Fossils reveal unique Cayman mammal species

| 04/03/2019 | 39 Comments
Cayman News Service

Cuban hutia (Capromys pilorides), close relative of an extinct mammal in the Cayman Islands

(CNS): Ancient remains of animals eaten by crocodiles here in the Cayman Islands have revealed three species of previously unknown mammals that were indigenous to these islands, however the small furry creatures have been extinct for around 300 years. The fossilised bones were collected from caves, sinkholes and peat deposits across the islands between the 1930’s and 1990’s and since held at museums in London and the United States. Researchers have now studied and described the remains of these unique animals.

On Monday the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History published the details of the discovery and described a small shrew-like mammal named Nesophontes hemicingulus (Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac), and two large rodents Capromys pilorides lewisi (Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac), and Geocapromys caymanensis (Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac).

Scientists said that comparisons with other extinct and living West Indian mammals indicate that the biogeographic origins of all three animals are sub-species of populations in Cuba. They calculated that all three animals became extinct sometime in the 1700’s following the arrival of European settlers in the Cayman Islands.

They noted that the West Indies lost nearly all its species-rich land mammal fauna during the current geological age due to direct or indirect human impacts, and this study provides a new baseline to understand the magnitude of human-caused mammal extinctions during the recent past.

Researchers said that the three mammals were unique to the Cayman Islands, existing nowhere else in the world. Professor Samuel Turvey, Senior Research Fellow at the Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology and co-author of the paper, said humans were almost certainly to blame and that they are just the tip of the iceberg for mammal extinctions in our region.

“It’s vitally important to understand the factors responsible for past extinctions of island species, as many threatened species today are found on islands. The handful of Caribbean mammals that still exist today are the last survivors of a unique vanished world and represent some of the world’s top conservation priorities,” he added.

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Category: Land Habitat, Science & Nature

Comments (39)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    There were early navigational reports of docile basking “walruses” in Cayman, no doubt referring to a thriving Caribbean Monk Seal population. Sharks and humans were their only predators. They grew to 8 feet and 600lbs and were converted into lamp oil. Last sighting of a wild Caribbean Monk Seal was 1952 at Serranilla Bank.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Dinosaurs never existed ?

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Caribbean fur seals also.

  4. Demon says:

    These look like Aguoti ….sure that not what we are calling cayman rabits

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    • Jotnar says:

      Think about it. How can they have a photograph of an animal that has been extinct for 300 years?

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      • Anonymous says:

        “close relative”

        The tree of life which demonstrates evolution closely resembles a tree. Imagine a Y, your Cayman rabbit is the top left branch, this species is the top right. Some branches go extinct while others continue on.

        Neanderthals were part of the Homo branch but went extinct. We sapiens were selected by nature..

        If birds need a long beak to reach their food, the blue short beak birds will die off while the red long beak birds evolve and transfer their DNA that codes for a long beak and red feathers.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    There will one day be a similar article on what used to be in our waters, marine parks and replenishment zones if people dont wise up soon!!

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Unless you believe in the Bible over science, in which case this is a blasphemous tale. Or tail, even, given the subject matter.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Excuse me but in Cayman we believe that a man parting the ocean with a stick is more believable than natural selection producing evolved species.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    How could the less than 2000 populations kill out the alligator and crocodile species on three islands with a musket rifle? The book lawless Caymanas says there weren’t many ( maybe 20) here on the island. Especially after slavery, they didn’t have anything but cutlasses (machetes). I don’t think many men would have to try to kill any with a knife. Can anybody explain how we did this? Don’t forget the mosquito problem.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Because with the active industry of ship grounding and salvage on these uncharted isles, there also came extra mouths to feed and accommodate, sometimes hundreds for over a year at a time. What critters may have remained, were both target practice and dinner. Almost all of the sailing ships bound for Europe or Americas sailed from our east to west with the trade winds and then north with the Gulf Stream. Nearly all of the troop carriers, slave ships, and sugar crops plied these waters. Carib, English, Spanish, French…it didn’t matter. The HMS Cumberland, en route from Jamaica with 180 heavily armed draughts to reinforce Fort Pensacola (which would later fall to Spanish) ran aground in East End on Nov 28, 1767. 3 people died, and all provisions and valuables lost. The crew were rescued 14 months later, Friday 22nd of January 1768 by HMS Adventure from Seven Mile Beach. HMS Cumberland was patched and relaunched, later to be crushed by ice in the St Lawrence River where she remains. Arrrgh.

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      • Anon says:

        can you give us a link to read about this. i cant find anything on google. thanks

        • Anonymous says:

          “Long Bay (what is now Seven Mile Beach) also offered the safest approach to Grand Cayman because its white sandy shore, which is unobstructed by reefs, was always easy to distinguish. It was from this roadstead that the survivors of the troop transport Cumberland, which wrecked on the east end of the island in 1767, were rescued by HMS Adventure (confirmed by journals from esteemed British Naval marine surveyor George Gauld who was dispatched to Grand Cayman in 1773 – perhaps in response to this embarrassing calamity). A letter written by Major General Thomas Gage to the British War Office in 1768 described what happened:

          “Captain Hodgson of His Majesty’s 31st Regiment (Foot Infantry), on his Passage from this Place to Pensacola with 180 Draughts for the Regiment in West Florida, was unfortunately wrecked on the 28th of last November on an Island called the Great Commander, about Fourscore Leagues from Jamaica. Three men only were drowned, but the Provisions, Baggage, & everything else in the Ship was lost. Captain Hodgson dispatched a small Vessel without Delay to inform Admiral Parry who commands His Majesty’s Squadron in Jamaica of his Misfortune, and to beg his Assistance; and I have learned from an Officer of the Navy, lately arrived here from that Island, that the Admiral had sent the Troops and immediate Supply of Provisions, & was repairing one of the King’s Frigates to transport them to Pensacola.”

          “Arriving at Grand Cayman the following January, Captain Thomas Fitzherbert, commander of the rescue frigate Adventure, was unwilling to anchor on the eastern side of the island. Instead, he ignaled to the castaway troops on shore and ran down to the leeward side of the island for a safer place to embark them. The captain wrote in his log the following notations:

          “Friday 22st…The SW part of the Caymann West 5 Miles. The first and Middle part [of the day] fresh breezes & fair, the latter ditto gales & Cloudy Weather at 11 brought to, at 6AM made Sail, at 9 saw the SE part of the great Caymanns bearing West 13 or 14 Miles, at 11 fired a Gun as a Signal-

          “Saturday 23rd…NW point of ye Caymains NNE 6 or 7 Miles moderate and fair Weather, Employed turning in the bay on the NW side of the Caymans, at 2 AM fired a Gun as a Signal for the Troops, at 2 fired another for them to get ready to Embark at 1/2 past 3 Anchor’d with the Best bower anchor in 7 fms Water & veer’d to a 1/2 a Cable, the NW point NW B W the Town ESE. The Boat Embarking the Troops and Getting the Officers things on board…”

          Royal Naval records show the Cumberland was refloated to drydock in Jamaica, where it was converted from troop ship to cargo vessel and repurposed by the Navy to northern colonies.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Quite easily and over a short period of time. If you shoot 10 alligators a day, 5 days a week (most likely 6 given only day off back then was Sunday but I will use 5) for a year is 2600 (10*5*52) gators and that is just one person. if 5 people did it that’s 13,000 a year. Like I said, quite easily.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Now imagine if caymanians were as good at killing iguanas as they are turtles and every native mammal to the island. Oh and crocodiles.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Ah yes the European colonization period, the great extinction event of many natives.

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  10. Johnny Rotten says:

    The billion dollar gorilla we have in now Cayman will be responsible for a few more species going extinct if we continue down this track.

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  11. Anonymous says:

    It know its Monday, but can we try not to ruin a positive and informative article with politics. I’m sure the crew at CNS must be tired of reporting on the madness themselves !

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Very interesting….we have quite a number of large rats in our government. Not sure what sub-species they are but you’re welcome to have a look.

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    • Anonymous says:

      The same “rats” that allayou hound on a daily basis for cheese/ handouts /

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    • Anonymous says:

      I agree. A real big one from West Bay!

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    • Anonymous says:

      Does everything have to be political? This evidence is more proof that the history of these islands is alot more in depth than we have been told. It may just be rodent fossils but can be linked to a past we have yet to uncover.

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      • Anonymous says:

        The period before Cayman was settled was probably much more interesting. I would love to see this place in its original wild state, no people or development, all native flora and fauna present.

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