Snakes in Hawaii: Rare, but definitely there
Do you dream of a trip to Hawaii, but worry that snakes are waiting in ambush in its lush tropical rain forests and warm Pacific waters? Yes, there are snakes in Hawaii. But the chances of their interfering with what could be the vacation of a lifetime are slim to none. In the extremely unlikely event that you do encounter a snake, she's almost certain to be small, harmless and blind. And she's the descendant of a snake who – just like you – came from someplace else.
Meet the girls: Brahminy blind snakes
A potted plant, possibly from the Philippines, transported the first Brahminy blind snake to Hawaii in the 1950s. Thanks to a remarkable adaptation, one was all it took for her descendants to become Hawaii's only relatively widespread snake. Every Brahminy blind snake is female, and each lays eggs that develop into her identical clones. All of them pass for large, blackish earthworms, with tiny, skin-covered eyes, nearly non-existent mouths and absolutely no venom. They survive on termite and ant eggs. Without digging, looking under rocks or heading outside right after a downpour, you'll probably never see one.
Toxic, but timid
Unless you're snorkeling or scuba diving – and probably not then – the only place you'll encounter a yellow-bellied sea snake in Hawaii is at the Waikiki Aquarium. That's a surprise, given that these stunning black-and-yellow serpents are the world's most widely distributed snakes. They spend their lives adrift in warm Pacific and Indian Ocean currents, traveling up to 20,000 miles over the course of 10 years. Very infrequently, one floats into Hawaii's shallow snorkeling waters. The snakes kill prey with paralyzing venom but seldom strike at people unless threatened. Only one in three of them releases its venom as a defensive weapon. If you're lucky enough to spot a yellow-bellied sea snake, keep your distance and enjoy its beauty.
Snakes off a plane
Hawaii's wildlife has never developed the protective adaptations it would have in an environment with native snakes. One of the greatest threats to the Aloha State's indigenous species comes from venomous brown tree snakes, mottled, yellowish to brown reptiles that feast on birds, small mammals and lizards. After cargo planes from the South Pacific carried tree snakes to Guam in the 1940s, it took them just 30 years to decimate that island's birds and lizards. Since regular Guam-to-Hawaii flights began in the 1980s, eight of the snakes have been discovered either on the planes or at the airports where they arrived. Some were still alive. A breeding population isn't confirmed in Hawaii, but if you think you see one, call the PEST hotline and wait for help to arrive.