The local fauna of Puerto Vallarta
The Puerto Vallarta area climate is often referred to as a rain forest but it is officially a tropical deciduous forest. The surrounding Sierra Madre Mountains rise to an average elevation of 7,500 feet, offering great day trips for cooling off during the hot summer months. In the areas where the old growth trees have not been harvested for timber, the canopy averages around 50-60 feet above the jungle floor with the tallest trees reaching 100 feet into the air.
In the higher elevations the climate turns into a tropical pine-oak forest, with at least 26 species of pine, fir and juniper and over 100 species of oak. Just as back in the States/Canada these trees leaves will turn red and gold in the fall, but unlike back home, some leaves drop while others bloom, keeping the surrounding mountains of Puerto Vallarta in bloom all year long.
Sea Creatures of Puerto Vallarta
The most common fish caught in Banderas Bay is the meal sized Red Snapper (huachinango), the next most popular is the Dorado (also called by it’s Hawaiian name mahi mahi) which is a green and gold fish that can grow to about 30lbs. There are also plenty of Yellow Fin Tuna (ahi) in the bay; they are fished for sport and food, and can grow to 100 to 200 pounds.
Banderas Bay also has lobster and octopus as well as large prawns and blue shrimp, crabs, squid, oysters, mussel and clams, all of which often make their way to the restaurants in Puerto Vallarta.
Big game bill-fish abound around the bay. Striped Marlin are found from July through November, Black Marlin from August to November, and Blue Marlin from March to April. The Pacific sailfish stay year around.
One of the most visually spectacular species of the bay are the giant manta rays, often seen by scuba divers and sometimes in the shallow surf off the beach at Bucerías. These huge creatures average 22 feet wide, and although they are related to sharks, they are harmless and eat only plankton, small fish, and crustaceans. They do not have teeth or poisonous spines like other smaller rays.
For reasons not fully understood, sharks are rarely seen in Banderas Bay. Humpback whales spend late October through early March in the Bay (for more information, see Whale Watching in our Aquatic Adventures section)
Full-time residents of the Pacific, bottlenose dolphins are often seen in the Bay – in fact there are some well known pods in some areas of the Bay. Pantropical dolphins can also be spotted, although not as often. These dolphins travel in huge pods with several hundred companions! Jacqui’s Been There Tip: If you have room, pack a pair of binoculars! Relaxing on the beach and panning around the surf makes for a very nice morning.
Birds of Puerto Vallarta
The areas north and east of Puerto Vallarta have an international reputation as a great place for bird watching. There are 173 full time species and 180 species which migrate to Vallarta during the winter. Many of them are rare, such as the endangered Military Macaw (large and very colorful), and the Black-Throated Magpie Jay which can only be found in this region. Other exotic birds in the area are Green Jays, Pygmy Owls, Snail Kites, Elegant Trogons, Crested Guans, Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers, Collard Forest Falcons, Tropical Kingbirds, Streak-Backed Orioles, Rufous-Bellied Chachalacas, and many species of parrots as well as 15 species of hummingbirds. All can be found in the area but enthusiasts will definitely want to spend some time in San Blas for the best birdwatching.
Reptiles of Puerto Vallarta
One of the reptiles you will most likely come across in the city is the Green Iguana. They are large lizard like plant eaters that can grow lengths of 4’-6’ and spend most of their time in the canopy. They can dive or fall to the ground from 50’ without being hurt. At one time they were hunted for their meat, but now they are on the endangered list in Mexico. A walk along the River Caule will almost certainly give you a good chance at witnessing them first hand. Jacqui’s Been There Tip: If you’re standing under trees along the river, make sure there are no iguanas above you! You may get “rained on”.
A smaller and very prevalent reptile is the gecko, which can be found even in the most exclusive resorts climbing the walls. These little buggers are believed to bring good luck and one alone can keep an entire room free of mosquitoes. They attract bugs with an occasional quick chirping sound.
The area holds 82 species of snakes, 15 of which are venomous; however, most have been eradicated from populated areas. There is a very slight possibility of encountering a coral snake in a garden area, and although they are shy and reclusive, their bite can be fatal. When traveling in wild forest areas you should keep in mind that poisonous snakes are not out to attack humans. They swallow their prey whole and they are well aware that humans are far too big to feast on. Snakes tend only strike humans in self defense. If you come across a snake, don’t try to scare it off with a stick or stones, just keep a safe distance and retreat calmly. If you do get bitten, go to the hospital immediately.
The Sea Turtles of Puerto Vallarta
There are only seven surviving sea turtle species, and of those, five or six use Puerto Vallarta beaches each year. The most common turtle around PV is the olive ridley sea turtle (golfina) which has a heart shaped shell and reaches about 2.5 feet in length and up to 110 lbs (small for a sea turtle).
The ridleys nest in Banderas Bay in the summer and fall months (June-December). When they hatch on the beach, the baby ridleys weigh less than an ounce, but they and their 100+ siblings immediately make the risky pilgrimage to the sea.
In 1993 a group of ex-pat conservationists started the Western Ecological Society. The group organizes noncommercial ecological tours led by experienced biologists who perform beach patrols and egg rescues in order to protect the turtles. [website]
The Crocodiles of Puerto Vallarta
One of the oldest surviving vertebrate species on earth, cocodrilos are more closely related to birds and dinosaurs than to alligators (which are not found in western Mexico). Compared to alligators, crocodiles are larger, more grey than green, with narrower, more pointed heads and long sharp teeth that are visible even when their mouths are shut. Their backs are covered with armor like plates, they live in freshwater, and they can submerge for up to an hour at a time. They can get to be 20’ in length but the largest found in the PV area is a mere 13 feet. Cocodrilos eat amphibians, birds, fish and mammals. The best chance to see one is at the San Blas Cocodrilario (a crocodile preserve).
The Mammals of Puerto Vallarta
Most mammals in the area can be found in the Sierra Madres Mountains overlooking PV. They include raccoons, skunks, badgers, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, coyotes, javelinas and Armadillos and white tailed deer. There are also some cats, including the Jaguar and Pumas.
The Insects of Puerto Vallarta
PV is fairly mosquito free during the dry winter months but they are more common during the rainy summer season. Mosquitoes don’t like salt water, so the beach is always free of them; however, mosquitoes are a problem all year long in the jungle. If you go for a Canopy tour don’t forget some repellent.
Outside of the city proper, tarantulas and scorpions can be found. Tarantulas are not deadly and the bite is on par with a bee sting, and they will not bite people unless they feel extremely threatened. If you go on a road trip it’s almost guaranteed you will see them crossing the road in front of you. Scorpions can be fatal but rarely are, and are often no more deadly than a bee. However if you do get stung you’ll want to see a doctor immediately.