For many years, I heard the old urban legend repeated as fact by many Cozumeleños that the island of Cozumel was sitting on a champagne-glass (“copa”) shaped pedestal, hidden under the sea. It always amazed me how many people believed and retold this story as the gospel truth. Once, there was a near riot when panicked islanders became irrationally concerned with some blasting that a construction company was doing. The folks in the neighborhood were whipped up into a wild-eyed frenzy over fears of what would happen if the tremors from this blasting would fracture the “stem” that was supposedly supporting the island. They were all worried that the island would tip over and fall beneath the waves!
The crocodilians indigenous to Cozumel are the American Crocodile, or Crocodylus acutus and Morelet’s Crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii. The adult C. acutus is light gray in color and have a pointed snout, much narrower than an alligator. The adult C. moreletii is a dark gray-brown and has a much broader snout; however, they are crossbreeding with C. acutus, so now there is a range of snout widths on the island. Both are less aggressive than the Nile and Australian crocs.
The kinkajou (Potos flavus), also known as the honey bear (a name it shares with the sun bear), is a rainforest mammal of the family Procyonidae related to olingos, coatis, raccoons, and the ringtail and cacomistle. It is the only member of the genus Potos. Kinkajous may be mistaken for ferrets or monkeys, but are not closely related. Native to Central America and South America, this arboreal mammal is not an endangered species, though it is seldom seen by people because of its strict nocturnal habits. However, they are hunted for the pet trade, for their fur (to make wallets and horse saddles) and for their meat. The species has been included in Appendix III of CITES by Honduras, which means that exports from Honduras require an export permit and exports from other countries require a certificate of origin or re-export. They may live up to 40 years in captivity.
Cozumel is the home to a strange lizard, the Huico, also know as the Cozumel Race Runner, or if you are of a scientific state of mind, the Aspidoscelis cozumelae. The small lizard is found in the beach dune areas and alongside roads, where it hunts for insects in a fairly tight home range, usually just a few tens of meters in circumference.
The hollow hairs (setae) of the Hylesia alinda moths found in Cozumel can cause cutaneous lepidopterism, or a contact dermatitis (a pruritic, urticarial eruption) called “Caripito Itch,” after Caripito, Venezuela where it was first recorded. These tiny hairs carry a toxic mix of histamines and proteases within their hollow shaft and if they come in contact with bare skin they can envenomate. Touching the moth is not needed to be affected; the hairs can float free and come in contact with a person who is simply walking by as the hairs drift on the breeze. H. alinda moths are nocturnal and have a breeding cycle of 3 months, so they appear in clusters around each breeding period. The large moths have up to a 4-inch wingspan and often congregate around porch lights at night, which is where people most often come into contact with them.
Caripito Itch can last anywhere from 7 to 14 days. The condition is highly resistant to all therapeutic treatment. An individualized approach using various drugs seems to work best. Some drugs used in the treatment of Caripito Itch are:
Chlorpheniramine maleate: Chlor-Trimeton®.
Dexamethasone: Decadron®, Hexadrol®.
Prednisone: Deltasone®, Orasone®.
Hydrocortisone: Solu-Cortef®, A-Hydrocort®.
Metil-Prednisolone sodium succinate: Solu-Medrol®.
Pramoxine Hydrocloride: Zocort®.Mupirocin: Bactroban® ointment.
Calamine: Calamine Plain®.
Tetracaine: Altacaine®. Lidocaine 2%: Dilocaine®, Lidoject-2®.
Triamcinolone acetonide: Kenacort®. Gabapentin: Neurontin®
This myth maintains that the lion fish which have invaded our Caribbean waters originated from six captive examples, whose aquarium at a restaurant in Biscayne Bay broke and the six fish escaped when Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992. As with most myths, there is a smidgeon of truth to this statement, but it does not tell the whole story.
The white-nosed coati (Nasua narica) is a species of coati and a member of the family Procyonidae, which also includes other coatis, raccoons, olingos, and kinkajous. Local names include Pizote, Coatimundi, and Tejón. It averages about 9-15 pounds in weight, but males are much larger than females, and small females weigh as little as 6 pounds and large males as much as 30 pounds. On average, their total length is about 45 inches, about half of that being the tail length.
Over 35 years ago, when I wrote my first travel guide to Cozumel, I included the recommendation that before you go to the east coast of the island, first go by a tlapalería and buy a small bottle of tiner (paint thinner) so you could clean the tar off of your feet after walking on the beach. Back then, we had very little trash on the east coast beaches, but loads of tar and crude oil residue. Today, the tar has disappeared, along with most tlapalerías. However, the amount of garbage one finds today on the east coast beaches of Cozumel is truly astounding.
Can you imagine a Cozumel with no Coconut palms? I’m not referring to what might happen if the Red Palm Mite has its way. This voracious pest (Raoiella indica, also known as Raoiella eugenia) originated in the area around India, Iran, Arabia, and Egypt then jumped the ocean and landed on Cozumel’s shores, where it is now decimating the coconut palms as well as other species of plants.