The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Hawaii

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Which Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals Lived in Hawaii?

nene goose in hawaii
Wikimedia Commons

Okay, raise your hands: you didn't really expect any dinosaurs to be discovered in Hawaii, did you? After all, this island chain rose from the Pacific Ocean only six million years ago, more than 50 million years after the last dinosaurs went extinct everywhere else on earth. But just because it never had any dinosaurs, that doesn't mean the state of Hawaii was entirely bereft of prehistoric life, as you can learn by perusing the following slides.

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The Moa-Nalo

A Moa-Nalo skull fragment. Wikimedia Commons

What Hawaiians call the Moa-Nalo actually comprised three separate genera of prehistoric birds: the much less euphonious-sounding Chelychelynechen, Thambetochen and Ptaiochen. These squat, stocky-legged, flightless 15-pound birds descended from a population of ducks that migrated to the Hawaiian islands about three million years ago; they were eventually hunted to extinction by human settlers, never having learned to fear (or run away from) people.

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Various Prehistoric Birds

Kona Grosbeak
The Kona Grosbeak, a prehistoric bird of Hawaii. Wikimedia Commons

The Moa-Nalo (previous slide) is the most famous of Hawaii's prehistoric birds, but there were dozens more that went extinct at the cusp of the modern era, ranging from the Oahu 'Akialoa to the Kona Grosbeak to the Nene-Nui, a precursor of the still-extant Nene. Restricted to their island ecosystem, these birds were doomed by the arrival of efficient predators--not the least of which included Hawaii's first human inhabitants and their hungry pets.

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Various Prehistoric Snails

Achatinella, an extinct tree snail of Hawaii. Wikimedia Commons

Aside from birds, the most notable form of indigenous life on the Hawaiian islands consists of tree snails, many of which still live on the island of Oahu. The last few million years have seen the extinction of numerous species of Achatinella, Amastra and Carelia — most likely because these snails subsisted, perilously, on a very specific type of fungus. Even today, Hawaii's tree snails are in constant danger, from both human encroachment and changes in global climate.

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Mollusks and Corals

A typical coral. Wikimedia Commons

Given its location smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as well as its extensive coastlines, it's no surprise that Hawaii has yielded the fossils of numerous marine invertebrates, including mollusks, corals and even algae. The Waianae coast, near Honolulu on the island of Oahu, features the fossilized remnants of a marine reef community dating to the late Pleistocene epoch, a few million years after Hawaii emerged from the sea.

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Strauss, Bob. "The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Hawaii." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Strauss, Bob. (2021, February 16). The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Hawaii. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Hawaii." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).