Animal life in the Virgin Islands includes a variety of interesting creatures like iguanas, mongooses, donkeys, deer, pelicans, hummingbirds, herons, bats and more. There are also various lizards, frogs and insects. So from the fierce looking iguana to the graceful heron and speedy mongoose lets take a look at what you can expect to see on land and in the sky while sightseeing around St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island!
Pronunciation: (ig-wah-na) Iguanas are a reptile native to the Caribbean, Madagascar, Fiji, Galapagos Islands and Tonga; various species exist. Baby iguanas are bright, almost florescent green while adults range from a dark green to brown and black. An adult iguana can get up to 6 feet long including the tail, which makes up about half of the iguana's length. The iguana's skin is rough and there are pointed scales on the back of the neck. Iguanas are often found high up in tree tops enjoying the sun and eating there favorite food; leaves. In the Virgin Islands you may see iguanas in the trees and bushes around your resort or scurrying across paved roads in forested areas. Some iguanas in resort areas will approach you as they may have gotten accustomed to being fed flowers, lettuce or leaves by staff and visitors. Although they may appear domesticated you should not corner or startle iguanas as they use their tail as a defensive whip.
Hermit crabs have soft abdomens which require the protection of a shell. They do not make their own shell, therefore as they grow they must find larger shells to occupy. Their lives are spent searching for and occupying shells of other animals. The hermit crab in this picture is donning a whelk's shell. Other crab species found in the Virgin Islands include the ghost crab that can be seen quickly moving along beaches and a few species of land crabs that burrow into the ground and can often be seen at night or just peering out of their holes in the day.
Lizards are a common site in the Virgin Islands. The largest lizard found in the U.S.V.I. is the iguana discussed above. Other species of lizards include the anole, a small lizard that eats insects and lives in trees and around rocks in forested areas of the islands. A visible indicator of male anoles is a red and green throat fan that it displays during courtship. Another lizard that you might see on the walls of outdoor restaurants or that might find its way into your villa or hotel room is the house gecko; also called a "woodslave". The house gecko eats bugs and will often appear on walls and ceilings at night close to outdoor lights. Many insects are attracted to light making this location a prime spot for a feast. Frogs can also be seen in the islands but they are more often heard, particularly after a rain shower at night. Learn More about Frog Sounds
The mongoose is a carnivorous mammal. Native to South Asia and Africa, it was introduced in the Virgin Islands to control rat populations during plantation days. This did not occur. The mongoose hunts during the day and the rats come out at night. The mongoose's introduction to the Virgin Islands was disastrous for the local bird and snake population. The mongoose eats other mammals, birds, and birds' eggs. It is said to be the only animal fast enough to catch a cobra and live to tell about it.
Wild donkeys are found on St. John. They are descendants of domestic donkeys that were released or escaped into the wild. They are usually in small groups of three to five. Although some of the donkeys are domesticated and friendly they should not be provoked or harassed. You may get kicked. You will find many donkeys in the Cinnamon Bay area of St. John and around Coral Bay.
Goats can be seen in small groups all over the islands in backyards, school yards, on some unpopulated islands or eating grass on the sides of roads. Goats can also be found in cooking pots. Goats are eaten as a special meal on local holidays and served at local restaurants. They are a common site on road sides in St. John, particularly in Coral Bay.
There is a small deer population in the Virgin Islands. The white tailed deer was brought to the islands by colonist in the late 1700's for hunting purposes. They are a shy, solitary animal. Occasionally they are sighted in the National Park on St. John, in densely forested areas of St. Croix and on the East End of St. Thomas.
Bats are said to be the only animal that is native to the Virgin Islands. Bats can be found in caves in less populated areas of the islands and are sometimes spotted flying at night. It is not uncommon for several dozen bats to roosts together in a cave. They are primarily insect eaters and nectar drinkers however there is a fisherman!
The fisherman bat is a threatened species in the Virgin Islands. The bat roosts in caves near the sea, woodlands and in roofs of old houses. Through the use of echolocation or sonar, the bat detects ripples caused by fish swimming close to the water’s surface and uses it’s long, curved claws to catch them, thus the name fishermen bat. They are good swimmers and they use their wings as oars. The species' numbers have greatly declined because of coastal development.
Pelicans are large aquatic birds with long bills. They feed on schools of small baitfish and can often be seen swooping down and diving into the sea. They resurface with about a gallon of water and hopefully fish in their large pouch. They sit at the surface letting the water drain while the fish remain trapped and get eaten! They are fun to watch and can often be seen at the beaches and coastal areas around the Virgin Islands.
The brown pelican is found throughout the Caribbean and is said to nest in very distinct areas of the Virgin Islands; including Mary’s Point on St. John, Congo and Whistling cays off of St. John and Buck Island off of St. Croix. The effects of poaching for eggs, young and adult pelicans, disturbance of nestling colonies by humans and reduction of food resources have caused the pelicans numbers to decline. The brown pelican is found in the Virgin Islands and is federally endangered.
The Sea Gull is also known as the laughing gull because of its clear 'ha, ha, ha' call. It is a medium sized bird found worldwide. These webbed feet birds are usually found near water in the Virgin Islands and are particularly common in areas where fishermen clean their catches. Their feathers are white, gray and black. They are omnivorous birds, however they often scavenge. They are often seen stealing fish from pelicans; so daring are the sea gulls that they sometimes take the fish right from the pelican's bill!
Hummingbirds are small, quick birds. Commonly found in the Caribbean and parts of North America. They are usually brightly colored. They feed on nectar from plants and small insects caught in flight. You will find these delightful little birds flying around the flower beds of homes and resorts in the islands. The bananaquit is often called 'yellow bird' account of its bright yellow chest and 'sugar bird' on account of its affinity to sweets. Homes owners in the Virgin Islands often hang bird feeders with sugar or with sugar water for the bananaquits!
The Virgin Islands is home to the great blue and little blue heron. The great blue heron stands 3 feet tall with a wingspan of approximately 7 feet. It is a slate blue color and is a graceful wader and often stands motionless while fishing. It eats fish, crabs, lizards and mice. The little blue heron is also an elegant wader. It is common to see these birds around salt ponds, on mangrove islands and in lagoons. The young herons are snow white before their first molting.
The cattle egret was first reported in the Caribbean in the late 1930's. Standing about 20 inches tall the snow white egret eats small insects and lizards. It is often seen in cow pastures around the Virgin Islands, often standing on the backs of cows.
Various species of doves are to be found in the Virgin Islands. The cooing Zenaida dove is quite similar to the American mourning doves and are commonly found and often heard in the islands. Not commonly sighted is the bridled quail dove. When it is seen it is usually searching for seeds on the ground in densely forested lowlands. It is an endangered species primarily because its eggs and young are eaten by feral cats and mongooses. Additionally development of lowlands have heavily disturbed their feeding and nesting areas.
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