Are There Snakes in Hawaii? The Good, The Bad & The Friendly

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Snakes are up there on the list of creatures to fear. It is an understandable reaction, given that there are many types of poisonous snake. When choosing your next holiday destination, fear of snakes (Ophidiophobia) could feature high on your list of priorities. You need to know where to avoid! Even if you are a lover of snakes (Ophidiophile), you might want to check out all the native creatures you could spot!

So we ask the question: are there snakes in Hawaii? We are here to give you the low-down on all those legless reptiles lurking in the Hawaiian undergrowth.

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Join us on a magical mystery tour of all snakes bright and beautiful. The good, the bad and the friendly, and those who stowed away and crashed the party. If you are choosing Hawaii as your next holiday destination, this is a must read! Spotting snakes could save your life, or even make you a local hero!

What snakes are in Hawaii?

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Hawaii is touted as a sort of eden. Indeed, before humans existed on the islands, Hawaii was a utopian bio-dome of sorts. Even the native brown cane spider, which can in some extreme cases give a venomous bite, is fairly docile and would prefer to run than attack. Especially a creature so large as a human. This is how humans found the eco-system when they arrived.

Though there are a handful of pretty dangerous animals on the islands, we are here to tell you, there were no native snakes on the Hawaiian islands!

Having said that, snakes do actually inhabit the Hawaiian islands today. They exist as interlopers, brought over by planes and boats. Some hitched a ride, others were brought by nefarious persons hoping to make a buck or two. They are uncommon, therefore exotic, and many people are captivated by the idea of owning a pet snake. The black market caters to these people. This is of course highly illegal, and categorised as a class C felony on the islands. Snake-owners face fines of up to $200,000 American Dollars if caught, with a maximum jail sentence of three years!

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Snakes wreak havoc on native animal populations if they escape from owner’s homes and live in the wild. This is just one reason for the extreme fines and sentences. Since snakes began arriving on the island, several birds are now endangered. One species of bird, the Oahu Petrel, was thought to have gone extinct. Thankfully, a small enclave of the petrel species were rediscovered in 2019. Snakes have no natural predators on islands such as these. So, if populations are left to grow, they could overrun the islands and completely change the eco-system!

An amnesty program was also introduced in 2017 to encourage snake owners to give up their prohibited pet. Whilst this has proved useful, and many have given up their illegal animals many wild snakes are still at large.

So, what kind of snakes have been found out there? Lets dive into the undergrowth and find out!

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Brown Tree Snake

Native only to the islands that sit between the Indian and Pacific oceans, its presence has rippled out through tropical countries with the introduction of international industry, and boats and planes taking people and cargo across the seas. They are fairly venomous to humans, and will bite if they feel threatened. They usually prey on birds and small mammals, and have been known to eat up to 70% of their bodyweight per day. Especially when growing.

The arrival of brown tree snake in Guam in 1952 decimated many of the local animal populations on the island. Direct flights between Guam and Hawaii are commonplace since the eighties. Snakes can often hitch a ride on these planes, hiding in wheel arches and dropping down into the cargo hold. Many have been found upon arrival. Some go unnoticed, slithering out into the tropical forests and grasses to feed and reproduce. Watch out on those beautiful nature hikes!

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The Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) have taken the appearance of these pests very seriously, and have recently introduced a new method of eradication. Not only are there brown tree snakes in Hawaii, but in 2018 four sterile male brown tree snakes were purposefully flown in to facilitate sniffer dog training. Why? well, it is hoped the program will cease population growth, and stop the species from taking root on the islands and destroying local wildlife.

Photo by Smithsonian

Brahminy Blind Snake

The Brahminy blind snake is approximately 5-10 cm in length, and known to be smallest snake in the world. The species is non-venomous and feeds on larvae, eggs, and pupae of ants and termites.

All snakes of this kind are female, and lay eggs that are effectively clones of themselves. There are many brahminy blind snakes in Hawaii. It is suspected that one came over in the 1930’s from the Philippines in potting soil. Seemingly this one female was enough to create an eruption of the species due to its reproductive solvency.

The snake is probably the most harmless in the line-up, and amazingly seems to have not effected the overall eco-system of Hawaii negatively overall. As they tend to stick to the undergrowth, you may never even see one! As they are so tiny, you might even mistake one for an earthworm.

yellow bellied sea snake
Photo courtesy of What Lurks Below

Yellow Bellied Sea Snake

Yellow bellied sea snakes are common to the tropical coastlines of Mexico and North America amongst other places. So called because of their signature black body and yellow belly, they tend to lurk around rocks to avoid humans and predators, and are fairly slow to attack. If they do bite, however, their venom is highly dangerous and contains neurotoxins that attack the brain. Anti-venom is widely available however and no lasting damage will occur if the victim is treated quickly.

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There are yellow bellied sea snakes in Hawaii, yet there have been no reported incidents of attacks on humans on the coastlines of Hawaii. It is unclear how they came to dwell in Hawaiian waters. It is assumed by fishermen who accidentally catch them in nets. Still, these are definitely worth staying away from if you see one while snorkelling!

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Photo by Jan Kopriva on Unsplash

Rainbow Boa Constrictor

There are five types of rainbow boa, each with their own distinctive colours and markings. All beautiful, all potentially deadly. So we wonder, just how many types of rainbow boa constrictor snakes are there in Hawaii?

These are perhaps the most exotic snakes that people love to own. This is why they are often smuggled in and sold on the black market with intent. As the name would suggest, the boa constricts. That is how it kills its prey, by crushing it to death. And as the boa can get pretty big, so can its prey!

In 2013, a nearly three foot rainbow boa was found on a cross-walk in Honolulu’s Chinatown. The same year, another was run-over on Oahu’s highway. A six-foot Boa was also confiscated from a home in Kea’au on Big Island. But the biggest regular boa was discovered by the HDOA in Nuuanu in 2015. it was seven foot long!

There have been many discovered lurking in the wild. Maybe they come over in shipping containers. Perhaps owners get scared when they see how big the invertebrates can get and ditch them. Probably a bit of both. Either way, these guys at their biggest have the power to crush full sized goats and pigs. A human wouldn’t be too much hard work for a six of seven foot boa, if you cross it! This is why the HDOA are so committed to stamping out their presence, and can give another indication to why fines are so high if found harbouring these illegal pets.

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Python

Python’s are discerned by the characteristic brown diamond-like markings on its light tan body. Its head is much wider than its body, and has large backwards-facing teeth, used to hold its prey. Usually small mammals and birds. The invertebrate is native to west central Africa, but have been found as far afield as greater Asia and parts of Bali.

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This year, a hunter out in Ouahu island’s Kahalu’u forest came across a 4ft ball python. While non-venomous, the python can still cause untold harm to local wildlife. Like the boa constrictor, they will kill prey by coiling around the animal and crushing it. If they are allowed to breed it could be game over for some endangered birds and mammals such as the Hawaiian hoary bat and the nene goose. The python was captured and safely delivered to the local humane society, who in turn handed it over to the plant quarantine inspectors.

It is not known how the snake, native to west central Africa, arrived on the island. Either as stow-away or black market pet, but it is suspected the latter is true.

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Corn Snake

Corn snakes are a slender variety of snake, and are recorded to reach up to 72 inches in length. Their signature mark is the red spots/diamond shapes on their back, surrounded by a burnt orange colouring. The corn snake will eat small mammals, but has also been known to eat birds eggs. Even the odd bird if they are small enough. But are there many corn snakes in Hawaii?

In 2019, a corn snake was found in backyard in Waipahu. Whilst the snake was captured by the HDOA and released to the plant quarantine inspectors, there has been no clue as to how it came to be there. As the corn snake is often touted as a great pet due to its docile, non-venomous nature it could be just another black-market pet that got out of its cage. There is only one reported case of a corn snake being. As they are nocturnal, however, this does not mean that they are not out there!

Photo by Yuval Levy on Unsplash

Gopher Snake

The gopher snake is one of the more harmless reptiles on this list. Still, it could prove hard on the local eco-system if allowed to run rampant! The large brown coloured snake with sandy coloured squares along its back was found on Hawaii’s Big Island 2014. The snake was killed shortly after being found slithering from a large shipping container by workers at the scene in Keaau.

A similar reported incident happened near a Honolulu Airport in 2012, and again in a shipyard in Honolulu in 2007. Are there more gopher snakes in Hawaii? Given that the gopher is a type of snake native to the west coast of America, It’s likely. So called because they eat gophers amongst other small mammals, this particular snake only eats every 10-14 days, meaning it is probably one of the least harmful snakes to have on the Hawaiian islands. Still, their breeding could eventually cause harm to the local wildlife!

Photo by Jan Kopriva on Unsplash

Are there Snakes in Hawaii? Yes, but There Shouldn’t be!

So whilst snakes are joining their human counterparts in doing a bit of island hopping, they most certainly should not be! Granted, it is a beautiful utopia full of rare forms of bird and lots of smaller mammals, but their presence could be disastrous to local flora and fauna if left unchecked. This is why Hawaii is not a snake-friendly destination!

If you want to avoid snakes, this is your dream holiday destination! Whilst there are some lurking, the HDOA are doing their damnedest to eradicate the pests and restore utopian equilibrium to the wildlife native to its four beautiful islands. Destinations like Thailand have far more legless beasts lurking!

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So if snakes are your thing and you can’t wait to track down another, you might be out of luck. though you could always try your hand at snake hunting, and become a local hero with the authorities!

If you enjoyed this article, send it to a fellow snake lover! Or, a loved-one who wants the golden sands and glorious tropical forests of these islands without setting sight on serpents.

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