Lesser Antilles

The Lesser Antilles is a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Most form a long, partly volcanic island arc between the Greater Antilles to the north-west and the continent of South America.[1] The islands form the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. Together, the Lesser Antilles and the Greater Antilles compose the Antilles (or the Caribbean in its narrowest definition). When combined with the Lucayan Archipelago, all three are known as the West Indies.

Location within the Caribbean
Location within the Caribbean
Coordinates: 14°14′N 61°21′W / 14.233°N 61.350°WCoordinates: 14°14′N 61°21′W / 14.233°N 61.350°W
Island States
 • Total14,364 km2 (5,546 sq mi)
 • Total3,949,250
 • Density274.9/km2 (712/sq mi)
Demonym(s)Lesser Antillean
Time zoneUTC−4 (AST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−3 (ADT)


The islands of the Lesser Antilles are divided into three groups: the Windward Islands in the south, the Leeward Islands in the north, and the Leeward Antilles in the west.

The Windward Islands are so called because they were more windward to sailing ships arriving in the New World than the Leeward Islands, given that the prevailing trade winds blow east to west. The trans-Atlantic currents and winds that provided the fastest route across the ocean brought these ships to the rough dividing line between the Windward and Leeward Islands.

The Leeward Antilles consist of the Dutch ABC islands just off the coast of Venezuela, plus a group of Venezuelan islands.

Geological formation

The Lesser Antilles more or less coincide with the outer edge of the Caribbean Plate. Many of the islands were formed as a result of the subduction of oceanic crust of the Atlantic Plate under the Caribbean Plate in the Lesser Antilles subduction zone. This process is ongoing and is responsible not only for many of the islands, but also for volcanic and earthquake activity in the region. The islands along the South American coast are largely the result of the interaction of the South American Plate and the Caribbean Plate which is mainly strike-slip, but includes a component of compression.

Political divisions

The Lesser Antilles are divided into eight independent nations and numerous dependent and non-sovereign states (which are politically associated with the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and the United States). Over one third of the total area and population of the Lesser Antilles lies within Trinidad and Tobago, a sovereign nation comprising the two southernmost islands of the Windward Island chain.

Sovereign states

Name Subdivisions Area
(1 July 2005 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Antigua and Barbuda Parishes 440 85,632 195 St. John's
Barbuda 161 1,370 9.65 Codrington
Redonda 2 0 0 n/a
Barbados Parishes 431 284,589 660 Bridgetown
Dominica Parishes 754 72,660 96.3 Roseau
Grenada Parishes 344 110,000 319.8 St. George’s
Saint Kitts and Nevis Parishes 261 42,696 163.5 Basseterre
Nevis 93 12,106 130.1 Charlestown
Saint Lucia Quarters 616 173,765 282 Castries
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Parishes 389 110,000 283 Kingstown
Trinidad and Tobago Regional corporations 5,131 1,299,953 253.3 Port of Spain
Tobago 300 54,000 180 Scarborough
Total 8,367 2,179,295 260.5

Non-sovereign states/countries and territories

Name Sovereign State Subdivisions Area
(1 July 2005 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Aruba Netherlands Districts 193 103,065 534 Oranjestad
Anguilla UK Districts 91 13,600 132 The Valley
Bonaire Netherlands 288 14,006 246.3 Kralendijk
British Virgin Islands UK Districts 153 27,000 260 Road Town
Curaçao Netherlands Districts 444 180,592 406.7 Willemstad
Guadeloupe France Arrondissements 1,780 440,000 249.1 Basse-Terre
Martinique France Arrondissements 1,128 400,000 340 Fort-de-France
Montserrat UK Parishes 120 4,655 38.8 Brades
Saba Netherlands 13 1,424 109.5 The Bottom
Saint Barthélemy France Paroisses (parishes) 21 7,448 354.6 Gustavia
Saint-Martin France 53 35,000 675 Marigot
Sint Eustatius Netherlands 34 3,100 147.6 Oranjestad
Sint Maarten Netherlands 34 40,917 1,704 Philipsburg
United States Virgin Islands United States Districts 346 108,448 313.1 Charlotte Amalie
Nueva Esparta Venezuela Municipalities 1,150 491,610 402.15 La Asunción
Federal Dependencies of Venezuela Venezuela Federal dependencies 342 2,155 6 Gran Roque
Total 5,997 1,769,955 303

Several islands along the north coast of Venezuela and politically part of that country are also occasionally considered part of the Lesser Antilles. These are listed in the section below.


The main Lesser Antilles are (from north to south to west):

Leeward Islands

Windward Islands

Leeward Antilles

Map of the Leeward Antilles

Islands north of the Venezuelan coast (from west to east):

See also


  1. ^ a b "West Indies." Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary, 3rd ed. 2001. (ISBN 0-87779-546-0) Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc., p. 1298.
  2. ^ "Windward Islands | islands, West Indies". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  3. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "The Scotland District of Barbados". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  4. ^ "The Windward Islands and Barbados". countrystudies.us. Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  5. ^ Cohen, Saul B., ed. "West Indies" Archived 2006-08-16 at the Wayback Machine The Columbia Gazetteer of North America. Archived 2006-08-20 at the Wayback Machine New York: Columbia University Press – Bartleby. Accessed: 19 September 2006


  • Rogonzinski, Jan. A Brief History of the Caribbean. New York: Facts on File, 1992.

External links

The dictionary definition of Lesser Antilles at Wiktionary

ABC islands (Lesser Antilles)

The ABC islands are the three western-most islands of the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean Sea that lie north of Falcón State, Venezuela. In order alphabetically they are Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. All three islands are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, although they remain outside the European Union. Aruba and Curaçao are autonomous, self-governing constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while Bonaire is a special municipality of the Netherlands proper.

Antillean crested hummingbird

The Antillean crested hummingbird (Orthorhyncus cristatus) is a species of hummingbird in the family Trochilidae.

It is found in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, north-east Puerto Rico, Saba, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius, the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Lesser Antilles.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest, semiarid forest and heavily degraded former forest.


The Antilles (; Antilles [ɑ̃.tij] in French; Antillas in Spanish; Antillen in Dutch and Antilhas in Portuguese) is an archipelago bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the south and west, the Gulf of Mexico to the northwest, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north and east.

The Antillean islands are divided into two smaller groupings: the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles. The Greater Antilles includes the larger islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola (subdivided into Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and the Cayman Islands. The Lesser Antilles contains the northerly Leeward Islands, the southeasterly Windward Islands, and the Leeward Antilles just north of Venezuela. The Lucayan Archipelago (consisting of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands), though part of the West Indies, are generally not included among the Antillean islands.Geographically, the Antillean islands are generally considered a subregion of North America. Culturally speaking, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico – and sometimes the whole of the Antilles – are included in Latin America, although some sources avoid this socio-economic oversimplification by using the phrase "Latin America and the Caribbean" instead (see Latin America, "In Contemporary Usage"). In terms of geology, the Greater Antilles are made up of continental rock, as distinct from the Lesser Antilles, which are mostly young volcanic or coral islands.

Cariban languages

The Cariban languages are an indigenous language family of South America. They are widespread across northernmost South America, from the mouth of the Amazon River to the Colombian Andes but also appear in central Brazil. Cariban languages are relatively closely related. There are two to three dozen of them, depending on what is considered a dialect. Most are still spoken but often by only a few hundred speakers; the only one with more than a few thousand is Macushi, which has 30,000. The Cariban family is well known in the linguistic world partly because Hixkaryana's default word order is object–verb–subject, which had previously not been thought to exist in human language.

Some years prior to the arrival of the first Spanish explorers, Caribs invaded and occupied the Lesser Antilles and killed, displaced or assimilated the Arawaks who had inhabited the islands. The resulting language was Carib in name but largely Arawak in substance. That was because the invading Carib men killed Arawak men and took Arawak wives, who then passed their language on to the children. For a time, Arawak was spoken by women and children and Carib by adult men, but the situation was unstable. As each generation of Carib-Arawak boys reached adulthood, they acquired less Carib until only basic vocabulary and a few grammatical elements were left. That "Island Carib" became extinct in the Lesser Antilles in the 1920s but survives in the form of Garífuna, or "Black Carib," in Central America. The gender distinction has dwindled to only a handful of words. Dominica is the only island in the eastern Caribbean to retain some of its pre-Columbian population, the Carib Indians, about 3,000 of whom live on the island's east coast.

Effects of Hurricane Dean in the Lesser Antilles

The effects of Hurricane Dean in the Lesser Antilles were spread over five island countries and included 3 fatalities. Hurricane Dean of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season formed in the Atlantic Ocean west of Cape Verde on August 14, 2007. The National Hurricane Center's first Forecast Advisory on the system anticipated that the Cape Verde-type hurricane would pass into the Caribbean through the Lesser Antilles. The storm moved persistently towards the small island chain, strengthening until it passed through the islands three days later on August 17 as a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. It went on to brush the island of Jamaica and reached Category 5 strength before making landfall on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.

While crossing the Lesser Antilles, Dean caused moderate damage in St. Lucia, Martinique, and Dominica, where it washed out roads, damaged houses, and killed 6 people. It also devastated the agriculture-dependent economies of those three states, as well as that of Guadeloupe, destroying between 80% and 100% of the banana crops. Deaths were reported as far away as Trinidad.

Effects of Hurricane Ivan in the Lesser Antilles and South America

The effects of Hurricane Ivan in the Lesser Antilles and South America in September 2004 included 44 deaths and over $1 billion in damage (2004 USD), primarily in Grenada where it was considered the worst hurricane in nearly 50 years. Hurricane Ivan developed from a tropical wave on September 2 and rapidly intensified to become a major hurricane, passing through the southern Lesser Antilles on September 7 with winds of 125 mph (205 km/h). At the time, its typical storm force winds extended outward up to 160 miles (260 km) with hurricane-force winds outward to 70 miles (110 km), and the northern portion of the eye passed over Grenada.

In the region, the worst damage occurred on Grenada, where the damage total of $1.1 billion (2004 USD, ($1.46 billion 2019 USD)) represented 200% of its GDP. The hurricane damaged more than 14,000 homes and destroyed 30% of the houses, leaving about 18,000 people homeless. A total of 39 people were killed by the hurricane on the island. Elsewhere, Hurricane Ivan caused at least three fatalities and moderate damage in northern Venezuela. One person died each in Trinidad and Barbados. The name Ivan was later retired.

Geography of Barbados

Barbados is a continental island in the North Atlantic Ocean and is located at 13°10' north of the equator, and 59°32' west of the Prime Meridian. As the easternmost isle of the Lesser Antilles in the West Indies, Barbados lies 100 kilometres (62 mi) east of the Windward Islands and Caribbean Sea. The maritime claim for Barbados is a territorial sea of 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi), with an exclusive economic zone of 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi), this gives Barbados a total maritime area of 183,436 km2. Of the total EEZ area 70,000 km2, is set aside for offshore oil exploration. A pending application to UNCLOS has placed for consideration a continental shelf 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi) to the east and south (or to the edge of the continental margin). To the west, however, most of Barbados' maritime boundaries consist of median lines with neighbours. These neighbours include: Martinique, and Saint Lucia to the northwest, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the west, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela to the southwest, and Guyana to the southeast.

Barbados' total land area is 430 km2 (166.0 sq mi), and it has a coastline of 97 km (60 mi) length. Sometimes compared to a pear or leg of mutton for its physical shape. Along the north-south axis Barbados has a maximum length of 34 kilometres (21 mi), and east-west maximum breadth of 23 kilometres (14 mi).


The Grenadines are a chain of small islands that lie on a line between the larger islands of Saint Vincent and Grenada in the Lesser Antilles. Nine are inhabited, including the mainland Saint Vincent and the Grenadines islands: Young Island, Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Union Island, Mayreau, Petit St Vincent, and Palm Island. Notable uninhabited islands of the Grenadines include Petit Nevis, used by whalers, and Petit Mustique, which was the center of a prominent real estate scam in the early 2000s.

The northern two-thirds of the chain, including about 32 islands and cays, are part of the country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The southern third of the chain belongs to the country of Grenada. Carriacou is the largest and most populous of the Grenadines (excluding Grenada).

Leeward Antilles

The Leeward Antilles (Dutch: Benedenwindse Eilanden) are a chain of islands in the Caribbean – specifically, the southerly islands of the Lesser Antilles (and, in turn, the Antilles and the West Indies) along the southeastern fringe of the Caribbean Sea, just north of the Venezuelan coast of the South American mainland. The Leeward Antilles, while among the Lesser Antilles, are not to be confused with the Leeward Islands (also of the Lesser Antilles) to the northeast.

Largely lacking in volcanic activity, the Leeward Antilles island arc occurs along the deformed southern edge of the Caribbean Plate and was formed by the plate's subduction under the South American Plate. Recent studies indicate that the Leeward Antilles are accreting to South America.

Leeward Islands

The Leeward Islands are a group of islands situated where the northeastern Caribbean Sea meets the western Atlantic Ocean. Starting with the Virgin Islands east of Puerto Rico, they extend southeast to Guadeloupe and its dependencies. In English, the term Leeward Islands refers to the northern islands of the Lesser Antilles chain. The more southerly part of this chain, starting with Dominica, is called the Windward Islands. Dominica was originally considered part of the Leeward Islands, but was transferred from the British Leeward Islands to the British Windward Islands in 1940.

Lesser Antillean iguana

The Lesser Antillean iguana (Iguana delicatissima) is a large arboreal lizard endemic to the Lesser Antilles. It is one of two species of lizard of the genus Iguana and is in severe decline due to habitat destruction, feral predators, hunting, and hybridization with its sister species, the green iguana. Successful captive breeding of this species has been limited to only two instances as most captive laid eggs tend to be infertile.

Another common name for it is the West Indian iguana, though this is more commonly used for species of the genus Cyclura.

Lesser Antilles subduction zone

The Lesser Antilles subduction zone is a convergent plate boundary on the seafloor along the eastern margin of the Lesser Antilles island arc. In this subduction zone, oceanic crust of the South American Plate is being subducted under the Caribbean Plate.

Music of the Lesser Antilles

The music of the Lesser Antilles encompasses the music of this chain of small islands making up the eastern and southern portion of the West Indies. Lesser Antillean music is part of the broader category of Caribbean music; much of the folk and popular music is also a part of the Afro-American musical complex, being a mixture of African, European and indigenous American elements. The Lesser Antilles' musical cultures are largely based on the music of African slaves brought by European traders and colonizers. The African musical elements are a hybrid of instruments and styles from numerous West African tribes, while the European slaveholders added their own musics into the mix, as did immigrants from India. In many ways, the Lesser Antilles can be musically divided based on which nation colonized them.

The former British colonies include Trinidad and Tobago, whose calypso style is an especially potent part of the music of the other former British colonies, which also share traditions like the Big Drum dance. The French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe share the popular zouk style and have also had extensive musical contact with the music of Haiti, itself once a French colony though not part of the Lesser Antilles. The Dutch colonies of Curaçao, Bonaire and Aruba share the combined rhythm popular style. The islands also share a passion for kaseko, a genre of Surinamese music; Suriname and its neighbors Guyana and French Guiana share folk and popular styles that are connected enough to the Antilles and other Caribbean islands that both countries are studied in the broader context of Antillean or Caribbean music.


Pennatomys nivalis is an extinct oryzomyine rodent from the islands of Sint Eustatius, Saint Kitts, and Nevis in the Lesser Antilles. The only species in the genus Pennatomys, it is known from skeletal remains found in Amerindian archeological sites on all three islands, with dates ranging from 790–520 BCE to 900–1200 CE. No live specimens are known, but there are several historical records of rodents from Saint Kitts and Nevis that could conceivably refer to Pennatomys. The animal apparently belongs to a group within the tribe Oryzomyini that includes many other island-dwelling species.

Pennatomys nivalis was a medium-sized species without many distinctive adaptations. The nasal bones were short and blunt-ended. The zygomatic plate, a bony plate at the side of the skull, was broad. The bony palate was long and flat. The root of the lower incisor was housed in a bony protuberance, the capsular process. The molars were low-crowned and possess accessory crests such as mesolophs. The upper molars all had three roots.

Saint Kitts

Saint Kitts, also known more formally as Saint Christopher Island, is an island in the West Indies. The west side of the island borders the Caribbean Sea, and the eastern coast faces the Atlantic Ocean. Saint Kitts and the neighbouring island of Nevis constitute one country: the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Saint Kitts and Nevis are separated by a shallow 3-kilometre (2 mi) channel known as "The Narrows".

Saint Kitts became home to the first Caribbean British and French colonies in the mid-1620s. Along with the island nation of Nevis, Saint Kitts was a member of the British West Indies until gaining independence on September 19, 1983.The island is one of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles. It is situated about 2,100 km (1,300 mi) southeast of Miami, Florida. The land area of St. Kitts is about 168 km2 (65 sq mi), being approximately 29 km (18 mi) long and on average about 8 km (5.0 mi) across.

Saint Kitts has a population of around 40,000, the majority of whom are of African descent. The primary language is English, with a literacy rate of approximately 98%. Residents call themselves Kittitians.

Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest fortress ever built in the Western Caribbean. The island of Saint Kitts is home to the Warner Park Cricket Stadium, which was used to host 2007 Cricket World Cup matches. This made St. Kitts and Nevis the smallest nation to ever host a World Cup event. Saint Kitts is also home to several institutions of higher education, including Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, Windsor University School of Medicine, and the University of Medicine and Health Sciences.


Saladoid culture is a pre-Columbian indigenous culture of territory in present-day Venezuela and the Caribbean that flourished from 500 BCE to 545 CE. Concentrated along the lowlands of the Orinoco River, the people migrated by sea to the Lesser Antilles, and then to Puerto Rico.

Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands (spanish: Islas Vírgenes) are geologically and biogeographically the easternmost part of the Greater Antilles, the northern islands belonging to the Puerto Rican Bank and St. Croix being a displaced part of the same geologic structure. Politically, the British Virgin Islands have been governed as the western island group of the Leeward Islands, which are the northern part of the Lesser Antilles, and form the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The archipelago is separated from the true Lesser Antilles by the Anegada Passage and from the main island of Puerto Rico by the Virgin Passage.

The islands fall into three different political jurisdictions:

British Virgin Islands, a British overseas territory,

United States Virgin Islands, an unincorporated territory of the United States,

Spanish (or Puerto Rican) Virgin Islands, the easternmost islands of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, itself an unincorporated territory of the United States.

Windward Islands

The Windward Islands, also known as the Islands of Barlovento, are the southern, generally larger islands of the Lesser Antilles, within the West Indies. They lie south of the Leeward Islands, approximately between latitudes 10° and 16° N and longitudes 60° and 62° W. As a group they start from Dominica to , Martinique , Saint Lucia , Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, southward to the north of Trinidad and Tobago and west of Barbados.

Greater Antilles
Leeward Antilles
Leeward Islands
Windward Islands
Other islands
Continental coasts
Caribbean articles

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