Maya's Maui Plants and Animals Presentation - December 2013
Maui Plants and Animals
By Maya Neff
The Big Picture
• Gobs of plants and animals
– The isolation and rich diversity of habitats in the Hawaiian Islands led to lots and lots of
• Don’t believe me?
– A total of 23,680 Hawaiian species have been documented!
• 18,607 native Hawaiian species (9,151 indigenous species and 9,456 endemic species),
• 5,073 human-introduced (non-native) species.
• Some big numbers:
– The documented native Hawaiian species include:
• 1,163 flowering plants (918 endemic); 719 other native plants (241 endemic), 178 ferns (124
endemic), and 22 fern allies (7 endemic); 1,243 mollusks (962 endemic); 1,143 fish species (149
endemic); 4 reptiles (sea turtles, none endemic); 241 bird species (63 endemic); and 25
mammals (2 endemic). Whew.
• Full disclosure: I did not count these myself.
Let’s talk about a few of them.
(Talking about all of them would take a while.)
Maui has beautiful flowers. We start with flowers because Grandma Kay likes
This is the yellow hibiscus. It’s Hawaii’s state flower.
Before 1988, the Hibiscus (all colors) was the Hawaii State Flower (and before statehood in 1959 the
Territorial Flower). In 1988, the yellow Hibiscus, because it is native to Hawaii, was chosen as the
State Flower. Source: http://www.mauihawaii.org/hawaiian-flowers.htm
This is an orchid. Orchids are grown on all seven of Hawaii’s major islands.
This is ginger.
The ginger we use for food flavoring comes from the rhizome (a fancy word for
underground stem) of a plant with yellowish green flowers.
The related ginger plants we see in Hawaii more often have red flowers.
This plant is not related to Tina Louise.
This is a hibiscus. Wait. No. It’s a Hoary Bat.
The Hawaiian hoary bat or is Hawaii’s only endemic land mammal. While the hoary
bat is the most widespread bat in the continental United States, this subspecies is
the only land mammal that is endemic to the islands.
In 1972, the Jackson’s Chameleon was introduced to the Hawaiian Islands from its
native land of Kenya and Tanzania.
In the last 30 + years, these species have multiplied and formed a large breeding
population on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii.
The green sea turtle is the largest hard-shelled sea turtle. Adults of this species commonly reach
100 cm (3.25 feet) in carapace length and 150 kg (330 pounds). They are believed to live 60-70
The green turtle is listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Green turtles were a source of food, tools, and ornamentation for early Hawaiians.
The Hawaiian green turtle is genetically distinct from the other green sea turtle
populations, nesting primarily in the French Frigate Shoals of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
and feeding in the coastal areas of the main Hawaiian Islands.
Adults primarily eat algae. Over 275 different species of seaweed have been found in the stomachs
of Hawaiian green turtles. In order to deal with this diet of roughage, green turtles have microflora
living in their large intestine that help breakdown the cellulose that is otherwise indigestible. Other
food items they consume in lesser amounts include jellyfish, salps, mollusks, sponges, and
tubeworms. East Pacific green turtles tend to eat more animal prey than other populations.
Year after year, the Humpback Whales travel from cool Alaskan waters all the way to
warm Hawaiian oceans for their annual Winter breeding migration. They are
commonly first spotted in Maui’s waters as early as October, and their presence
gradually increases as more pods and escorts finally arrive in Hawaii just in time for
the holiday season.
So called for their high, spinning leaps, spinner dolphins are known as
playful, eager bow-riders. But in the eastern tropical Pacific, where tuna fishermen
have killed millions of spinners since 1959, the dolphins no longer approach ships.
In Hawaii, spinners (Nai`a) not only approach ships, but could be termed oceanic
"Ambassadors of Aloha.“
A few facts: Hawaiian Name: Nai'a Size: 1.7 to 2.2 meters, 75 kilograms; 45 to 65
sharp-pointed teeth; Food: Fish — small deep-ocean species like lantern
fish, shrimp and squid; Habitat: Mainly offshore, nearshore in certain island
Range: Tropical, subtropical and warm temperate world ocean; Status: Population
unknown, but common in most parts of its range; substantial declines have
occurred in the eastern tropical Pacific.
There is so much great information about coral reefs, you’ll have to
wait for the next slide.
• Maui is surrounded by coral reefs that are best developed along its West
shore (where we’re staying!). Here, coral reefs have formed extensive
limestone structures that stretch from the low tide line to approximately
200 meters off-shore, sometimes even farther.
• Reef formation along Maui's shore started 17,000 years ago when
worldwide sea level rise flooded the areas now occupied by reefs. As
such, the Hawaiian Islands now harbor the largest number of endemic
species on the planet.
• A quarter of all fish species is found on the islands is unique to Hawaii and
this number is even higher for invertebrates (32%) such as corals, sea
urchins and sea stars.