly in the Pacific, is larger than the bank/barrier reef and is separated by lagoons thousands of meters wide, as opposed to the hundreds which separate the bank/barrier reef from the mainland. This type of reef is home to more species than the fringing reef, but you will need a boat to get out to it. The third type of reef is the atoll, an incomplete ring of sandy islands built up on coral reefs surrounding a submerged volcano. They are usually found far from any continent or large island and are rare in the Caribbean. The closest atoll to the Dominican Republic lies off the coast of Belize.
Species of the coral reef
There are hundreds of species in both the fringing reef and the bank/barrier reef. These include corals, sponges, worms, mollusks, crabs, lobsters and fish. There are basically two types of coral. Both photosynthesize the energy of the sun and excrete limestone from the calcium carbonate in the water. In the case of hard corals, this limestone creates a skeleton which encloses the animal altogether and eventually builds up to form the reef itself. Soft corals, meanwhile, have no such skeleton and resemble plants. However, the creation and maintenance of the reef depends on more than just the hard coral; instead, it is a team effort. Several types of algae also help to bind and solidify the reef's frame, while mollusks, crustaceans, sea urchins, starfish and sponges all anchor to the reef, thereby helping to line and protect it. At the same time other species dependent on the reef for their survival, such as the fireworm, the coral snail, the green reef crab and, most notoriously, the parrotfish, are ironically doing their best to destroy it by living off the coral tissue. It is estimated that for every acre of reef, one ton of solid coral skeleton is converted into fine sand every year. The major culprit is the parrotfish.
The array of plant life is understandably impressive in a country with the highest and lowest points in the West Indies, and places where it never rains and others where it never stops raining. The most common type of life zone is subtropical forest, which is found in lowland areas and on the floors and slopes of most valleys. This is the lush, green, exotic and eminently healthy landscape usually associated with the Caribbean. It is characterized by royal palms, coconut palms, Hispaniolan mahogany, West Indian cedar, wild olive, American muskwood and others. Meanwhile, the Dominican coastline has its fair share of red, white and button mangroves - although not as many as some Caribbean countries due to the numerous cliffs around the country's coast. As you go up into the highland regions, you start to see mountain forests with palms, pines (the Creolean pine is the most common), ferns and hundreds of different species of orchid. In stark contrast, the desert regions - in the southwest of the Dominican Republic, for example - have arid landscapes where multi-shaped cacti predominate.
The considerable bird population in the Dominican Republic is made up of indigenous species and wintering birds from the North American mainland. Look out for species such as the Hispaniolan parrot, the Hispaniolan woodpecker, the rarer Hispaniolan trogon and Hispaniolan parakeet, the palmchat (which nests in the royal palms on the coastal plains) and several types of owl and pigeon, including the endangered white-crowned pigeon. Around the coast plenty of shorebirds can be seen. Great egrets, American frigate birds, brown pelicans, blue herons, glossy ibis, ruddy ducks and flamingos are all relatively common, especially on the off-shore islands of the Dominican Republic and around the numerous lakes and lagoons on the mainland. In the mountains, there are yet more species such as the Antillean siskin, the white-necked crow, the green-tailed warbler and numerous types of butterfly and hummingbird. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and it remains to be seen what other species exist in the hitherto unexplored parts of the country.
The Caribbean in general does not have many land species, and the Dominican Republic is no exception. Most of the mammals you see in the country today - dogs, cats, pigs, boars, horses, rats and mice - were introduced by the Europeans. In fact, there are only two endemic land mammals in Hispaniola. The solenodon is an insectivore not dissimilar to a rat, but more aesthetically pleasing. It has a long snout, lives in caves and hollow tree trunks, and feeds on insects and worms. The hutia is another small rodent which, like the solenodon, lives in caves and tree trunks. The chances of spotting either of these animals on your travels are slim: firstly, because they are nocturnal creatures; secondly, because some believe that they might already be extinct.
The West Indian manatee is an endangered marine mammal. They can sometimes be seen in the coastal areas of the national parks or in Samana Bay, but hunting and the increase in boat traffic has caused a decline in their numbers. Nicknamed the 'sea cow', manatees can grow to over 3.5 meters in length and they 'graze' on aquatic plants on the ocean floor.
One of the principal breeding grounds in the world for humpback whales is on the Silver and Navidad banks off the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Each winter some 3,000 whales migrate from their feeding grounds in the North Atlantic, and congregate here to reproduce in shallow waters protected by coral reefs and free of boats and other distractions. Nearer to the mainland, Samana Bay is also a popular spot for whale watching, which has become an important tourist activity during the months of January, February and March click. The humpback is one of the larger species of whale, measuring from 12-15 meters and weighing up to 60 tons. Adult humpbacks are dark gray, while their calves are a lighter color. Although their name would suggest otherwise, humpbacks do not actually have a humped back. It only looks as though they do when they jump out of the water with arched backs. Other distinguishing features are their knobby heads, long, white flippers and large tails. Moreover, unlike all other toothed whales, the humpback has two blowholes rather than one. Humpbacks do not eat during their stay in Hispaniolan waters. Instead, they live off the 15-20 centimeters of fat accumulated during the feeding season by eating about a ton of food a day. Most of this turns to fat, and is the equivalent of a human daily diet of 8,000 hamburgers. The humpback's preference, however, is small fish and crustaceans called krill (about 6 centimeters long and resembling shrimps). While adult humpbacks reproduce and diet, the newly born calves drink 50 gallons of milk a day. This milk, produced by the mother, is about 50% fat, allowing the calves to grow big enough to survive the journey back to the feeding grounds in the north.