El yunque rainforest facts: El Yunque National Forest — National Forest Foundation
9 Animals You Can See in El Yunque National Forest
El Yunque National Forest is one of the can’t-miss spots to visit during your vacation to Puerto Rico. It’s the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service, and it offers a great opportunity to see unique wildlife, amazing waterfalls, and unforgettable views.
When you think of a rainforest, you might imagine wildlife such as jaguars and monkeys, but you won’t find those among El Yunque’s animals. The island of Puerto Rico was formed from an underground volcano, so while the island boasts a lot of aquatic wildlife, birds, and amphibians, it doesn’t have many endemic mammals. Colonization brought many new species to the island, and through human development and the effects of invasive species, many of Puerto Rico’s endemic species are endangered or extinct.
The rainforest, however, is still full of vibrant and fascinating wildlife to discover, including colorful birds, impressive reptiles, and of course, the famous coquí. Here are some of the Puerto Rico animals you might encounter as you explore El Yunque.
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Puerto Rican Emerald
A common sound in the rainforest is the quick buzz of hummingbirds’ wings. There are multiple species of hummingbird in El Yunque, but one of the most easily identified is the endemic Puerto Rican emerald, or zumbadorcito de Puerto Rico.
As the name suggests, these tiny birds (3.5 to 4 inches in length and weighing 0.1 ounces) have iridescent green feathers that shine in the sunlight. Their long, pointed bills allow them to feed on insects and nectar inside of flowers — red flowers are their favorites! Emeralds are highly territorial, so you may even see them pursuing each other in the air.
Aside from being a joy to watch, hummingbirds are important pollinators. You can usually spot them hovering in front of flowers, beating their wings up to 50 times per second. You can find the Puerto Rican emerald in the northeastern Luquillo mountains. Keep your eyes and ears peeled, especially near red flowers. In El Yunque, it’s common to see them near La Mina River and by the Yokahú Tower.
Puerto Rican Woodpecker
The flashy red feathers across its chest, contrasting with its white and black body, make the Puerto Rican woodpecker (carpintero de Puerto Rico) easy to identify. This endemic bird measuring around 9 to 10 inches is common in wooded areas around the main island and can sometimes be found on Vieques.
Like most other woodpeckers, Puerto Rican woodpeckers use their chisel-like bill to drill holes in trees. The main difference is these birds in particular are omnivorous, eating fruits, insects, larvae, spiders, frogs, and even lizards. They have a distinctive undulating flight pattern and a loud call.
You can typically see Puerto Rican woodpeckers near El Portal Trail in El Yunque as well as by the Yokahú Tower Interpretive Site. They’re also common in the Guanica Dry Forest and coffee plantations.
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Puerto Rican Parrot
The colorful Puerto Rican parrot, endemic to the island, is the only native parrot in the U.S. Also known as Iguaca, it’s easily recognized by its bright green plumage, with red and blue accents, and it measures about a foot in length. Unfortunately, this beautiful bird is critically endangered. Once abundant on the island, the parrot has been jeopardized by deforestation, poaching, diseases, and other causes. Conservation efforts to protect this bird began in the 1970s, when only 13 parrots were left.
Thanks to the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program, the population of parrots on the island has grown, with some living in aviaries and others living in the wild, including in El Yunque. Conservation programs like this one are crucial to not only preserving endangered species but also their habitats. It’s rare to see a Puerto Rican parrot on a tour, which makes a sighting all the more special.
You may already be familiar with Puerto Rico’s unofficial mascot, the coquí. These tiny frogs are native to Puerto Rico’s main island, Vieques, and Culebra. Today, you can also find them in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii, and the Dominican Republic. The coquí gets its name from its distinctive call, which fills the island at night when they climb trees in search of insects.
You can fit one of these little frogs on your fingertip. They average between 1.3 and 1.6 inches in length. There are many different varieties of coquí, including common, mottled, whistling, wrinkled, dwarf, and locust. They vary in color and size, but you can recognize them by their call. You can find these frogs in a variety of habitats around the island.
On a hike in El Yunque, you can spot coquís under leaf litter near the trails.
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Not quite as cute as the small coquí, Puerto Rico’s giant toads can get up to 6.8 inches in length. Not endemic to the island, tropical giant toads were introduced to sugar cane plantations to help control beetle pests. You can now find them near still or slow-moving water.
These toads have brown skin covered in warts, and they possess a bufotoxin that they can expel when confronted by predators. You’re probably not looking forward to seeing one of these on the trails, but you can often find them on El Portal Nature Trail.
Puerto Rican Boa
The largest native species of snake on the island, the Puerto Rican boa averages around 6 to 7 feet in length, though larger ones have been reported. They’re known locally as “culebrón” due to their size. Their tan to dark brown coloring makes them difficult to spot.
These snakes feed on lizards, birds, rats, mice, and bats, swallowing them whole. Like other boa constrictors, these snakes are not venomous, instead using their powerful bodies to asphyxiate their prey.
Puerto Rican boas typically spend their time in trees, though they can swim and slither on the ground. They often hang from branches or rock ledges to capture bats. While they’re impressive in size, they’re hunted and eaten by mongooses (more on them below). It’s quite rare to see these boas as you explore El Yunque, but you can sometimes spot them near Yokahú Tower.
The emerald anole is one of the 11 species of anolis lizards that can be found in Puerto Rico. This small (2.75 inches), bright green lizard can be found perched on bamboo stems and palm trunks, mainly in the Luquillo mountains and along the Cordillera Central. Emerald anoles have a yellow and brown dewlap (a flap of skin beneath the jaw or neck) that they extend when defending their territory. They can change their color from green to very dark brown when excited.
You can see emerald anoles and other lizard species along the trails in El Yunque. Keep your eyes on the bamboo and palm trees near the Yokahú Tower.
Bats are the only native land mammals that survive in Puerto Rico today. Many of the species found on the island are endemic to the Greater Antilles, and most of Puerto Rico’s bats live in caves. The island’s bat species mainly feed on insects, fruits, and nectar. The local species include:
- Antillean fruit bat
- Antillean ghost-faced bat
- Big brown bat
- Brazilian free-tailed bat
- Greater Antillean long-tongued bat
- Red bat
- Red fig-eating at
- Sooty mustached bat
- Velvety free-tailed bat
Most of these bats are nocturnal, so you typically won’t see them on your hike unless you’re taking a guided nighttime trail walk. If you get to the rainforest early, you might catch a glimpse of the Greater Antillean long-tongued bat at lower elevations. Jamaican fruit-eating bats venture out in the late afternoon, when you could spot them feeding near tabonuco trees, the Palo Colorado forest, and in the cloud forest area at El Yunque Peak.
Small Indian Mongoose
Brought to Puerto Rico in 1877, the small Indian mongoose is a small mammal that resembles a weasel with its slender body and long tail. They can weigh up to 30 pounds at their largest, and their coloring is grayish brown. An opportunistic feeder, it eats insects, snakes, frogs, birds, small mammals, and fruits. Its eating habits can pose a danger to endemic species.
The mongoose tends to find shelter in hollow logs or underground dens. In El Yunque, you can spot them along trails and even in the parking lot near Yokahú Tower and the Palo Colorado Information Center. If you do see one, keep your distance. Mongooses can be infected with rabies.
This is just a small taste of the wildlife you can encounter as you explore El Yunque. The rainforest is full of many other birds, reptiles, and invertebrates such as giant tree snails (you’ll likely see these on tree trunks), flannel moths, Puerto Rican tarantulas, and so much more. To learn about all the animals you see on your hike, it’s ideal to explore El Yunque with an experienced tour guide. Check out our El Yunque tours to book your adventure.
Rainforests are adapted to hurricanes, but climate change could destroy them
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, the island’s forests were a pitiful sight of split tree trunks, fallen branches and leaves.
The El Yunque Rainforest, over 110 square kilometers in northeast Puerto Rico, has been particularly hard hit. It is known for its pristine beauty and high biodiversity. The winds that hit it at speeds up to 250 kilometers per hour left behind only leafless, partially damaged tree trunks. Four years later, the rainforest still contains clear signs of a major storm. But the ecosystem is gradually recovering. Scientists from the US Forest Service, as well as NASA and some other organizations, are actively studying this process. For researchers, the observations allow us to figure out how forests will change in the near future, when hurricanes become more powerful and similar to the recent Hurricane Ida as a result of global warming. Most of all, scientists are interested in the question — does global warming threaten the complete destruction of tropical forests, which are generally adapted to hurricanes.
To understand the damage caused to the forest by Hurricane Maria, the strongest since 1928, scientists studied it from a bird’s eye view. In addition to aerial photography, they used LIDAR, that is, a laser rangefinder, as well as other tools that made it possible to create a three-dimensional map and indicate the composition of the ecosystem on it.
The damage was more severe than expected. What used to be rainforest with a continuous closed canopy has turned into a “patchwork quilt” of separate fragments of closed forest and open areas. The rainforest has become more like a savannah ecosystem, the researchers say. But, most importantly, it has become much lower. On average, according to scientists, the forest lost 7 meters in height. We can say that a powerful hurricane “trimmed” El Yunque.
Other scientists studying the forest from the ground confirmed the extent of the damage — Hurricane Maria destroyed twice as many trees as Hurricane Hugo in 1989, long considered the most destructive forest on record.
At the same time, the researchers found that not all types of tropical forests suffered the same destruction. Many large hardwoods that grew on low elevations were broken in half as a result of the storm. At the same time, low palm trees, which grow mainly in the high parts of the forests of El Yunque, endured the hurricane quite well. As the researchers note, their trunks are able to bend rather than break in strong winds.
Six months after the hurricane, many grasses, shrubs, and sprouts of the tropical tree Cecropia began to actively grow and regenerate, taking advantage of the sunlight that was no longer obscured by the canopy of trees. As the scientists say, these «pioneers» will be pushed out later as the forest ecosystem continues to recover, causing the canopy to close. But, in any case, the latest data shows that El Yunque’s recovery is going faster than scientists expected.
Chapter 1. «Regional Features of Puerto Rico».
Puerto Rico is the smallest
island in the Greater Antilles
islands, but nonetheless one of the most
major islands in the Caribbean.
Puerto Rico consists of the main island
Puerto Rico and many smaller ones
islands and cays, including Deseceo
(Desecheo), Mona (Isla de Mona), Vieques (Vieques), Culebra
(Culebra), Mona (Isla de Mona) and Caja de Muertos
(Caja de Muerto). Puerto Rico has practically
rectangular shape, approximately 100 miles
long and 35 miles wide. Having territory
at a rate of 3,425 square miles (9,104 sq.
km), Puerto Rico is the third
largest island in the United States
and the 82nd largest island in the world.
Puerto Rico has three main
physiographic regions: mountainous
terrain, coastal lowlands,
karst. Formed on mountainous terrain
central mountain range, widely known
as the «Central Cordillera», which
stretch across the inside
islands, from Managuese to Aibonito. AT
this area has the highest
Point Puerto Rico — Mount Cerro de Punta
(Cerro de Punta), 1338 m above sea level.
Another important peak is Mount El Yunque (El
Yunque), 1065 m above sea level.
The second main physical and geographical
the region is located on the coastal lowland
and extends inward from 13 km to 19km per
North and from 3 to 13 km in the South. Third important
physical-geographical region is located
in karst areas, in the north.
Hot but pleasant climate
permanently clear skies and average annual
rainfall 1890 millimeters
(mostly falls from May to
November), it would seem, create everything
prerequisites for the existence of a wealthy
vegetation on this island. However
the population density is so high that
even on steep slopes the soil is cultivated
intensively, and plantations have replaced the wild
primary vegetation. On the plateau
remnants of the tropical
forests, but, strictly speaking, it is no longer possible
considered a true tropical forest.
In lower areas north of
Sierra de Punto humid climate
contributes to the growth of tropical
forests with several flowering plants
different type, but even these forests have now given way
sugarcane plantations. Poverty
fauna of Puerto Rico is also the result
human activities. The only
representatives of local animals
bats, dolphins and manatees. Even
birds are represented by a total of 190 species, from
of which 89 nest here, and only 36
endemic species. The number of birds sharply
has decreased in recent years. So,
Puerto Rican Parrot (Amazona vittata)
vittata), once numerous in all
parts of the island, has now become rare. By
Fortunately, the National Bird Sanctuary
grove of Luquillo, located on
northeast of the island, can still save
these parrots from the fate of already disappeared
in the forests of Guadeloupe, Martinique
and Culebra related species. Hunting
and destruction of natural habitats
jeopardize the existence of other
bird species. The US government is studying
opportunities to create forest reserves
and wildlife preserves on the model of already organized
in the Virgin Islands. However, despite
on such depressing facts, Puerto Rico
famous for its flora. A similar example
is a humid tropical Caribbean
National Forest, also known as
the name «El Yunque» (El Yunque). El Yunque
one of the few humid American
tropical forests preserved in
Caribbean. Forest scenery decorated
picturesque waterfalls. Here is the real
fern kingdom. In the forests of El Yunque
find shelter for endangered species such as
like frogs — coca, which is a favorite
symbol of the island, thanks to the leaves
cyclopia plants, thriving
on the island. Grows in the forest about
225 tree species, 100 fern species
and about 50 species of orchids. Thanks to
a huge variety of flora, El Yunque
received the status of a Biosphere Reserve
under the auspices of the UN. A few hours away
from El Yunque is another biosphere
reserve — Guanica, belonging to
tropical dry forest classification.
In this reserve there are
zoological species that live only
to Puerto Rico. Here you can meet
about 750 plant species, seven of which
are on the verge of extinction.
Greatest value for Puerto Rico
represent mangrove forests and almost no
There are no natural lakes in Puerto Rico,
however the island has 17 available
reservoirs that the Puerto Ricans themselves
used to be called lakes. Concerning
rivers, there are about 50 of them.
the longest river is the Grande de Arecibo, which
flows into the northern coast of the island.
Other rivers: La Plata, Cibuco, Loíza, and Bayamón are drained
to North. Other full-flowing rivers
tend to flow north and west.
Puerto Rico is located on
border between the Caribbean and North American
plates and is currently tectonically
deformed under the action of these plates.
This transformation is usually
causes earthquakes and tsunamis
together with landslides, represent
the greatest geological hazard on
island and northeast Caribbean
seas. Last major earthquake
in Puerto Rico happened on 11 October 19eighteen
year, estimated at approximately 7.5
points on the Richter scale. Epicenter
earthquake was at the bottom of the sea at
coast of the municipality of Aguadilla
(Aguadilla), which caused the tsunami.
Not to mention the Puerto Rico Trench,
which is located 120 km north of
island, which is the largest and
deep ocean trench
Atlantic Ocean. It is located on
border between Caribbean and North American
plates. The length of the trench is 1754 km,
width about 97 km, greatest depth
is 8380 m.
When visiting Puerto Rico, you must
try to see one
of the wonders of the island — the famous Bahia
Fosforescente, or «Bay of Lights», located
near Parguera at the extreme western point
south coast. Wake line at night
jet, swimmer movements and even waves
leave phosphorescent on the water
track. If a school of fish passes near the surface
water, followed by fiery streams,
and from the boat it seems that you are floating above
a hiding place that stores stocks of Bengali