Belize Flora and Fauna
While it may be less well known than biodiverse hotspots like Costa Rica, Belize is home to some of the richest habitats on the Earth. Ranging from mountains and waterfalls in the west to savannahs, wetlands, and jungle in the east, the mainland of Belize is home to a staggering diversity of animals, plants, and creatures. Not to be outdone, the hundreds of offshore islands that form the Belize Barrier Reef are home to their own unique universe of colorful marine flora and fauna.
Below is a brief guide to some of the plants and animals you can find in Belize:
More than 700 different species of trees can be found in Belize, including hardwoods like mahogany that formed an important role in the country’s history (mahogany is Belize’s national tree). Other tree species include broadleaf trees, logwood, chicle, coconut and other palms, and theobroma cacao, the source for cocoa beans (used to make chocolate).
Fruits and Nuts
Belize is a fruit lover’s paradise, the rich, fertile soils excellent for growing bananas, pineapples, papaya, mangos, guava, custard apples (quince), coconuts, cashews, and mammee (similar to a cross between a cantaloupe and an apricot).
Belize’s national flower is the Black Orchid, and Belize’s lush wetlands and rainforests are ideal for orchids and epiphytes to grow. More than 250 indigenous species of orchids have been catalogued in Belize.
For thousands of years, the ancient Maya relied on the jungles and forests of Belize to source their medicinal plants. Today, the living descendants of the Maya still use native plants to treat illnesses, aches, and other ailments.
Belize is a wonderland for flowers as more than 4,000 native species have so far been recorded. Approximately 2,500 dicot species and 1,500 monocot species have been discovered growing in Belize.
Belize is home to some of the last remaining native populations of big cats in Central America. Once worshiped by the ancient Maya, there are five big cat species in Belize: the jaguar, ocelot, margay, puma (mountain lion), and jaguarundi.
Monkeys thrive in the vast arboreal domains of mainland Belize. Most popular are black howler monkeys, locally known as “baboons” that can be seen up close and popular at the Community Baboon Sanctuary near Belize City. Other small monkey species include Geoffroy’s spider monkey.
Technically large rodents, tapirs are Belize’s national animal and known locally as “mountain cows”. Primarily nocturnal in behavior, tapirs can be tough to spot in the wild but can be seen in places like the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center.
Thought to have been the original mermaids from ancient tales, manatees are gentle, playful vegetarians who can be found all along the coast of Belize. With the possible exception of the southern United States, Belize is home to more manatees than anywhere else on earth.
Sharks and Stingrays
The waters offshore of Belize are home to an astounding variety of ocean life, including rays (stingrays), hammerhead, nurse, tiger, and reef sharks. Whale sharks are technically fish but they can be found visiting the waters of Belize every spring as part of their annual circumnavigation of the globe.
An entire spectrum of mammals can be found in Belize, including whales, foxes, otters, dolphins, peccaries (a kind of pig), deer, squirrels, gophers, bats, and gibnuts. Gibnuts are known as the “royal rat” as their flesh is a popular local delicacy that was served to Queen Elizabeth during a visit to Belize.
Three of the eight known species of sea turtles in the world live in the offshore waters of Belize: hawksbill, loggerhead, and green sea turtles. All of these species are currently classified as being endangered, but careful visitors can witness the majesty of nesting season between June and August.
The famous “Jesus Christ” lizard (basilisk) is a native of Belize, but far more common are the giant green iguanas and black/land iguanas. Green iguanas are known as “bush chicken” and are a popular local delicacy.
One of the most fearsome snake species in the world makes its home in Belize. The fer-de-lance, known locally as the barbaamarilla, tresminutos (three minutes), or yellow-jaw tommygoff, the fer-de-lance can be found all over Belize, including in municipal areas.
Belize is home to two types of crocodiles, the American crocodile which is found along the coast and Morelet’s crocodile which lives in wetlands and other related areas on the mainland.
Belize is a birder’s paradise as more than 530 species have been documented in the country. This includes an astonishing 200 plus species that overwinter in Belize after making their way down from North America. The local Audubon Society has cataloged six different birding areas of interest in Belize, and avian enthusiasts can feast their binoculars on species like MagnificantFrigatebirds, brown pelicans, reddish egrets, Jabiru storks, boat-billed herons, boobies, ducks, geese, eagles, ocellated turkeys, singing quails, flamingos, storm petrels, arhingas, and cormorants