Martinique has few indigenous animal species. The most common wild animal species remain timid: manicous (family of opossums), pinktoe tarantulas which are endemic tarantulas, the lesser Antillean iguana and the green iguana, the mongoose, the Martiniquan pit viper or Martinique lancehead and giant centipedes.
In the air, Martinique is the country of cattle egrets, hummingbirds (4 species in Martinique: the purple-throated carib, the Antilliean crested hummingbird, the green-throated carib and the blue-headed hummingbird) and sucriers (recognisable from their yellow chest).
On land, mongooses were imported to reduce the population of ‘lancehead’ snakes (or pit vipers). Unfortunately, there were serious consequences because the mongooses also destroyed many endemic species of bird which have now completely disappeared. Nowadays, one is more likely to encounter many snakes and a few inoffensive green lizards, anolis as well as mabouyas, which are a translucent brown. They are very fearful and come out at night24.
Two species of tarantula cohabit:
• Acanthoscurria antillensis is a ground tarantula which lives in the south of Martinique, from Rivière-Pilote via Cap-Chevalier to Trois-Îlets.
• Avicularia versicolor is a tree tarantula and lives in the north of Martinique, in the humid tropical forest of Le Prêcheur at Grand-Rivière. This species, which is relatively calm and not aggressive, is protected locally.
The Atlantic coast is bordered by a Coral reef which is practically uninterrupted, where fish swim from the open sea and where sedentary fauna take shelter.
The aquatic environment has strongly deteriorated over the past twenty years. Industrial pollution, in particular from the distilleries, the lack of waste water treatment facilities, the intensive backfilling of mangrove areas, which are nurseries for many species of fish, and fishing as well, are the causes of the reef surface shrinking and a large reduction in the number and variety of fish25.
However, in the past 5 years there has been a notable expansion of the coral and giant sponge reefs, as well as an increase in the fish population. This is due to two factors:
• Since Hurricane Lenny in 1999, no cyclonic swell has been powerful enough to seriously damage the reefs. These years of relative calm have given time to the submarine fauna and flora to pick up;
• The implementation of fish concentration devices anchored along the coasts, often 3,000 metres deep, has encouraged local fishermen to fish in the open sea, due to better profitability, and to relieve the reefs from over-fishing. The fish population has therefore been able to increase.
The Martiniquan rainforest, which is tropical humid or equatorial, has ferns and trees such as mahogany and courbaril, which are used for making furniture. Some can reach 60 metres in height. Many flowers in the Zingiberaceae family populate the undergrowth and are very sought after by florists due to their atypical shape and their flamboyant colours. These flowers gave Martinique its name (Madinina in Amerindian), which means “the island of flowers” in the language of the Caribbean Indians.
Note that many spices, such as Cocoa or Bay-rum, originate from the island forest.
In the rainforest, only 1% of the sun’s light gets through the canopy and reaches the green shoots on the ground, which therefore do not develop. One must wait for a tropical cyclone to knock down the tall trees for the green shoots to be able to receive the solar energy necessary for their development. Tropical cyclones are therefore essential to the regeneration of the humid forest and are an integral part of the insular biological cycle.
In the dry tropical forest xerophile plants grow which are suited to the very dry climate (acacia, pithecellobium dulce, pink manjack, gumbo-limbo) and succulent plants (giant club cactus, agave).
In the high mountains, above around 900 metres, the almost permanent violent winds and the temperature between 0°C and 15°C do not allow the tropical vegetation to prosper. This is therefore replaced by sub-tropical vegetation which grows at altitude, suited to extreme conditions: dwarf trees, dwarf Bromeliaceae and Araucariaceae (small conifers which do not grow taller than 20 centimetres high) are the most predominant species in the vegetal cover.
In its degraded form or under extreme soil conditions the vegetation may also become a savannah, where cactuses and succulent plants share the soil with wild grass.
Mangrove is present across the whole of Martinique:
• La Caravelle peninsula (nature reserve)
• Génipa Bay – Ducos
• Bay of the English – Sainte-Anne
Strelitziaceae including the traveller’s tree were imported from South America and the Indian Ocean. Some palm trees are endemic to the island, such as the Acromia or Roystonea, while others were also imported from other continents (in particular Asia and Australasia), such as the Cyrtostachys or Cocos nucifera. There are also many fruit trees on the island (avocado, breadfruit, tamarind and ambarella).