Comprising the island of Cuba as well as several minor archipelagoes, the Republic of Cuba is a sprawling nation located where the northern Caribbean Sea meets the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Its unique geographical position and tropical climate have allowed for exotic wildlife to thrive, but if you’re planning a trip, you might be wondering, are there snakes in Cuba?
Cuba is best known for its renowned cigars, sugar cane rum, 1950s cars, and Salsa dancing traditions, but amid all its modern history and time-warped culture, Cuba is also known for its incredible landscapes and varied ecosystems. Cuba is home to a number of dangerous animals, and among them is one of the largest snakes in Central America. However, you’ll find no venomous snakes on the island, making it one of the only countries in the Americas without them.
From the huge Cuban boa to the palm-sized island racer, there are still several species of snake in Cuba to look out for and our guide explores just a few. Let’s get into it.
Where better to start than with the Cuban boa, a supersized snake also known as the tree boa and by locals as Majá de Santa María? The Cuban boa is native to the island and some nearby archipelagos. It regularly exceeds lengths of five meters and has a relatively heavy build.
This type of boa is found in dry forest scrubs and is actually the biggest island snake in the world. It’s relatively insular and tends to dwell in holes and under rock piles on cultivated lands. Like other boas, it’s a constrictor hunter meaning it uses the brute force of its body to wrap itself around prey and suffocate its victims with every inhalation of breath. Once the boa has squeezed all the life out of its victim, it swallows it whole and head-first by unhinging its jaws.
The boa mainly hunts rats, lizards, birds, and bats but can feed on larger mammals like livestock, dogs, and cats. They’re ovoviviparous meaning their eggs develop inside the mother’s body covered by a membrane rather than a shell.
Sadly, Cuban boas are hunted and killed by humans, usually because they pose a threat to farmers’ chickens. However, they’re key to the island’s ecosystems since they are the main predator of the Cuban Hutia, a species of rodent, and the Cuban boa helps prevent infestations.
Cuban boats are pale gray or tan in base color with pale brown markings. They have a hefty girth of around 30 centimeters in diameter and can weigh up to 30 kg. Cuban boas can live for more than 25 years, and while they are not venomous, they have more than enough strength to kill humans by constriction. Their needle-like teeth would also leave a nasty wound if they were to bite. That said, they’re not inclined to attack humans and we pose more of a threat to them than the other way around.
Cuban Wood Snake
Officially known as Tropidophis, the wood snake is a common genus of dwarf boa that is endemic to the West Indies and South America. They grow to lengths of around 80 to 100 cm but they’re characteristically slim.
Cuban wood snakes are found in forests all over the island as well as on some other nearby islands like Cayos de San Felipe, Isla de la Juventud, and Navassa. They feed on a diet of lizards and amphibians but sometimes small rodents. They’re non-venomous and pose little to no threat to humans.
They’re usually light brown in color with pale markings but they can have an orange tinge. They’re mainly arboreal, meaning they live in trees rather than on the ground. Wood snakes are rather unassuming, but they could still give you a fright if you came upon one in the branches of your backyard.
Cuban Blind Snake
Found mainly in northeastern Cuba, Typhlopidae as they’re officially known is a family of blind snakes whose rostral scale, or snout tip, overhangs their mouth to create a shovel-like burrowing structure. They’re usually silvery gray, purple, or dark grey-black with smooth and shiny scales and cylindrical bodies. Blind snakes reach lengths of just 11 to 16 cm and are closer to worms in appearance and behavior than snakes.
Cuban blind snakes have eyes but they’re reduced and opaque, located under their head scales, resulting in very limited visual capabilities. In fact, blind snakes are very limited in their ability to defend themselves altogether since they’re non-venomous and can’t bite.
They’re able to produce a pungent odor from their anal glands as well as vomit up their last meal to warn off predators, but this is about as far as their defensive capabilities go. Blind snakes are virtually harmless to humans.
Varieties of blind snakes are found on every continent, bar Antarctica, but they prefer tropical climates. They’re the smallest known snake species in the world and bear a closer resemblance to worms than they do serpents.
Blind snakes are excellent burrowers and you’ll rarely see them above ground, although they have been known to slither through loose soil, leaf litter, sawdust piles, and rotting logs. They have little use for their eyes since they spend most of their time burrowing below ground but if they can sense a human presence or the presence of a predator, they’ll tend to hurry away.
Officially known as the Arrhyton, island racers are a genus of New World snakes found in Cuba. They’re small and fast but non-venomous and nonaggressive. Island racers, or racerlets as they’re also known, are distributed throughout the neotropics but you’ll mostly find them in the Cuban cactus shrub where they can shelter from the scorching sun.
Racerlets are terrestrial and spend the day slithering through shrubland but they can dwell close to human settlements. They might give you a fright but they pose no threat to humans, like most of Cuba’s snakes, and only feed on small insects.
Their jaws are too small to bite into human flesh and they’d have no inclination to do so anyway, preferring to avoid humans and shy away from danger. They’re dark and shiny in color and usually have a series of brown lines down their backs and sides.
Racer snakes are much bigger in other areas of the world, like the Galapagos Islands where the racer snake is the largest serpent in the country. This genus is mildly venomous, but Cuba’s racerlets carry no venom. There are around five different species of racerlet that inhabit the island, none of which pose any threat to humans.
Known scientifically as Nerodia, water snakes in Cuba are another nonvenomous species that spend a lot of their lives in rivers, estuaries, and even the sea but are also known to dwell and nest on land.
There are around nine species of water snakes that are native to the Americas, and Cuba is home to a few of them. Water snakes in Cuba are typically dark brown and can reach up to 1.5 meters long when fully grown, which could certainly give you a fright while swimming, but they’re unlikely to be aggressive. Adults also have dark bands which can get them mistaken for North American copperheads or cottonmouths, but these species are not present in Cuba’s ecosystems.
Although water snakes are nonvenomous, they may flatten their bodies and bite when agitated. If you’re bitten by a snake in Cuba, despite it being very rare, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention. There are no know species of venomous snake that live on the island, but any tropical wound should be cleaned properly to prevent infection. That said, most of the snakes in Cuba don’t have big enough mouths to cause any real damage.
Are there poisonous snakes in Cuba?
Cuba is home to a number of species of snakes, although it is generally considered one of the few places in the Americas that is free of venomous snakes, along with Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Haiti. The Cuban boa is still a deadly constrictor snake that can grow to huge sizes and overthrow its prey, as well as humans, with its strength. The Cuban boa can also unhinge its jaws and swallow large livestock whole. However, since it’s so feared, they’re usually killed by farmers and locals before they can do any damage, hence their populations are in decline.
Are there crocodiles in Cuba?
There are some wild populations of American crocodiles in Cuba but they can only be found in the Zapata Swamp in the southwest as well as the Lanier Swamp on Isla de Juventud. Their historical range used to include the Cayman and Bahaman islands too but populations have been in decline for the last few decades. Cuban crocodiles favor freshwater marshes and swamps and rarely swim in saltwater, so you shouldn’t have to worry about them when swimming in the sea.
Are there sharks in Cuba’s waters?
Cuba’s sea waters might not be frequented by crocodiles, but they are home to more than 50 species of shark including some dangerous predators that you might want to look out for. These include whale sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, great hammerheads, blacktip sharks, silky sharks, nurse sharks, shortfin mako sharks, and smalltooth sawfishes. Fortunately, most of these species are nonaggressive and shark attacks are rare in Cuba. There have been 16 fatal incidents recorded but none since 1957. Since then, there have been five non-fatal shark attacks, with the most recent occurring in 2009.