Maui is a lush green tropical paradise filled with jungles, deserts, Tropical beaches, cloud forests, giant volcanoes, and even open plains where cattle roam. There are a huge number of different Microclimates on one tiny Island and this has led to a massive amount of biodiversity.
However Maui and the rest of the Island Chain are so isolated from the rest of the world that life has found it hard to get a foothold, but when it does being so isolated means that life is cut off and can evolve at its own pace and become something completely different. The Flora and Fauna of Maui are quite unique and many species only exist on Maui or the other Hawaiian Islands.
This guide on Maui’s Flora and Fauna takes you through some of the amazing plants and animals you will see when visiting the Island. The lush greenery, scented flowers, Majestic Whales, colorful Tropical Birds, tiny insects, and a look and the stunning marine life you will find under the water including the regal Honu (Green Sea Turtle). We try to keep this light and not a science text so you can enjoy looking at what you may find on your visit without getting too hung up on Latin names or taxonomy.
Life on The Valley Isle
Life on Maui got started almost as soon as the island formed. Being so close to a constant chain of islands life hoped across from Oahu and Kuai as soon as the land stabilized enough for things to get a foothold. This is the same story for each island as they violently form then settle down and begin their journey back into the ocean via erosion.
However, apart from life from the other Island the Hawaiian Chain is cut off from the rest of the world. The most remote island chain anywhere very little can get out here. Even given the 5+ million years life has had a chance to get here. Floating seeds, insects caught in the great jet streams and trade winds, and even heroic swimmers and tiny wings have brought animals over to the islands where they have grabbed a foothold and developed a niche on the rich and fertile lands.
Then Isolated these creatures and plants have changed over time until some are no longer recognizable t the species they came from. Endemic to the island or the Island chain. Endemic means they are plants or animals that are found Nowhere else on earth. Maui is filled with them and this is part of the margin that makes the island so special. However, One species more than ANY has had an impact on the islands and as always that Species is us.
When humans first settled on the island they came in small numbers and with an application for sustaining the land. While these early Polynesian settlers had a minimal impact they still brought with them animals and plants that changed the native flora and fauna forever. These native species are now completely established into the ecosystem.
When Europeans arrived a few hundred years ago the Hawaiian’s understanding of sustainability and harmony with nature was increasingly challenged and when the US began wholesale farming and crop cultivation of the islands it was torn apart. Hundreds of species of plants and animals have been introduced either intentionally or by accident and this has had a devastating effect on the Endemic species with hundreds now being extinct and the remaining species often still under threat.
Intense and careful Conservation efforts in recent decades have seen this problem slow and in some cases reversed. The Honu (Sea Turtle) for example is really thriving on Maui and other Endemic species can be found all across the island. We try and point out what is Naturally Hawaiian and what has been introduced as we take a look at the amazing creatures of the Island.
Fauna – Mauis Animals and Creatures
- Bugs, Snakes and Creepy Crawlies!
- Marine Life
- Marine Mammals
- Land Mammals
- Flora – Plants
Bugs, Snakes, and Creepy Crawlies!
Let’s get this one out of the way. Probably the biggest fear most people have when visiting tropical climates is the bugs and creepy crawlies. Having visited many such places the world over we can say in most cases the fears are well-grounded. We have seen things that set even the most fearless people’s hair on edge. However, on Maui and throughout the Hawaiian Islands there really is not much to fear.
Some say there are no Snakes in Hawaii and for the most part, this is true however there are one species of snake on the island, but it is nothing to worry about. The Brahminy Blind Snake is little more than a large earthworm to look at and completely harmless. Besides, you will not see one without seriously looking for one. There are rumors of Brown tree Snakes finding their way to the islands, but these are unsubstantiated and as far as anyone knows the only snakes in Hawaii are the diminutive little blind snakes.
There are very few places in the world that have no Spiders and Maui is not one of them. Spiders have colonized every continent, even Antarctica along with most islands, including the ultra remote such as Hawaii. Spiders can throw webs into the air and ride the jet streams to cover unthinkable distances so several species now inhabit the Islands, however, none are the stuff of nightmares, and most are rarely seen. There are no Tarantulas or Giant Hunstman Spiders to worry about.
The Closest to a terror is the Hawaiian Garden Spider. A quite beautiful beast that hangs around in its intricate web waiting for passing prey. You may see these in the bushes and they look quite frightening and can be fairly large over 2 inches but they are completely harmless and will leave you alone if you extend them the same courtesy.
All endemic species are harmless to humans but unfortunately, a few introduced and invasive species have arrived. These include the Black and Brown Widow Spiders. These are a big concern for Island residents but as a Tourist, they are of little concern and not widespread. It is very unlikely you will see one unless disturbing their habitats of fallen logs etc.
Some of the Endemic species are quite amazing, the Spiney Backed Orb Weaver is like something out of a science fiction movie, and our favorite spider of all time the Theridion Grallator or more commonly known as the HAPPY FACE Spider, for obvious reasons!
The Takeaway is if you are afraid of spiders there is little to fear on Maui. You are very unlikely to ever see a spider without going looking for them and even then they are mainly, small, shy, and uninterested in Humans.
Ants are more of an issue on the Island. As far as bugs go these are the ones you are likely to encounter and possibly cause an issue. The ants are pretty harmless but can cause infestations, especially in condos. Most ants you will encounter are invasive and can invade condos looking for sugar. While this is pretty harmless, having your kitchen counter swarming with ants is obviously pretty startling!
Condo and Property owners spend a lot of money regularly spraying for ants and other infestations, but as they are invasive their numbers can multiply wildly and get ahead of the prevention. If you get an invasion while you are staying you will need to contact the owner or front desk of the property. It may be shocking to you but it is fairly common on the islands.
Also, make sure you check any grass prior to setting out a picnic or towel for sunbathing. On the whole, they are harmless just a bit icky in large numbers. There are fire ants around that have a slightly painful bite but these are rare.
Sorry but cockroaches are definitely a thing in Hawaii. Some are invasive and some have found their way here naturally, but cockroaches are just a part of a tropical ecosystem. We are programmed to think of cockroaches as dirty, as in the west they only appear in rundown and filthy homes, restaurants, and hotels. In a tropical climate, they are part of the natural order.
However, like ants owners do everything they can to keep the beasts out of homes, condos, hotels, and restaurants as they are pretty unsettling. So if you get one in your accommodation the advice is normally to kill it. if you get several then the pest control measures are not effective and you need to talk to the property owner or reception. Again it is not uncommon and not a sign of dirtiness just part of the ecosystem.
On the whole, however, they are not a big problem. We have seen Cockroaches on the Islands but normally just on pavements at night. While they may find their way into your accommodation at night it is pretty rare and far less frequent than in other popular tropical destinations.
I hate Mosquitos. They, however, do not feel the same about me. Anywhere these pesky little blighters are present, I am sure to be dinner. Maui is not immune and the miniature Messerschmitts have found their way across the vast ocean to annoy people in Hawaii as well.
The Good news is, as I am so tasty and so prone to being Mossie food, I am a very good gauge of the prevalence of the insects. And Maui is pretty low on numbers. The constant Pacific breezes keep the numbers down and most evenings I can happily sit on the lanai or in a bar or restaurant with no repellent on and remain bite-free.
The only time they become a problem is walking in the jungle, such as on the Pipiwai Trail. Then they get the scent and hone in on the tastiest tourist treat on the island, me. But on the whole, we find the wind keeps them at bay and rarely resort to any kind of bug spray despite spending the majority of our time outside.
Finally, something to fear, only not. The Centipedes on Maui are certainly fearsome and poisonous, harboring what many call one of the most painful bites in the world! At around 8 inches (20cm) long, armored, aggressive, and with a terrible bite it is wise to steer clear and they are sure to give you sleepless nights…
The good news? The chances of seeing one are next to zero, We have never strumbled across one even when out actively looking for them. They hide away in burrows and under dead logs and away from built-up areas and only come out at night. While undoubtedly terrifying, you just are not going to see one!
You will see a lot of lizards on Maui. The vast majority are small Garden Lizards, called Brown Anoles, these little critters hang out on walls and paths sunning themselves during the day. They are pretty cute and very skittish darting off in all directions as you approach. There are also vibrant Green Anoles that are similar but less common.
If you keep your eyes in the trees you may see a Jackson Chameleon. These crazy Alien looking lizards are an invader to the island, but compared to many invasive species are fairly harmless. Masters of disguise they are pretty hard to spot unless really looking for them.
Geckos such as House Geckos, Gold Dust Day Geckos, Orange Spotted Day Geckos, and even Giant Day geckos are also common. You will spot house geckos on the walls of buildings and they may find a way inside at night, but they are completely harmless and really cute. Apart from the Giant Day Geckos that are considered a pest they are all harmless and completely normal to see around.
Frogs and Toads
Frogs are also invasive and can be a big problem but mainly for Island Agriculture and Native Species. The Cane Toad was intentionally introduced to Hawaii to control pests in the Sugar Cane Farms. The Toads seemed to prefer all the other island insects and proceeded to chomp through many native species. They are now well-established and abundant. Often seen on golf courses or after rain.
The Coqui Frog is another invasive pest, apart from eating native species, these diminutive Amphibians are mainly known for the racket they produce! While some people enjoy the lullaby most find it extremely irritating and sleep deprivation.
The Bird situation in Hawaii is pretty dire, the many introduced species of birds, reptiles, mammals, and plants have decimated the native and endemic bird populations. Thousands of species have gone extinct, and only a few species remain. The introduced species have flourished and birds are spotted all over Maui and many are beautiful and tropical in appearance. But really they are not meant to be there.
Nene – Endemic
The Nene is the Hawaiian State Bird and an icon of the Island State. Found Nowhere else in the world. It is considered the Rarest Goose in the world and while it is threatened the conservation efforts mean it is likely to survive for the foreseeable future. While the Bird is a capable flyer it acts like it is primarily a flightless bird, most of the time, waddling around between ponds and lakes.
The Nene has a milder temperament than many Goose species and is tolerant of human presence.
Naturally, as Maui is an island there are large numbers of sea birds that naturally use the island as a breeding ground, feeding post, or generally a place to rest on their long journeys. However, the seas are not particularly rich in the sort of fish these birds thrive off, baitfish such as herring and sardines, and being so utterly remote there are fewer sea birds here than you might expect.
White Terns, Gull, Petrols, Shearwaters, and even albatross patrol the waves while an array of wading birds hunt for little crabs, mollusks, and other treats in the shallows.
Hawaiian Owl – Peuo – Endemic
One of several species of Owl on the island (Snowy Owl and Barn Owl) but is the only Native Species. Found only in Hawaii no one really knows how it arrived there originally. Considered very sacred to the Hawaiians as they consider them the physical forms of their ancestral spirits. The numbers are stable but declining. You would be very lucky to catch a glimpse of this majestic bird, however, this is more due to their elusive and nocturnal behavior.
Cattle Egret – Introduced
This Little Egret made quite a home for itself on Maui. Initially released to help control pests in cattle. The Egret spread and adapted to island life very well indeed. Egret’s and Ibis are hardy birds and not fussy about what they eat so the Maui Eco-system is a bit of a buffet for them. We spend hours watching them hunt the sunbathing lizards around the resort areas!
Apapane – Endemic
An Endemic Honeycreeper and one of the few surviving species. The tiny little red birds still have a decent foothold across the islands and are doing fine despite the external invaders. They live solely off the nectar of the ōhiʻa tree which grows at higher elevations, and the Apapane is very common around the upcountry area.
‘I’iwi – Scarlet Honeycreeper – Endemic
Another honeycreeper but this one is not doing so well. To the point, you are unlikely to spot one on your Maui Vacation. Numbers are now dwindling and the population is limited to the remote native jungle in east Maui well away from tourists and the developments that threaten them. Their future remains bleak, however.
Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi – Endemic
One of Hawaii’s most successful endemic Species. Their little honeycreepers are a very fetching shade of green and can be spotted all over the island at most elevations and have a varied diet that they are happy to adapt based on availability even happy to suck the juice out or fruit is their favorite nectar is unavailable.
Northern Cardinal – introduced
While Fairly common across the eastern United States the Northern Cardinal has really made a home for itself in Hawaii. These striking red birds have a real tropical look about them and are very fearless of humans so they will come right up close and take crumbs.
Red-crested Cardinal – introduced
Another very visually appealing bird that feels right at home on the Island despite being introduced.
Maui’s waters are teeming with ocean life. The abundant coral reefs and rocky shores host a huge variety and abundance of life. This makes Snorkeling and Diving the most popular participation activities on the Island. The Huge extent of this marine ecosystem warrants far more than a paragraph or two and we have a whole article on the incredible ocean life and Reef Fish of the islands.
One of Hawaii’s most Iconic creatures the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle or Honu is synonymous with Island life. We utterly adore these fantastic creatures and take every opportunity to view them in and around Maui’s waters. The great news is these are massively abundant and we see Turtles on nearly every Snorkel at any location around the Island and you can even see them without getting wet at Ho’okipi Beach. No one should Visit Maui and not view the abundant Sea Turtle Population and with our full guide to Viewing Sea Turtles on Maui, you won’t have to miss out.
Maui is in the open ocean and is naturally home to several species of shark. Most are nothing to concern yourself with. The Whitetip reef shark is the most fearsome beast most snorkellers or divers will ever meet, and this small shark simply sits on the bottom all day harming no one. Larger species such as the Black Tip Reef, Galapagos, and Scalloped Hammerhead are also prevalent but harmless to humans. There are also Whale sharks in Maui’s water but these are very rare and again completely harmless.
More Oceanic sharks are always a possibility. Oceanic White-tips are present and these are the most dangerous sharks in the world, only they rarely get close to shore and only get their fearsome rep from attacking overboard sailors or downed airmen, mainly during WW2.
Great Whites are visitors to the waters and these are always a danger but sightings are rare and attacks are almost unheard of as they don’t really feed around the Hawaiian shores. Bull Sharks are around but scarcely seen.
The only really dangerous shark in Hawaiian waters is the Tiger Shark. These Garbage cans of the ocean live and feed in Hawaii’s waters and are responsible for most of Hawaii’s shark attacks, fatalities are rare and attacks are mostly on surfers. While there is a real risk from these sharks, snorkeling, surfing, or bathing in the shallow waters around the resort areas is essentially risk-free, you are statistically FAR more likely to die of a road traffic accident, food poisoning, or some other trivial accident than by a shark attack, and Hawaii’s waters are actually safer than most USA coastal regions as far as shark attacks go!
There is a large number of Marine Mammal and Whale Species that visit the Hawaiian islands but most are scarce and rarely spotted, there are a few exceptions, however…
Every Winter the Humpback Whales make their 4000-mile journey from the arctic feeding grounds down to the warm waters of Hawaii to mate, rest, and generally enjoy the stunning Vacation Islands. The calm shallow channel between Maui and the neighboring islands of Lanai and Molokai is the perfect stopover location and is crowded with thousands of whales during the peak Whale Season.
This is one of the main tourists draw to the island in the winter and something not to be missed. Check out our Full guide to Maui’s Humpback Whale Season.
Hawaiian Monk Seals
One of two mammal species endemic to the Islands (the other being the Hoary Bat see below). The Hawaiian Monk Seal is also critically endangered and is reliant on conservation efforts to keep it from going extinct. Huge efforts are underway to save the species and stop it from going the way of the Caribbean Monk seal that is now extinct. Progress is slow but numbers are slowly rebounding from the seriously low levels they found themselves in the mid-1900s, possibly down to just 18 individuals!
Due to their Endangered nature, these wonderful animals are protected by law and any attempt to approach them is illegal. If you should be lucky enough to see one hauled out on a beach, admire it from a good distance and let it enjoy its sunbathing!
There are a few species of dolphins that are regular inhabitants of Maui’s waters. The primary species is the Spinner dolphin with several resident pods. These are best seen from the water when out on a boat trip or cruise and regularly ride the bow waves of boats and generally interact with all kinds of boats. Dolphins are protected and any interaction is best left to them to initiate.
There are very few Land Mammals on the Island and the ones that are here are mainly introduced. Some have arrived a long time ago via the voyages of the Polynesians but even then these introductions were limited until the Europeans arrived. Since then several species have been introduced for various reasons such as hunting or pest control while some were just stowaways on plantation ships.
The Mongoose was introduced to control rats and other pests in the sugar cane fields, they did this very successfully but once the numbers grew they headed out of the fields in search of more food. They are notoriously unfussy and eat just about anything they can get in their mouths. This had a disastrous effect on island wildlife. There are still many Mongoose running around in the island’s jungles and they are not really afraid of anything. Cars, Humans, anything! they have no natural predators on the island and pretty much do what they like.
You may see them scurrying across the road at dusk, or f you head to the Wai’ānapanapa State park on the Road to Hana see them hissing and screaming at you from inside the rubbish bins.
Introduce to Hawaii for hunting, the deer got the better of the hunters, and numbers have exploded. The Maui uplands are perfect deer territory and with no predators (apart from incompetent human hunters) and no competition for food they have munched their way to huge numbers, around 50,000+ However they are incredibly shy and stay well away from populated areas most of the time
Ferrel Pigs were an early introduction either as food supplies or escaped farm stock. Ferrel Pigs are not wild but domesticated animals that have escaped or let loose to live in the wild. They have been on the island for at least 150years now maybe more. We know captain cook released them but Polynesians have carried pigs to new lands for centuries before that (and they definitely kept pigs in Hawaii). Ferrel pigs hide deep in the jungle undergrowth and most people probably don’t want to encounter one as they can be quite aggressive, especially if they have young.
The Hawaiian Hoary Bat is the ONLY living Endemic land Mammal on the Island. This tiny little creature made the impossible jump from the mainland over 10,000 years ago, assisted by the trade winds the little creatures remarkably made the 3600-4000 miles crossing enough times to establish a breeding colony and populate the islands.
The amazing story doesn’t end there as like so many others we did our best to wipe them out. They have just about hung on (not in Oahu where they are extinct) and now huge conservation efforts are underway to stabile numbers and move them out of the endangered category. If you see a bat it will be a native Hoary Bat and you are very lucky indeed!
Of course, where humans go Rats are sure to follow. While rats are not a big problem for tourists these little blighters have ravaged the native wildlife. Until the mongoose arrived, ate the rats, and then whatever else they could find.
There are obviously several domesticated mammals on the island. Horses, sheep, Pigs, Dogs, Cats, and cattle. But we have all seen these before, right?
Flora – Plants
Maui has some truly wonderful plant life with thousands of different plant species and some probably undiscovered in the remote jungles and cloud forests, we focus mainly on the most famous, unique, and wonderful plants you may see during your trip. While a lot of these are actually induced species they have made Maui’s Landscape a wonderful and beautiful place to explore.
As this page was getting a little out of hand we separated the Plants out into a new page, so click below to continue your exploration of Maui’s Plant Species
Continue to Page 2 (Plants)>>>
Have Your Say
Let us know what you have seen while visiting Maui, Did you spot something on our list or maybe something else you can’t identify? Our list is not exhaustive so there may well be other things you have seen we missed. We can still help you identify them though. There are so many fantastic animals and creatures on the island we are sure you will see some wonderful sightings. And Remember to Check out the Plants and Flowers page.
2 thoughts on “Flora and Fauna Of Maui – A look at the Natural Treasures of the Valley Isle.”
Hawaii is such a dream destination for everyone, and sadly our plans for Hawaii fell apart due to the pandemic. So now, I spend my time reading about it. Sad but true. Anyway, things will change soon with the vaccine, and maybe we shall be able to visit this paradise on earth.
The Flora and Fauna Of Maui are unbelievable. It’s so green, it looks unreal. I want to come and stay there for a month in a log cabin with no mobile and nothing else to disturb me.
Well you are in luck, our forced absence from the Island has given us extensive time to write about the Islands lol
We so cant wait for the vaccine to kick in and we can all start getting back to doing what we love, for us that’s travelling, guess you are the same!
Your idea of a trip sound awesome, make sure you check out the Hana District if you really want to get away from it all!