COURTESY BISHOP MUSEUM
The 'ope'ape'a is a native Hawaiian bat that lives in forests. As more forest land is lost to development, the bats are losing their habitat.
Night-flying creatures face a scary future
In just a few nights, on Halloween, bats, owls and spiders will prowl the dark in Hawaii. They will not
be in costume.
This might sound frightening. What is truly frightening, however, is that the native Hawaiian forms of many of these well-known animals are endangered. It's no wonder that there are folks who devote most of their lives to studying these species and trying to learn ways to save them.
Native Hawaiian owl
Also flying in our friendly night skies is the pueo (Asio flammeus sandwichensis), a subspecies of the short-eared owl. It is most common on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island but lives on all of the main islands. It is on Oahu that the pueo has become endangered.
While it is comforting to catch a fleeting glimpse of the owl's striking white feathers on the dark drive down the winding road from Wahiawa to the North Shore, it is no surprise that the state lists vehicular collisions as one of the most common threats to this special bird. The ancestors of today's pueo traveled these routes long before there were roads.
Other threats to these ground-nesting birds: cats, rats and toxins, so hikers should watch for clutches of white eggs when hiking and steer clear. The parents could be out searching for rodents or insects for lunch.
When you consider that the term "native" means that a plant or animal's ancestors arrived here on their own without human help, you can imagine how rare it would be for a mammal to be one of the "accidental tourists" to land in the Hawaiian Islands, thousands of miles from any other land mass. But somehow bats found their way here before people.
What's to love about a bat? James Fullard of the University of Toronto Zoology Department says the Hawaiian bat could serve as an "indicator species" -- providing information about the general health of forests.
Unlike the North American little brown bat, Hawaii's native bat, the 'ope'ape'a, will not live in buildings or other structures and appears dependent upon undisturbed forests. As such, Fullard believes the loss of forests to building projects, ranches and agriculture could seal its fate. It is already listed as endangered by the federal government.
"The 'ope'ape'a will not, like the thunderous clap of a whale's fluke, loudly announce its impending extinction. While we quibble about whether the Hawaiian bat is or is not technically endangered, this elusive animal may quietly disappear," Fullard wrote in the fall 1997 issue of Bat Conservation.
"As the Hawaiian people struggle to keep alive their language and history, we must also endeavor to protect the hidden treasures of that heritage and ensure that the bat that greeted the early Polynesians continues its life in the protected forests of these fragile islands."
However, the bat's ability to use many types of habitats is encouraging to Haleakala National Park naturalists. "Hawaiian hoary bats have an uncommon combination of rarity and conspicuousness which make them a special and entertaining sight, swooping in solitude over the Hawaiian sunset," they note on the Haleakala National Park Web site.
No native life form appears more ready for Halloween than our native spider with its many garish colors. The "clown faces" on the happy face spider (Theridion grallator), known as nananana makaki'i in Hawaiian, seem like a bad joke played on such a shy arachnid.
The spider lives on the underside of leaves in rain forests -- mainly on the Big Island -- coming out at night to feed on small insects. The Bishop Museum "Good Guys/Bad Guys" Web page (hbs.bishopmuseum.org/good-bad) explains that the garish patterns might help keep the spiders from being eaten by birds. The spider has been found on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, though its population has decreased.
Hawaii's scariest-looking spider, the Kauai wolf spider (Adelocosa anops), known as koki'o in Hawaiian, has no eyes, relying on its sense of smell to hunt. This species can also be seen on the Bishop Museum's Web site.
Maybe the only thing spooky about our native bats, owls and spiders is that their numbers are declining, and they could quietly disappear along with their unique habitats.
teaches botany, ethnobotany and environmental science at Chaminade University. Her column runs on the last Monday of the month. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org