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Virgin Islands Critters – Snakes & Spiders

Photo: Puerto Rican Racer native to the PR Bank all the way to Anegada.
Photo: Puerto Rican Racer, native to the PR Bank all the way to Anegada.

Over the years we have received an assortment of questions, usually about beaches, things to do and where to stay.  One of the popular questions that is outside the trip planning box is whether there are any creepy crawly things. So for today’s blog we caught up with Dr. Renata Platenberg, Reptile Ecologist and an Assistant Professor of Natural Resource Management at the University of the Virgin Islands, to inquire about snakes and spiders in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Q: Do we have snakes in the USVI?

A: “Yes, five species on St. Thomas: Puerto Rican Racer, the Garden Snake, the endangered Virgin Islands Boa, the Blind Snake, plus the non-native Corn Snake. St. John does not have the Virgin Islands Boa, Corn Snake, or the Racer (but there may be the odd sighting of the latter), and St. Croix only has the Blind Snake and another non-native blind snake the Rhamnotyphlops.”

Are you a little bugged out by the knowledge that some things slither in the USVI? Rest assured all the snakes mentioned are harmless. Left alone they will quietly slink away. Dr. Platenberg added, “The chances of a visitor coming across a snake are slim to none, I spend a good deal of time looking for them and my return for effort is getting smaller and smaller each year.”

Except the corn snake, all are protected under the Virgin Islands Code. And the Virgin Islands Boa is additionally federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. Each of these species has a critical role in the VI ecosystem, and should be respected and admired for their amazing abilities to capture their often larger-than-themselves prey; lizards, frogs, and even the invasive giant cuban treefrog!

So hopefully you feel better now, we have snakes but they are pretty elusive.

Tarantula
Photo: Tarantulas are burrowers that live in the ground.

Q: Are there Spiders?

A: “We do live on a tropical island, with plenty of forest, and hence lots and lots of arachnid diversity! All spiders are venomous, it’s how they digest their prey, but we have NO spiders that are harmful to humans! And yes, we have several species of tarantula; they can readily be seen out and about at night! Again, harmless!”

If your skin is crawling a bit at the thought of lots and lots of spiders, remember spiders eat tons of mosquito – so go spiders! And just in case you are thinking; “ok, got snakes, got spiders, what about scorpions”. Yes, we have them too. A couple different species in fact; their stings are painful but they are also not harmful.

Dr. Platenberg added, “It’s important to remember that the Virgin Islands are tropical dry forest islands, and they have a diversity of invertebrates, snakes, bats, and frogs that should be expected in this type of habitat and climate. Each species is critically important. With nothing particularly dangerous to humans, it’s far better to let them do their job than to kill them. The use of pesticides can harm birds, frogs, bats, lizards, and other non-target species, and should be avoided.”

For all the reptile enthusiasts reading this post with keen interest, here are the scientific names of the snakes mentioned:

Puerto Rican Racer (Borikenophis portoricensis)

Garden Snake (Magliophis exiguum; formerly Arrhyton exiguum),

Virgin Islands Boa (Chilobothrus granti; formerly Epicrates monensis granti)

Blind Snake (Typhlops richardii)

Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus)

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