Cayman Islands dangerous plants and animals
There are not many dangerous animals in the Cayman Islands; however being able to identify which species are potential hazards and which are harmless can be a useful skill.
Many people are scared of snakes.
The good news is that there are no dangerous snakes native to the Cayman Islands.
CLICK to learn more about Cayman Islands snakes.
Centruroides scorpion (painful sting)
Several species of scorpions are to be found in the Cayman Islands.
There are no recorded deaths from scorpions in the Cayman Islands, however all scorpions should be treated with respect as their stings can be very painful.
Scorpion stings present the greatest danger to the elderly and infirm, and to the very young. Small children and babies are most susceptible to the effects of venom. Rather in the way that some people are allergic to bee stings, some people can also display an adverse reaction to scorpion stings.
Brown recluse or Violin spider (to be avoided)
Several species of spiders are to be found in the Cayman Islands which the potential to inflict a serious bite. All spider bites should be treated with care. Even mild bites can become infected if they are scratched or not cleaned properly – indeed infected cuts and wounds are often confused for spider bites.
American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)
The Cayman Islands take their name from their once-common crocodile populations. Numerous in the fossil record, it appears likely that the early sailors (who named the islands after the crocodiles) were also responsible for their extinction.
Two species of crocodiles are native to the Cayman Islands: the American crocodile Crocodylus acutus and the Cuban crocodile Crocodylus rhombifer. While both species have some capacity to tolerate sea water, they are not to be confused with the infamous “Saltwater crocodile” of Crocodile Dundee fame.
Attacks on people, worldwide, by the American and Cuban crocodile are exceedingly rare, and in almost all cases are in association with people trying to catch, goad or kill the crocodiles. Unprovoked attacks are rarer still.
The American crocodile is protected by national legislation in Florida, and under the international Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and CITES; both of which are extended to the Cayman Islands.
In the wild, crocodiles are best observed from a distance. Place a call to the Department of Environment and report your sighting. Do not attempt to touch the crocodile “to see if it is alive”… it probably is.
Never throw food to wild crocodiles. Crocodiles are naturally wary of people. Feeding erodes this behaviour, and encourages them to associate people with food.
Scolopendra morsitans (painful, venomous bite)
Several species of centipedes are to be found in the Cayman Islands. The most common species you are likely to encounter is the formidable Scolopendra morsitans. These large, fast-moving centipedes are highly armored, fast-moving and difficult to catch. Their segmented body is green / black, and the head and tail are bright red / orange in colour.
Scolopendra morsitans should be treated with care. This centipede has a painful and venomous bite. Even their feet can be highly irritant, producing raised spots of inflammation in “tramlines” across exposed skin. To these ends, centipedes should never be handled.
Mangrove Giant, Cicada Killer wasp (Sphecius hogardii)
While not usually more than an irritant, some people can have an allergic response to the stings of bees and wasps, resulting in life-threatening anaphylaxis. Wasps nests are often encountered beneath the eaves of buildings, so special care should be taken when working in these areas, especially when working from a ladder. Swarms of bees are an occasional occurrence. Swarms of bees should be avoided, and dealt with by trained professionals. Though rare, deaths of both people and pets have occasionally resulted from attacks by bee swarms in the Cayman Islands.
If you attacked by a swarm of bees, you should run for the shelter of a nearby house or car. Do not stop to assist pets. Keep your mouth closed to avoid potentially life-threatening stings inside the throat.
For professional bee removal call Winston Anderson 327-6284.
Tetrio sphinx moth caterpillar (Pseudosphinx tetrio). Toxic. Irritant hairs.
Care should be taken when handling any caterpillars, unless your are familiar with the species. Many caterpillars are equipped with defensive hairs which can be highly irritant to some people. Even caterpillars which appear “hairless”, such as the Tetrio sphinx moth caterpillar (pictured) often have irritant hairs.
FIRST AID FOR BITES AND STINGS
Identify the animal. Always try to identify the animal which bit you. There are many similar species of spiders, for example, and confusion of species can happen easily. If possible, catch the spider in a clear container – one which can be securely closed. The spider should accompany the victim when medical attention is sought. This will enable medical workers to identify the spider as necessary.
Cleanse the wound. Use soap and water to clean the wound and skin around the spider bite.
Slow the spread of venom. If the bite is to an arm or a leg, tie a snug bandage above the bite and elevate the limb to help slow or halt the venom’s spread. Ensure that the bandage is not so tight that it cuts off circulation.
Use a cold cloth at the bite location. Apply a cloth dampened with cold water or filled with ice to reduce inflammation.
Seek medical attention.
There are some fairly formidable plants in the Cayman Islands. If you are contemplating a hike in the bush, it would be wise to go in the company of someone who is familiar with the more hazardous plant life.
Dangerous plants and trees can appear in your garden by natural means – so being able to identify them is a useful skill.
Maiden Plum (Comocladia dentata). Caustic sap.
Maiden Plum Comocladia dentata is common in the Cayman Islands. It is highly opportunistic, and often the first plant to colonize newly cleared ground. It is commonly found as a small shrub around ankle height; also as a thin, rangy bush of 2 meters in height. It will occasionally grow into a full-sized tree. Maiden Plum is easily identified by its distinctive waxy leaves, with serrated edges. The leaves are generally olive green in colour, occasionally speckled.
Maiden Plum is a fragile plant and can be damaged by even slight contact (such as brushing past the leaves). This encourages the plant to release a odorous and highly caustic sap, which has the potential to permanently stain clothing black, and can penetrate human skin. Though not immediately irritant on skin, the contact site will develop into a red welt after 24 hours, becoming increasingly inflamed and sore over the following weeks, developing into a wet, raw, open sore. Sap can be transferred unknowingly from the hands to the face and eyes, by wiping sweat from the face. Sap cannot easily be removed from the skin by washing. Some neutralizing effect has been observed by applying acidic fruit juice (lemon and lime) directly to the skin, as soon as possible after contact.
Lady Hair (Malpighia cubensis). Irritant hairs.
Lady Hair Malpighia cubensis is a common shrub, usually found as a compact, attractive bush up to 2 meters in height. The underside of the small, elongate leaves are lined with fine hairs which detach from the plant at the slightest touch. These hairs are highly irritant, attaching to and working their way through clothing, prickling into the skin.
On contact, clothing covered with hairs should be removed immediately. Hairs can be removed from clothes and skin using duct tape and tweezers. Once the hairs are physically removed, the associated irritation quickly abates.
Cow itch (Mucuna pruriens). Highly irritant hairs.
Cow itch is a climbing shrub with long vines. When the plant is young, it is almost completely covered with fuzzy hairs, but when older, it is almost free of hairs. The sides of the leaves are often heavily grooved and the tips are pointy. Cow itch bears hanging purple flowers, and pods (5-10cm long) which are also covered in loose orange hairs, somewhat resembling furry caterpillars.
Cow itch hairs are fragile and can be removed by the slightest touch. They can even be detached in the wind and blown for some distance, attaching to clothes, washing, furnishing covers etc. The hairs cause a severe, almost unbearable itch if they come in contact with the skin. (Cow Itch hairs are the active ingredient in Itching Powder.)
One should avoid scratching the exposed area since this causes the hands to transfer the chemical to all other areas touched. Once this happens, one tends to scratch vigorously and uncontrollably. All contact with the face and eyes should be avoided. Affected clothes should be removed and medical assistance sought. In the absence of medical assistance, hairs can be physically removed with tweezers. Submersion of the affected area in hot (as bearable) water, and the topical application of Benadryl cream (or similar) may provide some relief.
Manchineel (Hippomane mancinella). Toxic sap. Poisionous fruit.
Manchineel Hippomane mancinella is common in the Cayman Islands. It is most often encountered as a compact bush of 1-2 meters in height, or as a fully grown tree. Manchineel is easily identified by its distinctive leaves: round, finely edged, with long thin stems – they resemble miniature tennis rackets. Their fruit resemble miniature apples – green when young, turning yellower as they ripen, with a pleasant sweet smelling fragrance.
The leaves, bark, sap and apple like fruit of the Manchineel are all very dangerous. Contact with any of these will cause severe blistering or burning of the skin. Eating the fruit of the Manchineel can cause death – just tasting it will cause blistering and swelling of the throat. Burning the leaves and wood is dangerous. Inhaling the smoke causes blistering of the skin. Getting the smoke in the eyes can cause blindness. If it rains never take shelter under a Manchineel trees. Water dripping from the leaves will carry the sap with it, causing blistering of the skin.
In case of contact, immediate cleansing of the skin with soap and water should be undertaken to remove any plant latex, being careful not to further spread the exposure. Immediate medical attention should be sought.
Manchineel (Hippomane mancinella). Caustic sap. Poisonous fruit.