Humans, by nature, are active primarily during the day and so, have a relatively limited understanding of how our ecosystems function at night.
With regards to wildlife, however, some species are active during the day (diurnal) while many others are active at night (nocturnal).
In Trinidad and Tobago, our estimated 50 species of snake are almost evenly split in their sleeping patterns, with around half being diurnal and the other half being nocturnal. However, the diet of our nocturnal species of snakes is more inclusive and covers a wider range of prey that snakes aren’t typically thought to feed on. This includes snails, arthropods and other snakes.
In this article, we shine a light on some of these nocturnal species of snake as well as a few of the other types of wildlife that bring the forests of Trinidad and Tobago to life at night. We hope you enjoy learning about them.
Juvenile Clelia Clelia (Mussarana). This species feeds on almost any animal it can overpower but has an appetite for other snakes, including the venomous mapepires (Bothrops). (Photo by Rainer Deo.)
The endemic Trinidad snail-eating snake. As its name implies, it is so far only found in Trinidad and exclusively feeds on small, terrestrial snails. (Photo by Rainer Deo.)
The Black-headed snake (tantilla melanocephala) may be small but is a voracious predator of centipedes and spiders.
The majority of lizards are active during the day with only a few gecko species and two amphisbaena species being active at night. The geckos, like frogs, feed on many insects and the amphisbaenas feed on the larvae of beetles and other invertebrates.
Amphisbaena alba (two-headed worm lizard) feeds on larvae and beetles. (Photo by Rainer Deo.)
Thecadactylus rapicauda (turnip tailed gecko) feeds on large insects such as grasshoppers, katydids and cockroaches. (Photo by Rainer Deo.)
Out of the 34 known species of frogs, less than five species may be found active during the day. The majority works the night shift, feeding on a wide range of insects and other invertebrates. Their prey would include species of mosquitoes that are potential vectors for deadly diseases such as dengue and malaria.
Elachistocleis is a genus of narrow-mothed frogs that specializes in feeding on ants and termites. (Photo by Rainer Deo.)
A pair of Boana boans (giant tree frogs). Female in background and male in foreground. (Photo by Rainer Deo.)
Male Tobago glass frog (Hyalinobatrachium orientale tobagoense) guarding several clutches of its eggs from possible predators such as wasps or ants. (Photo by Zak Ali.)
Things get interesting when invertebrates are added to the equation as they are some of the most diversified and understudied animals. For example, the lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). This particular order of insects tend to catch the interest of both researchers and citizens. Most butterflies are active during the day but if you took the total number of butterfly species recorded in Trinidad, 760+, and combined it with all the diurnal birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish species, they would still be dwarfed by the estimated 3500 species of moths that are believed to exist in Trinidad. Moths and their respective larvae fill multiple roles in their forest’s ecosystems. The caterpillars feed on a wide range of plant species and the adults, like butterflies are pollinators, some to plants that can’t be pollinated by any other animals.
Moths are thought to be plain and brown but the intricacy of this Idalus admirabilis proves otherwise. (Photo by Rainer Deo.)
This caterpillar belongs to genus of caligo or what they are commonly called, owl butterflies. Their larvae feeds specifically on heliconia plants. (Photo by Rainer Deo.)
Neoholothele incei (Trinidad Olive tarantula) is one of the several tarantula species found in Trinidad, They feed on large insects such as cockroaches and crickets. (Photo by Zak Ali.)
The majority of our estimated 490 bird species fly by day. Only a handful of owls, nightjars, rails, night herons as well as pootoos and oilbirds being active at night. However, the roles of these nocturnal birds should never be overlooked. Nightjars and pootoos are excellent insect hunters and our owls are responsible for controlling the population of potential pests such as mice, rats and cockroaches.
The ferruginous pygmy owl is an often heard but seldom seen species that feeds on small prey items such as cockroaches, mice and lizards.
A species of nightjar with its young. It’s commonly seen on the sides of roads flying off as cars approach.
Most of our mammals are nocturnal, however, there’s one particular group of mammals whose work is usually overseen and underappreciated. Seventy species of bats may not seem like a lot compared to the 490 birds that inhabit or visit Trinidad and Tobago. It’s estimated that millions of bats exist in our cave systems as well as in hollowed tree trunks and anywhere that’s always dark and cool. Insectivorous bats and other mammals act as pest controllers as they feed primarily on insects such as moths and grasshoppers. If left uncontrolled, these insects can wreak havoc on farmer’s crops. The frugivorous bats and mammals (animals that feed primarily on fruit) fulfil the important role of being seed dispersers for trees, many of which, humans also rely on.
Robinson’s mouse opossum (marmosa robinsoni) feeds on insects other invertebrates and fruits. (Photo by Rainer Deo.)
A manicou (Didelphis marsupialis) with guava in its mouth. They also feed on both insects and fruits therefore acting as insect controllers and seed dispersers. (Photo by Rainer Deo.)
An unknown bat species captured feeding on the rollinia fruit resulting in possible seed dispersal. (Photo by Rainer Deo.)
These species represent essential building blocks in their environment and are the reason that the forests exist in the first place. As we lose them, the integrity of our forests is compromised. We may not think much of it, but these forests supply many of us with water, food and raw materials for all of our luxuries. They are a source of inspiration in many cultures, religions and artforms and should not be taken for granted.