What are some examples of unusual island wildlife?



  1. 0 Votes

    From tiny Manus Island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, to the enormous island of Madagascar, islands throughout the world have evolved unique and unusual animal species which are often very different from wildlife living on the mainland.  Isolated for millions of years from the nearest continent, islands are sometimes referred to as “living laboratories” where new species develop while sheltered from some of the forces sculpting evolution on the mainland.  Below are just a few examples of unique island animals found in different parts of the world.

    Marine Iguana – Galapagos Islands


    Found only on the Galapagos Islands about 1,000 kilometers from the coast of mainland South America, the marine iguana is a truly unique creature: a lizard that spends large amounts of time submerged under sea water.  These reptiles have adapted to feed on a diet of sea weed and algae near to the shore of the islands, and may stay underwater for as long as an hour at a time while foraging for food.  Though all the marine iguanas in the Galapagos archipelago belong to the same species, each major island where the lizards are found has evolved a slightly different subspecies or “race” with a unique and distinctive appearance.  Yet all of the marine iguanas now found on the islands are believed to have evolved from a small population of iguanas from the South American mainland which most likely were washed out sea on rafts of branches or logs, only to become stranded on the Galapagos.  This founding population is thought by scientists to have evolved on the Galapagos into two new species – the marine iguana, and also the related Galapagos land iguana.

    Kakapo Parrot – New Zealand

    Flightless birds belonging to families represented in mainland environments by related flying species have evolved on many islands throughout the world, where isolation from predators long ago reduced the usefulness of flight.  Just one example among many is the kakapo – a parrot from New Zealand that also serves as a great representative for the dozens of unique birds that have evolved in isolation on this string of large islands to the east of Australia.  The kakapo is not only the only the only flightless parrot on the planet, but also the world’s only nocturnal member of the parrot family.  These birds get around on the ground and in the trees without the ability to fly, and still use their wings to balance on tree limbs while climbing in search of the fruits, seeds, and other plant material they feed on.  Unfortunately the kakapo is now highly endangered due mainly to human activities.  Historically the birds have been hunted for their skins while also suffering from habitat and predation from cats, dogs, and other species introduced to the New Zealand islands by settlers.  By 1995, the total population of kakapos had been reduced to about 50 individuals, spurring emergency conservation efforts to save the species from extinction.  Today the population of kakapos numbers at 123 individuals – and although the species is still considered highly endangered, there’s a very real hope that continued conservation efforts may continue to improve the prospects for this amazing bird.
    Giant Jumping Rat – Madagascar
    Any discussion of unusual island wildlife could hardly be complete without mentioning the extraordinary biological diversity on the large island of Madagascar, off the eastern coast of Africa.  Indeed, Madagascar is home to so many unique and extraordinary creatures (most famously the 33 species of lemurs) that it’s difficult to choose one to serve as a representative of the island.  However for post I’ve settled on the giant jumping rat to represent Madagascar – partly because this species exemplifies so well how island animals may evolve to take on ecological roles which are filled by very different species on the mainland.  Though it is a true rodent, the giant jumping rat’s appearance is in many ways more similar to that of a rabbit than a rat.  While its long, bare tail gives it away for what it is, this species has elongated ears and large hind feet which immediately call to mind a rabbit.  The resemblance goes even further, since jumping rats also dig rabbit-like burrows, have similar feeding habits to rabbits, and use their hind legs to jump long distances when escaping predators.  Since there are no true rabbits on Madagascar, it’s likely this rodent has evolved to fill the “ecological niche” that would be occupied by rabbits in many other parts of the world.  Unfortunately that niche is now endangered, as deforestation in Madagascar (pictured above) encroaches on the habitat of the jumping rat and countless other species.
    Manus Island Tree Snail – Manus Island, Papua New Guinea
    Perhaps less striking at first glance than ocean-dwelling lizards or flightless parrots – but equally amazing in their own way – are the unique species of snails that have evolved in many island ecosystems throughout the tropics.  Like many island snails, the Manus island tree snail is confined to a single small island– Manus Island, off the much larger island of New Guinea.  These snails spend their lives high in the trees of their home island’s tropical forest cover.  Yet for the most part they feed not on the leaves of the trees, but on lichens, fungi, and dead vegetation found in the forest canopy.  The Manus island snail’s attractive-looking green or yellowish shell has not served it well in recent years, and the snails are now threatened by collection of their shells for the tourist trade.  In common with many other island species, habitat destruction and the introduction of non-native predators to the Manus Island snail’s habitat now threaten this creature, which is considered an endangered species.
    Solenodons – Cuba and Hispanola
    Time and time again throughout the Earth’s history, islands have served as refuges for plant and animal species whose relatives may have died out on the nearby mainland millions of years ago.  Because predator species that evolve on the mainland are often unable to reach island habitats, animals which long ago disappeared on the continents have persisted on islands – and there’s probably no better case in point than the solenodon.  Though they look a bit like large rodents with an endearingly long snout, the two living species of solenodon belong to a family which evolved away from other mammals 76 million years ago, when dinosaurs still walked the Earth.  In fact solenodons are thought by researchers bear a close resemblance to the first mammals, and can provide insights into animal life during the Cretaceous Period.  Just one of their unique adaptations is their ability to inject venom with their bite – a trait shared by very few other mammals.  Each of the two living solenodon species is confined to a single island in the Carribean.  The Cuban solenodon, as its name suggests, lives only on the island of Cuba.  The Hispanola solenodon is confined to Hispanola – an island that includes the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
    Christmas Island Red Crab – Christmas Island, Australia
    When the rainy season begins in December on Christmas Island, more than one hundred million bright red crabs emerge from their hiding places in the forest and set out on a mass migration to their breeding grounds on the shoreline.  This annual crab migration is one of nature’s truly spectacular wildlife spectacles, with millions of crabs swarming over lawns and gardens and clogging up roadways on their way to the sea.  However the red crabs are only one of fourteen land crab species living on Christmas Island – most of them considerably less conspicuous.  Many tropical islands throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans have their own populations of land crab species, making the Christmas Island red crab a fitting representative for a whole complex of crab species that have evolved to live on island land habitats.  Land crabs are essential to the health of the island ecosystems where they live; the red crabs of Christmas Island are important scavengers in their rainforest habitat, feeding on dead plant and animal material and fertilizing the forest floor with their droppings.  The burrows dug by land crabs also serve to aerate the soil, contributing to the health of vegetation.  These crabs are just one example of how island animals are not only fascinating in their own right, but important members of unique island communities as well.
  2. 0 Votes

    Another very odd island species is the ay-aye, native to Madagascar that combines rodent like teeth with a long, thin middle finger to fill the same ecological niche as a woodpecker. It is well known for its odd method of collecting food by tapping on trees to find grub and then using its elongated middle finger to pull the grubs out. They are mainly solitary animals but have been to known to exhibit small amounts of social interaction. Aye-Ayes are nocturnal animals and commonly eat nuts, grubs, fruit, nectar, seeds, and fungi. This species is an endangered one not only to habitat destruction but also due to native superstition. Some native people see the aye-aye as the harbinger of death and kill it on sight. Also some say that the appearance of an aye aye means that a villager will die and that the only to prevent that is to kill the aye aye.

  3. 0 Votes

    Deep sea cucumbers are pretty weird. They feed on mud at the bottom of the ocean.

Please signup or login to answer this question.

Sorry,At this time user registration is disabled. We will open registration soon!