The term wild applies to species that live and reproduce in their natural state, without human intervention. Puerto Rico’s wild life is the combination of native flora and fauna that makes up the biotic of a place. Although flora is part of wildlife, we will only refer to animal wildlife.
The animal kingdom is divided into two large groups: vertebrate and invertebrate. Puerto Rico’s vertebrate wild fauna is divided into five groups: amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals. Wild fauna is found everywhere: jumping, crawling, running, and walking through the forest, mountains, hills, valleys, coastal plains, islands, cays, and islets; swimming, splashing, and floating in reservoirs (lakes), streams, ponds, rivers, estuaries, seas, and oceans; buzzing, flapping wings, and fluttering around on the ground; digging, twisting, sliding under the ground; in dark holes, caves, and caverns; and on tall mountain tops. Unlike continents, Puerto Rico —because of its being an island of oceanic origin— has less species than the majority of the continents; however, the number of endemic species is usually greater.
The number of amphibian species in Puerto Rico is 24, of these, 18 are native species and six are introduced species. Amphibians or batrachians form the link between fish that breathe through gills and animals that have lungs and breathe air such as reptiles, birds, and mammals. They are cold blooded (their body temperature adjusts more or less to the temperature of their environment). Their skin is soft and moist. They do not have claws on their fingers or scales. This group includes toads and frogs.
The reptile species in Puerto Rico is 55, of which 51 are native and four are exotic. Reptiles are the first vertebrates truly adapted to land life. They have a protective external cover made of epidermal scales that are quite thick, dry, and shiny. They always breathe through lungs, never through gills or through their skin. They may lay eggs on land or, in some cases, are viviparous which means that they do not lay eggs —they give birth to live young. This group includes turtles (marine and fresh water), lizards (iguanas and small lizards) and snakes.
In Puerto Rico, we have approximately 320 species of birds, 17 of them are endemic (they are not found anywhere in the world) and approximately 43 have been introduced. Birds are the best known animals in the animal kingdom. They have feathers that cover and isolate their bodies, which regulate their constant internal temperature, and a heart with four chambers. They have a beak made up of hornlike material and lack teeth. It is the best represented animal group we have in Puerto Rico. Birds are divided into terrestrial birds, aquatic birds, and marine birds.
Puerto Rico’s aquatic vertebrate fauna is divided into fresh or brackish water and salt water fish. The vast majority of these are salt water fish. Fish are cold blooded, have an aerodynamic muscular body, and the majority of them breathe through gills. These are divided into three large groups: jawless fish (lack scales and jaws), cartilaginous fish (skeleton composed primarily of cartilage and lack natatory bladder), and bony fish which are characterized by having skeletons with bones, teeth, and natatory bladder. In Puerto Rico, there are seven native species of fresh water fish and more than 30 exotic species that have settled in rivers, reservoirs, and lagoons on the island.
Mammals are warm blooded animals and breathe through their lungs. Their heart is divided into four chambers. Body temperature is regulated by a brain mechanism and remains constant by the isolating action of their hair. Young mammals feed on milk secreted by the mother’s mammary glands. On the island, this group is represented by whales, dolphins, porpoises, manatees, bats, and seals. It is believed that the seal could have been extinct —like other extinct species— before and during colonization.
Puerto Rico has a small number of mammal species. There are 13 species of bats on the island (the only native terrestrial mammals). Today, the rest of the wild mammal fauna is made up of introduced elements such as rats, mice, mongoose, agouti, monkeys, goats, pigs, common cats (in the wild), and white-tailed deer. Marine species are represented by manatees, whales, and dolphins. They are widely distributed and are found throughout the West Indies. Domestic mammals such as goats, pigs, and cattle were introduced for direct consumption or as service providers. Other species were brought with other purposes: mongoose to fight rats in sugarcane plantations, rhesus monkey for medical studies, and white-tailed deer for hunting.
Conservation and protection of wild fauna entails the wise use and handling of this natural resource for the benefit of both man and the species themselves. Many species are destined to disappear during these times as a result of human activity. The main objective is protecting our wild fauna and avoiding, to the extent possible, the extinction of much of our fauna, which are currently threatened or endangered. Man continues to be an integral part of the animal kingdom, and morally obligated him to preserve the beauty of the world and its animal resources.
Author: Víctor Suárez Zapata
Published: September 08, 2014.
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