The Fauna of Hawaii

There are 26,608 known species on land and sea in the Aloha State.

Animals fascinate me, especially ones I’ve never encountered before. That happened many times during our trip to Hawaii. That’s to be expected. According to this article, 90 percent of all the species that live on land in Hawaii can only be found in Hawaii. (And when you consider the fact that there are 26,608 known species on land and sea combined in Hawaii, that’s even more impressive.) In fact, the Hawaiian Islands have more endemic species than the Galapagos islands do. I was really looking forward to reveling in this diversity of life.

I’ve already written about Our Most Excellent Manta Ray Adventure, and also about The Flowers and Birds of Hawaii, as well as Snorkeling in Hawaii, so I won’t dwell on the amazing creatures we came across that I’ve already discussed. But believe it or not, there is still much to tell.

I think one of our most unique experiences was watching sea turtles come up on Poipu Beach in Kauai. They are fascinating in and of themselves, but to our surprise, they were escorted to shore by a monk seal. That’s two endangered species in one sighting. Check, check!

I was mesmerized. Fortunately, Dear Husband had the presence of mind to take a video of this moment before the monk seal took his leave. Here it is.

And just for fun, DH also did a time lapse video of the turtles coming up on the beach, because, let’s face it: it’s not as if they’re going to break any land speed records. So here’s the turtle equivalent of an action sequence:

As I watched the sun go down on the sea turtles of Poipu Beach, as cliché as this is going sound, I knew without a doubt that this place is paradise. I couldn’t believe my luck, to actually be standing there bearing witness to these miracles of nature. Sometimes I think I’m the luckiest person on earth.

I really hoped that we’d see some turtles in action while we were snorkeling, but no such luck. We would have kept a respectful distance, of course. Hawaii takes its turtles seriously, as well it should.

We also got to see some more sea turtles at the black sand beach of Punalu’u on the Big Island. That beach also had a beautiful plaque that told the story of Kauila and the Sea Turtles of Punalu’u. The artwork was gorgeous, but I knew you’d be interested in the story as well, so I made certain to take a picture of that. (Just for you, Dear Reader. See there? You are never far from my thoughts.)

Although obviously neither wild nor native to Hawaii, it seemed that every resort had some koi, and they were often quite large. I was surprised that they weren’t bothered by birds of prey or racoons or otters or something, as they would be in Florida. It turns out that there aren’t any racoons or otters on these islands, and there are only two birds of prey in the entire state, and ironically, neither of them eat fish.

If we saw a Hawaiian hawk, it was only at a distance. The other bird of prey is the Pueo, a ground nesting owl. One flew right across the highway in front of our car one night. I got a good look at it, but DH was driving so he didn’t see it. And of course, she was long gone before I could raise my camera. What a beautiful bird!

To listen to the different types of calls that Pueo make (and indeed learn more about all things Pueo), check out this page. Sadly, Pueo populations are in great decline because their nests are on the ground, which makes them quite vulnerable to invasive species. That’s particularly true on the Big Island, which has mongoose. I saw three mongoose during our visit, but those suckers are just too fast to photograph.

Mongoose were intentionally introduced to the Big Island in hopes of getting rid of another invasive species, the rats that arrived on the island via the first visiting European ships. (One of their descendants ran across my foot while we were walking through the Thurston Lava Tube, causing me to jump out of my skin.) But it turns out that mongoose are active during the day, whereas rats are nocturnal, so that rat eradication didn’t go to plan. However, a mongoose can wipe out a flock of chickens in the blink of an eye, and that may be one of the reasons that the Big Island isn’t up to its eyeballs in chickens like Kauai is. Sadly, they also have a taste for Pueo.

Hawaii wants tourists to think they have no snakes, and some people mistakenly believe that there once were snakes, but the mongoose took care of them. In fact, there are several invasive species, mainly concentrated in Oahu, but they have never been an issue to human beings. They haven’t been as kind to wildlife. Therefore, it’s actually illegal to have a pet snake in Hawaii.

The state does have one native snake species, the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake. It is venomous, but it’s also rare. There is no record of a human being killed by this sea snake. All snake sightings in Hawaii are so rare that it’s not unusual for a Hawaiian to go his or her whole life without seeing one.

One of the tour guides we met told us that on Kauai, it was proposed that snakes be introduced to get rid of the irritating chicken situation, but people decided they’d much rather have chickens than snakes, even if they do wake you up at 4 a.m. with their crowing.

There are wild boar/feral pigs in Hawaii, and I got a glimpse of some of those. I’m glad I was inside the car. They looked scary. (Check out this article about a freak encounter that a surfer had with one of them.) They are one of the most destructive invasive species in the islands, along with the wild goats.

Another story our guide told us was that the Hawaiian word for goat is “kau,” and that’s pronounced “cow”. The guide said that one of the Hawaiian monarchs of the 1700’s wanted cows because he had heard about the many benefits of having them. Captain Cook (or one of his contemporaries) had no cows with him, but he had brought goats, and in an effort to impress the king, he gifted a few and said they were cows.

That sounds plausible, and it’s certainly amusing, but I looked all over the internet for confirmation of this story, and could not find it. One thing can’t be denied, though. Now those pesky goats are everywhere.

In fact, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture doesn’t regulate the hunting of goats, but you may want to check with your local game warden before opening fire. Another attempt to reduce the kau population was when the state gave away wild goats on the lottery system. You can practically hear them begging you to take one off their hands, can’t you?

There are also feral sheep, horses and cows, but I’m pretty sure that all the ones we saw were domesticated. (I was really surprised by the amount of farmland on the islands, in a state where land is so expensive that it’s now out of reach of many of the natives.)

I saw several bats fly past us at dusk on both islands, and at one condo where we stayed, an anole visited our patio on multiple occasions, making me homesick for the anoles of Florida. And one day a crab crossed our path on the beach.

Coqui frogs have hitched rides to Hawaii on houseplants shipped from Puerto Rico, and have all but taken over several of the islands. In the interest of full disclosure, I happen to love these frogs, and delighted in being able to record their calls on the Big Island. That’s a sound I hadn’t heard since visiting Puerto Rico, and it brought back wonderful memories. Here’s my recording.

Despite my nostalgia, these frogs have been a disaster for Hawaii. They have no natural predators there, and because of that, in some areas, there are 55,000 coqui per hectare, whereas they max out at 24,000 per hectare in their native habitat.

I may love their vocalizations, but many people find them loud, persistent, and annoying, as they go on from dusk to dawn. These frogs also decimate many bugs, including pollinators, and they’ve impacted tourism and property values.

During our trip, I expected to see lots of spiders, and I wasn’t looking forward to that, but to my relief I saw very few. I was constantly scanning the ocean in the hopes of seeing whales and dolphins. No such luck. I also hoped to see octopus and tiny sharks while snorkeling. Again, nope. But all these creatures were quite prevalent in the many delightful murals throughout the islands, which I wrote about here.

So yes, we saw a lot of fauna during our trip. Many, but not all, are invasive. If you learn only one thing when visiting the Aloha State, let it be this: Humans should never tamper with nature.

Never before have I visited a place that gave me the impression that the land itself was a living entity. Like an animal, it breathes and changes and adapts and grows. It is critically important that we treat it, and its many fragile ecosystems, with respect. Because there’s no place on earth like Hawaii.

A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving!


Do Animals Have a Sense of Humor?

I cannot imagine going through life without being able to laugh.

The other day I was lying in bed, giggling helplessly at the memory of something funny my husband had said hours earlier. It still makes me laugh. Giggling is the best feeling in the world. I looked at my dachshund, who was eyeing me curiously, and I thought about the fact that he doesn’t get to laugh. He’s really missing out.

Do dogs have a sense of humor? I’ve had a few that definitely showed subtle signs of it. One liked to run his cold wet nose down my spine at moments when I’d least expect it, causing me to screech. Another hopped up on the bed while I was taking a nap and sat on my face. And refused to move. That’s a heck of a way to wake up. I could picture both of those dogs laughing inwardly.

Primates can laugh in their own way. And now that we all have video capabilities on our phones, we are capturing more and more evidence that animals like to play. Even the grown ups. There’s a crow here on my drawbridge that enjoys riding the bridge up and down, and spinning on the weather vane. If animals can play, they have a sense of fun. If they have a sense of fun, a sense of humor must not be that far away.

I cannot imagine going through life without being able to laugh. I’d feel like something really significant was missing. It’s a quality of life thing.

We all have that one friend…

Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book!

Mid-Month Marvels: Bionic Pets

I would love a job like this!

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least onc e a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

Recently I came across this amazing video about a company called Bionic Pets. Derrick Campana, the founder of this company, used to make prosthetics for humans, but then a vet approached him and asked if he might help a black Labrador that was missing a leg. He did so, and never turned back. Since then he’s helped thousands of animals, including birds, goats, cows, elephants, dogs, sheep… you name it.

What fascinates me most about his business is the variety of prosthetics he must get to fabricate. Each animal’s anatomy differs greatly, so he has to use his expertise to solve unique problems every time. That has got to be very satisfying. I would love a job like that.

He says the large animals are actually easier to work with because he has more surface area to deal with and there’s a greater margin of error. That makes a lot of sense. Can you imagine trying to make a leg for a duck that isn’t going to constantly fall off? Talk about a challenge. And this guy has done it.

I really admire people who are not only in helping professions but also fill a niche that has very few experts. And in this case, Campana is giving animals a quality of life that they wouldn’t experience otherwise. Amazing.


An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!


Clicking Your Way to a Better World

I must admit that I spend entirely too much time on the internet. You do, too. Don’t believe me? What are you doing right now? Tiptoeing through the tulips? I think not.

(Not that I’m not happy to see you. I’d miss you if you weren’t here. I really would.)

Sometimes I think I really should make a permanent, all-encompassing change in my life and reduce my screen time to, say, an hour a day. But gimme a break. I’m as likely to do that as I am to give up pizza, and I have the thighs to prove it.

I do try to do the next best thing, though. There are quite a few sites out there that allow you to have a positive impact on the world simply by clicking a button. That’s amazing. I can save the world while staying comfortably potatoed on my couch. (Yup. Potato is now a verb. Because I say so.)

What follows are some of my favorite “positive click” sites. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

  • Ecosia. This is a search engine, similar to Google, with an important difference. For every 45 searches you do on Ecosia, they will plant a tree. They’ve planted more than 20 million trees so far. That makes me incredibly happy. So Ecosia is now my default search engine.

  • Free Rice. This is a fun site. You can feed the world while learning things. Basically, you choose a topic, such as English Vocabulary, or World Landmarks, or Language Learning, or SAT Test Preparation, or Human Anatomy, and you’ll then be asked a series of questions. For every question you get right, they donate 10 grains of rice to the World Food Program. 10 grains of rice doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up quickly. So learn stuff and feed people. It’s the ultimate win/win situation!

  • The GreaterGood. I cannot say enough about this site. Everything you do there will have a positive impact. They have various categories, such as Hunger, Breast Cancer, Animals, and Veterans, and if you go to those sections of the site once a day and click, you will be helping these causes, and it won’t cost you a penny. But beware. They also have a store, and it has the coolest clothes and shoes and jewelry that you have ever seen in your life. And when you buy an item, more donations kick in. For example, I bought an awesome jacket, and because of that, they donated 50 bowls of dogfood to an animal shelter. I think about that every time I wear that jacket, and it makes me feel even warmer.

There are all kinds of websites out there that have positive side effects. You just have to look. If you can suggest any other sites of this type, by all means, include them in the comments section, below! And keep on clicking!

make a difference

Like this blog? Then you’ll LOVE this book!

The Hoarder Next Door

I have a friend who lives next to a very nice man. Unfortunately, he also happens to be a hoarder. His yard is full of junk cars, and his backyard looks exactly like that compound in Sacramento where the kidnapped Jaycee Dugard was held for 18 years.

My friend says she’s never heard any signs of life back there, fortunately. And he doesn’t seem to be the type of person who hoards animals or urine, because the place doesn’t seem to smell. Who knows what it’s like inside, though.

I firmly believe that people have a right to live exactly as they please, as long as it’s not harming anyone else. My friend isn’t detecting any kind of health hazard, and this man isn’t hurting anyone or anything but himself. In the Seattle area, nothing short of a nuclear waste dumping ground seems to negatively impact property values. He’s also the neighborhood’s go-to guy when someone needs to borrow a tool.

But I can’t help but feel sorry for the man. Clearly he has an anxiety disorder, and the accumulation of crap is his way of soothing himself. But it doesn’t seem to be working for him. Even though he’s pleasant enough, I detect this underlying tension and unhappiness. I hope someday he gets help. And I pity whomever has to deal with that house and its contents once he’s gone.

The compound where Jaycee Dugard and her children were held for 18 years.

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book.

Score One for the Good Guys

Hi, I’m Devo, Barb’s dog. I asked to write this one because I wanted to tell you about an exciting new development. Besides, she needs a break now and then. So here goes…

Animal abusers, we are watching you. 70 percent of violent criminals started off by hurting animals. Finally, the feds are taking this statistic seriously. Starting this month, they are considering such abuse a class A felony, and are tracking it.

Up to this point, such acts as torture, neglect and even sexual abuse of animals were only considered a felony in about a quarter of the states in America. So this FBI announcement is rather a big deal, and a long time in coming.

Not only should these sick and twisted individuals be brought to justice, but this will give law enforcement a chance to prevent future crimes against humans. A win/win situation, unless you’re the kind of person who likes to pull the wings off flies.

Rather than treat you to a horrifying image of an abused creature (you can find plenty of those on line) I thought I’d use a picture of my brother Blue for this entry. Blue is more apt to write a blog entry than I am, but this is something he doesn’t like to talk about. He was rescued from a puppy mill where he had been starved, beaten with a belt, and left in a cage up to his chest in feces, and had never seen the light of day for the first 6 months of his life.

For my brother Blue, and all the animals like him, I would like to salute the FBI. Excellent work.

Blue and mom in their prime.

Saving the Animals of Fukushima

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake struck off the coast of Japan near Honshu Island. This quake set off a tsunami of 45 foot high waves crashing into the Japanese coast, at the very site of a very badly built and poorly situated nuclear power plant in Fukushima. As you can well imagine, things went rapidly downhill from there.

You can read about the nuclear meltdown in great detail on its Wikipedia page, but the final result was that approximately 500,000 people had to be evacuated from the 12.5 mile exclusion zone, never to return. Well… except for one man.

Naoto Matsumura could not bear the thought that in his rush to evacuate, he had to leave his pets behind, so he went back. And upon arriving he quickly discovered that all his neighbors had left their pets and farm animals behind as well. Thousands of dogs, cats, pigs, cows, even at least two ostriches had been left to fend for themselves, and many of them were locked up or chained, and would likely have died horrible deaths if not for this man’s intervention.

He freed them all, and has been living in the exclusion zone and caring for these animals ever since. The government has ordered him to leave, but he remains, despite the risk to his health. Here is a man who truly gives his life to do what he feels is right. While the world has moved happily onward, he struggles to feed these animals every day. He needs our help.

If you want to read an inspiring and yet heartbreaking blog about this man’s noble sacrifice, you can find it here. Naturally it isn’t in English, but I know that if you pull it up on Google Chrome, you can click the translate option. He also says this:

We’ll be very happy if you all support us. [Donations] ① The Toho Bank, Azumi branch, 644 994 (Futsu), Ganbaru Fukushima ② Japan Post Bank Company, Kigo-10270 , Bango-10419771, Ganbaru Fukushima ③ My Friends made ​​A Donation page for me.Http://Kizunafornaoto.Com/ Please push the yellow button on the left side of the top page. It IS in French. Thank you and look forward to Hearing from you!

-Naoto Matsumura

I donated, but it wasn’t easy. First of all, the pages aren’t in English and have to be translated. Next, you have to donate in euros instead of dollars, which is a pain. (Make sure your credit card doesn’t sock you with a harsh foreign currency fee.)

So yeah, helping this great man isn’t as simple as it ought to be, but think of all the effort he has to put forth on a daily basis, and you’ll realize that jumping through a few extra hoops for this cause is really not that big of a sacrifice. Please help all these animals that the world seems to have conveniently forgotten.

What follows are a couple inspiring photos from the boredpanda article about this fine man. Check it out to see more!

fukushima-radioactive-disaster-abandoned-animal-guardian-naoto-matsumura-2 fukushima-radioactive-disaster-abandoned-animal-guardian-naoto-matsumura-14


As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry, I recently visited the La Conner Quilt and Textile Museum. There was some absolutely gorgeous work on display, but this one, in particular, made me come to a full halt and really think. It’s called GONE, and it was made by Barbara Nepons.


In the description it says, “Hundreds of species are no longer with us. It’s important to reveal these mostly forgotten or unknown animals to those of us living today, so we can remember and learn.”

As you look closer, you see names of all the animals that are gone, and the sheer number hit me in the gut. This is the tragic animal equivalent of the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, which also brings tears to my eyes. Gone, as in lost forever. Gone as in never ever to be seen again. Gone.





So I decided to Google some of these creatures to see if I could find pictures. Look at them and think about the fact that you’re never going to see them alive again. Ever. If that doesn’t deserve a moment of silence, nothing does.

Pink-Headed Duck

Pink-Headed Duck

Sardinian Pika

Sardinian Pika

Caucasian Wisent

Caucasian Wisent

Toolache Wallaby

Toolache Wallaby

Big Eared Hopping Mouse

Big-Eared Hopping Mouse


Cuban Red Macaw

sea mink

Sea Mink

Lerma Chub

Lerma Chub

Coua de Delalande Coua delalandei Snail-eating Coua

Snail-Eating Coua

Growly Dreams

I enjoy watching my dogs dream. Their little paws run and they sometimes twitch and yip. I imagine they’re chasing squirrels. But tonight Devo was growling in his sleep. I called his name from across the room. I didn’t want to touch him in case he thought I was the adversary. (I’d like to keep intact the illusion that I’m in charge.) When he woke up he looked a little confused for a second.

Was he the aggressor in the dream, or was he being attacked? I hope it was the former. I hope he doesn’t have dog-shaped nightmares. I hope that he isn’t experiencing anxiety or stress that is expressing itself in his subconscious. God knows I’ve been under a lot of pressure lately, and I’m sure he senses it. But I want him to have sweet dreams. As shitty as my life sometimes is, I pride myself in giving my pets a happy existence. They didn’t ask to be here.

What are animal dreams like? Scientists are discovering that a wide variety of animals play, so they must get bored. But they seem to cope with boredom much better than we do. That implies that they have rich inner lives. If that’s the case, they have imaginations, so are their dreams as surreal as ours can sometimes be? And what would be surreal to an animal?

I know when I lived in Mexico, my dreams got very simplistic because I couldn’t express myself as fully in Spanish as I can in English. How do you express yourself without language? How do you see things when your color spectrum is different? If you’re capable of hearing a lot more, are your dreams more aural?

The one image that I can’t get out of my head is that of a sleeping whale. Some types slumber in the darkest depths, head downward. That must feel like being in a sensory deprivation tank. That has got to be the ultimate zen-like state.

Which begs the question: Do whales have wet dreams?

sleeping whales

Natural Encounters

There is something special about making a connection with another species. For a brief moment, you feel a deeper link to the wider world, and all the magic therein. Whether it’s a butterfly that lingers on your knee, a squirrel that sits on your windowsill and stares at you, or a lizard that gazes out at you from your favorite potted plant, it’s always a wondrous experience. I think it’s one of the reasons pets are so popular.

I’ve had too many animal encounters to list here, but perhaps the most profound one was the time I swam with the manatee on the west coast of Florida. There I was, floating in my wet suit, checking out the tarpon that would be there one second and then, blink! gone the next, when something the size of your average living room couch floats up to me and just hovers, as if to say, “You may interact with me now.” I reached out and scratched the algae off her elephant-like skin, and she rolled over in ecstasy. “A little to the right, please.” It was profound. It was delightful. I didn’t want the moment to end.

There I was, floating all alone, and all of a sudden I wasn’t alone anymore. And the best thing about it was that it was the manatee’s choice. She didn’t have to approach me. She most definitely did not have to let me touch her. She gave me that gift. She acknowledged me. She trusted me. And I’ll never be quite the same.

Nature is awesome.