Are There Snakes in Hawaii

Exploring the Islands of Aloha, you quickly discover some extraordinary Hawaiian experiences. With its capital as Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii is a group of volcanic islands in the central Pacific Ocean. There are several other major islands, some of which are Kauai, Molokai, Maui, and Lanai. Each of the islands offers its own distinct characteristics.

Are There Snakes in Hawaii

The Big Island, named Hawaii, is the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. It’s where you’ll find the Volcanoes National Park, a World Heritage Site, with its 2 active volcanoes – Mauna Loa and Kilauea. In fact, just last year in May 2018, the park closed to the public because of a 30,000ft plume of toxic ash clouds, bringing air quality concerns.

Snakes in the Garden of Eden?

With such extraordinary beauty all around  – a veritable Garden of Eden – one would have to wonder about the animals and plants that exist in this paradise. The Maui Garden of Eden, for instance, is a real botanical paradise, found on the famous Hana Highway. Do serpents make it their home? You’ll find 26 acres of trees, colorful flowers, waterfalls and peace and quiet – the perfect home for birds, animals, and snakes.

The property was also used for the opening scene of the popular and well-known film ‘Jurassic Park’. Is there a serpent in this Garden of Eden?  Not in the garden maybe, but certainly elsewhere in Hawaii. The question is ‘how did animals arrive on any of the islands, especially since the Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated island group in the world. The closest continent, North America, is more than 2 500 miles away.

The Sheer biodiversity

The sheer biodiversity of the native plants and animals is amazing.  If there are invasive species, how do they change the state of an environment? It has been found that the invasive snake species in Hawaii have feeding habits and behaviors that impact negatively on the resources for native species.

Snakes can thrive in Hawaii. There are luxuriant rainforests which are home to many shrubs, insects, and birds. There are also open landscapes of grasses. There are areas on the high volcanoes that get frost and some snowfall. In the island reefs, unlimited species of tropical fish swim around colorful coral.  One has to wonder where all these plants and animal species came from?

There are plants and animals that were brought to Hawaii by the humans who colonized the islands some 1 600 years ago. Yet there are other plants and animal species on Hawaii that are so different from organisms elsewhere that they just have to be native.

Colonizers Arrive by Sea or Air

There seems to be only one scientific explanation for Hawaii’s flora and fauna. The native plants and animals must have descended from organisms. These made their way to the islands through the air or across the water, coming from far-flung continents and islands.

Before humans arrived in Hawaii there weren’t large animals to eat plants. The degradation of this beautiful paradise started when Polynesian settlers came with their dogs, chickens, and pigs as well as foreign plants. Once settled, this new life took over many native eco-systems. The new species have had a negative impact on native plants and animals.

Recent reports of snakes on Hawaii

It is illegal to bring snakes to the islands, and yet there are many reports of different snake species having been seen.

  • It was in 2013 that a pedestrian in Chinatown came across a live Rainbow Boa Constrictor. These snakes aren’t venomous, they subdue their prey with constriction and they display vibrant colors, producing Rainbow iridescences.  A larger one was also run over on the Pali Highway in 2013. These snakes are native to Central and South America. They can grow to be 6 feet in length.
  • In 2016, a live snake was captured by a worker on a Maui coffee farm. The snake was reported to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture on Maui and later identified as a non-venomous ball python. It measured up to 4 feet in length and was euthanized because of its poor condition. Nobody was able to provide any explanation as to how the snake got to the farm in Kaanapali.
  • Last year in June 2018, a live snake was captured at Honolulu Harbor. Inspectors from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture picked up the snake which measured one foot long. It was identified as  a Western Terrestrial Garter Snake. This is a western North American species – a colubrid snake – possessing a mildly venomous saliva. They come in a wide variety of colors, but most have 3 longitudinal stripes – one on each side of the body and one in the center of the back.
  • In October 2018 a  boa constrictor was removed from a private home in Kea’au, Big Island.
  • In February 2019 a corn snake was captured in a Waipahu backyard.

Regular Snakes of Hawaii

Brahmingy Blind Snake

Are There Snakes in Hawaii

Hawaii is also home to the Brahminy Blind Snake. This is a tiny black snake which is believed to have arrived on the islands via potting soil from the Phillippines way back in the 1930s. It is also known as the Flowerpot Snake and looks like an earthworm. It feeds on ants and termites. If you search, you’ll find this small snake sheltering under logs and leaves. It is about 6 inches in length and is one of the smallest snakes in North America. It is a non- venomous snake.

Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake

Are There Snakes in Hawaii

The family of the Cobra, there is also the yellow-bellied sea snake. This poisonous marine reptile is naturally occurring in the Hawaiian islands. Fortunately for locals and tourists, sightings of the sea snake are rare. They are timid snakes, steering away from people. They prefer to be out at sea and carried along by the sea currents. Just sometimes the snake is carried into shallow waters close to shore. There have been sightings of these Yellow-Bellied Sea Snakes in Hawaiian waters, but no reports of bites.

Brown Tree Snake

Are There Snakes in Hawaii

One snake which is seen in Hawaii is the Brown Tree Snake. This is a non-native snake, aggressive and slightly venomous. The Brown Tree Snake is actually native to eastern and northern coastal Australia, parts of Indonesia and New Guinea.

It is an arboreal, rear-fanged colubrid snake that will strike if aggravated. It isn’t dangerous to an adult human. It was first spotted on the Island of Guam in the 1950s. The snake enjoys meals of Hawaii’s native birds, eggs, lizards and small mammals.   The snake’s large eyes have a vertical pupil which allows for hunting at night.  The snake injects venom into its victim.

Prolific Breeding Habits

The snakes have bred fast so that there are thousands per square mile in some areas. This is a snake where egg fertilization doesn’t follow mating right away. A reproducing female is able to store the male’s sperm for up to several years until required.

Fertilized eggs are deposited in hollow logs and caves so they don’t dry out. Two clutches of up to 12 can be deposited in a year. The Brown Tree Snake doesn’t incubate the eggs and they don’t wait around to care for the young. In Guam, the population of the snake as an invasive species is well documented, with there being thousands of snakes per square mile.

The snakes have been responsible for many power outages across the island as well as causing the local extinction of native bird- and lizard species.  Whether the snakes were deliberately introduced to the island to control rodent populations or whether the snakes were stowaways aboard military aircraft, they have devastated the island’s native bird populations.

A Cruel Eradication Plan

It is thought that the snake made its way to Hawaii with aircraft. These snakes are an unwelcome, invasive species and they’re a threat to Hawaii’s fragile eco-system.  The snake has no predators and they have killed off native birds and animals. There was a time in 2013 that animal rights activists were enraged at the cruelty of the American government’s s plans to bombard Guam with toxic dead mice. This was their attempt to curtail the spread of invasive snakes.

Some people believe that human stupidity and carelessness is at the bottom of the problems now faced with the Brown Tree Snake. They say the snakes never asked to be stowaways on planes to unknown territory.  Irrespective of how they got to be on Guam, they are now a menace. Government scientists believe in an attempt to get rid of the snake, they should take advantage of the serpent’s willingness to eat anything. Unlike other snakes, a toxic mouse is as good as a live mouse for this invasive serpent.

‘Arresting’ Illegal Brown Tree Snakes

Very recently, however, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture has looked at a more humane way to reduce the snake’s numbers –  importing 4 Brown Tree Snakes. The reason for this move? To prevent the species from establishing themselves in the islands. The Hawaii Board of Agriculture wants the sterile male’s snakes to be used in a dog detection program. The idea is for the dogs to be trained to sniff out snakes like these that arrived illegally by plane or ship.

Ecologists and wildlife officials are concerned that the Brown Tree snake could invade other islands. For decades, Hawaii has feared the introduction of the Brown Tree Snake and the same kind of havoc it has caused on Guam.

Conclusion

Some of the snake species found in Hawaii have something in common – they’re popular as pets. Non-venomous boas and pythons are sought after pet snakes. These snakes keep showing up in Hawaii – likely to have been smuggled in. They make low-maintenance pets for responsible pet owners, but Hawaii can’t risk them coming in and threatening the already fragile, at-risk ecosystem.

Hawaii offers an amnesty program for those people who turn in illegal snakes and other illegal animals.  No questions are asked and individuals in possession of these illegal animals can drop them off at appropriate facilities without a fine or jail time.

Pet owners are being encouraged to never release a snake into the wild as Hawaii continues to make attempts to preserve their native species.  Read here: WHY ARE PEOPLE AFRAID OF SNAKES

References:

USGS. Kīlauea Volcano — Halema`uma`u Crater Collapse (June 23, 2018). Available at https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/k-lauea-volcano-halemaumau-crater-collapse-june-23-2018

Garden of Eden.Mau’s Garden of Eden. Available at https://mauigardenofeden.com/

Reptiles. Rainbow Boa Care Sheet. Available at http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Care-Sheets/Rainbow-Boa-Care-Sheet/

Encyclopaedia Britannica. Brown tree snake. Available at https://www.britannica.com/animal/brown-tree-snake

 

 

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