5 Unique Animals of Hawaii

The isolated islands of Hawai’i are home to many distinct animal species.

Oct 21, 2023By Sara Payne
unique animals hawaii

With lush forests, picturesque beaches, and awe-inspiring volcanic mountains, Hawaii is the perfect home for unique creatures. The animals found here are like no others on the planet. Years and years of isolation have led them to adapt to Hawaii's specific habitat.

Five of these endemic species living today are the Hawaiian monk seal, Hawaiian honeycreeper, Hawaiian hoary bat, Hawaiian goose, and the Banded Spiny lobster.

Read on to learn more about these beautiful and special animal species from Hawaii.

Hawaiian Monk Seal

hawaiian monk seal

Hawaiian monk seals begin life as small, black pups. As they age, their coats begin to gray, which can sometimes look green due to algae buildup. To remove this layer of algae, they molt once a year, shedding the top layer of their fur and skin, leaving them with a light gray, smooth coat.

These seals don’t live in colonies like other species. However, you can occasionally see them sleeping in small groups for days on Hawaiian beaches.

These mammals spend their time alone in the warm, tropical waters near the beach. In the water, they mate and forage for food. The Hawaiian monk seal dines on a variety of sea creatures, including fish, squid, octopus, eel, and crustaceans. On land, they rest, molt, and give birth. A Hawaiian monk seal can live up to 30 years.

Yet, they are an endangered species, with only about 1,570 seals left on the islands. Scientists believe low juvenile survival rates, fishing net entanglement, predatory sharks, pollution, habitat loss, and disease contribute to their conservation status.

Scientists are working to improve the conservation status of these cute creatures by vaccinating them against diseases, reducing human interaction, providing education, and protecting their habitats.

Hawaiian Honeycreeper

hawaiian honeycreeper

Hawaiian honeycreepers are usually either red-and-black with thin bills or green with orange and yellow markings with finch-like bills. Most Hawaiian honeycreepers have troughlike tongues.

The red-and-black varieties typically feed on nectar, dining on a rich variety of Hawaiian flowers. The greenish ones prefer to eat seeds, fruits, and insects. Both varieties are only about 4-8 inches in size.

The Hawaiian honeycreepers’ isolation has made them distinct from other bird species in their family. Likely, their finch cousins migrated to the Hawaiian islands some 7.2 million years ago. Each Hawaiian Island formed over time, giving these birds a new habitat to colonize. As they did, they evolved and changed into the varieties we see today.

As adaptable as the Hawaiian honeycreepers are, 8 of the original 23 are extinct. Most of the remaining species are endangered. Loss of habitat and invasive species are the leading cause of their decline.

Hawaiian Hoary Bat

hawaiian hoary bat

Natively known as ope’ape’a, the Hawaiian hoary bat is the only land mammal native to the Hawaiian Islands. The North American hoary bat likely traveled the 2,000-mile distance to these islands some 10,000 years ago, making it their new home.

Hawaiian hoary bats are nocturnal and solitary animals that roost in trees. When night falls, they fly through the sky foraging for insects, particularly moths. This beautiful bat has long, narrow wings and long, soft brown fur with white tips. Their wingspan is about a foot long.

The exact number of ope’ape’a is unknown because these bats are reclusive and don’t form groups. Scientists listed this species as endangered in the 1970s, and although there have been efforts to down-list this status, the lack of data has thwarted these efforts. Today, habitat loss and pesticides pose the biggest threat to these bats.

Hawaiian Goose

nene hawaiian goose

The nene, or Hawaiian Goose, is the official state bird of Hawaii. This medium-sized goose has a black head, bill, webbed feet, and tail feathers. Its cheeks and neck are tan, while its body is a gray-brown barred pattern.

This species is the only endemic goose still alive on the Hawaiian Islands. This species likely evolved from the Canadian goose around 3 million years ago. Now, these lovely birds walk lava on their specialized webbed feet, dwelling in sparsely vegetated lands near lava flows, volcanic deserts, grassland, shrubland, and woodlands.

Nenes eat leaves, seeds, and fruits from many of the native plants on the island. They nest on the ground from October to March and lay around 2-5 eggs.

In the late 1800s, invasive mammals and humans hunted the nene to excess, reducing their numbers. From 1911 on, shooting a nene became illegal. In 1952, there were only about 30 of these birds. In 1982, people accidentally released a group of captive nene on the island of Kauai after a hurricane. Remarkably, the birds thrived so that now there are over 3,000.

Conservation efforts to breed and release the nene, as well as remove invasive species like the mongoose, continue.

Banded Spiny Lobster

spiny banded lobster

Unlike true lobsters, the spiny lobsters in the coastal waters of Hawaii don’t have large pincers. They do have forward-pointing spines on their carapace and are typically brightly colored.

These nocturnal creatures forage in reefs for snails, clams, sea hares, crabs, and sea urchins. They reproduce around 4 times a year, creating a mass of orange eggs that hatch into larvae. The few larvae that survive will eventually metamorphose into adults.

The banded spiny lobster is a valued food source for islanders. As such, they have a vulnerable status due to overfishing. The government has intervened by implementing fishing restrictions to try to build back its numbers.


hawaii landscape

Isolation and years of evolution have made the native species of Hawaii utterly unique. From the Hawaiian monk seal to the Banded Spiny Lobster, each of these creatures is a beautiful and remarkable part of Hawaii’s ecosystem. If we continue to support conservation efforts and work toward preserving these truly magnificent creatures, they can be here for generations to come.

Sara Payne
By Sara Payne

Sara is a mother of two and a high school English teacher who rediscovered her love of writing during the pandemic. She has 5 rescue cats: Neville and Luna, who are white cats with black and grey spots, and Ginny, Blue, and Fairy, who are calicos. Besides taking care of humans and fur babies, Sara enjoys gardening, crafting, and spending time in nature.