Insects and Arachnids

Kamehameha butterfly resting on a fern
Pulelehua (Kamehameha butterfly) resting on a fern (NPS Photo/J. Robinson)

Pulelehua (Kamehameha Butterfly)

The pulelehua (Kamehameha butterfly) is the official state insect for Hawai’i. Named after the royal family that unified the Hawaiian Islands, it is one of only two butterflies native to the state. The other thirteen species of butterflies in the islands are all non-native.

Though the top of its wings are bright orange, the undersides are various shades of brown or gray, allowing it to camouflage itself on trees. The sex of pulelehua can be determined the color of the spots on the forewings. Male pulelehua have orange spots, females have white.
 
A green happy face spider on a leaf
Nananana Makakiʻi, also known as the happy face spider (NPS Photo/D. Boyle)

Nananana Makakiʻi (Happy Face Spider)

The happy face spider gets its name not from a grin underneath their many eyes, but rather from the markings on its back that can resemble a human face. These patterns, however, can differ significantly among the species.

The tiny arachnids can most often be found on the underside of leaves of plants like kāwa'u, pilo, and kōpiko ʻula. Unusual for spiders, mother happy face spiders will care for their young for several weeks after the eggs hatch. Some evidence indicates that the species is in the process of speciation (the process of forming new and distinct species), made easier by geographically separated populations and rapid life-cycles.

 
Wolf spider on lava rock
A wolf spider on lava rock (NPS Photo)

Wolf Spiders

The endemic wolf spiders of the family Lycosidae are well adapted to the harsh terrain of lava flows, such as the upper elevations of Mauna Loa. Look carefully and you may see them scurry for cover as you hike along between Pu’u’ula’ula (Red Hill) and the Mauna Loa summit.
 
A green caterpillar on a leaf
Carnivorous caterpillar of the Eupithecia family of moths (NPS Photo/J. Robinson)

Carnivorous Caterpillars

Eighteen of the nineteen species of Eupithecia moths in Hawaii have caterpillars (commonly referred to as inchworms) that possess the unique trait of eating active animal prey, namely insects. The eating of live prey makes them unique among caterpillars in the world. The tiny predators, excellently camouflaged, have been known to ambush and devour insects as big as wasps. After building a cocoon, they will later emerge as short-lived moths.

 
A dark lava cricket on a white background
‘Ūhini nēnē pele, or dark lava cricket (NPS Photo/D. Boyle)

Crickets

The dark lava cricket (‘ūhini nēnē pele) is a specialized species found nowhere else in the world except on the young flows of Hawaiʻi Island. They have been known to move into recent pāhoehoe lava flows as soon as a month after lava has solidified. They are not known to inhabit lava flows older than 20-100 years old. The insect will emerge at night under the cover of darkness to feed on windblown debris that gathers in cracks and crevices in the lava flow. But don't expect to be serenaded by these creatures of the night. The wingless crickets do not have the equipment necessary to make the classic cricket “chirping” sound.

In less than a few hundred thousand years, another type of cricket, the big island cave cricket has evolved to live in the lava tubes from volcanic eruptions. These underground species are blind, do not have body pigmentation, and also cannot make sound.

Last updated: February 18, 2021

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