Hawaiian Fauna (Hawaii pt 6)

by Jim Morgan

Fauna. A day-flying bat, whales and dolphins are about the only indigenous mammals ; hogs, dogs and rats had been introduced before Cook’s discovery. Fish in an interesting variety of colours and shapes abound in the sea and in artificial ponds along the coasts. 1 There are some fine species of birds, and the native avifauna is so distinctive that Wallace argued from it that the Hawaiian Archipelago had long been separated from any other land. There were native names for 89 varieties. The most typical family is the Drepanidae, so named for the stout sickle-shaped beak with which the birds extract insects from heavy-barked trees; Gadow considers the family American in its origin, and thinks that the Moho, 1 a family of honey-suckers, were later comers and from Australia. The mamo (Drepanis pacifica) has large golden feathers on its back ; it is now very rare, and is seldom found except on Mauna Loa, Hawaii, about 4000 ft. above the sea. The smaller yellow feathers, once used for the war cloaks of the native chiefs, were furnished by the oo (Moho_ nobilis) and the aa (Moho braccatus), now found only occasionally in the valleys of Kauai near Hanalei, on the N. side of the island ; scarlet feathers for similar mantles were taken from the iiwi (Vestiaria coccinea), a black-bodied, scarlet-winged song-bird, which feeds on nectar and on insects found in the bark of the koa and ohia trees, and from the Fringilla coccinea. In the old times birds were protected by the native belief that divine messages were conveyed by bird cries, and by royal edict forbidding the killing of species furnishing the material for feather cloaks, contributions towards which were long almost the only taxes paid. Thus the downfall of the monarchy and of the ancient cults nave been nearly fatal to some of the more beautiful birds; feather ornaments, formerly worn only by nobles, came to be a common decoration; and many species (for example the Hawaiian gallinule, Gallinula sandwicensis, which, because of its crimson frontal plate and bill, was said by the natives to have played the part of Prometheus, burning its head with fire stolen from the gods and bestowed on mortals) have been nearly destroyed by the mongoose, or have been driven from their lowland homes to the mountains, such being the fate of the mamo, mentioned above, and of the Sandwich Island goose (Bernicla sandwicensis}, which is here a remarkable example of adaptation, as its present habitat is quite arid. This goose has been introduced successfully into Europe. A bird called moho, but actually of a different family, was the Pennula ecaudata or millsi, which had hardly any tail, and had wings so degenerate that it was commonly thought wingless. The turnstone (Strepsilas interpres) arrives in the islands in August after breeding in Alaska. There are no parrots. The only reptiles are three species of skinks and four of the gecko ; the islands are famed for their freedom from snakes. Land-snails, mostly A chatinellidae, are remarkably frequent and diverse; over 300 varieties exist. Insects are numerous, and of about 500 species of beetle some 80% are not known to exist elsewhere; cockroaches and green locusts are pests, as are, also, mosquitoes, 3 wasps, scorpions, centipedes and white ants, which have all been introduced from elsewhere. Soil. The soil of the Territory is almost wholly a decomposition of lava, and in general differs much from the soils of the United States, particularly in the large amount of nitrogen (often more than 1-25% in cane and coffee soil, and occasionally 2-2%) and iron, and in the high degree of acidity. High up on the windward side of a mountain it is thin, light red or yellow, and of inferior quality. Low down on the leeward side it is dark red and fertile, but still too pervious to retain moisture well. In the older valleys on the islands of Kauai, Oahu and Maui, as well as on the lowland plain of Molokai, the soil is deeper and usually, too, the moisture is retained by a heavy clay. In some places along the coast there is a narrow strip of decomposed coral limestone ; often, too, a coral reef has served to catch the sediment washed down the mountain side until a deep sedimentary soil has been deposited. On the still lower levels the soil is deepest and most productive.


1 Partly described by T. S. Streets, Contributions to the Natural History of the Hawaiian and Fanning Islands, Bulletin 7 of U.S. National Museum (Washington, 1877). Several new species are described in U.S. Bureau of Fisheries Document, No. 623 (Washington, 1907).

2 So Lesson called the family from the native name in 1831; Cabanis (1847) suggested Acrulocercus. snakes.

Taken from Encyclopeaedia Brittanica 11th Edition Volume XIII pp. 83-93. The 11th Edition is in the public domain.