Remember biology class where all living things were relegated to specific flora and fauna classifications? This short list tells you all you need to know to identify members of Belize’s Eden-like community.
Given its physical proximity to the equator and sun and position along the Caribbean Sea, it’s no wonder Belize is regularly compared to Eden. Is the land sacred? In many ways, it is. After all, it meets criteria that appears in Genesis–a lush world filled with life within a garden that God himself planted, according to the text.
How does Belize rate such a great comparison? Because much of it remains primitive and pristine and because species of plants and animals found within this small nation are spectacularly diverse.
Urbanization that has brought progress to the world has also been rapidly destroying habitats throughout the planet, but in Belize, you still have a chance to see what Eden likely looked like. Keep reading to identify everything you see during your visit.
The World of Plants ( Flora) – 5 categories
1. Flowering plants in Belize are so abundant and colorful, horticultural experts marvel at the nation’s varieties. As time progresses, more and more plants are being classified, but as of now, the count is pretty solid: about 4,000 native species divided into these two flowering plant classifications: 2,500 dicot; 1,500 monocot types.
2. Fruits and nuts grow in abundance throughout Belize thanks to fertile soil and a temperate climate. The nation’s bounty includes bananas, custard apples, cashew nuts, coconuts, guava, papaya, mangos and mammee, a fruit described as tasting like an apricot/cantaloupe mix.
3. Natural pharmacology is big business for Belize due to the diverse mix of medicinal plants found throughout the nation’s jungles and rainforests. Originally used by ancient Maya healers to soothe, sanitize and cure all manner of illnesses, rashes, conditions and ailments, descendants of these people still come to the jungle to find remedies.
4. Why won’t you find orchids grouped with flowering plants? Because they belong to a unique classification, which could be why the Black Orchid was chosen as Belize’s national flower. Rainforests and wetlands are ideal growing environments for orchids, thus Belize is home to around 250 distinct types of these exotic plants.
5. For a small country, Belize’s variety of tree types is breathtaking. More than 700 distinct species can be found throughout the land. They include mahogany trees and other hardwoods and those categorized as broadleaf, palm, cacao, logwood, coconut and chicle trees.
The World of Animals (Fauna) – 11 categories
1. Flyways, rainforests and jungles make Belize an ideal environment for 530+ species of birds. Types include pelicans, frigates, egrets, storks, herons, boobies, ducks, geese, eagles, turkeys, quail, flamingos, storm petrels, arhingas and cormorants. Belize is this hemisphere’s most popular destination for birdwatchers.
2. Dwindling populations of big cats find refuge throughout Belize. Tourists visit sanctuaries to spot jaguar, jaguarundi, margay, ocelot and puma (also known as mountain lions). Many of these cats were worshipped as gods by Maya people whose glyphs and images of big cats can still be seen at ruins and on cave walls.
3. Belize’s reptilian kingdom includes two types of crocodiles. If you spot one lounging along the coastline, it’s probably an American croc. Morelet’s crocodiles prefer wetlands and other mainland waterways.
4. Belizeans are creative about names they give indigenous lizards. Green iguanas, a species that may appear on restaurant menus as “bamboo chicken,” share their eco-space with giant green and black iguanas. Perhaps the most unusual name of all was given to the basilisk, known as the “Jesus Christ” lizard.
5. Mammals found in Belize include human beings, bats, deer, dolphin, foxes, gophers, gibnuts, otters, peccaries (of the pig family), squirrels and whales. No clue what a gibnut is? These rodents morph into delicacies when cooked and served to ordinary people as well as England’s queen during a past visit.
6. Called gentle giants, the last of Belize’s manatees are found along the coast. These comedic vegetarians have a place in the nation’s folklore: ancient tales insist that these marine mammals were once mermaids. Only Florida has as many manatees as Belize when the worldwide population is assessed.
7. You may hear them before you see them: Belize’s monkey population is most loudly represented by black howler monkeys referred to in this country as baboons. As the star residents of Belize City’s Community Baboon Sanctuary, they’re not the only primates on the block. Belize is also home to small spider monkeys.
8. Plenty of people come to Belize with one objective: seeing and experiencing sharks and stingrays. Included on this list are hammerhead, nurse, tiger, and reef sharks plus stingrays. Unlike whales, the whale shark is neither mammal nor shark; it’s super-huge fish that stops briefly in Belize while circling the globe.
9. Eden’s biggest troublemakers still reside in Belize: snakes. The fer-de-lance variety (a.k.a. barbaamarilla, tresminutos and yellow-jaw tommygoff) is particularly dangerous and considered the most lethal snake on the planet. Try to avoid running into one when trekking Belize’s jungles and forests.
10. Tapirs (also called mountain cows) aren’t likely to win beauty prizes because these oversized rodents are rather off-putting in the looks department. Nevertheless, nocturnal Tapirs remain part of Belize’s diverse array of fauna, and if you’d like to see one, come to the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center.
11. There are three types of turtles in Belize (hawksbill, loggerhead and green sea turtles). Not a bad representation given the fact that there are only eight known sea turtle species on the planet. Currently endangered, environmentalists hope the annual nesting patterns of these primitive creatures will replenish Belize’s turtle population over time.