7 Snakes In Hawaii (And All Are Invasive!)
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- No snake species is native to Hawaii; all are invasive.
- Seven species of snakes are found on the island.
- Bringing snakes into the state or possessing them is considered a felony and can lead to jail time or hefty fines.
Are there snakes in Hawaii?
Are there snakes in Hawaii? The answer is yes, but it shouldn't be, as none of the terrestrial snakes here are native to any of the islands in this beloved archipelago. In fact, keeping snakes is considered a crime in Hawaii, punishable by up to a $200,000 fine or three years in prison. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture has been successfully fighting unwanted snakes for the past few decades.
Hawaii's ecosystem is extremely fragile, so the introduction of non-native species can threaten the safety of native wildlife. Snakes have no natural predators on the island, so they can easily outcompete existing animals and even reduce their numbers. They also pose a high threat to endangered native birds, preying on them and their eggs.
While efforts are underway to eradicate the snake, several species have been spotted in the state today. Below, we've compiled a list of snakes that once lived or currently live in Hawaii.
no snake state
Located 2,000 miles southwest of the continental United States, Hawaii began to form in isolation more than 300,000 years ago in one of the world's most remote regions. Because of such isolation, the plants and animals that reached and evolved on these islands had to migrate more than 2,000 miles from the nearest continent, or had to ride the winds from other distant Pacific islands.
Consider this isolation, and you can see why there are no native snakes in Hawaii. The journey is too far for the snake to survive and then start a thriving colony on the island. Like many other Pacific islands, freedom from large populations of rodents and snakes allowed ecosystems to form that were unprepared for these invasive predators. So if snakes are able to establish themselves in Hawaii, they could cause major losses to native Hawaiian species.
The 7 Snakes of Hawaii
As a reminder, none of these snakes are native to Hawaii (we also included a sea snake that doesn't live on land). However, it has been reported on these islands in the past. Most of the snakes on the following list have been contained since reports of their arrival on these islands. However, other snakes like the Brahman blind snake are now abundant in Hawaii. Fortunately, this particular species is pretty harmless.
brahman blind snake
Although the snake wasn't originally native to Hawaii, they've been around here for so long that many consider it a native species. These creatures are among the smallest snakes in the world, measuring 6 inches long and slender, so you might mistake one for an earthworm. They feed on ants and termites, which some people might appreciate.
An even more interesting fact is that each of them is female. This species is parthenogenetic, which means they reproduce by laying eggs that hatch without fertilization. In other words, only one snake is needed to produce countless generations!
While this would cause problems deleting them, it's not necessary in this case. Since the Brahman blind snake is non-venomous, it has little impact on the ecosystem and is basically harmless.
Due to its diamond-shaped pattern and larger head, the ball python is a more recognizable snake and is a common pet in other parts of the United States. They may be small at birth, but on a healthy diet of small mammals and birds they can grow up to six feet long, which is why they can wreak havoc on Hawaiian ecosystems if left unchecked.
Despite the strict regulations, there have been three reported sightings of ball pythons in the past seven years. In 2020, for example, a hunter found a 4-foot hunter in Oahu's Kahalu'u Forest, who gave it to the Humane Society.
Although ball pythons are non-venomous, they are still ferocious predators, constricting their prey, cutting off air and blood flow, and sometimes breaking bones before swallowing them whole. They may be safe in human homes, but they are too much for Hawaii.
Another common pet python, the ball python is much larger than its python cousin. Unfortunately, there are far more pythons seen in Hawaii. In 2011, two were found on a farm, one of which was only 9 feet long! Two separate incidents occurred in 2013: a 3-foot person was seen on a crosswalk in Honolulu, and a 5-foot person was run over on the Pali Expressway. In 2015, HDOA confiscated a 7-foot python in Nuvanu.
While some of these snakes may just be runaway pets, they could also come from the black market that specializes in exotic pets. Due to their larger size, pythons are considered more exotic than ball pythons, which may explain why they are seen more often. If ball pythons were too dangerous for Hawaiian wildlife, one can only imagine the devastation pythons could have wrought.
How did this iconic continental snake get to Hawaii? Well, there were two incidents, both involving Christmas trees. First, in 2004, a supermarket in Hawaii received a shipment from a company in Oregon. Unfortunately, the shipment included not only trees and other festive items, but also a 13-inch garter. After that, the islands remained garter-free until 2020, when another Christmas tree shipment included a garter stowaway, although this one died in transit.
This snake is common in the American wilderness and in the homes of some pet owners. Of course, Hawaii is an exception. Although there are many different species of the garter, they all have one characteristic in common: a long, thin stripe across the top of its body, usually yellow or white. Although they make great pets for the most part, they are actually mildly venomous, just not to humans as their venom is rather weak and not present in sufficient quantities.
This doesn't mean you want to be bitten by them, as their bites can still cause swelling. Furthermore, although their size only allows them to feed on small animals, they are very diverse and include various insects, fish, and amphibians. So these Christmas miracles could turn into Christmas disasters if they settled in Hawaii.
Another non-venomous snake, the corn snake, can grow very large and has been known to reach as high as 6 feet. However, despite its relatively large size, it poses no threat to humans and sticks to the standard snake diet of birds, their eggs, and small mammals. In other states this would not be a problem, but in Hawaii it would be a dangerous invasive predator.
Corn snakes are rare in Hawaii and were only reported in 2019. It was found in someone's backyard, and its origins are a total mystery. It was quickly reported to HDOA and has not been seen since. However, the fact that it popped up out of nowhere is worrisome.
As nocturnal animals, they are only active at night, so while it is possible that another animal is lurking in the wild, it is highly unlikely. If you see their orange bodies and red spots on them, you don't have to worry about your safety, but please report it to the authorities.
There are several venomous snakes in Hawaii to watch out for. The brown tree snake was especially problematic because it wiped out most of Guam's native species after its introduction. Thankfully, the only brown tree snakes found in the state so far were for training purposes.
Yellow-bellied snakes are Hawaii's closest relative to "native" snakes, but they're an aquatic species that's rarely seen off the island's coast.
brown tree snake
Although native to some islands between the Indian and Pacific oceans, these snakes somehow continue to cross the Pacific Ocean by hiding on cargo ships and planes. Like other snakes, they feed on small mammals and birds, but growing brown tree snakes have been known to eat up to 70 percent of their body weight each day. Most importantly, they are poisonous to humans and bite.
If proof was needed of how dangerous these snakes can be to an isolated ecosystem, look no further than Guam, where many of the island's native species became extinct after the brown tree snake's discovery in the 1940s. It has multiplied over the decades and today, it sits at the top of Guam's food chain with no natural predators.
That's why HDOA works hard to keep them out and eradicate them when found. As of today, the only known brown tree snakes in Hawaii are quartets imported to train dogs to help eradicate them. That being said, these snakes are very cunning and adventurous, so it's not the worst idea to be vigilant while traveling.
yellow-bellied sea snake
This is the closest thing to a native Hawaiian snake, though it rarely swims ashore. However, they are much more common on the beaches of North America, so the prospect of finding their way to Hawaii is not out of reach. The yellow-bellied sea snake can be identified by its yellow belly (of course), black stripes on its back, and black and yellow spotted tail.
Despite the venomous nature of this sea snake, there are no records of it attacking anyone in Hawaii. In fact, they tend to avoid humans, lurking under rocks to hide from predators. They are also slow to bite, and if successful, permanent damage can be avoided if treated quickly. However, they can be deadly, so you should still try to avoid them and seek immediate medical attention if bitten.
snake of the archipelago
It's easy to guess why the HDOA is so strict about banning snakes from Hawaii. When any ecosystem has become established, the introduction of new predators can wreak havoc on the species living there.
This is especially true for the islands that make up Hawaii. Because they are isolated, their ecosystems are small due to their size and sometimes host species that are not found anywhere else in the world. No wonder the people who live there want to preserve the wonder they call home.
While snake lovers may be disappointed by the lack of small snake snakes among Hawaii's unique wildlife, these restrictions are in place for the sake of said wildlife. Plus, one less thing for hikers to worry about! That being said, keep your eyes open; you might spot one of these snakes, or even one we didn't mention!
All in all, snakes are great, but please keep them where they belong…it's not in Hawaii!
Anti-snake legislation in Hawaii
Given the reptiles' ability to reproduce in large numbers and their willingness to attack native species—not to mention the absence of any natural predators—the state government's intolerance for their presence is understandable.
So for fans and lovers of the controversial slithering reptile, a natural paradise might not be so idyllic. Especially since owning snakes is illegal in Hawaii, and the cost of potentially damaging the ecosystem in doing so is a hefty $200,000 fine and three years in prison.
However, the government has also generously provided a loophole for any sweaty snake owner forever dreading careful neighbors to call a pest hotline and report it to the authorities.
Thanks to the state's amnesty program, they can themselves turn over their reptile charges at any HDOA or rescue office and bring them home without paying astronomical fines or undergoing nerve-wracking interrogations at the police station . So, are there snakes in Hawaii? Yes, but many consider it an unfortunate addition to heaven.
Summary of the Hawaiian Snake
|Brown tree snake Yellow-bellied sea snake||Brahman blind snake ball python boa garter snake corn snake|
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