Famously, Hawaii lacks snakes, but, beyond that, it’s one of the few places in the world with no native land reptiles or amphibians – “herptiles,” as they’re collectively known. Anything here that slithers, crawls or hops was introduced, intentionally or by accident.
Bob Thomson, an assistant professor of evolutionary and conservation biology at UH-Manoa, says the Islands’ isolation is why they lack native “herps.”
“The (isolation) that caused Hawaii to generate all this diversity … limits reptiles and amphibians getting here,” Thomson says.
He says there are some 10 species of geckos in Hawaii and all were introduced. Other newcomers are bright-green anole lizards and small, dark skinks that dwell among leaf litter, probably having arrived as stowaways or as eggs among introduced plants, pots or other containers.
Five species of marine turtles are native to the Hawaiian Islands, but, of course, they live in the water, not on land. Yellow-belly sea snakes live in Hawaiian waters, but never come ashore.
Non-native frogs like cane toads and South American dart frogs have naturalized across the state and two species of Asian soft-shell turtle, introduced in the 19th century for food, inhabit streams and ponds. Once introduced to Hawaii, most herptiles successfully naturalize in the wild.
Some immigrant herps are infamous. The arrival of the Puerto Rican coqui frog has been marked by its silence-shattering chorus and North American red-eared slider turtles, popular in the pet trade, are invasive worldwide.
Thomson also mentions lizards kept as pets, Jackson’s chameleons, which have been known to eat Hawaii’s native land snails in the wild.
The introduction of any non-native animal poses a potential threat and Thomson urges people to help protect Hawaii’s environment by never releasing any creature into the wild.