The Hawaiian Islands (Hawaiian: Mokupuni o Hawai‘i) are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and undersea seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean. 95% of all creatures on these islands are endemic. Extending some 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometres) from the island of Hawaiʻi in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll. Once known as the "Sandwich Islands", the name chosen by James Cook in honour of the then First Lord of the Admiralty John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, the archipelago now takes its name from the largest island in the cluster. The U.S. state of Hawaii occupies the archipelago almost in its entirety, with the sole exception of Midway island, which is instead an unincorporated territory within the United States Minor Outlying Islands.The Hawaiian Islands are the exposed peaks of a great undersea mountain range known as the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain, formed by volcanic activity over a hotspot in the Earth's mantle. The islands are about 1,860 miles (3,000 km) from the nearest continent.
Native Species of the Hawaiian Islands Relatively few species were able to reach the Hawaiian archipelago before humans arrived, but those original colonizing species evolved into an incredible array of uniquely adapted species that gradually transformed the barren and rocky volcanoes of the Hawaiian Islands into lush tropical islands full of life.
The extreme isolation of the Hawaiian Islands, more than 2,400 miles (3,862 km) from the nearest continental land mass, led to the evolution of thousands of endemic (unique) species of flowering plants, ferns, insects, birds, and marine life. Native species of the Hawaiian Islands are divided into two categories: indigenous and endemic. Indigenous species are native to the Hawaiian Islands and also native to some other location. Without the aid of humans, they arrived in the Hawaiian Islands by “wind, wave, or wing”—in other words, they were carried by winds, the ocean, or birds.
Endemic species evolved in the Hawaiian Islands from an indigenous (native) species already established in the Islands. Endemic species are native to the Hawaiian Islands and nowhere else. Thus, all native Hawaiian species either came from somewhere else (indigenous), or evolved from species already established in the Hawaiian Islands (endemic). The extreme isolation and rich diversity of habitats in the Hawaiian Islands led to an extremely high rate of endemic species. Overall, about half of the native species of the Hawaiian Islands are endemic.A total of 23,680 Hawaiian species have been documented, including 18,607 native Hawaiian species (9,151 indigenous species and 9,456 endemic species), and 5,073 human-introduced (non-native) species.
The endemic, indigenous, and introduced species of the Hawaiian Islands include plants, trees, mollusks (e.g., snails), invertebrates (e.g., insects), fish, birds, reptiles (e.g., sea turtles), mammals (e.g., bats, monk seals, whales and dolphins), fungi, lichens, protists (including algae and human parasitic protists), and helminths. Viruses and bacteria were not included in the species count.
Bishop Museum scientists have done extensive studies to determine the total number of species found in the Hawaiian Islands, and have assembled a comprehensive tabulation of scientifically documented species, published by Bishop Museum