Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Mammals of Roatan Wild and Not So Wild

Island Fauna Strikes a Delicate Balance between the Original and Invasive Species

Roatan as we experience it today is much different than it was 500 years ago when the first Europeans set foot on the Bay Islands archipelago. Many trees have been imported, land cleared and the animals, especially mammals, living on the island are not the same as they were even just two centuries ago.
Originally the island had only three native land mammals and four flying mammals.
Most land mammals living on the island today have been introduced to Roatan by Spanish or Cayman Islander settlers. Several mammals like wild hogs and manatees have disappeared from the island.
Currently, there are an estimated 22 land and sea mammal species on Roatan or in waters around the island.



Ruatan Island agouti is the only endemic to Roatan mammal.

This distinctive, native Roatan mammal is known by several names: island rabbit, agouti and guatuza. The augutis are special and the Ruatan Island agouti (Dasyprocta Ruatanica) is the only mammal endemic to Roatan. At 17 inches in length when fully grown the Ruatan Island agouti is similar in color but much smaller than its cousin – the Central American agouti.

The animal is shiny brown and orange with a white spot on its chin and a yellowish patch on its belly. Ruatan Island agouti species bare a few dark hairs as opposed to their mainland cousins.
The agoutis are shy and won’t let humans approach them. They are active mostly in the daytime. The animals thrive on patches of brush across the island, foraging on almonds, coconuts, hibiscus, and Pentaclethra pods.
Hunting the Ruatan Island agouti has been a right of passage for the island youth for 200 years. The island rabbit is recognized as a culinary delicacy for its sweet meat. “You could stew it, you could bake it, and how you wanted to do it,” says Mr. Truman Jones, from Brick Bay. “Their meat is very good.” While human hunting has kept the agouti population down, an even bigger threat is the loss of habitat from developments and houses that are multiplying all over the island. Also, the young ones are attacked by opossums.

Mouse Opossum

The smallest mammal on the island grows no larger than eight ounces in weight. The Linnaeus’s mouse opossum (Marmosa Murina) is also known as the common or murine mouse opossum. Like his bigger cousin, the mouse opossum will play dead as a form of defense behavior.

This tiny mammal is a nocturnal creature that shelters in a mesh of twigs on branches, inside cavities of trees or even old birds’ nests. On Roatan the Cohune Palms are particularly suitable habitat for the mouse opossum. “They go into the coconut tree and eat the cap out,” says Mr. Truman. “In the summer, that little animal, he wants water.”

The mouse opossum feeds on fruits, but also on insects, spiders, lizards, bird’s eggs and small chicks. It reproduces quickly after a 13-day gestation giving life to as many as 10 young.

It has prominent, popping eyes framed by black colored fur reminiscent of a mask. Its large, longer than the body itself, rat-like tail is used to carry leaves to its place of nesting. While it is only four to six inches long, its tail is five to eight inches long.


White-tailed deer (Odocoileus Virginianus) have been on Roatan since the days of Paya Indians. In 1930s and 1940s deer could be found all over Roatan and were especially plentiful in West End and on the East End. Usually, 60 to 80 pounds, was a typical buck, but there were some larger specimens, as big as 120 pounds.

The white tailed deer has many sub species, but the one spread on Roatan most likely belongs to the smaller variety known as nemoralis, or Nicaraguan white-tailed deer. “My dad shot them by the hundreds,” says Mr. Truman Jones. His father would shoot with a 30-30 rifle from 40 meters aiming almost always for the buck. The deer would be a prized source of meat and islanders would use deer skin to make deer slippers and belts.

Island hunters had worked out a few hunting techniques to score the deer. By burning the grass, some hunters would attract the deer that would come to feed on the newly sprouted grass a few weeks later. Some hunters would take up a shooting position in the trees and waited for the deer to show.

As the deer became scarce the Roatan deer hunters would change their technique. They would hunt at night using carbon lights that were used by miners. While the deer would not always be visible, their eyes would light up. “A cow’s eyes stay more dull, but the deer eyes are sharp.”

The island deer love to graze on Cissampelos Pareira leaves. “The deer eats with the moon and the tide,” explains Mr. Truman. “When the tide is coming up the deer would be sleeping in all of them trees.” His father would hunt the deer two times in the day: as the daylight was breaking and, in the evening, late.

When a family of deer is spotted it is usually a buck with one or two females. Larger herds have also been seen on the island. A heard of 20 deer was once spotted by Mr. Truman’s father near Brick Bay point.

While scarce, the deer survives on Roatan in the wild. The deer sometime venture on Mr. Truman’s property in Brick Bay and there are still some wild deer in West Bay. Hondurans have looked at their deer with much respect and admiration. In 1993 the white-tailed deer was declared with executive decree 36-93 as the national mammal of Honduras.


Small dogs accompanied Paya Indians on their journey from the mainland to Roatan.

Paya Indians brought dogs (Canis Familiaris) to Roatan when they crossed to the Bay Islands archipelago from the mainland, about 1000 AD. Mayas traded with Payas and Mayas are known to have used domesticated dogs for hunting, as food and in religious ceremonies.

Island dogs hail their origin from dozens of breeds that were brought to the islands over the last 200 years. Some deer hunters brought Rhodesian Ridgebacks to the island. Other islanders brought Rottweilers and pitbulls to protect their households.
Dogs have been used on Roatan to guard property and serve as companions. Island men had used dogs for hunting wild animals such as deer, wild hog and guatuza. While most of the big game hunting has stopped, dogs are still used by islanders to spot and fetch green iguanas. These are mostly mutts with some hound blood running in their veins. “We always had dogs. We call them ‘Roatan hound dogs,” said Mr. Truman.

Jamaican Fruit Bat

Roatan is home to four species of flying mammals. One of these bat species is widely spread over the island pollinator – the Jamaican fruit bat (Artibeus Jamaicensis).This bat is native to Mexico, Central America and Caribbean.

They are most active at midnight. The females give birth twice a year after four to seven months’ gestation. One baby is typically born each time. The baby bats are weaned at around 15 days and gain permanent set of teeth at 40 days. By around 50 days the young bats can fly.

Jamaican fruit bats roosting underneath a wood ceiling.

Pallas’s long-tongued

Roatan’s Pallas’s long-tongued bat (Glossophaga Soricina) has the fastest recorded metabolism of any mammal, comparable to that of a hummingbird. It processes half of its stored fat over the course of the day. Then replenishes its supplies by consuming nectar, pollen, flowers, fruits and insects.

Velvety Free-Tailed

Also known as Pallas’s mastiff bat (Molossus Molossus), this bat species forges across Roatan’s open areas and above tree canopies. It is most commonly seen at dusk, where it will fly solo hunting moths, beetles and flying ants. It is four inches long and has a wingspan of 13 inches.

Greater sac-winged

The greater sac-winged bat (Saccopteryx Bilineata) is common to rain forests of Central America and makes Roatan its home as well. It roosts under large trees and under buildings. The sac-winged bat hunts flies, moths and beetles using echolocation. The males store urine in its wing sacks and shake it to mark the territory belonging to its harem.



The common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops Truncatus) is a frequent visitor to waters of the Bay Islands. “There are plenty of them here,” said Mr. Truman. “At any [reef] channel boat they would be running, [dolphins would be] chasing in front of her.”

There is also a permanent bottlenose dolphin population at Anthony’s Key Resort off Sandy Bay’s Bailey’s Key. AKR has been keeping and showing dolphins since 1989. These trained dolphins perform acrobatics and exhibit their skills to tourists jumping as high as 20 feet into the air.

The common bottlenose dolphin can live for over 40 years, and females of the species live even longer – around 60 years. The bottlenose dolphin’s weight range form from 330 to 1,400 pounds and the largest specimens can reach 13 feet in length.

These highly intelligent animals don’t only perform for tourists. They have been known to exhibit an extraordinary rescue behavior to humans in need. Common bottlenose dolphin can also cooperate with humans in driving fish into fishermen’s nets. Both US and Russian military train bottlenose dolphins for military tasks such as locating mines and detecting enemy divers.


Orca (Orcinus Orca) is an apex predator sometimes found in waters around Roatan. This whale has a distinctive black and white body so large that some islanders have confused it with a submarine at a first glance. The old islanders call orcas “Black fish.” Edison Brown from French Harbour recalls seeing one, single orca in 1980s on a passage between Barbarat and Bonacca. A fellow ship crew member mistook the giant sea mammal for a submarine.

Orcas have a diverse diet and in waters around Bay Islands they pray on fish and likely on bottlenose dolphins. “It looked like a dory turned bottom up,” says Mr. Truman Jones remembering seeing an orca in early 2000s.

Orcas have been spotted off Roatan as recently as July 2022. A pod of four Orcas were spotted. The four orcas were swimming underneath the dive boat and surfacing within half a mile from the island.


West Indian manatees, lived on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, it is one of three types of manatees found around the globe. The West Indian manatee has a low metabolic rate and cannot survive in cold water. The mammal moves easily between fresh and saltwater.

These gentle underwater giants can swim at speeds of up to 20 miles an hour for short distances. They are very smart animals capable of task learning just as easily as dolphins, or orcas. The manatees give birth to one calf once every two years. The young gill takes a year to a year-and-a-half before it is weaned.

The manatees are herbivores feeding on both freshwater and saltwater plants. Sea grass and turtle grass. They graze seven hours a day and they consume as much as 120 pounds of nutrients or 15% of their weight a day. They scoop the plants they find with their flippers and then use their lips to move them into their mouth.

Guanaja and Utila are known to have had a bigger population of manatees. “They would get washed out in the rain from Ulua river by Aguan and brought by current to Bonacca,” said Mr. Truman. “The Bonacca guys would kill them and sell the meat. The manatee meat is a delicacy, and one manatee could provide 1,000 pounds of nourishment. The meat has three different colors: very red, light red and almost a color of my skin,” says Mr. Truman. “The old people used to say it had pork, cow and fish.”

In Jonesville, manatees could still be seen in the 1940s. Boats travelling at night had to take care as not to flip over if they ware to hit the large mammal feeding. While the Manatees have not been seen in Roatan waters for the last 80 years, the manatees are migrating creatures and they have recently been seen in waters around Utila. Utopia’s Utopia Village underwater camera has caught glimpses of a manatee a couple years back.

Manatees feed on sea grass that grows at shallow depths all around Roatan. The two main seagrass pastures off Roatan are the Tortoise Grass (Thalassia Testudinum) and Manatee Pastures (Syringodium Filiforme). The Indian Manatee can be found in lagoons and near mangroves. With sandy and muddy bottoms Roatan has the perfect environment for manatees and likely they will one day return to the island.


Wild Boar

The wild boar (Sus Scrofa), also known as the wild swine comes from Euroasia and North Africa. It was introduced to the Americas by Europeans. “In 1836-1840 my people came to Jonesville, and they came through the mangroves,” says Mr. Truman. “There was so much wild hog out there they had to keep fire in the night to keep them away so they could rest.”

Wild hogs are aggressive, and a powerful rifle had to be used to take one down. His father, Archie Jones, used 30/30 rifle and later a 12 gage shotgun to hunt the wild swine. “He could put a 20 penny nail in this tree,” says Mr. Truman pointing to an enormous mango tree on his property in Brick Bay.

Mr. Truman remembers that there were still a few wild boars around in Port Royal when he was a small boy in 1950s. Eventually they were finally hunted down completely. “The farmers had to kill them because they were destroying the fields,” says Mr. Truman.


The cat (Felis Catus) had come with the settlers to Roatan from the Cayman Islands. Feral, but castrated Cats can be found in several places on the island. At Parrot Tree Plantation they are taken care of by homeowners who bring daily food and water to the animals.


Spanish horses (E. caballus) were first introduced to the Caribbean islands in 1493. On the continent, in Mexico, the first horses were brought in 1519 by Hernán Cortés. The man who introduced horses to Honduras was Cristobal de Olid who came to this part of Central America in 1523.

Olid came with around 400 soldiers and colonists to establish a proper colony. He landed on the coast and founded Honduras’ first settlement of Tela, then called Triunfo de la Cruz.

A year later Hernán Cortés came to Honduras to challenge Olid’s ambitions of cessation in Honduras. When Cortés began unloading his horses several horses drowned and thus the spot was given the name of Puerto Caballos later renamed Puerto Cortés.

The Cayman Island settlers to Roatan needed horses capable of work in a tropical climate. By accounts of old islanders, the first horses were shipped to Roatan from the Honduran mainland in 1830 or 1840s.


Donkeys (Equus Africanus Asinus) came to the New World with Christopher Columbus in 1495. The Spanish used donkeys to breed with horses to produce a bigger animal- the mule. Roatan donkeys trace its roots to Cayman Islanders who brought some from the Honduran Mainland.


Mules were and still are praised for their strength and hard work on the Honduran mainland.

The Mules presence in the American mainland date back to 1521. Mules, equine hybrid between a donkey and a horse, were bred for work with males preferred for pack animals and the females preferred for riding. In Honduras the silver mining industry and banana companies used mules extensively.

Probably some of the first mules arriving on Roatan got here in late XIX century. SS Snyg was a cargo boat that carried mules from Cuba to Punta Castilla. It crashed and sunk in a storm on a reef off Crawfish Rock in August of 1899. “She was coming from Cuba to Castilla. These mules had to jump and come onshore,” says Mr. Truman about a steamship that sunk off Crawfish Rock.

The mules were saved and most of them were transported on other, smaller boats to Punta Castilla. However, a few mules stayed behind on Roatan and worked on island farms.

Between 1940 and 1960 a fungus pathogen (Fusarium Oxysporum f. sp. Cubense) commonly called Panama disease devastated the Gros Michel banana plantations on the Honduran coast. Initially Roatan and Utila were isolated by distance and free of the Panama disease. Some blamed a load of mules transported from the coast to the island for bringing the disease from the Honduran coast. “The locals said that the company [Standard Fruit] did it intentionally to kill the bananas over here,” said Mr. Truman. Utila and Roatan were the places where the banana industry began in Honduras.


Cattle (Bos Taurus) were imported from the Honduran mainland and provided meat, and sometimes milk for communities throughout Roatan. “I used to milk ten cows every morning. My pay was – one gallon of milk for 50 cents.”

Over time people would bring different cattle breeds to the island. Brahman breed, Texas longhorn, etc. Sidney Griffith, known as Uncle Sid, brought in white faced Hereford cows from Tampa to the island in 1955. “He brought two heifers and a bull,” says Mr. Truman.

The mix of different breeds created a Roatan breed that is recognized locally as “an island cow.” “The meat today is as good as it was originally from the island cow,” says Mr. Truman.


A man brings feed to swine housed in pens constructed over the water in Punta Gorda.

Most likely the domesticated pig (Sus Domesticus), or hog was brought to the island by Cayman Island settlers in early 1800s. The pig is considered a subspecies of Sus Scrotfa, the Eurasian boar. The adult pig can weigh from 100 to 800 Lbs. depending on breeding and feeding techniques used.

People would keep pig pens over the French Harbour canal. Some Punta Gorda people would build hog pens right over the salt water. Kitchen scraps and hog coconuts were used as feed for the pigs. “It was not good to export, it was not good to sell,” says about the hog coconut Mr. Truman. The hog coconut was perfect source of feed for the pigs.


Domestic goat (Capra Hircus) was brought to North America from Europe and on Roatan it most likely was brought from the Honduras mainland. Many Jamaican workers who came to work on banana plantations in early XX century Honduras raised goats. “Anyone from Jamaica loves goat meat,” explains Mr. Truman.

A few Jamaicans came to Roatan via banana companies on the Honduran mainland. “My daddy had plenty of goats,” remembers Edison Brown, whose ancestors came from Jamaica and settled in French Harbour. “We used to drink goat milk.” The goats would not only eat just about anything, but they are also kept for their milk, meat and skins.


Roatan is home to several breeds of sheep (Ovis Aries). One of the more popular breeds here is Cubano Rojo also known as Pelibuey sheep. The breed is the larger sheep breed sometimes found grazing on farms throughout Roatan. Pelibüey are raised for meat,

Because it sports a coat of hair, not wool. It shares its roots to West African Dwarf sheep and Barbados Black Belly and Roja Africana of Venezuela. Cubano Rojo easily adapts to tropical environments.



A rat guard installed on a ship’s lines protecting rats from embarking the vessel.

Americas were rat free before the arrival of the explorer era. The black rat or ship rat (Rattus Rattus) came to the continent 500 years ago as a stowaway and is considered one of world’s worse invasive species. His cousin, the brown rat (Rattus Norvegicus) has also conquered the Americas.

Sailors used to place plywood or metal rat guards on the lines attaching boats to the posts. The rats would run up the line towards the boat but had to turn around when they reached that barrier. Rats are a nuisance pest on the island, but their impact has been limited as the agriculture sector remained on small scale.


While pre Columbian North America had over 70 native species of rodents, that number did not include the common house mouse (Mus Musculus). The house mouse must have arrived on Roatan with the first explorers. The mouse came aboard ships coming from Europe and found its way to all but the smallest and least inhabited islands in the Caribbean.

While there are islands in the Bay Islands archipelago that are probably mouse free, they are not many. Morat is the one candidate of being an island free of the Mus Musculus.


The recent arrival to Roatan is Tepezcuintle. While Tepezcuintle is the common name for this mammal in Honduras, this lowland paca (Cuniculus Paca) goes by many names. Can be found from Mexico to Argentina and has made its way to Cuba. “The Spanish population brought them here in the last 30-40 years,” says Mr. Truman. The Tepezcuintle can be spotted on the east of the island near Camp Bay and Diamond Rock as far west as Brick Bay.

Tepezcuintles feed on low growing and fallen fruits and are known for their tasty meat. They also feed on leaves, flowers, mushrooms and insects. Unlike agoutis they can use fat to store energy. They do compete with native agoutis for the same resources.


Another invasive species now commonly found all over Roatan is the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus Novemcinctus). Also known as common long-nosed armadillo, it is the most commonly found armadillo.

These armadillos are nocturnal and mostly solitary. They love foraging and feeding on ants, termites and small bugs. They use their scent glands located on their feet, nose and eyelids to mark their territory. A single armadillo maintains as many as a dozen 25 foot deep borrows. They can be occasionally seen sniffing air for signs of danger.


The black-eared opossum, or common opossum (Didelphis Marsupialis) is yet another foreign arrival on the island. This marsupial is able to feed on a variety of diets: from insects, earthworms, snakes, birds, small mammals, to fruits, vegetables and even carrion. It is an opportunistic animal and because of its versatility and lack of natural predators on Roatan it has made the opossum very destructive. It can digest almost anything that is eatable, thus it has put itself at a conflict with agoutis, black iguanas and even bird species.