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  • Simon Dauphinee

Scorpions, Sharks & Snakes, Oh My! An Expat’s Guide to Wildlife in Belize, Part Two

Welcome to part two of the three-part series, An Expat’s Guide to Wildlife in Belize. Let’s continue exploring what foreigners can expect to encounter on land and in the sea. There are so many wonderful, beautiful, and terrifying creatures! Let’s start with…


Scorpions

A scorpion in the dirt

The dreaded scorpion (*dun dun duuun*). Surprisingly, they are arachnids but with menacing pincers and venomous stingers. They evoke a sense of caution among locals, expats, and visitors alike. Despite the venom, scorpions in Belize are only mildly poisonous. The sting is painful, similar to a bee sting, but worse. However, I experienced numbness in my hands, feet, and mouth when I got stung, as did a friend recently, which lasted for about six hours.


If a property is well maintained, encounters with scorpions are rare. They prefer cool, damp underbrush, which is more common in jungle areas or less manicured and maintained places. Whatever your feelings towards scorpions, it's best to check your shoes and gloves before putting them on if you live where they do. Aside from their intimidating looks, they don't pose much of a challenge to catch when you do encounter one. I suggest keeping an old yogurt container and a small piece of cardboard on hand to trap them. Then, release them back outside and away from your property.


They are quite fascinating creatures: they can live underwater for several days at a time, go without food for weeks, and slip into a crack no larger than the thickness of a credit card.


If you wish to keep them entering your home or your bed- my wife and I were stung in bed while sleeping on two separate occasions- a concoction of natural lavender and cedar essential oils is a great repellant. Spray it around your bedframe, along doorways, or in drains. Borax also works well but harms pets if you have one, and it doesn’t smell nearly as nice as the essential oil mix.


La Cucaracha: “The Cockroach”

A cockroach

Cockroaches are ubiquitous in Belize, thriving in natural and urban environments due to the warm, humid climate they love. These resilient insects are found inside and outside homes, restaurants, or anywhere where food and water are readily available. Though often associated with filth, cockroaches are everywhere, whether dirty or not, in Belize. They are known for their incredible adaptability and can consume various organic materials, making them effective scavengers and, unfortunately, pests. There is even a type that consumes wood, like termites. To add to their versatility, they can also fly. 



Despite their reputation as unwanted guests, cockroaches play an important ecological role by helping to break down and recycle decaying organic matter, contributing to nutrient cycling. Outside human dwellings, they are part of the complex food chain, serving as prey for many predators.



Snakes


Belize has a diverse snake population, ranging from harmless species like the lumbersome boa constrictor to venomous vipers like the rattlesnake and the aggressive fer-de-lance. While running into a Tommy Goff or another poisonous species is less common, you will likely meet a boa at some point while in Belize long term. They are harmless to humans and most pets and typically mind their business. You can find them under decks, lumber piles, and other out-of-the-way places.


However, I recently encountered a juvenile fer-de-lance while visiting friends outside Belmopan. I was with my two toddlers when I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye. One of my sons saw it, too, and started to walk over to where it was sunning itself on a patch of gravel. I would not have seen it if it weren't for the contrast of the brown skin on white stones.


Thankfully, I realized what it was in time to pull him back as the coiled snake lurched forward at him. With my son at a safe distance, I took a closer look to identify the species. It darted at me as I approached. It was a feisty bugger, and I decided to take my boys away from the area. Although I wasn’t ever close enough to get bitten, it's the closest I have ever come to the possibility, and I don't plan on getting any closer.


So, what's my advice on snakes, you ask? Know what lives in your area and what it looks like, and keep your wits about yourself.


Snake Bite-Sized Information

If you have the unfortunate experience of being bitten by a poisonous species, act quickly and get to a hospital with antivenom. If you are at the Green House by the Sea in Placencia, head to The Southern Regional Hospital in Dangriga. If you can capture or, at the very least, take a picture of the perpetrator, this will aid in identifying the species and ensure effective medical treatment.


Snakes, like spiders, are essential for ecology despite their fearsome reputation. Snakes play an active role in controlling rodent populations and maintaining ecosystem balance. They aren't only present on land in Belize. The intrepid snorkeler or SCUBA diver can encounter species of sea snakes, like the colourful variable coral snake, while visiting the reef offshore.


Dogs

Are Dogs in Belize Wildlife? Some May Say So


Potlicker dog getting pet

Dogs are commonplace in Belize, both domestic and imported by expats. Unlike their North American counterparts, many local dogs are kept for security, not pets. Canines are often seen roaming ditches or lounging in roadside shade. Many sleep outside, so the barking dog is a sonic fixture in the Belizean night, no matter where you reside in the country. Many Belizean dogs are of mixed breed, called Potlickers, and are a unique blend of physical characteristics and varying personalities.


Butterflies

Monarch butterfly

Belize is a haven for butterflies and their human enthusiasts. With around 700 species (that’s a lot of cause and effect with all those little wings flapping), these insects add vibrant splashes of color to their diverse ecosystems. Butterflies live countrywide and in various habitats, including tropical rainforests, savannas, and coastal mangroves. Among the most striking are the Blue Morpho, with its iridescent blue wings, and the Postman butterfly, known for its bold red and black patterns. Butterflies play a crucial ecological role as pollinators in Belize, aiding in the reproduction of many plant species and as a food source for other wildlife, contributing to the intricate web of life. If you are local to the Stann Creek district, visit Ya’axkin Butterfly Farm in Maya Center. If you are in the Cayo District, check out Oxmul Butterfly Farm or Green Hills Butterfly Ranch.


Sharks

Whale shark with SCUBA diver
Whale Shark

Sharks are a diverse group of cartilaginous fish found in Belizean waters. There are over 350 species of shark in the coastal waters, which are home to some well-known types, like hammerheads, bull sharks, reef sharks, nurse sharks, and the majestic whale shark. While some species, like the nurse shark, are relatively docile and pose little threat to humans, others, such as bull sharks, are more aggressive. However, shark attacks in Belizean waters are, thankfully, rare. 


Whether you fear sharks or not, they should be respected for their crucial role in maintaining the health and balance of Belize's coral reef ecosystems. Their position at the top of the food chain—sharks are apex predators—helps to regulate populations of other marine organisms, ensuring no single species dominates the habitat. This balance is essential for the resilience and productivity of the reef system.


I am fortunate enough to have encountered these beautiful fish while SCUBA diving off the coast of Belize. They were memorable experiences, and I highly recommend experiencing them for yourself. I have yet to experience the whale shark, but it's on my bucket list. Comment below if you’ve had any shark encounters, I’d love to hear about them.


Coatimundi 

Coatimundi with mouth open

The Coatimundi, also known as a Qashqui and white-nosed Coati, is a curious and adaptable mammal found in forests and savannas. Somewhat resembling a lemur but belonging to the raccoon family, coatis are easily recognizable by their long, ringed tails and elongated snouts. They are highly social creatures, forming bands of females and young, while males are solitary. They are omnivores with a diet that includes fruits, insects, small vertebrates, and eggs, which makes them important for seed dispersal and pest control in their ecosystems. Known for their agility and inquisitiveness, you can spot coatimundis foraging on the ground along Placencia Road and elsewhere in Belize.


Sting Rays 

Sting ray in shallow shore waters

Stingrays are a fascinating and integral part of Belize's marine biodiversity. Belizean waters are home to several stingray species, including the Southern and Caribbean whiptail stingrays. It's common to see these graceful yet quick creatures gliding effortlessly through the shallow water’s edge, over the sandy sea bottom, and around coral reefs. Sting rays play a crucial role in the ecosystem by helping control the populations of mollusks and crustaceans, their primary food sources. 


Shuffle Yo’ Feet:

Despite their intimidating name, stingrays are skittish and not too aggressive, only using their venomous stinger in self-defense. Nevertheless, they don’t like being stepped on, and I have witnessed a handful of unsuspecting tourists being poked by one. If it happens, seek medical attention immediately, as an unattended wound can get infected and take a long time to heal. To avoid a regrettable misstep, shuffle or drag your feet when entering the water. This ensures that your footfalls won’t land on one but shoe them away, saving you a painful trip to the hospital or local clinic.


Biting Bugs

There is no shortage of biting pests in Belize. Sand flies, mosquitoes, noseeums, and doctor flies are present in most areas of the country. While sand fleas and noseeums are present year-round, mosquitoes and doctor flies (yellow flies) are more prevalent during the rainy season. Doctor flies are nasty little buggers, similar to a horse or deer fly in Canada and the US. I'm not sure why they are called doctor flies other than their bite, which can cause serious swelling and make you think you need to see a doctor. If anyone has insight into the origin of the name, I’d love to hear it. The bites also itch like mad, so have some anti-itch on hand. As annoying as all these little blood suckers can be, they play vital roles in Belizean ecology. 


Having these biters around is not much different from most expats’ home countries when you put it in perspective. For example, if you come from northern Ontario in Canada or Southern Texas, you will have no problem managing these nibbling ninjas. Interesting fact: sand fleas aren't insects, as the name suggests; they are very small crustaceans!


Mosquito coils are widely available, inexpensive, and great defense against noseeums. Many resort gift shops and local vendors offer repellents made of essential oils for those who prefer to avoid deet and other harsh chemical repellents.


Discover More Wildlife Wonders in Belize

That’s all for part two of our three-part series on Belizean wildlife. This country is a treasure trove of fascinating creatures, each contributing unique characteristics to the rich and diverse ecosystem. Stay tuned for part three, where we’ll continue to explore the unique wildlife that makes Belize such a captivating destination for expats. Don't miss out on more tips and insights to help you navigate and appreciate the natural beauty of Belize!


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