Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean Sea at the confluence of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The largest island in the Caribbean, it consists mostly of flat and rolling plains apart from a few mountainous areas along the coasts. There is a large satellite island to the south-west, the Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud), and several minor archipelagos along the coasts. Cuba remains relatively rich in relict and endemic species, although unfortunately a number of others became extinct soon after the arrival of Europeans.
The Cuban short-tailed hutia (Geocapromys columbianus) is known only from recent fossil deposits that also contain rats, suggesting that it persisted into the modern era. It likely became extinct during the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.
The bushy-tailed hutia (Mysateles melanurus) is confined to the lowland forests and plantations of eastern Cuba (Holguín, Granma, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantánamo provinces).
The Cuban solenodon (Solenodon cubanus) is a burrowing insectivorous mammal that, to judge by fossil remains, formerly ranged throughout the island. Introduced cats, dogs, and rats took decimated the species and by 1970 some researchers believed that it had become extinct, as no specimens had been found since 1890. However, three were captured in 1974 and 1975, and subsequent surveys showed that it still occurred in many higher-elevation localities in eastern Cuba. The last living specimens were found in Sierra del Cristal National Park in 1998 and in Alejandro de Humboldt National Park (Holguín province) in 2003, along with a dead individual in 2005.
Two species of cave rat (Boromys) formerly occurred on Cuba. The Oriente cave rat (B. offella) became extinct during the nineteenth century. Torre’s cave rat (B. torrei) may have survived up to the twentieth century.
The nesophontes were a group of shrew-like insectivores related to solenodons. The greater Cuban nesophontes (Nesophontes major), lesser Cuban nesophontes (N. submicrus), slender Cuban nesophontes (N. longirostris), Fisher’s nesophontes (N. superstes), and Allen’s nesophontes (N. micrus) are all known only from fossil deposits. They are believed to have become extinct following the arrival of European settlers, likely due to introduced rats.
The lesser Cuban fig-eating bat (Phyllops vetus) is known only from fossils and apparently went extinct at an early state of historic time.
The Cuban yellow bat (Lasiurus insularis) is a highly specialized species vulnerable to changes in habitat and tropical storms.
The Cuban hook-billed kite (Chondrohierax wilsonii) was historically found throughout Cuba but has undergone a massive decline due to loss of habitat, human persecution and overharvesting of the tree snails upon which it feeds. The species now appears to be confined to a small area of eastern Cuba centred on Alejandro de Humboldt National Park (Holguín and Gauntánamo provinces). Only rarely recorded in recent decades, it is thought to be nearing extinction.
Two subspecies of Gundlach’s hawk (Accipiter gundlachi) were historically found throughout Cuba, but are today confined to a few areas. The nominate form (A. g. gundlachi) is found in the western and central part of the island, while the eastern Gundlach’s hawk (A. g. wileyi) is confined to the east. Both are very rare.
The Cuban red macaw (Ara tricolor) was endemic to Cuba and probably also the Isle of Youth. Heavily hunted, the last specimen was collected in 1864 and the last reports were in 1885.
The rose-throated Amazon (Amazona leucocephala) is a type of parrot found in Cuba, the Bahamas, and the Cayman Islands. Individuals have also been observed in the wild in Puerto Rico, likely the result of escaped pets, and no reproduction has been recorded. Several subspecies will be discussed below.The Cuban rose-throated Amazon (Amazona leucocephala leucocephala) is a type of parrot still found widely, although patchily, throughout Cuba and on the Isle of Youth. The species has undergone declines due illegal trapping for the international exotic pet trade and destruction of its nest sites. While recovering somewhat, it remains highly conservationdependent.
The Cuban parakeet (Psittacara euops) was at one time one of the most common endemic birds on Cuba, but is now rare and found only in a few remote areas.
The blue-headed quail-dove (Starnoenas cyanocephala) was historically found throughout Cuba but is now extremely rare and has been extirpated from a number of areas.
The grey-headed quail-dove (Geotrygon caniceps) can still be found throughout much of Cuba, but is nowadays largely confined to lowland forests of the Zapata Peninsula.
The Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis bairdii) historically inhabited old-growth forests at all elevations throughout Cuba. By the early twentieth century most of the lowland forests had been cleared, and by 1956 only 12 or 13 individuals remained in south-eastern Cuba. In 1969, 13 pairs had been reported, although thereafter this magnificent bird became restricted to montane pine forests in the north-east of the island, which unfortunately continued to be under heavy logging pressure. There have been no confirmed records since 1987 despite many searches, and the subspecies is now most likely extinct. The best (if admittedly slim) hope lies in the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park.
Fernandina’s flicker (Colaptes fernandinae) was historically found throughout Cuba, although never abundant. It is now confined to a few scattered localities.
The Cuban flycatcher (Tyrannus cubensis) is a type of passerine bird that was historically found in parts of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands as well as on Cuba, but is nowadays confined to the latter island, where it is increasingly rare.
The Cuban bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), the world’s smallest bird, was historically widespread and common across Cuba and on the Isle of Youth. It has since disappeared from the latter, and is now rare and localized.
The pepper least gecko (Sphaerodactylus pimienta) is confined to a small area in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra in eastern Cuba (Granma and Santiago de Cuba provinces).
The yellow-lipped grass anole (Anolis juangundlachi) is known only from a single locality in northern Cuba (Matanzas province), where it favours grassy areas near watercourses. The Escambray blue-eyed anole (A. ahli) is confined to the Escambray Mountains of south-central Cuba (Sancti Spíritus, Cienfuegos, and Villa Clara provinces).
The Cuban pine toad (Peltophryne cataulaciceps) is restricted to the lowlands of the Isle of Youth and extreme western Cuba. The long-nosed toad (P. longinasus) is confined to three small and disjunct areas of Cuba, perhaps representing more than one species. Gundlach’s toad (P. gundlachi) and the small-eared toad (P. empusa) are both found patchily throughout Cuba and the Isle of Youth.
Michael Schmid’s rain frog (Eleutherodactylus michaelschmidi) is confined to a small area of karstic valleys and foothills in eastern Cuba (Santiago de Cuba province). The intermediate rain frog (E. intermedius), Ricord’s rain frog (E. ricordii), the red-rumped rain frog (E. acmonis), Ronald’s rain frog (E. ronaldi), Gundlach’s rain frog (E. gundlachi), the Ionthus rain frog (E. ionthus), Leber’s rain frog (E. leberi), and the Guantanamera rain frog (E. guantanamera) are all confined to parts of eastern Cuba. The flatheaded rain frog (E. casparii) is confined to south-central Cuba (Cienfuegos province). Grey’s rain frog (E. greyi) is found patchily in central Cuba. Emilia’s rain frog (E. emiliae) is confined to the Escambray Mountains of south-central Cuba. The Cristal rain frog (E. principalis) and the Meseta del Guaso rain frog (E. mariposa) are both confined to the Cristal Mountains of eastern Cuba. The yellow-striped rain frog (E. limbatus) is found widely but patchily throughout Cuba. The Yarey rain frog (E. toa) is confined to the Macizo de Sagua-Baracoa in eastern Cuba. The variable rain frog (E. varians) is found widely but patchily throughout Cuba and on the Isle of Youth. The Pinos rain frog (E. pinarensis) is found widely but very patchily in central and western Cuba and on the Isle of Youth. All are threatened by habitat destruction and degradation.
The Sierra Maestra
The Sierra Maestra is located in eastern Cuba (Granma and Santiago de Cuba provinces). The mountains rise abruptly from the coast and run westwards and include Pico Turquino, the highest point on Cuba.
Several species of rain frog (Eleutherodactylus) are endemic to the Sierra Maestra, where they are threatened by habitat destruction. They include Barbour’s rain frog (E. cubanus), Jaume’s rain frog (E. jaumei), the Turquino rain frog (E. turquinensis), Estrada’s rain frog (E. glamyrus), the white-footed rain frog (E. albipes), and the Granma rain frog (E. melacara).
Lowland Moist Forests
Areas of lowland moist forest (i.e. below 400 m elevation) are to be found in both eastern and western Cuba and on the Isle of Youth (here discussed separately).
A large number of species of rain frog (Eleutherodactylus) are endemic to lowland moist forests, where they are threatened by habitat destruction and degradation. The Loma del Espejo rain frog (E. adelus) is known only from a single locality in western Cuba (Pinar del Río province). The El Yunque de Baracoa rain frog (E. orientalis) is confined to a single locality in eastern Cuba (Guantánamo province). The La Cantera rain frog (E. pezopetrus) is known only from a single locality in eastern Cuba (Santiago de Cuba province). The Tetas de Julia rain frog (E. tetajulia) is known only from Alejandro de Humboldt National Park in eastern Cuba. Etheridge’s rain frog (E. etheridgei) is confined to the area of the Guantánamo Naval Station in eastern Cuba (Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo provinces). Barton Smith’s rain frog (E. bartonsmithi) is confined to two localities in eastern Cuba (Guantánamo and Holguín province). Symington’s rain frog (E. symingtoni) was historically widespread, but is nowadays confined to a few localities in western Cuba. Goin’s rain frog (E. goini) is confined to western Cuba (Pinar del Río province). The river rain frog (E. rivularis) is known only from three lowland forest localities within the Sierra Maestra of eastern Cuba. Bressler’s rain frog (E. bresslerae) is confined to two localities in eastern Cuba (Guantánamo province). Tony’s rain frog (E. tonyi) is known only from three localities in south-eastern Cuba. Klinikowski’s rain frog (E. klinikowskii) is confined to a small area of western Cuba (Pinar del Río province). Zeus’ rain frog (E. zeus) is confined to a small area of western Cuba (Pinar del Río and Artemisa provinces). Zug’s rain frog (E. zugi) is found patchily in western and central Cuba. Thomas’ rain frog (E. thomasi) is found patchily over a wide area of central Cuba. The Arroyo Bueno rain frog (E. simulans) is known only from a single locality in eastern Cuba (Holguín province). The Guanahacabibes rain frog (E. guanahacabibes) is confined to the far western tip of Cuba (Pinar del Rio province). The Iberia rain frog (E. iberia), the world’s smallest frog species, is confined to a few localities in eastern Cuba (Holguín province).
Lowland Dry Forests and Xeric Shrublands
Areas of lowland dry forest (i.e. below 400 m elevation) are to be found in central and eastern Cuba and on the Isle of Youth (here discussed separately).
The little goblin bat (Mormopterus minutus) is confined to the dry forests of east-central Cuba.
The Cabo Cruz banded anole (Anolis guafe) is a type of lizard restricted to the Meseta de Cabo Cruz in southern Cuba (Granma province).
The Cuban khaki dwarf boa (Tropidophis hendersoni) is known only from a single specimen collected in 1945 from eastern Cuba (Holguín province). Subsequent searches have failed to locate the species.
The Cuban spotted toad (Peltophryne taladai) is confined to central and eastern Cuba, where it is threatened by loss of habitat.
Lakes, Rivers, and Marshes
Cuba has relatively few rivers and lakes, although there are extensive areas of wetland in the coastal areas.
The Cuban sandhill crane (Grus canadensis nesiotes) was once widespread in Cuba and on the Isle of Youth, but is today extremely rare on both islands and decreasing.
The Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) was historically found throughout Cuba and its satellite islands, but has disappeared almost everywhere due to illegal hunting and hybridization with American crocodiles (C. acutus). It is nowadays largely confined to the Zapata Swamp in south-western Cuba and to Lanier Swamp on the Isle of Youth.
The Cuban gar (Atractosteus tristoechus) is a large predatory fish endemic to the rivers and lakes of western Cuba and the Isle of Youth.
Four species of subterranean cusk-eel (Lucifuga) are endemic to Cuba. The blind cusk-eel (L. simile) is known only from two closely located cave systems in coastal north-western Cuba (Matanzas province). Poey’s cusk-eel (L. subterranea) is known from a few localities in north-western Cuba (Artemisa and Mayabeque provinces). The Artemisa cusk-eel (L. teresinarum) is a little-known form from north-western Cuba (Artemisa province). The toothed cusk-eel (L. dentata) is found relatively widely but patchily in western Cuba. All are threatened by groundwater extraction and pollution.
Coasts and Satellite Islands
The coastal areas of Cuba exhibit a range of habitats including karst, mangrove, and forested areas. There are numerous large satellites islands and thousands of smaller ones.
Cabrera’s hutia (Mesocapromys angelcabrerai) is confined to swamps, marshland, and a few small islands off the southern coast of Cuba.
The Cuban black hawk (Buteogallus gundlachii) is confined to coastal swamps and mangroves.
Three subspecies of Cuban sparrow (Torreornis inexpectata) are found disjunctly in coastal areas and satellite islands of Cuba. Varona’s sparrow (T. i. varonai) is confined to the island of Cayo Coco off the northern coast of Cuba. Sigman’s sparrow (T. i. sigmani) is confined to a small area of dry scrub along the south-eastern coast of Cuba (Guantánamo province).
The Cuban rock iguana (Cyclura nubila) is, as a species, found on Cuba and in the Cayman Islands. The nominate subspecies (C. n. nubila) is widespread in the rocky southern coastal areas of Cuba and its satellite islands, including the Isle of Youth, but is considered vulnerable.
The Guantánamo least gecko (Sphaerodactylus armasi) is confined to the extreme south-eastern coast of Cuba (Guantánamo province). The broad-banded least gecko (S. torrei) is found only in coastal south-eastern Cuba, where it is divided into two subspecies. Torre’s broad-banded least gecko (S. t. torrei) is confined to a small area of Santiago de Cuba province. Spielman’s broad-banded least gecko (S. t. spielmani) is confined to a small area of Guantánamo province.
The karst toad (Peltophryne florentinoi) is known only from a single locality in coastal south-central Cuba (Matanzas province). It is threatened by rising sea levels.
Blair Hedges’ rain frog (Eleutherodactylus blairhedgesi) is confined to two small areas on the north-western coast of Cuba (La Havana province).
The Zapata Swamp
The Zapata Swamp (Ciénaga de Zapata in Spanish) is located in coastal south-western Cuba (Matanzas province). Much of this globally important wetland habitat is protected.
The dwarf hutia (Mesocapromys nanus) is known only from the Zapata Swamp, where it was last seen in 1937 (although tracks and droppings have occasionally been reported since).
The Zapata rail (Cyanolimnas cerverai) is confined to a single area, where the population is small and declining.
The Zapata wren (Ferminia cerverai) is restricted to the northern and central parts of the Zapata Swamp.
The Zapata sparrow (Torreornis inexpectata inexpectata) is confined to scrub grassland and coastal areas of the Zapata Swamp, where the population of around 250 is considered to be stable.
The Canarreos Archipelago
The Canarreos Archipelago (Archipiélago de los Canarreos in Spanish) is a group of some 350 islands and islets located off the south-western coast of Cuba.
The Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud in Spanish; formerly known as the Isle of Pines) is the largest island in the Canarreos Archipelago.
The Cuban greater funnel-eared bat (Natalus primus) was once thought to be extinct but was rediscovered in 1992. It is known only from a single cave on the Isle of Youth.
The Isle of Youth solitaire (Myadestes elisabeth elisabeth) is (or was) a type of passerine bird that has not been observed since the 1950s, and is most likely extinct.
The Isle of Youth least gecko (Sphaerodactylus storeyae) is known only from two localities on the Isle of Youth.
The San Felipe Cays (Cayos de San Felipe in Spanish) are located north-east of the Isle of Youth, within Cayos de San Felipe National Park.
The San Felip hutia (Mesocapromys sanfelipensis) is known only from Cayo Juan García, where it was last seen in 1978 when a large number were collected. It is most likely extinct.
The Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago
The Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago (Archipiélago de Sabana- Camagüey in Spanish) is a group of small islands lining Cuba’s north-central Atlantic coast.
The large-eared hutia (Mesocapromys auritus) is confined to Cayo Fragoso in the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago.