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Cuban Caves

On my recent trip to Cuba I was lucky enough to be able to visit Viñales, which is located in the northwest Pinar del Río Province. The Sierra de los Órganos mountain range extends throughout the National Park here, with dramatic formations known as ‘mogotes’ towering over the landscape. The mogotes – large, rounded mountains – are all that’s left of a limestone plateau that existed here 160 million years ago.

Rainwater produces a carbonic acid when it interacts with limestone, a process that helped dissolve parts of the plateau and carve out the caves that exist here today. It was this special cave system that I was particularly interested in exploring, for only in this specific area live two unusual frog species that are found nowhere else on the planet..

Eleutherodactylus zeus (c) Andrew Gray, 2017

Both Endangered species belong to the genus ‘Eleutherodactylus’ and reproduce through something known as ‘Direct Development’, where the young hatch from the eggs as fully formed little froglets rather than as tadpoles. Eleutherodactylus zeus is a large species associated only with the limestone caves, where it lives in almost complete darkness and has adapted enlarged eardrums and exceptional vision to help it survive.

Eleutherodactylus adelus (c) Andrew Gray, 2017

Eleutherodactylus adelus uses the caves during the dry season to gain moisture rather than remain in its usual mid-elevation forest habitat. It takes cover in small holes where the cave walls meet the ground, where moisture that has run down the walls dampens the soil. Here the E. adelus hide until the rains come and they can once again return to the leaf litter cover in the surrounding broadleaf forest.


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