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West Maui Species


Happy Face Spider - Theridion grallator (Photo: William P. Mull)
Damselfly - Megalagrion blackburni (Photo: William P. Mull)
Mirid Leaf Bug - Kalani spp. (Photo: William P. Mull)
Cixiid Planthopper - Oliarus spp. (Photo: William P. Mull)
Blackburn Hawk Moth - Manduca blackburni (Photo: William P. Mull)
Lobelia gloriamontis - the signature plant of the Partnership (Photo: Allison Wiest)
Greenswords - Argyroxiphium grayanum (Photo: Allison Wiest)
The violet Pa Makani - Viola maviensis (Photo:
Kauila (endg.) - Colubrina oppositifolia (Photo by: Forest and Kim Starr)
A'ali'i - Dodonaea viscose (Photo by: Forest and Kim Starr)
Iliahi - Santalum ellipticum (Photo by: Forest and Kim Starr)
Wiliwili flower - Erythrina sandwicensis (Photo by: Forest and Kim Starr)
Amakihi - Hemignathus virens (Photo: Chris Brosius)
I'iwi - Vestiaria coccinea (Photo: Chris Brosius)
'Apapane - Himatione sanguinea (Photo: Maui Forest Bird Recovery website)
'Ua'u - Petrel - Pterodroma phaeopygia sandwichensis (Photo: Jim Denny, USFWS)
Nene - HI State Bird - Branta sandwichensis
Pueo - Asio flammeus sandwichensis (Photo: Peter French, TNC website)

More than one out of every three endangered species listed in the United States is found only in Hawai'i, yet the islands are minute percentage of the total U.S. landmass.  Why are there so many endangered species here?

Hawaii's ecosystems evolved for millennia, undisturbed in a remote place where changes did not happen rapidly.  In recent history, there have been dramatic changes to the landscape, first by the Polynesians, and then by Europeans.  Land development converted natural habitats, introduced species preyed upon, competed with, and spread diseases to native species.

For a comprehensive look at the natural history of Hawai'i, read Hawaiian Natural History, Ecology and Evolution by Alan C. Ziegler.

Here we highlight a few of the spectacular and endangered flora and fauna that can be found in the West Maui Mountains.




Wet forest: The Lobelia gloriamontis (Unique) is our watershed's signature plant and one of West Maui's charismatic mega flora.  Found on Maui and Moloka'i, the L. gloriamontis is one of 125 species of Lobelias that can be linked to the same ancestor.  The lobelia family is considered the largest adaptive radiation event in Hawai'i, many of which co-evolved with the curved beaks of the Hawaiian honeycreepers, providing a more precise fit into the curved flowers and thereby easing pollination.

Another species, the 'Eke Silversword (Argyroxiphium calignis) (Rare) is a smaller version of the Haleakala Silversword, growing to around 1&1/2 feet tall. A cousin of this species, the Greensword (Argyroxiphium grayanum) (Rare), has adapted to a wetter substrate than the Silverswords and is restricted to the high summit bogs near Pu'u Kukui.

The tiny Howaiaulu (Lagenifera maviensis) (Common)of the daisy family, probably became endemic in Maui after "flying" from the Arctic on the mud covered feet of the Golden Plover. This species also probably traveled with the rare Violet species Pa makani (Viola maviensis), one of Hawai'i's 11 species of endemic and rare violets.

The Haha plant (Cyanea lobata) (Endangered) has beautiful pinkish flowers. One of West Maui's rare species.  It is currently threatened by the invasions of pigs and cattle.

The 'Oha Wai (Clermontia micrantha) (Unique) is another endemic plant, restricted today to the summit area of West Maui.

Other species found in the wet forest include many species of native ferns (ex. 'Uluhe), grasses ('Uki 'Uki), 'Ohi'a lehua, 'Uki 'Uki sedge grass and endemic species of Hibiscus (Hibiscus kokio ssp. Kokio).


Mesic forest: The mesic belt, of the area of land that is neither very wet nor very dry, is very thin on the West Maui Mountains.  Here many species including the rare and endangered Kauila, or Colubrina oppositifolia.  Only recently discovered in West Maui, the Kauila was previously known only on 'Oahu and the Big Island, with charcoal evidence found in East Maui.  The Kauila exhibits an extraordinary hard steel-like wood.  It was traditionally used to make poi pounders and weapons.

Also found here is the a'ali'i (Dodonaea viscose) is a hearty wood plant common in these forest types. Growing up to 30 feet tall, this tree's fruit is often used in lei making.

The 'Olapa tree (Cheirodendron trignyum) (Rare) is a beautiful tree found in mesic to wet forests. The leaves of this species are known to "flutter" in even the slightest breeze, making the sound of a gentle rain.

'Iliahi (Hawaiian Sandalwood): (Santalum freycinetianum var. lananiense)(Endangered) Hawaiian Sandalwood was one of the first successful exports of the islands due to its nicely scented heartwood, with the peak trade from 1810-1840. Although profits were thought to be near $4 million, this species was cut to near extinction, which would be immeasureable loss of Hawaiian natural history. The harvest also contributed to the breakup of the traditional way of agriculture and subsistence farming. These flowering trees are partially dependent on other plants, attaching their roots to good neighbor plants that allow the Sandalwood to extract nitrogen from them.

Other species found here include Uluhe (Dicranopteris emarginata), Wawae'iole (Lycopodium cernuum) a fern usually found with Uluhe, and Mamane (a member of the pea family).


Dry forest: A beautiful species, Wiliwili (Erythrina sandwicensis) can be found in the dry forests on West Maui. One of the few Hawaiian plants which are deciduous, this tree loses its leaves in the summer and then blooms spectacularly in bright red, salmon, yellow, white and pale green.  Wiliwili is becoming increasingly rare due to the invasion of the Erythrina gal wasp.

Gouania hillebrandii (Endangered) occurs in lowland dry shrubland habitat on leeward slopes of the West Maui mountains and in lowland mesic forest habitat on East Moloka'i. Population estimates total 1,700 to 2,100 individuals. The West Maui lowland dry shrubland habitat where G. hillebrandii occurs is one of the last remnants of this habitat type in the Hawaiian Islands and represents a mosaic of native shrubs such as A'ali'i (Dodonaea viscosa), Pukiawe (Styphelia tameiameiae) and native grasses such as Kewelu (Eragrostis sp.) and Pili (Heteropogon contortus).









Amakihi: (Hemignathus virens); (Common in mid to upper elevations) A small bright yellow-green bird; One of the more common native forest birds, this bird has adapted from only drinking the nectars of the 'Ohi'a to also eating insects. It is thought that this more general behavior has kept this species successful.




I'iwi (Vestiaria coccinea); (Rare in W. Maui) A type of honeycreeper, this bright red bird has black wings and tail and a long, curved orange beak. This is one endemic bird that can often be harder to spot, as it tends to keep to the interior of the tree. It is also known to feed alongside 'Apapane. Avian disease is the primary factor in this species' struggle to persist in West Maui.




'Apapane: (Himatione sanguinea); (Common in upper elevations) Another honeycreeper, this also has black wings and tail, although it more crimson colored, with white under its tail. This is the most abundant native bird in the islands.




'Ua'u: (Pterodroma phaeopygia sandwichensis); (Endangered) The Hawaiian Dark Rumped Petrel is a rare seabird found mostly on the northern side of West Maui. Burrowing in coastal rocky cliffs, this bird can be recognized by its call, which sounds just like its name "'Ua'u."




Nene: (Branta sandwichensis); (Endangered) The Hawaiian Goose and the State Bird. Almost wiped out in the 1940s by legal hunting, this endangered bird is now protected, and established populations are returning on Maui, Hawai'i and Kaua'i. With a black head, this goose's neck seems to have a zebra-like appearance.




Pueo: (Asio flammeus sandwichensis); (Endangered); The Hawaiian Owl. There are unknown numbers of this endemic and endangered species on the main Hawaiian islands. Also used as a family 'Aumakua , the Hawaiian Owl is known to be a family protector. Unlike other owls, the Pueo can be seen flying during the daytime, showing off its sky dancing displays as a way to attract a mate.




The Happyface Spider: (Theridion grallator); (Hard to find)  This endemic species seems "happy" to be from Hawai'i. It is a rain forest predator whose color patterns can vary between populations.

Damselflies: There are many species of Damselfly in Hawai'i, but one in particular found on Maui, Megalagrion blackburni (Unique) is the largest of all the Hawaiian damselflies, more than 60 mm in body length. Other Damselflies in the Megalagrion species feed on other insects in forest clearings, along upland streams and in the montane bogs. The adults of this species play possum when disturbed, which is a unique behavior within their Order.

Mirid Leaf Bug: Kalania species; (Common) endemic to (only found in) West Maui, this sap sucker is so rare and unusual that is was given its own name in the species and only a few specimens are known to exist.

Cixiid Planthopper: Oliarus species; (Common) Endemic to West Maui rainforests, these planthoppers feed mostly on roots and have long wings, big eyes and hopping hind legs.

Blackburn Sphinx Moth: Manduca blackburni; (Endangered) Once endemic to the main islands from Kaua'i to the Big Island, this species is now endangered and  known only on Maui. It mostly lives in coastal and dry forests.

Insects were a part of early Polynesian culture.  Unfortunately, many traditions about insects were lost before they were recorded.  Chants mention using dragonfly nymphs in certain rituals.  Native moth caterpillars, like the Blackburn Hawk Moth, are still 'aumakua for some Hawaiian families. 

For more information, see "Hawaiian Insects and their Kin" by F.G. Howarth and W.P. Mull.