are profiles of some of the interesting wildlife and plant life
we encounter snorkeling, diving, hiking and paddling in Belize.
As our website develops we look forward to expanding this section
and introducing you to the fascinating and abundant tropical biology
Tropical forests of Belize
Worldwide, tropical rainforests encompass only 7% of the planet
yet harbor over 50% of the earth's species. In the mist shrouded
Maya Mountains, thrive some of the richest rainforests in Belize
and all of Central America. Unlike many countries in the region,
Belize has been able to protect almost 65% of its original forest
cover. Once you enter the rainforest,toucans, flocks of scarlet
macaw and troops of howler monkey may be encountered at anytime
and small wonders are
everywhere, like delicate orchids which bloom for only a few hours
in the year. The phenomonal abundance of biology found in such a
small country is a result of a small population and a unique diversity
of habitats ranging from mountain pine forest in the west, to mixed
pine and oak forests, pine savanah in the north and coastal mangrove
forests. Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of exploring the
natural wonders of Belize is that literally in a matter of hours
one can travel from coral reefs and sun-bright tropical islands
to pristine rainforests teeming with tropical wildlife.
The Barrier Reef & Atolls
reef system offshore of Belize is a biological gem among the world's
tropical marine habitats.
This living wall of coral animals extending north and south for
hundreds of miles (shielding the coast of Belize from the full force
of the sea) is an example of a community of animals that can profoundly
change geography. Islands are formed behind the reef crest through
wave action and erosion of reef building organisms and in the lagoons,
mangroves are able to colonize and thrive in shallow protected waters.
Their submerged roots trap sediments which build more land and provide
critical habitat for juvenile fish, countless marine invertebrates
and many species of birds. From 20 to 30 miles further offshore
of the barrier reef lie three atolls, Glovers, Lighthouse and Turneffe.
These remote island and coral reef habitats situated on the edge
of the deep Caribbean trench are indisputably the richest marine
habitats in all of Belize and perhaps the entire Caribbean.
addition to taking part in fun, exciting and new experiences, the
guides allow ample opportunity for the students to take charge of
their own learning. For example, the students were encouraged to
use the resources available at each site to read and learn more
about the different flora and fauna they were seeing." They
became experts on their own different topics and we were able to
learn from each other"
-Tony Rino & Lisa Carroll, Teachers, St Peters School
West Indian Manatee
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 characterized by shallow
seas with extensive underwater sea grass meadows. It is thought
that 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.
locally as the "mountain cow", the Baird's Tapir is Belize's
national animal. It is also the largest mammal to roam the tropical
rainforest. It can weigh up to 650 lbs and is closely related to
the horse and hippopotamus. This herbivor spends approximately 90%
of its waking hours hunting for food. Its long, flexible upper lip
and flat molars are well suited for foraging and swallowing twigs,
nuts, and other tough plant tissues found throughout river basins
in Belize. The tapir has an excellent sense of smell and hearing,
but does not have very good sight. As the tapir is largely nocturnal,
it relies more heavily on these two senses.
queen angelfish is considered by some to be one of the most beautiful
fish in the Caribbean basin. Its brilliant blue and yellow color
easily separates it from all other western Atlantic angelfish species
as well as a dark, ringed spot with blue dots on its forehead that
resembles a crown.
The queen angelfish can be found from nearshore shallows down to
the deepest portion of the reef where the lack of light inhibits
coral growth. The adults feed on sponges, tunicates, corals, and
algae. They have small protractile mouths that contain slender brush-like
teeth in a narrow band. The adults are found in pairs year round,
perhaps suggesting a long-term monogamous bond.
kinkajou, known as the "night walker" in Belize, is a
nocturnal animal which lives among the upper canopy of the tropical
forest. They feed mainly on fruit and insects. In the dry season
of Belize, they often eat flowers for their nectar.
of the raccoon, the kinkajou is extremely agile and fast, traveling
quickly along the tree tops, jumping noisily from tree to tree.
The long prehensile tail is used to balance and hold on while traveling
among the tree tops. The kinkajou is one of the most commonly seen
tropical forest animals. A strong flashlight shined into the canopy
will often reveal the kinkajou by its tremendous eyeshine which
can be seen from a great distance.
egret is a slender, graceful heron that forages in marshlands. The
snowy egret feeds in all the shallow waters of Belize. This bird
coils its sinewy neck, ready to spear prey. Prey includes fish,
aquatic invertebrates and reptiles. During the drier months, the
bird will stalk small mammals, snails and nesting birds.
the early nineteenth century, the demand for the breeding plumage
for woman's hats was widespread. Heavy hunting nearly drove the
species to extinction before public demand resulted in laws to protect
the bird. Today, pollution and habitat loss has caused their numbers
to decline worldwide.
Black Howler Monkey, known locally as the "baboon", is
the largest monkey in Belize and one of the largest in the Americas.
Throughout most of its range, the Howler Monkey is endangered from
hunting and habitat destruction. Fortunately, Belize has a healthy
population of these loudest of primates.
The Black howler lives in troops of between 4 and 8 members. Each
troop has its own territory in which it feeds and lives. The size
of the territory depends on the size of the troop, ranging from
3 to 25 acres. Howler monkeys are vegetarians, feeding on flowers,
fruits and leaves. Baboons defend this territory from other troops
through the use of their voices. The howling is one of the loudest
animal sounds in the tropical forest of Belize.
are nocturnal and diurnal, feeding mainly on the ground. Found in
all tropical forests, rarely does the ocelot climb trees though
it is an excellent climber. During the night, they tend to hunt
along open trails, while during the day, the stay hidden within
the deeper bush. This is the most comely seen of all the cats in
feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. The Belizean
name for the ocelot is the same as the margay "tiger cat".
The name "ocelot" comes from the Mexican Aztec word "tlalocelot"
meaning field tiger. Ocelots appear to be better adapted to habitat
disturbance and can live in disturbed forest. But they can be found
in a variety of habitats in Belize, from dry scrub to the dense
ocelot is an endangered species throughout its range from the extreme
southern United States to Argentina. The ocelot's fur is very beautiful
and has been long sought after for fur coats. Fortunately, the United
States banned importation of ocelot pelts in 1972.
osprey is known in Belize as the "billy hawk". The osprey
spends its summers along lakes, rivers, seacoasts of U.S., Canada,
and Alaska,then travels southward to its winter nesting grounds
in South America, Central America, and the southern U.S. This bird
is found throughout the world, except in the polar regions.
osprey are similar in size to eagles, with the females being slightly
larger than the males, have a dark-brown upper body, with a spotted
/ white head, throat and undersides; the back, nape, tail and back
of the head are dark brown. A black eye stripe is located behind
the eye. Look for the crook in the wing and the black "wrist"
mark in flight to differentiate this bird from the Bald Eagle.