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Cuba

OLogy Series
place
card
375

Cuba

OLogy Series
place

More than four thousand islands—including one big island—make up this nation in the Caribbean Sea. Cuba has a range of ecosystems: forests, caves, wetlands, and coral reefs. These places are home to all kinds of animals, including many that live nowhere else. The Cuban population is diverse as well. It is a mixture of indigenous, or native, people and descendants of Spanish colonists and African slaves, along with new immigrants from Asia, Europe, and around the Caribbean. Cuban traditions—food, dance, music, and visual arts—reflect this multicultural heritage.

Cuba has had a turbulent history. In the 1400s, Spanish conquistadors arrived and claimed Cuba as a colony. They forced native people into slavery and brought in more slaves from Africa.
Cuba did not gain independence until the 20th century. Then the economy was dominated by the United States. In 1959, Fidel Castro led the people in a popular revolution. Cuba and the United States broke ties for many decades. Few Americans could travel there.
In the 21st century, Cuba and the U.S. are renewing ties. Today, more Americans are traveling there and many more are expected. Tourism will bring benefits and challenges for Cuba. It will bring cultural exchange and money, but also could put pressure on its diverse ecosystems.

Which of the following animals live (or have lived) only in Cuba?

world’s smallest bird

world’s largest owl

both of these

Are you right?

Correct!

The bee hummingbird weighs less than a penny. The extinct giant owl was three feet tall! On islands where species are often isolated, limited food sources can result in the evolution of smaller bodies. Other species can evolve to become bigger where there are fewer predators.

Cuba is home to the Caribbean’s healthiest coral reefs, its largest wetlands, and its largest forest. These three animals are found only in Cuba. Which one lives in the wetlands?

Cuban clearwing butterfly

Cuban crocodile

Cuban solenodon

Are you right?

Correct!

The wetlands include marshes, mangroves, and forests. These habitats support a complex web of life: crocodiles, fish, frogs, snails, birds, and countless plants and insects. The Cuban clearwing and Cuban solenodon live in the country’s rainforest.

What is most popular sport in Cuba?

baseball

basketball

soccer

Are you right?

Correct!

Baseball is everywhere in Cuba—from city streets to large stadiums. Some players have left Cuba to play in the Major Leagues in the U.S. As relations between the two countries improve, American and Cuban teams may be able to exchange players more often.

Limestone caves are found all over Cuba. Many bats live in crowded caves with small entrances, where temperatures:

always stay around 70°F

reach above 100°F

drop below 32°F

Are you right?

Correct!

Temperatures in these “hot caves” can reach 104°F (40°C)! They get so hot because all those warm bodies give off heat. Bats also make a lot of poop that decays and gives off heat. And since there’s only one small opening, the hot, stuffy air has nowhere to go.

Ana Luz Porzecanski, conservation biologist

Cuba's biodiversity is very unique. Many of the species you see in Cuba are endemic—they're found only there and nowhere else on the planet. They're irreplaceable!

Chris Raxworthy ,herpetologist

Fieldwork gives us a chance to see Cuba's animals in the wild and to collect information about them, including DNA samples. This helps us figure out which species are most vulnerable to going extinct. We want to make sure that they are protected.

Population: 11 million

Capital and largest city: Havana

Location: Caribbean Sea

Geography: forests, wetlands, caves, coral reefs

Number of Islands: More than 4,000

Government: one-party, socialist

Primary Language: Spanish

Fun Fact: More than half of the plants that live in Cuba are endemic—they live only there and nowhere else!