Animals in the Toro Negro Forest

by Amy M. Armstrong Google
The coqui frog is Puerto Rico's mascot.

The coqui frog is Puerto Rico's mascot.

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While you won't encounter any large mammals in Puerto Rico's Toro Negro Forest, the critters you can see and hear provide plenty of variety and interaction with nature. Sometimes referred to as Black Bull State Forest, this 7,000-acre reserve surrounds the island's Cordillera Central mountain range. It became part of the National Caribbean Forest in 1935. Since then, conservation efforts to preserve its unique fauna and wildlife have begun.

The Puerto Rican parrot features an emerald green body with a red forehead. His wide eyes are ringed with white and his bill and feet are flesh-colored. His primary feathers are blue and flash vivid colors when sunlight hits them in flight. Prior to the arrival of European explorers, the Puerto Rican parrot population was abundant. Extensive deforestation of the island has limited the bird's natural habitat. As of 2013, the Aududon Society's Watch List indicates there are only 44 individuals living in the wild -- up from 1975, when only 13 individuals were counted. The Puerto Rican parrot likes to eat fruit and travels in mated pairs.

As his name indicates, the small Asian mongoose is not native to Puerto Rico. He was brought to the island for pest control of the black rat population that stowed away on European ships and established thriving colonies on the island. Owners of the sugar cane plantations thought the mongoose -- well known for its ability to kill snakes, as well as smaller rodents -- could help with the black rat population. It didn't work out. Today the grayish brown mongoose -- which grows anywhere from 9 to 25 inches in length with a tail extending 9 to 20 more inches -- is considered an invasive species. He lives in hollow logs or holes in the ground and preys on smaller rodents, snakes, frogs, insects and birds -- including the endangered Puerto Rican parrot.

The Toro Negro Forest is home to 11 species of snakes, all non-venomous to humans. The Puerto Rican boa grows 6 to 7 feet in length and weighs about 2 pounds. He's a heavy-bodied snake with tan to dark brown body color and dark blotches down his back. He will defend with a bite, but he kills his prey by squeezing the air and life out of his victim. He's a protected species due to over-harvesting to collect oil and skins. He's a nocturnal critter that prefers to remain under camouflage during the day and hunt at night. The Puerto Rican racer grows to 3 feet. He slinks around in the trees of the Toro Negro Forest. His body sports a solid brown with each of his scales edged by a darker brown. He, like the forest's various garden snakes, is a daytime hunter. The forest also features blind snakes. Good luck spotting one of these -- they spend nearly their entire lives underground but do sometimes take cover under rotting trees. They don't bite, or even have teeth.

He is an official symbol of Puerto Rico and beloved by locals and visitors alike for his melodious night-time serenades. The males do the singing to attract females. Once mating has occurred, the males continue to sing -- perhaps an amphibian lullaby -- as they watch over the eggs until they hatch. He watches over the young until they leave the nest. His territory in Puerto Rico extends well beyond the boundaries of the Toro Negro Forest, but he's found there in abundant numbers. Sixteen species of coqui frogs are native to Puerto Rico. They have their own scientific classification because their feet aren't webbed. Instead, they have padded discs at the end of their toes that enable them to climb.

Dusk is the best time to spot bats in Toro Negro. This is when these nocturnal critters are out foraging for food: primarily mosquitoes. The 13 species of bats living in the forest play an important ecological role in controlling mosquitoes, which not only carry diseases but also harass hikers. The three most prevalent bat species are the greater bulldog bat, Antillean ghost-faced bat and sooty mustached bat.

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    Author

    Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.