"The trumpet shall sound,
and the dead shall be raised:
be raised incorruptible!
And we shall be changed!
For the corruptible
must put on incorruption.
And the mortal
must put on immortality.
The trumpet shall sound.
And we shall be changed!
And HE shall reign for ever and ever!"
Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759): Messiah
feel nostalgic for those times
President, Center for the Study of the Environment
Father Sanchez's Web Site
of West Indian Natural History
(Chaplain) Alejandro J. Sánchez Muñoz
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
I was born in 1966 in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, and was raised, for the most part, in the capital city of San Juan Bautista.
From primary to high school, I studied in Colegio San Antonio, of the Catholic religious order of the Capuchin Franciscan Friars Minor, in San Juan itself.
preference in music goes mainly around rock and roll, with
some of my favorite bands and singers being Simple Minds,
Winger, Boston, Roxette, Savage Garden, GTR, Men at Work,
Saga, Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Phil Collins, REO Speedwagon, Def
Leppard, Meatloaf, and U2. (Yes, I'm stuck in the '80's...
have not evolved from there). I also like to listen to the
highest expression of Puerto Rican music, the "danza", some
classical composers, as well as the music of Enya.
My absolutely favorite literary work (after the Bible) is the epic masterpiece of the XX century, and perhaps of all times: John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings". Other readings that I like include that great allegory of Christianity, "The Chronicles of Narnia", by the great Anglican scholar Clive Staples Lewis. I think the eclectic Gilbert Keith Chesterton is one of the greatest Catholic authors of modern times. And I admire the most sublime novel in the Spanish language: "El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha", by Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.
Some of my preferred films include
"A Man for all Seasons", "Braveheart", "The Ten
Commandments", "Ben-Hur", "The Passion of the Christ" and,
of course, "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit"
trilogies. And I also love those astonishing nature
documentaries presented and narrated by Sir David Frederick
Attenborough. I also must admit that the "Transformers"
movie took me back to my teenage years.
Since my earliest childhood I had a deep interest in animals and, to a lesser extent, in plants. Over the years that I have lived in and out of Puerto Rico, my pets have included caimans, tarantulas, scorpions, hermit crabs, fiddler crabs, wasps, cockroaches, water bugs, snails, octopi, shrimp, earthworms, giant millipedes, giant centipedes, screech owls, parrots, finches, fish, giant toads, axolotls, newts, clawed frogs, boa constrictors, blind snakes, racers, whiptails, galliwasps, sliders, dwarf geckoes, ball pythons, twig anoles, crested anoles, giant anoles... and probably some others that I fail to remember as I write this. I also once had a collection of "carnivorous" plants, namely Venus fly-traps, and a couple of "ant farms" that came to a very sad end the day I accidentally left them out in the sun. When I was in college, I once tried to keep a small group of Jamaican fruit bats in my room, but my grandparents would have none of it. I don't blame them. They were messy eaters, and the mess after they ate was even worse.
bats, cats are about the only mammals that truly appeal to
me and I have one: Zoruma.
Brusi Cay. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.
Some time ago, I developed an interest in the amphibians and reptiles of the Caribbean Basin, and particularly in those of the Puerto Rican insular bank. It is at that stage that I find myself, now.
My fascination with reptiles began when I was a boy, with an incident that would have been insignificant to an adult, but which left an indelible mark in my then seven year-old mind.
As I was walking one
day through a forest owned by my grandfather, near the town
of Maricao in western Puerto Rico, I beheld a little,
emerald-green dragon perched on a tree stump. It stared at
me with pupils set between yellow eyelids, and had a crest
on its tail. Never before, and never since, have I had such
a haunting encounter in the midst of a rain forest (maybe
only fellow herpers will understand my feelings). It was
like being taken into another world by a vision of beauty,
an almost physical dislocation between me and space-time. It
was a vision harking to the Only, Sacred Place-Moment where
Beauty is and Darkness will never reach.
To this day, I have not fully recovered from the painful, sinking feeling in my heart, as I clumsily tried to capture the creature, and then failed. I wished to touch it and to possess it. In horrible helplessness, I saw it dart up the tree, never to see it again. It is a wound that will only heal on the Day of the Resurrection, when I hope to possess all things as the Origin of All Things will possess in full everything that exists, to include us.
Years went by before I learned the name of the small dragon: the Puerto Rican giant anole, Anolis cuvieri.
Some time later, during my early adolescence, I found myself before another creature that left me almost as breathless. "Almost" only because that time I was actually looking for it - but when I at last found it, expectation did not take away the excitement, even if the overall emotion was not as deep as with the giant anole. As I was wading through a stream near El Rosario, a small village in the south-western region of the island, I saw it sunning itself on a natural limestone terrace near the water. Two meters of coiled muscle, soft scales, sharp fangs, and brilliant iridescence: a greater Puerto Rican boa, Chilabothrus inornatus.
Those two events sealed in me the
attraction for those beautiful, scaly creatures made by the
hands of God.
In 1984 I surrendered my heart to Jesus the Christ, the One Promised to the Nations; Son of God; God made Man; Lord and Savior of Mankind; Fulfillment of all Hopes; Desire of Men's Hearts; Redeemer of Created Beauty; Whom no Tongue of Angels or Men Will ever Praise enough; the Way, the Truth, the Life; King of Kings; Lord of Lords; the Alpha and the Omega; the Beginning and the End; the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever; Sovereign over Creation; He in Whose Name Alone We Find Salvation; before Whom every Knee in Heaven, on Earth, and in the Abyss Shall Bend. I took for my mother Saint Mary, Most Favored Daughter of God the Father, Most Holy Mother of God the Son, Most Beautiful Spouse of God the Holy Spirit; Immaculate Masterpiece of the Creator; Handmaiden of the Lord; Queen of the Universe; the One Whose Seed Defeated the Evil One; She before Whom the Highest Angels Bow in Reverence; Mother of Believers in the Only Begotten Son; Terror to Demons.
In 1989 I abandoned my university studies in Marine Biology to enter seminary. I studied Western Philosophy in Santa María de los Angeles Seminary, in San Juan, and later studied Theology in San Ildefonso's Seminary in Toledo, Spain, and in Mount Saint Mary´s Seminary, in Maryland, United States of America.
In 1993 I was ordained a Catholic
priest for the diocese of Saint Thomas, United States Virgin
Islands, where I lived from then until the year 2000. I now
reside in Puerto Rico, and ordinarily exercise my ministry
as a full-time military chaplain for the Puerto Rico
National Guard, United States Army. I have
the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and I have been deployed in
operations at the state level as well as for Operation Iraqi
Freedom, in the Middle East, and for Kosovo Forde, in the
In 1995 I bought my first camera and lens and with that began my present pastime: nature photography. The photographs that I have taken ever since constitute the foundation of this web site.
The Pitons and the village of Soufriere. South-western Saint Lucia, Lesser Antilles.
I believe it was Saint Augustine who once wrote (and I paraphrase) that "the greatest of creatures are but crumbs of bread fallen from the table of the Creator, yet even the smallest of creatures are love letters from a Friend we have not met, and news from a Homeland we have not seen."
Saint Thomas Aquinas is less emotional, yet more analytical that Augustine. While standing on the shoulders of another giant of thought, Aristotle, he would say that "...all things created reflect the four transcendental perfections of goodness, truth, beauty, and unity, each thing in its own way and degree."
Regardless of one's leanings toward either one or the other of the aforementioned means of expression, it remains true that God creates nothing evil, nothing ugly.
All things come from His hands are works of art. The apparitions of His Majesty and the heralds of Highest Reality.
To allow His art to speak to us, we only need to keep open the eyes and ears of the soul. With a fundamental virtue called reverence we are able to acknowledge in awe that all creatures are theophanies of the Good Maker, for He cannot but make them good (Genesis 1: 31) as He shapes Chaos into Cosmos (Genesis 1: 1-3). Such theophanies where further sanctified and declared "good" in the union of natures - divine and human - which took place in the Jewish Carpenter who touched the material Universe with his hands of flesh.
Hills at dawn. Cayey Valley, east-central Puerto Rico.
It is with the human capacity for reverence, more than with empirical sciences, that this web site has to do, for God created the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum so that we could employ our eyes to revere the fingerprints He left on Creation.
It is reverence that helps man to discipline his intelligence in order to be able to understand the map that Creation is, a map made complete by and in the Messiah. Created intelligence, by itself, is not sufficient to comprehend the sublime depths of the act of being incarnated in Creation. Modern Catholic philosopher Alice von Hildebrand said once that "intelligent people seem to hold the patent on stupidity" if they lack reverence. And, Catholicism aside, Christians in general remind themselves that the most intelligent creature of his time is now in Hell, due to an act of irreverence spawned in the festering pool of his pride.
It is reverence that
which brings true order to the intelligence that the Maker
bestowed on us, and such order makes us capable of bringing
our mind to subjection and obedience to the Truth. Only by
obedience to this preexisting Truth does man become truly
free, truly powerful.
Mount Lujboten, Kosovo, 2012.
With a Jamaican boa. Windsor, Jamaica, 2009.
Regarding my web site, I feel compelled to clarify two things:
In the first place, that I am not a professional biologist.
After the High Priest called me to be his priest I did not
pursue any more even a bachelor's degree in Biology. The
information that accompanies the photographs that follow
represents my best knowledge of the diverse landscapes and
organisms that you will see. In no way do I claim to have any
expertise on any of the subjects that I discuss. The depth of
detail varies greatly among sections, depending of how much I
know about different subjects. For example, you will notice
that I discuss lizards and snakes at length; on the other
hand, you will see how little I know about fungi. Similarly, I
treat subjects related to Puerto Rico more in depth than I do
those related to other Caribbean islands simply because it is
in Puerto Rico where I have lived most of my life.
Because vernacular names vary from one place to another or may at times be misleading, I use scientific names whenever possible (down to subspecies, if I know them) in conjunction with the photographs of the organisms shown in this site. Some of them are assigned to a genus only because their morphologies are similar to those of species that I know well, or according to literature that could be outdated. I am certain that I have assigned some names in error. If any of you believes that any information contained herein is incorrect, please do let me know at the electronic address at the bottom of the frame at your left. You will help me further if you can include literature references.
Subterranean stream. Yuyu Cavern, Ciales, central Puerto Rico.
Secondly, I wish to clarify that I am not a professional photographer, but only an amateur. For that matter, I am not precisely an expert at building web pages, either.
Given the aforementioned caveats, it follows that my website is not an attempt at erudition. It is not intended to be offered to you as a substitute for scholarly research in the pertinent branches of geological, geographical, and biological sciences. It is simply my own personal expression of a hobby.
Tortola, Saint Thomas, and Jost van Dyke seen from Guana Island, British Virgin Islands.
I intend to keep
updating my site as I continue my travels throughout the
Caribbean and take photographs of new subjects, or better
ones of previous ones. A website offers its author more
latitude than a book does in order to show written and
photographic material. Even if that is the case, and even if
I try to show as many species and ecosystems as I can, there
are still limits, and I cannot hope to offer you a view of
every single Caribbean organic life form or habitat.
As is the case with my electronic address, links to the other sections in this site are located inside the frame at your left. After you proceed from this introductory page, click on the thumbnailed photographs in order to see their larger versions.
I also dedicate this to my grandfather, José Muñoz Cuebas. He captured for me one of the little green dragons, shortly after the first one I saw avoided my grasp. Years before I had learned how to drive a car, he would take me to the mangrove swamps so I could chase after fiddler crabs. He would take me to the mountains of Puerto Rico and would sit patiently at a distance, while I would spend hours gazing in awe at the forests that are above the clouds.
It was he who took me
to El Rosario the day I saw that boa, not understanding my
interest in the least, but loving me all the same. As I
yelled endlessly in a fit of hysterical joy he came running
to me, almost weeping in anguish, thinking that somehow I
had been hurt, and then helped me to place the creature in a
bag, afraid of being bitten... still loving me, all the
Rain clouds and moonlight over the Caribbean Sea, seen from the lowland tropical rain forest. Near Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.
The section on plants I dedicate to my grandmother,
Gilda Vázquez de Muñoz. Her garden, a small forest in itself,
provided me with endless inspiration, and with a hundred
places to look for lizards. Never have I known anyone else
with so much understanding of what a plant needs to better
reflect the beauty of the Gardener.
Of my immediate blood family, only
my mother and brother Iván remain in this Earthly World.
Yet I will always love all of you others. Help me not to forget the promises of my Baptism, and together we will visit the mountains of the Homeland, Where Farewells Have no Meaning.
Guana Island Nature Reserve, British Virgin Islands.
Saint Vincent, 2006.
I dedicate this site, as well, to
my uncle José Muñoz Jr.,
who also took me to so many places, and whose friendship I
have enjoyed for many years. I will never forget the day he
took me to a forest under a downpour of rain, when I saw two
giant anoles resting on the lianas. He was so patient with me,
even during times when I was simply obnoxious to him. His love
for caverns and archaeology has been so inspiring to me for
years. I admired and envied his cameras and lenses when I was
a boy, and he has always affirmed me in my own pastime as a
photographer. We have shared so many good times, and so many
Next, I dedicate this web site to my best friend and Confirmation godfather, Juan H. Sánchez. Who possesses the gift of being my conscience, especially during times when I wanted my own to be quiet and leave me alone. Who knows what is going on inside me, even when I do not want to talk about it. Who many a night went with me to Old San Juan to drink a few beers and look at the pretty girls. Who accompanied me to camp on the mountains, even when he had to sleep in my car because of the cold. Who drops whatever he is doing to listen to me, whenever I need to be listened to. Who took me by surprise the day he drove his car a long distance, in the spur of a moment, to pay for my registration in college, because I had forgotten my money at home.
Because we happen to share a surname, I have for long called him my "cousin".
But that is not true. He is my brother.
An image of the One Friend.
And there are other friends, as well: Joseph Burgess, Alfredo Colón, Vicky Colón, Jorge Gallofin, Michael Kosak, Luis Nieves, Juan Antonio Rivas Romero, Mel Rivera, José Rivera, Efraín Rosario, Miguel Ángel Vives, Julio Vera, Richard West... To all of you I owe my gratitude for affirming me. I owe you my gratitude for sometimes just putting up with my short temper.
Clara Cavern. Camuy Caverns Park, north-western Puerto Rico.
I offer this web site to the peoples of the Caribbean, stewards of the natural treasures that God has entrusted to them. May they all allow themselves to be enraptured by the metaphysical harmony of the rivers, swamps, volcanoes, caverns, trees, flowers, scorpions, insects, frogs, lizards, snakes, crocodiles, birds, and bats that grace their islands.
Finally, I dedicate this to all the persons who have made me a better man by offering me the beauty of their loving friendship... and to all who have learned to contemplate the beauty of the Heavenly Father in His reptiles.
Since friendship is the truest adventure, I pray that in their friendship I will rejoice, on the Day of the Resurrection, in the Rain Forests of the Homeland, under the Shadow of the One Friend...
Whose Sacred Heart Farewells Have no Meaning.
Father Alejandro J. Sánchez Muñoz
Prickly Pear and Necker islands seen from Gorda Peak. Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.