Welcome to a world that shelters an array of Hawaiian native species including a host of fascinating birds, carnivorous caterpillars, the largest dragonfly in the United States, crickets partial to new lava flows, endangered sea turtles and just one native terrestrial mammal - a bat. Many organism groups common on continents never succeeded in making the journey to the Hawaiian Islands. Yet for those with the right survival strategy, these remote volcanic islands became a kind of evolutionary frontier for species who exploited new opportunities to find food and homes beginning about 70 million years ago. Most native animal species in the Hawaiian Archipelago are descendents of those that were able to fly here, such as birds, bats and insects; those light enough to be carried by birds, such as snails, some insects and spiders; and those blown here or washed ashore. Their descendents survived and reproduced to eventually inhabit every possible nook and cranny.
The Hawaiian Islands are renowned in the scientific world for evolving the most spectacular land bird assemblage on a remote oceanic archipelago. Of the 23 surviving endemic Hawaiian songbird species, those living within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park include six Hawaiian honeycreepers; ‘apapane, ‘amakihi, ‘i‘iwi, and three federally listed as endangered; ‘akepa, ‘akiapola‘au, and the Hawai‘i creeper. There are also a native thrush (‘oma‘o) and a native monarch (‘elepaio). Another three species of endemic Hawaiian birds found within the Park are also endangered; the nēnē, or Hawaiian goose, ‘Ua'u or Hawaiian petrel, and ‘io or Hawaiian hawk.
Contact with the outside world has forever disrupted the isolation that allowed for the evolution of native island species. Although protected within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, animals that have survived for millennia now face tremendous threats from habitat loss, bird malaria, invasions of alien invasive plants, rats, cats, feral goats, pigs and mouflon sheep. Three endangered species, the nēnē, ‘ua‘u and the honu‘ea are targeted for full recovery by the National Park Service and its partners who are actively engaged in restoring habitat, guarding nest sites, monitoring threats and population impacts and removing alien wildlife.
Did You Know?
`A`ali`i (Dodonaea viscosa) is an important shrub with many traditional Hawaiian uses. Its hard and durable wood makes a fine spear. Seed pods are fashioned into beautiful lei, while its red capsules can be boiled to make dye.