lizards, Waderick Wells, lizard, Sandy Buckner, Dick Franz, Peggy, Gecko Cave, calm morning, Narrow Water Cay, silver palms, white sandy beaches, beautiful place, Alligator Cay, colorful fishes, intense radiation, queen triggerfish, Rolling waves, Leiocephalus, Billions of stars, Sandy Cay, nearby islands, Leiocephalus carinatus, Staniel Cay, shallow water, Red Devil, Celeste Shitama, Sand flies, Franz, R., amphibians and reptiles, Green Anole Allen, C. K. Dodd, Jr., C. K., Jr., Marian Griffey, Contributions to West Indian Herpetology, Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Exuma Island, Brown Runner Exuma Islands Ameiva, Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, Bahamas, Exuma Cays, DODD Narrow Water Cay, Albert Schwartz, Peggy Hall, Ray Darville, R. Powell, Bahamian Archipelago, spotfin butterfly fish
TURQUOISE WATER, SILVER PALMS, AND FLUORESCENT GREEN LEIOCEPHALUS C. KENNETH DODD, JR.1
I made my first journeys to the Caribbean to evaluate critical habitats for endangered reptiles in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Although the visits were not of long duration, I had memorable and sometimes exciting experiences: walking through Luquillo Forest in Puerto Rico
listening for small brown coquis while being distracted by Puerto Rican parrots, a critically endangered species
, flying overhead; trudging over the white sandy beaches of Sandy Point on western St. Croix at what was to become a national wildlife refuge for Leatherback Turtles; exploring caves and sinkholes on Isla Mona and being startled by a giant Mona Iguana; and being not so gently lowered from a Coast Guard helicopter amid thousands of screaming boobies onto Isla Monito in order to chase the tiny gecko endemic to that block of limestone in the Mona Passage. I never really dreamed of conducting research in the Caribbean, however, as I seemed forever fated to be chained to a desk in the gray concrete canyons of Washington, DC
. In the mid-1980s the political climate change
d dramatically in Washington, and I suddenly found myself in a research position in Florida. Immediately, I was captivated by the lush vegetation, the new habitat types
, the strong light and vibrant insect life, and most of all by the diversity of amphibians and reptiles that I previously had only read about and dreamed of finding. I spent a few years working mostly in the sandhills of north central Florida, an edaphic desert in a subtropical setting, where I found much to keep me occupied. Although the Caribbean was not far distant, I only flirted with the tropics as, on one research project
, I used satellite transmitters 1 United States Geological Survey
, 7920 N.W. 71st Street, Gainesville, Florida 32653, USA.
FIGURE 1. The Exuma Cays. to track post-nesting loggerhead turtles through the Bahamas; exotic place names -- Abaco, Andros, Exuma, and "Tongue of the Ocean" -- suddenly became familiar. In the early 1990s, Dick Franz of the Florida Museum of natural history
invited me to join him in a survey of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park in the central Exuma Island chain. In order to manage the park, the Bahamas National Trust needed to know what species occurred on which islands, and what factors affected their distribution and long-term survival. Over the next three years, Dick and I, either with Dick's wife Shelly or colleagues from other institutions (David Lee and Mary Clark of the North Carolina
Museum, Sandy Buckner of the Bahamas National Trust, and Don Buden), visited nearly every island in the park looking for living and fossil amphibians and reptiles. I remember my first impressions flying over the low, gray-and-green limestone islands often fringed with white sugar sand and surrounded by the most beautiful turquoise water -- paradise (Figure 1). I could not feel the noseeums or the microwave white
heat of mid-afternoon, nor would I yet know the constant wind blowing through the silver palms, the treacherous dogtooth limestone, or the incredible undersea life which we enjoyed at midday when the lizards had enough sense to seek cover underground -- but it sure was beautiful from a small fixed-wing airplane. Being helpless on water (neither Dick nor I care much for boats), we were usually transported to the various islands in the morning by Peggy Hall, then the park's only warden. Peggy must have been in her mid to late 60s. She was wiry and tanned from a lifetime spent in the islands, and she was used to doing things for herself and her old dog, Powerful. She lived on a converted tugboat, named Moby, anchored off the warden's office at Waderick Wells Cay, always keeping a wary eye out for poachers. After patrolling in the afternoon, Peggy would pick us up and bring us back to Waderick Wells. On days when gas was low or when bad weather threatened inter-island travel, we concentrated our efforts on Waderick Wells, where we were conducting basic life history studies on the lizards, especially the curlytails (Leiocephalus carinatus). Curlytails are handsome and robust Caribbean lizards. They get their COMMON NAME
from their long tails that are conspicuously curled up and forward over their backs. We painted dots on the lizards with bright red fingernail polish for individual recognition in our mark-recapture study, and we coated certain animals with bright green fluorescent powder in order to track their movements. At night, we crawled through the dense undergrowth with a black light searching for the glowing fluorescent powder trails. In this way, we were able to map habitat use and tell where the lizards wandered during the day and slept at night. All the curlys on the northern end of the island eventually had either red dots or FIGURE 2. Habitat in the Exuma Cays.
green powder on them, a phenomenon that often puzzled the confused visitors from passing yachts. At that time, the office had no electricity, so when darkness came and the mosquitoes began their nightly quest for blood, we had little to do after tracking lizards except to sit on the porch, hope for a breeze, drink rum, and watch the moon rise over the ocean. A narrative is a difficult way to convey the thoughts and feelings
of working on the low limestone islands of the Bahamas. Fortunately, I kept a journal while I was there in order to recollect the magic of those trips. Rather than simply recite where we went and how beautiful it all was, the words penned at that time now provide a much better synopsis of what it is like to be a herpetologist in the Caribbean, of why we go there, and of what it makes of us upon return. 21 May 1991 Gorgeous setting here on the north edge of Waderick Wells -- the nature center/office is perched high on a hill overlooking the protected harbor. The office has two main rooms separated by a breezeway, and a covered porch wraps around the entire building, which is perfect for sitting and gazing at the ocean in the distance. The building has an attic where we will sleep, and even a hatch in the roof leading to a platform that enables us to look far off at the distant sea and islands. There is no electricity, and all the water comes from a cistern built into the limestone under the main part of the building. At night, it is truly dark and quiet, except for the wind blowing through the palm fronds. When the moon is bright, we won't need additional lights out here. Giant land iguanas, Ping and Ling [semi-tame Cyclura then living near the warden's office] live around the house, where they are fed along with the hutias (Geocapromys ingrahami) [an introduced rodent on Waderick Wells, but endemic elsewhere in the Bahamas]. Bananaquits and Bahamas mockingbirds steal sugar and crumbs. The high winds of yesterday and today have made it quite delightful (Figure 2). No bugs, and the temperature has been very pleasant. Not much of a sunset this first night because clouds completely cover the sky. No rain in a long time, however. Constant strong wind. After arriving, we immediately set up our main transect, which we will run at least twice a day, from the warden's office down to a small causeway in a shallow channel that bisects
TURQUOISE WATER, SILVER PALMS, AND FLUORESCENT GREEN LEIOCEPHALUS
Waderick Wells. We are mainly interested in curlytails, in terms of lizard ecology, but we are recording all amphibians and reptiles, including taking voucher specimens from the various islands. 24 May 1991 Breezy morning. The cloud patterns hint of rain, but here it might do anything. While sitting in the nearly full moonlight last night, we heard the haunting calls of many chuckwill's widows echoing over the otherwise silent island. Nice sheen on the calm water. Already (7:30 am) it is showing turquoise. Bananaquits hop everywhere -- bright yellow and black (or gray-backed) birds, with light gray throats and masks. They have an insatiable craving for sugar. We put sugar out on the porch railing and soon have 30 birds scrambling and making a fuss. I held four in the palm of my hand as they searched for sugar grains. They sport a splash of brilliant red at the base of the bill, and an incredibly fast little wormy tongue. It's hard to believe how rapidly they use it to gather the sugar. 26 May 1991 Another beautiful and quite hot day. Took a run over to Bell's Cay. Once inhabited, we saw the many stone-walled ruins dating from the Loyalist Period (late 1700s). Gorgeous setting, but it must have been a hard life with the heat, lack of water, and biting insects. Found a plot with sea island cotton still growing; perhaps it dates from that early period. More than 12 pits and caves. Some require a ladder for access, but we managed to crawl into a number of them. Nice roots going down into a few helped as handholds. One in particular had a solid fern wall with a kind of backhole entrance. From down below, the surface is a green blanket of low trees, vines, drapery and columnar cactus, and orchids. Found tiny Eleutherodactylus, but could not catch the adults. Also spotted a whip scorpion. 27 May 1991 Dick and I cornered Peggy into taking us to White Bay Cay. Very hot in the direct sun. We both worked rather hard, but reptiles were scarce. We caught only one Leiocephalus, six Anolis sagrei, one Sphaerodactylus nigropunctatus, and one Eleutherodactylus while searching through the litter. The forest is very thick, but there are some large trees and some open areas. No ameivas. Saw large bromeliads and a huge columnar cactus. I walked around the entire island
-- it was bigger than I had thought it would be -- only to find Dick splashing naked in the water. Photo op! Voucher specimen! I am struck at how different even nearby islands are. Why no ameivas? Why are ground geckos so rare (nearby Sandy Cay is full of Sphaerodactylus)? Why were the Leiocephalus so wary? What are the selection pressures operating here? Back on Waderick Wells. Pleasant evening. Nice breeze. Blowing silver palm fronds. Rum. Good food. Watching the island and the waves. Waiting for sunset. 31 May 1991 Watched sunrise this morning. The ocean and inlet are dead calm. Very pretty with the sun on the white yachts in the harbor. The single barracuda was out patrolling again. Last night the stars were fantastic as we sat on the dock. No shooting stars, but a number of satellites. Billions of stars! A large number of green fluorescent globs floated by. We at first thought they were ctenophores, but Peggy says they were squid. Really special to see them floating in the calm sea. 12 March 1992 Waderick Wells, Exumas. "Home" again. Fourteen yachts in the harbor. Pleasant breeze across the house, but the mosquitoes were bad last night. I slept in the loft and put my tent up on the bed -- that kept the bugs out even if it was a bit unusual looking. Caught Anolis distichus with a broken tail on the roof beam, the only one seen thus far. Billions of stars were out at 2 am, but so were the "mossies." Blue turquoise water, with hardly any chop. No bananaquits. 13 March 1992 Friday the 13th. Clouds rolling in from the southeast; they are ever changing. The wind full but not strong enough to keep the sand flies away. The mosquitoes were intense last night. We sat talking until dark and were badly eaten -- the beautiful night could not be enjoyed. Bedtime came by 7:30 because of the relentless attack. Yesterday we worked the house region and then on down Julie's Trail [the trail from the warden's office to the causeway over the shallow inlet that divides Waderick Wells] to the causeway. This will be our main sampling transect. We caught 19 Leiocephalus -- they were generally much more skittish and wary than last year, and many of our lizards proved to be recaptures (Figure 3). They
through the beams of the office and across water and vegetation. Saw a very large ray working the area from the dock to the boat anchorage.
FIGURE 3. Dick Franz attempting to noose a Curlytail Lizard, Leiocephalus carinatus. remember us! Warm but overcast in the morning. Getting our catching (noosing) skills sharpened. After lunch I snorkeled around the dock and rock wall. Water cool but pleasant. Saw a live sea slug, but it was not very bright. Dull yellowish with two dorsolateral flapping folds. Wavy. I spent some time floating in the water watching it. It would go along churning the bottom, then a current would roll it over so that it would have to right itself. Again and again. Saw many beautiful reef fish, several conchs, little brain corals, and the green calcareous algae. In the late afternoon, we repeated our surveys along Julie's Trail on the way to the beach. Sunny, beautiful late afternoon swim. Calm clear water. Perfect setting for the evening. 14 March 1992 The chuckwill's widows were calling again last night over on Narrow Water Cay. Very strong winds, at least through 11 pm. Surprising to have to think of the wind chill factor in the Bahamas -- glad I brought a sweatshirt. Woke up at 4 am -- it was completely jet black with a fine mist in the air. I think we are in trouble, weather wise. Very still. 8 am. Heavy squalls blowing through, driving rain, and cool. At other times, a strong mist. Took pictures of the rain. This is supposedly the driest season of the year, but you would never know it today. Yesterday morning we worked Julie's Trail, but did not get many new lizards. Only four Leiocephalus and two Ameiva. Saw a few of the recaptured lizards. The spots are easy to see. Many lizards were sitting in the low branches of the trees, so we recorded perch heights, widths, and ambient temperatures. Starting to feel a little sunburned. The tropic birds are flying around BooBoo Hill despite the wind and rain. No sounds but the wind whistling
15 March 1992 After a rather chilly night, we hiked down to Gecko Cave. Nice weather -- not too hot but plenty of sun. Relocated the cave, climbed down in and saw geckos (Tarentola americana) everywhere. I crawled in with the camera and tried to take photographs, but I don't know how much reflectance I'll get from the light tan walls. We caught 13, and processed them in the mosquitofilled entrance sink (Figure 4). Coming back, we went down into two of the pits by the Loyalist ruins. Both were direct shafts of about 7 and 5 meters, respectively. No passageways and no geckos. There was a great deal of deep fine sediments in the bottom, but no bones in evidence. Sifted through the sediments, but found only shell pieces. The sediments were quite deep, however, and maybe something would show up in screens by trenching. Very warm and sweaty at the bottom. Mosquitoes prevalent. 16 March 1992 Another cool night. Not a cloud in the beautiful morning sky -- going to be a great day. Headed over to Alligator Cay and spent three hours combing it for lizards. Found Leiocephalus, A[nolis]. sagrei, Sphaerodactylus notatus, and seven Cyclura. Saw Cyclura burrows, hideouts under rocks, a small tail drag, and got very close to an adult. In fact, so close that I could not get him in focus with a 150 mm lens. He was polite -- let me change lenses and shoot lots of pictures. Nice patch of forest, all to myself. In leaving, we had to wade way out to the skiff because the tide was out -- we had to watch our step because of the urchins, rays, and other spiny creatures. Spent the afternoon catching lizards over on the east side of Narrow Water Cay. Ameiva trails everywhere, but no animals seen. Dick managed to dig one out -- digging from both burrow entrance tunnels toward the center. As he got close, the lizard came bursting through the sand at full throttle. The trick of this method is, of course, to anticipate the exact spot from where the lizard will catapult in order to pounce effectively before he runs off. Hot and bright on the beach -- we caught a brown runner [a snake, Alsophis vudii] and marked nine Leiocephalus.
TURQUOISE WATER, SILVER PALMS, AND FLUORESCENT GREEN LEIOCEPHALUS
17 March 1992 Fuel has become a problem. Can't go far until deliveries are made into the central Exumas. We went out to the Malabar Cays for the morning. Made a beeline for a tree with a termite mound in it and sure enough found the S. nigropunctatus that I thought should be there. Got a good series of specimens, in fact, but no Tarentola. Naturally we saw A. sagrei; they are found on even the smallest islands as long as there is some vegetation available. The Malabars are incredibly rocky and difficult to work -- low trees, dogtooth limestone. Found a small pit in the saddle and climbed down into a tight chamber with another small chamber going off it. A number of other passages led off, but I couldn't see down them. No geckos, but in the dirt scraped from the floor, I found a small bone. Took three bags out to sift later for fossils. [Note: The dirt was filled with small fossil bones, i.e., vertebrae, ribs, limbs, and jaws of lizards and birds. We even discovered the vertebrae of a boa which has been long extirpated from this tiny rocky island]. Turned over a rock and found a brown noddy sitting on an egg. She took off, but feigned injury to lure me away from the nest. 18 March 1992 Peggy dropped me off at Sandy Cay before going on poacher patrol. I am alone on a tropical Bahamian island. Sandy Cay at low tide. Worked the palm forest and immediately started finding A. sagrei (5) and S. nigropunctatus (13). I stopped then; it was too easy. Saw many large silverfish and roaches. Once I even grabbed a lizard and a scorpion at the same time, but fortunately the arachnid didn't get me. Serious sampling took about 45 minutes. Spent the rest of the time walking the stony west beach. Many conchs, all alive, mostly small. An osprey at
her nest on the cliff watched me intently and occasionally called. Very hot white sand; a few shells. No Ameiva trails or burrows, and no Leiocephalus. Bahamas mockingbirds work the palm thatch in the area I just surveyed, but no sea birds are nesting at this time of year. The large sandspit to the west was exposed, and it was possible to walk far out onto the strip of sand, far from the main portion of the island, seemingly into the sea. The sandspit was very broad and covered at scattered intervals with beautiful orangish conch shells. Some were alive and partially buried in the wet sand, while others were dead and on their way to becoming fossils. Wind, the sea, bright sun, and me on the deserted island. Peaceful and beautiful. Later . . . full bright moon tonight. The low tides have been very low, exposing a sandbar in the Waderick Wells channel. The sandbar looks silver in the bright moonlight. 23 March 1992 Sandy Buckner of the Bahamas National Trust arrived today in a seaplane just before our pre-noon lizard survey. She went out with us into the bright sun, took lots of pictures, and asked lots of questions about lizards -- Sandy has been totally enamored with lizards ever since she began studying them in her yard in Nassau. After lunch, we did another lizard transect, and powdered a Leiocephalus. Then, Sandy and I went out so I could teach her our "high tech" lizard noosing method [a noose made of unwaxed dental floss tied to the end of a handy stick]. Chased lizard #16 all over the place. As I was again getting close, and as he carefully eyed me over his shoulder just out of reach, I stepped into a solution tube filled with sulfur water and sank down to above my knee. Almost couldn't get out. Badly skinned my shins, but of course we still had lizards to chase, blood and bruise or not. Sandy tried catching a juvenile, but to no avail, but I was able to grab a good sized female Alsophis. We eventually found a big patient male curlytail who let her get a noose around him. Of course the tie broke and the lizard ran free, but I eventually caught him. After dinner, a tremendous thunderstorm set in. Very high winds and sheets of rain. Lightning! The worst storm I have seen in the Bahamas. Went to sleep, tired, in the roaring wind.
FIGURE 4. The author emerging from Gecko Cave with a bag of Tarentola americana.
24 March 1992 About 10:30 am, Peggy announced that she was going to make a fuel run to Sampson Cay, and that
it was calm enough to drop us off at Rocky Dundas. Gray and threatening skies on the cool run down there, but no landing problems. We saw the entrances to the sea caves on the east side, but the tide would not let us in. Landing can only be tried at low tide on a calm day. The bulk of the island is a tableland with high cliffs; it is very difficult to get around, and it is covered with poisonwood. The big sea cave is most impressive; one opening is located on the top of the island, and plunges vertically far down to the sea which enters through an opening to the east. Easy to fall into. I could not tell the dimensions of the room, but perhaps it dropped 25 meters to the sea, and was equally large in diameter. The wall on the island side has sheered away creating huge boulders. Behind the rock boulders, a very nice tropical forest is found -- large trees, palms, bromeliads. There are many species of trees with diameters of up to 54 cm. Very rocky. In the cliff face, cave shelters, some with formations, are common, but none seem to go anywhere. No fossil bones. The forest to the southwest is open with many trees, and is meadow-like in some areas. I found a thick-billed vireo nesting and saw a number of other birds, including a white-crowned pigeon. Saw a single S. nigropunctatus but it escaped down a hole. Caught three S. notatus under palm debris and rocks on the wall. Anolis sagrei is very abundant. Centipedes, scorpions, arachnids. Interesting forest. Rained while we were there off and on for an hour and a half -- everything was wet and humid. Dripping. Couldn't get my glasses cleaned. Around the fringe of the island, many piles (more like fences) of old conch shells, weathering away. There were two principal fences, each about 1.75 meters high and maybe a hundred meters long. Some may date to Arawak times. There is also a nice palm forest, but I found no ground geckos there. Wet soils beneath the vegetation -- maybe that inhibits them. I walked around the periphery of the island taking the gray day in, looking for reptiles, and sometimes just looking. The sun finally came out, and I realized how bloody tired I was. Played in the rocky pools until our ride arrived to pick us up. Sandy looked bedraggled -- I think we wore her out. Nice fast trip back through the turquoise waters. That night, very heavy winds rocked the warden's compound all night. It was like being on a vibrating bed. 25 March 1992 We got up early and began packing. The wind had
roared all night and I guess we were just ready to leave. Ping and Ling were basking in the sunshine, but it felt cool in the wind. About 10:30, we started loading and at 10:45 we pulled out in the Red Devil [the Red Devil was the nickname of the outboard runabout that Peggy used to patrol the park; it was about 5 meters long, and known for its idiosyncrasies]. Peggy, driving; the rest of us, in rain slickers with our bags tight against the floor. Me next to Peggy, and Dick and Shelly huddled in the back. No one was looking forward to the high seas and the waves. A little wet but no problem until Conch Cut [a cut is an opening between islands that allows a strong current to flow east to west through the island chain], as expected. Rolling waves washed over the side, and several times I was doused. Peggy stood up in the cuts gripping the steering wheel, while staring intently ahead. Actually, Conch Cut wasn't as bad as she thought it was going to be, and we became a bit complacent. Then we hit Pipe Line Cut. Holy s--! Four to six foot waves had us rolling, slamming, and soaked. Our bow would go way up in the air, and I feared a deep trough on the other side which would plunge us straight to the bottom. Fortunately we managed to stay on top of the crest of the waves, thanks to Peggy's driving skills. I only glanced back once, almost straight down, at Dick and Shelly shivering and trying to hold on. Several times we rolled badly, laterally, and at one point a grim-faced Peggy looked over at me and remarked in calm seriousness, "We've got to get out of here." I'm willing, I thought, if I survive. Wave after wave, drenching salt water, windy, cool. The trouble was I could not see the damn waves coming (my glasses were wet and covered with salt spray), and quite frankly I didn't like it one bit. Bucking, sliding through wave crests, pounding over the top. Too tense to be scared -- not enough time to panic properly. Finally, we scooted through, but we bounced hard all the way to Staniel Cay. No more water! Headlines: "Biologists Drown in the Bahamas." We parked ourselves at the Happy People bar on Staniel Cay to wait for the 3:30 airplane, calming our shaking nerves and knees, and drying off. And wait, and wait. Thought the plane was lost, but it showed up about 5:30. High winds slowed him down, we were told (for two hours? -- some winds). The plane was a six-seat charter from good old Safe Air. The pilot kept looking around for something
TURQUOISE WATER, SILVER PALMS, AND FLUORESCENT GREEN LEIOCEPHALUS
before we took off; he spent about 10 minutes rummaging through the cockpit, under the seat and on the ground, but apparently he didn't find what he was looking for. An easy flight to Nassau for 40 minutes to clear customs. Maybe we'll make it yet. About 7 pm, we finally left Nassau. Dark. The pilot finally found what he'd been looking for -- his glasses! He also had hearing aids
in both ears, which caused us a bit more disquiet. As we flew off into the dark, it became clear that he had another problem -- no dash lights. But he did carry a small pen light which he turned on occasionally to read the instrument panel. Shelly had a death grip on Dick's arm. The roar of engines in our ears, but thoughts of being hopelessly lost on a stormy night in the Bermuda Triangle occupied our brains. Is he going in the right direction, or will we just run out of fuel somewhere over the black Atlantic? We flew through the dark at the top of the storm and turbulence. At times I could look up and see stars, but since we were at the top of the clouds we bounced vigorously. Nothing like being in a dark tube bouncing through the black sky, guided by a pen light. Time stands still, and position is unknown. More headlines: "Biologists Killed in Bahamas Plane Crash." Finally the lights of the Florida coast. I was actually happy to see Ft. Lauderdale in the pouring rain. Found a motel in Boynton Beach and crashed (figuratively, of course). 26 March 1992 Home again, same aftereffects of culture shock; Florida has too much noise, too many people, too much confusion, too many reports of bad news. Feeling unsettled and out of place. And very, very tired. 15 July 1993 Back to the Bahamas. Hot bright afternoon but with a nice breeze. The light is so intense it almost hurts. Mostly blue sky, but I suspect we could see a few scattered thunderstorms later this afternoon. This morning I retrieved my lizard noose which I had left down by the causeway beach. We then went over to Alligator Cay for a while. Captured eight Leiocephalus; saw both S. notatus and A. sagrei. Many Cyclura cychlura all over the island. Saw a pretty good-sized male, and what appear to be small juveniles, about 30 cm or so. Looks like reproduction is occurring. Found an old large helmet shell. Not enough time! Very serene listening to the wind
over the palm fronds and island vegetation. Single note chirp of the bananaquits, the song of an occasional mockingbird. Bright yellow-green vegetation in the hot bright sun. Turquoise and white water. By 3 pm, the sky has cleared completely, and has turned into liquid bluish-white heat. The sun is so intense it is like being in a microwave oven. The breeze on the porch is quite pleasant, however. I'd hate to be working out in the bush today. 16 July 1993 Yesterday at 4 pm, we headed north back to Shroud Cay. We were left off on the northernmost part of the island, and eventually worked around toward several of the southern beaches. Hot and sweaty. I crossed a small ridge to the lagoon. Big web spiders, many mosquitoes -- to the lair of the giant land crab. Holes everywhere. I then turned right and went through an incredible tangle of vines, low bushes, and cracked and broken limestone. Very difficult to maneuver. Looks like Tarentola country; indeed everything should be here. Giant agave -- 1.5 meters diameter at the base and taller than me. Lots of good-sized bromeliads. I finally managed to find the coast and walked along the dogtooth limestone to check several more beaches. Found Leiocephalus (very rare here), Ameiva auberi, S. nigropunctatus, S. notatus, Anolis sagrei, and A. smaragdinus (in a big poisonwood tree). Sweaty and hot till about 6:30. By the time we were picked up, the water was dead calm. Very large setting sun directly into the ocean. Tonight we even had ice with our rum and Kool-Ade. Millions of stars, but no moon. 17 July 1993 Yesterday afternoon we ran another lizard transect. Found a few lizards but not many. Seems to be a small window of activity of about 20 minutes in late afternoons on hot clear sunny days. As yet we have seen no small Ameiva, so hatching is much later than for Leiocephalus. I sat in the shade watching the nearly calm water and very beautiful golden late afternoon light. The high tide in the channel was about the highest we have ever seen it. The little nighthawk has finally laid her single egg -- right in the trail. Saw one egret on the hike back. Standing, looking at the mangroves, rocks and vegetation, one can become lost in time. It could be any time; no way to tell. This morning (after a rather unpleasant night when the wind dropped to calm), we went over to
Narrow Water Cay to chase our marked lizards. We found 15 curlytails, including four of the nine marked last year. Good morning's work. Saw a horse conch in the shallow water. After lizard catching, Dick and I went swimming out over the far reef. I don't think that it is possible to describe the colorful fishes, corals, sponges, sea worms, and other creatures of a coral reef
. What a wonderful sight! Calm, peaceful. Strong tidal surge
-- we could swim into it and drift right on back. Sitting in the shallow warm crystal clear water -- blue sky, gray-green islands with white sandy beaches, the multi-shaded turquoise waters. Incredible to simply be in a place like this. It's hard to imagine the other world out there as we watch indigo fish swim back and forth and follow sea fans floating in the crystalline waters. Beautiful -- beautiful. Fishes: squirrelfish, flamingo's tongue (a mollusk), Nassau grouper, queen and French angelfish, multi-colored wrasses, queen triggerfish, blue tang, rock beauty, spotfin butterfly fish, among many others. 18 July 1993 Up at 6:15 to a sunrise in a perfectly clear sky. The sand flies are bad -- kept us in fits all night. A million stars with no moon, and three shooters [= shooting stars]. Everyone went to sleep early except Dick and me. Calm, peaceful. The calm morning has done nothing to keep the buggers away. Yesterday afternoon was another hot and lazy afternoon. We just mark time until it is cool enough to do the afternoon transect. Not many lizards, as usual these hot clear days, so I photographed the transect. The late afternoon tide was very high again when Dick and I took a quick dip in the calm sea. This morning we hiked back down to Gecko Cave. Saw 11 Tarentola but caught only five, including lizard #14, a recapture. The cave had some water in the entrance, but otherwise it looked the same. There was even a trace of fluorescent green powder on the wall from our visit last year. Mosquitoes. Then a good soaking on Beryl's Beach. No orchids in bloom, but the joeweed is an extremely fragrant flowering bush. We have looked but have not seen anything that pollinates it. Very strong and sweet aroma. Dick and I then went up to the northernmost end of the island [Waderick Wells]. Slight breeze but burning hot bright sun. Became very thirsty in the intense radiation. Walked back along the eastern ridge; saw many hutia tracks and fecal pellets, an
iguana tail drag, and a large manta ray working along the wall. A fledgling tropicbird squawked at me. It's pretty up here -- we can look into the multicolored water and see the fish, sponges, and fans. Glad to make it back to the house though. Conch chowder over grits for lunch (yum). Breeze better now. Dick, asleep in the hammock. Bananaquits, drinking orange Gatorade. After dinner, we did a transect on Powerful Beach, but only saw two of our marked lizards. We then measured the transect from the house to the causeway. Beautiful night with floating iridescent ctenophores. Sand flies were a bother. Many hutias off the porch -- calling their soft vocalizations. They are even climbing the trees. 19 July 1993 Up early (6:20) to a perfectly still and calm morning. The ocean is like glass. Of course, the sand flies are most unpleasant. Dick and I cleaned up the kitchen, swatted sand flies, and waited for Sandy Buckner to arrive in the seaplane. Then, Sandy, Dick, and I went over to Alligator Cay. This time we had no trouble finding plenty to photograph. Adult Cyclura and possibly three size classes of juveniles. Sandy lures them in with bright red maraschino cherries. The funniest thing was to watch the curlytails swoop in and grab a cherry, then take off through the forest carrying their huge bright red treat. Later, I spent more than an hour in the water, fish watching: giant crawfish [lobster], damselfish -- black body
, yellow fins, with brilliant iridescent blue dots on the head. 20 July 1993 Last night was like sleeping in a sauna; the heat was almost overwhelming. This morning the sand flies are intense and the Bahamas oven has begun to bake now that the sun is up. Oatmeal, tea, and sand flies. Dead calm pervades the islands. This morning, we went north to Bush Hill Cay. Calm water, the rule; we could see the bottom along the way. In the boat's breeze, the trip was most pleasant. We found a large boat buoy, and a little farther along we found a freshly baited fish trap. Hauled it in as a trophy [fishing is not allowed in this marine park]. Ray [the warden who replaced Peggy Hall] thinks it was set by someone staying on Pigeon Cay, so he wants to stake it out. We hit Bush Hill with no further adventures. The iguanas [Cyclura cychlura] are everywhere and of all size classes. They are colorful and most tame. We caught
TURQUOISE WATER, SILVER PALMS, AND FLUORESCENT GREEN LEIOCEPHALUS
two to count scales (hey, try [catching an iguana] with dental floss!) in order to verify their place of origin. However, one took a good chomp on Dick's finger -- he was not amused, although the iguana had a point. Many chases, lots of head-bobbing. They are most curious and easily lured in with red fruit, including tomatoes and orange peels. Found one opened clutch with 10 dry eggshells scattered nearby. Saw several nest diggings, but no open burrows. Very hot in the island's interior. The heat seems to bother me -- or maybe it is just the intensity of the sun. I sweat; I drink. But mostly I want to crawl into the shade to find a cool, breezy (ha!) spot. (3 pm) Blazing intense white light and sun. In the afternoon, Sandy, Dick, and I got a late boat ride down to Rendezvous Beach. Hiked up to the Loyalist ruins to photograph the sailboat carved into the plaster on one of the ruin's walls. Then we went to Gecko Cave, but only got one Tarentola; it escaped. Hot and very humid down in the hole. Long, humid, sweaty hike back to the warden's house. Glad we were able to get pictures of A. distichus (at Gecko Cave). Drenched and tired upon return. After dinner, I just basically collapsed. 21 July 1993 Up very early after a very sound sleep. The bugs didn't bother me, and it was not as hot as before. We headed out to Hog Cay to look for hutia tracks. Worked the entire island -- saw Leiocephalus and Ameiva burrows, but no definite "hooter" tracks. Took pictures of several tracks that might be Leiocephalus for comparison. Trash and debris all over the east (windward) side: much oil tar, a caustic chemical drum, a U.S. Coast Guard life jacket, bottles, light bulbs, and just plain trash. For such a beautiful place, the trash that accumulates on these islands is disheartening to see. Went back the Exuma Sound side of the island, thus circumnavigating Waderick Wells. How did the hutias come to Hog Cay if they are still there? Said good-byes about 3 pm. Took one last walk down the trail and found the little female [one of the very first curlytails we caught in 1991] perched in her tree. Last sighting -- when I came back, she was gone. Smooth boat ride down to Staniel Cay. How much different than last time! Warm sun on breezy water (yes, it finally arrived). 22 July 1993 The plane arrived exactly on time. I had spent about an hour and a half watching the ocean and an A.
smaragdinus crawl around a tree four and a half meters off the ground. Hard to see -- mottled green and brown. Easy pleasant flight right along the entire Exuma chain. Perfect weather. Photographed "our" islands: Little Bells, Soldier, Waderick Wells, Hawksbill, Little Wax, Bush Hill, and Shroud. At Ft. Lauderdale we dodged a terrific thunderstorm; ferocious lightning, rain, and thunder. Back to Florida, home of the lavender strip malls. We are still on island time. The result of these visits was a series of scientific publications on the biogeography and Conservation Biology
of the amphibians and reptiles of the Exuma Island chain. Our (Dick's and mine) preliminary observations have led to more detailed studies by our students, Chuck Knapp, on the Cyclura of Alligator Cay, and Celeste Shitama, on the life history of the curlytails on Waderick Wells. The reports map species range
s, discuss how the animals arrived at their present distribution, and detail the historical and current factors affecting
their longterm survival. But working in the Bahamas or elsewhere in the wider Caribbean is not confined to dry scholarly presentations; it is also the sun and sand, the jagged limestone, the interesting, new, and wondrous herpetofauna, the rum and smells of island cooking, and -- most importantly -- it is the colleagues and friends who chase the critters and share the adventure with you. It is hard work, sometimes hot, wet, buggy, and extremely unpleasant, but, at other times, it is cool and dry. You cannot imagine a more beautiful or ideal place to engage in biology, especially while watching a huge full moon rise over a green-black island nestled in a silver sea. The out islands, away from the tourist resorts, are truly special. They are also amazingly fragile, both in their human sociology and in their island ecology. What has often amazed me is that so little is known about the Bahamian herpetofauna, which lies so close to the teeming US mainland with its internationally renowned universities and resources. The islands offer a wealth of opportunity for life history and paleontological studies in a place of beauty and hospitality. Although my present position does not allow for much international work, I hope someday to get back to the islands and to renew old relationships with the curlytails and lion lizards, with brown runners and reef geckos. And the sun and turquoise water, the heat and the mosquitoes,
the reef fish, and the wind blowing through the silver palms. Maybe I'll even see the little green fluorescent female Leiocephalus perched in her tree at Waderick Wells. Acknowledgments I thank Dick Franz for inviting me to help with the Exuma Cays survey; Peggy Hall, Ray Darville, and Sandy Buckner for taking us to the various islands and being most enjoyable companions in the field; and Marian Griffey for her comments on the manuscript.Suggested reading
Dodd, C. K., Jr. and R. Franz. 1996. species richness
and biogeography of the herpetofauna in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, Bahamas, p. 359369. In R. Powell and R.W. Henderson (eds.), Contributions to West Indian Herpetology: A Tribute to Albert Schwartz . Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Ithaca, New York. Contributions to Herpetology, vol. 12. Franz, R., C. K. Dodd, Jr., and D. W. Buden. 1993. Distributional records of amphibians and reptiles from the Exuma Islands, Bahamas, including the first reports of a freshwater turtle and an introduced gecko. Carib. Jour. Sci. 29:165173. Franz, R., C. K. Dodd, Jr., and S. D. Buckner. 1996. A review of the herpetology of the Bahamian Archipelago. Bahamas Jour. Sci. 3:2230.
Appendix. Common and scientific name
s of Exuma Island amphibians and reptiles mentioned in the text.
Amphibians Eleutherodactylus planirostris rogersi Reptiles Alsophis vudii vudii Ameiva auberi obsoleta Anolis distichus distichus Anolis sagrei ordinatus Anolis smaragdinus smaragdinus Cyclura cychlura inornata Leiocephalus carinatus virescens Sphaerodactylus nigropunctatus gibbus Sphaerodactylus notatus amaurus Tarentola americana warreni
Greenhouse Frog Bahamian Brown Runner Exuma Islands Ameiva (or lion lizard) Bark Anole Bahamian Brown Anole Bahamian Green Anole Allen's Cay Iguana Exuma Islands Curlytail Lizard Exuma Islands Black-spotted Ground Gecko Great Bahama Bank Reef Gecko Bahamian Wall Gecko
Dodd, C. K., Jr. 2003. Turquoise water, silver palms, and fluorescent green Leiocephalus, p. 2938. In R. W. Henderson and R. Powell (eds.), Islands and the Sea: Essays on Herpetological Exploration in the West Indies. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Ithaca (New York). Contributions to Herpetology, volume 20.