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Autochthonous Hawai'i

Lāna’i hookbill, kāhuli, ākoko, and lehua pō original

Lāna’i hookbill, kāhuli, ākoko, and lehua pō original

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Original 6"x8" illustration.


HOOKBILL: This unusual honeycreeper was likely endemic to Lāna’i, but very little information on them exists today. Only one specimen exists of the hookbill, collected on February 22, 1913, by George C. Munro in Kaiholena Valley. Munro then had two more sightings of this bird in 1916 and 1918, but they are not confirmed.

The hookbill had a striking bill morphology, where the upper and lower mandibles touched only at the tip, leaving a gap in the middle. Since observations of the bird are so sparse, we can only speculate on their ecological relationships. Some authors propose that the hookbill was a snail specialist, given their strong jaws and thick bill, able to crush and extract tree snails, some of which are now extinct. Munro observed the bird foraging on 'ākoko fruit.

“As I understood from persons who remembered this forest it was a continuous area of thousands of acres of akoko trees” wrote Munro on the habitat in which he found the hookbill. The forest was cleared for pineapple production, and further destroyed by ungulates. R. C. L. Perkins observed that, in 1893, the forest was in a “deplorable condition”, having been overrun by “countless wild goats, and it was also full of wild pigs and cats that had run wild”. Of the cats, Perkins said they “were destroying native birds wholesale”. The extinction of the Lāna’i hookbill is, likely, a combination of predation, habitat loss, and potentially loss of their food source.

‘ĀKOKO: The Hawaiian flora is unique to the world for multiple reasons, one of which is insular arborescence. Arborescence is the evolutionary process by which herbaceous founder plant species adapt to become woody shrubs or trees over time. This has occurred multiple times in unrelated Hawaiian plants. For some plants, Hawai’i has the tallest and woodiest representatives of a genus in the world! Euphorbia, a genus of primarily small weedy herbs, is a strong example of insular arborescence. Many of Hawai’i’s endemic Euphorbia (collectively known as ‘ākoko) are trees, reaching heights of over a dozen meters. Unfortunately, many ‘ākoko are endangered or have experienced significant declines in range and population.

KĀHULI: Lāna’i, as with other Hawaiian Islands, has lost snail diversity over time. Of the 750+ species of snails native to Hawai’i as a whole, an estimated 90% have gone extinct. Partulina variabilis is endemic to Lāna’i and—as their specific epithet indicates—are variable in shell color and pattern. Given the immense diversity and abundance of snails in Hawai'i, it is likely that more bird species depended on these mollusks (such as the ibises and po'ouli), and that their decline has negatively impacted Hawaiian forests as a whole.

LEHUA PŌ: Lāna’i reportedly was home to a variety of ‘ōhi’a that bore purple blossoms. A mo’olelo explains that Lanikaula, a kahuna from Moloka’i, became angered at the people of Lāna’i and cursed them. Kawelo, a kahuna from Lāna’i, lit a fire to rebuff the ill-will targeted at his people, and the smoke flowing from his fire turned the region’s ‘ōhi’a blossoms purple.

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