Thursday, August 27, 2009

Introduction to Hawai'i: Wildlife

I don't really know that much about Hawaiian wildlife, but here are a few plants and animals found in Hawai'i (some native, some decidedly not) that I have found it helpful to be able to identify. Get ready for a lot of pictures (all but a few of which are not mine).


Hawaiian monk seal - This is the only mammal native to Hawai'i that can be found on land; Hawai'i is so isolated from other land masses that nothing else could get there. Hawaiian monk seals can sometimes be seen sunning themselves on the beach, but they are endangered and it is illegal to harrass them.
(my photo. I should note it looks stripey due to being partially wet and sandy; they're actually a solid gray color.)

mongoose - In India they may be cobra-slaying heroes, but in Hawai'i they are an invasive species that is a threat to the native wildlife. The story as I understand it is that rats came to Hawai'i on board ships, and they were being pests. So someone had the brilliant idea of bringing in a shipment of mongooses to eat all the rats. But since the rats are mostly nocturnal and the mongooses mostly diurnal, the mongooses decided that it was much better to eat the eggs of the rare native birds of the Hawaiian islands. Cute as they may be, mongooses are not thought of favorably by locals, and I have seen people swerve their cars to try to run them over.

cats - You know what cats are, but I just thought I should mention that there are a lot of feral cats in Hawai'i, so don't be surprised if you're strolling down some lane in Honolulu in the evening and suddenly find yourself in a scene from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I think they're mostly around because of people who decided they didn't want their pets anymore.


nene - The Hawaiian goose, Hawai'i's state bird, that I mentioned in yesterday's post.
(my photo)

myna bird - Introduced from India, they can be taught to mimic human words (for a while there was a myna in the Honolulu Zoo that could "talk").

i'iwi - Pronounced ee-EE-vee (but not actually a Pokemon), this is a native bird with brilliant red-orange feathers. You might see one if you're lucky.

zebra dove - These introduced birds are the pigeons of Honolulu--they're everywhere in the city.


gecko - There are 7 species of gecko in Hawai'i, all of them introduced. You can find them everywhere, they're cute (lots of souvenirs bear images of geckos), and they eat various pesky bugs, so they're really quite useful. I've seen many, though none have offered to lower my car insurance rates.

honu - I mentioned this one in my post yesterday as well: the green sea turtle. You can find them sunning themselves on the beach or swimming calmly in the water.
(my photo)

no snakes - On the island of Guam, the invasive brown tree snake has run rampant, wiping out the native bird population (visitors notice the unsettling quiet that comes from the lack of bird songs). Like Guam, Hawai'i has no native snake population, and the native birds would be totally helpless should snakes be introduced. People are very vigilant, and any sign of a snake in Hawai'i is hunted down. The zoo even is only allowed two snakes, which must both be male and of different species. As careful as people are, though, it may be only a matter of time until one slithers through the safeguards set in place.


humuhumunukunukuapua'a - As I mentioned yesterday, this reef triggerfish is Hawai'i's state fish. It's really the only fish you need to know, so say it with me again:


hibiscus - The state flower of Hawai'i is the yellow hibiscus, but it comes in many vibrant colors.

pikake - I should have included this in yesterday's post; this is the Hawaiian word for jasmine. The fragrant white flowers are one of the most desirable flowers to have in leis.

red ginger - Red ginger are very distinctive in the wild, and in flower arrangements.

yellow ginger - These have a wonderful sweet scent.

bird of paradise - These are very unique, striking flowers.

plumeria - Popular in leis, they come in many delicate colors and have a strong scent.

Trees and other plants:

banyan - Banyan trees are great. They can grow to be huge, and one of their defining features is that their branches develop vines that grow toward the ground, eventually becoming both additional roots and an extention of the tree trunk. It's hard to describe, so perhaps a picture is best. Because of this growth, a good big banyan tree has a cage-like trunk that kids can climb around in and strong vine-roots to swing on (though I think recent policy protects the vines of the prominent banyan trees from being swung on).

above is my photo, but this one shows the roots better:

shower trees - These trees have lots of small flowers, generally pink or yellow, with petals that gracefully drift off in the wind.

silversword - I mentioned this in my geography post, as they are a rare plant found only on the slopes of Haleakala on Maui. They bloom once every seven years, so if you see one blooming the tour guides might try to make it sound like you're really lucky as this is a once-in-seven-years occurrence. Really, they bloom every seven years but not the same seven years, so you can usually find one in bloom. But they look really cool.

ti - A flowering plant introduced by the Polynesians, ti leaves were used for Hawaiian clothing. In fact, you couldn't find any Hawaiians wearing grass skirts as is the stereotype; it was the large, wide ti leaves that they used to make skirts.
ti leaf skirts

taro - This tuber plant provided the staple starch of the traditional Hawaiian diet. Its roots are mashed and mixed with water to make poi, and its leaves are used in laulau.

kukui - This is the state tree of Hawai'i. I mentioned it in yesterday's post; the nuts are polished and made into leis, but they are also roasted and used in food.
kukui leis

Kona coffee - You know what coffee is, but you should know that the Kona region of the Big Island is famous for its coffee. I saw this in a final Jeopardy question, which highlighted the Kona region of Hawai'i and said "This is the main export from this region"; none of the contestants got it right.

Tomorrow I will conclude my Introduction to Hawai'i with a post on various other things you'll need to be able to recognize should you visit Hawai'i.


Hezabelle said...

*breathes* humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apu-a'a!!!

I want to see a mongoose!

Eleni said...

Haha, very good! (I assume ;)

Mongooses are cool, cute little creatures. It's a shame they cause such trouble here.