Take a dash of daring, add a large pinch of stealth, then sprinkle in a bit of camouflage and what do you get? The small, but menacing Cookiecutter shark, so named for their dining technique of twisting out neat, circular plugs of flesh from the sides of their prey, much like a cookie or biscuit cutter. Isistius brasiliensis, or the cigar shark as it is also known, is an ambush predator employing a "hit and run" technique. During the day these small (17 to 22 inches), chocolate-colored sharks rest in the deep ocean, up to a couple of miles deep. At night, they ascend towards the surface. Traveling alone, or sometimes in schools, the sharks use a bit of smoke and mirrors to confuse their potential "meals." The underside of the cookiecutter emits light, allowing them to blend in with the lighter ocean surface. This makes the darker collar-like stripe around their necks stand out. Researchers infer that this stripe acts as a lure, drawing fish or marine mammals closer. Then, with a sneaky and fast dash, they bore into their prey, holding on with fleshy, sucker-like lips, and quickly twisting out a meal of flesh. Then off they flee, quick as can be. Cookiecutter bites have been documented on whales, seals, dolphins, sharks and fish. Rubber seals and coatings on Navy submarines have had to replaced due to cookiecutter chomps. In 2009, the first cookiecutter attack on a human was documented, right here in Hawaii. A 61 year-old long distance swimmer was attempting a night-time swim across the Alenuihaha Channel from Hawaii to Maui, when he felt a sharp pin prick on his lower chest. With a yelp, he swam over to the rescue boat that accompanied him, but before he could get out of the water the cookicutter managed a second bite, twisting out a plug from his calf. One skin graft and nine months later, the wound was healed. From the shark's point of view, it just want cookie, it eat cookie, "Om nom nom nom."
Make way for the prickly-natured Scolopendra subspinipes, the biggest of three local centipedes, and the one known for their stinging bite. They are usually about five inches long, and are reddish-brown in color, though variations in color can occur. Damp and dark places are their preferred habitat, such as leaf litter, or under rocks or tent tarps. Normally terrestrial, they may burrow a bit, as I know only too well - I'm always on the lookout for them whenever I turn the compost pile. When the weather becomes overly wet or dry, they go slithering in search of alternate shelter. Venturing indoors, they seek out suitable areas which may include your shoes, clothing, or bedsheets. Oh my. I always shake out my sneakers and garden boots to be on the safe side. They are members of the Phylum Arthropoda, invertebrates characterized by their segmented bodies and jointed appendages. A pair of legs accompanies each of the twenty-one body segments of this solitary and nocturnal animal, making their "centipede" name a misnomer. They use their back legs to grasp and hold their prey, which includes insects, spiders, and worms, while they envenomate their hapless victims with their powerful jaws. Lucky for us, they rather scamper away, but will inflict a painful bite if bothered or threatened. Two puncture wounds mark their bite, which will hurt like the dickens. In some individuals, the venom may cause quite a bit of swelling, in which case a trip to the local medical facility is prudent.
If you need anything, just give a hala. Seriously. This was one useful plant to early Hawaiians. The spiky leaves were (and still are) lovingly gathered, cleaned, dethorned, flattened and softened in preparation for weaving. The lauhala was literally woven into Hawaiian culture. Hats, mattresses, pillows, mats, ceilings, baskets, sandals, house thatching, sails, and fans were some of the items expertly crafted. The firm wood of the male tree made it suitable for use in the construction of hale. Medicines were derived from the aerial roots, leaf buds and fruits. Kapa was painted using the fibers on the ends of dried fruits. Beautiful lei were made with the hinano, the male flowers, as well as from the keys of the female fruit. Since the word "hala" also means faults, sins, errors, to pass (as time), lei made from the hala may be given at the end of a venture or to mark the passing of difficult times that have now "slipped away," making way for a new beginning.
Pu hala, Pandanus tectorius, is found around the Pacific. It is considered a canoe plant, but it is also likely that it found its own way to Hawaii, the buoyant fruits bobbing along on ocean currents and finding their way to tropical shores, where they take root. As with other plants that thrive in coastal regions, it is salt, drought, and wind tolerant. The common name, screwpine, comes from the leaves spiraling at the end of the branches. Numerous aerial roots support and anchor the tree, which is needed due to extensive spread (20 to 40 feet), but their resemblance to "legs" gives the tree the nickname "walking tree." The trees are either male or female, the male producing beautiful white bracts that wrap around small and fragrant flowers. The talc-like pollen was considered an aphrodisiac, and was used to scent kapa. Female flowers clusters develop into large globes of many wedges, called keys or phalanges, each of which hold around two seeds. Hala trees are found in cultivation and in the wild, though, like the weavers of lauhala, not as numerous as they once were.
The bright and beautiful uhu are found cruising warm water reef habitats around the world; Hawaii is happy to be home to seven different species, three of which are endemic. They typically have a blunt head, large scales, and a distinctive beak-like mouth that earned them their common name, the parrotfish. Primarily herbivores, they actively scour the reef for algae by day, which they scrape from rocks and corals using the fused teeth of their "beaks." This contributes to a healthy reef ecosystem by keeping algae growth in check. The scraping also results in the ingestion of some of the harder substrate, which is later expelled as sand; a good-sized uhu may be responsible for producing several hundred pounds of sand each year. This, in turn, provides habitat for many of the sand dwelling and burrowing denizens of the reef. At night, uhu may entomb themselves in a cocoon of mucous for protection.
Uhu can be tricky to identify because they undergo life phases, changing colors and patterns in each phase. In general, they begin life as females, but once reproductively mature, they are capable of becoming male if the need arises. Males are larger and more brilliantly colored (often with blues and greens) than the females, (typically a drabber red and brown), and patrol territories that include a group of females, which is referred to as a harem. The large size of the male and the tastiness of the parrotfish in general, is cause for some concern about fishing pressure on uhu, and how to best manage their populations.
The uhu in Hawaiian waters include the three endemic species: the Yellowbar Parrotfish, Regal Parrotfish, and the Spectacled Parrotfish. Other species include the Stareye, the Bullethead, the Redlip, and Palenose Parrotfish.
Some of the most elegant and graceful of all Hawaiian plants are the six endemic ferns of the Sadleria genus, referred to locally as 'Ama'u. The young fronds unfurl in a blush of red, softening into orange, then later to green as they mature. It is thought that the red pigment may serve as a defense against the strong tropical sunlight. 'Ama'u can be found in a variety of habitats, from the coast to the mountains, and from streamside to the exposed fields of new lava flows, where they are pioneers - one of the first species to take hold. They may also act as nurseries for 'ohi'a lehua: the seeds lodge within the scales of the 'ama'u and come to life from the water captured by the fern. In time, they will overtake their "parent," crowding out the 'ama'u completely.
Depending on the species, 'ama'u can appear as a smaller, spreading fern, or similar to a tree fern, with an upright "trunk." The larger ferns sport fronds about three feet long. Like the native tree ferns, the emerging fronds may be covered with pulu, the brown, silky hairs. Early Hawaiians used the pulu as stuffing for bedding; the fronds were used as a mulch, and for house thatching. Medicines were also derived from 'ama'u, and it could be baked and eaten as a famine food.
When you spot your first Kolea this August, stop to consider the journey it has just completed. Unable to soar or rest on the water, this remarkable bird has just pumped its wings up and down for perhaps three thousand miles in its epic non-stop journey from the arctic tundra to the very patch of land you find it. It is likely the very same patch it patrolled during its previous winters here. Take a moment to marvel.
The eggs have been laid, incubated, hatched, and now the juveniles have been left to fatten up so that they, too, can make the journey in October. Scientists don't know how they accomplish this amazing feat of navigation, particularly since they have never made the flight before. And if, after that long journey, the young arriving in the fall cannot establish their own territory, it may mean an additional leg of the journey further south. Though they are shorebirds, kolea occupy a variety of territories, as long as they are open and have low vegetation: golf courses, parks, fields, and marshes will do. Once settled, they will spend the winter poking around for moths, caterpillars, cockroaches, and the like. They patrol their territories with both caution and a bit of daring, strutting quickly, then abruptly stopping and watching, rarely intimidated enough to fly off. In the spring, their diet will expand to include berries, seeds and leaves prior to their return trip in late April to May. Just before they embark on that return journey, they'll sport a gorgeous summer breeding plumage: a dark underbelly and face piped with a racing stripe of white. I for one am inspired by the fortitude of this delicate little bird.
welcomes you to visit with the all the wonderful flora and fauna that we share this lovely aina with.