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Origami Hawaiian Tree Snail

The Hawaiian Tree Snail

Pupu Kani Oe

Imagine walking through a tropical Hawaiian forest and hearing a faint song rising from the tangled brush. Where is it coming from? Is it coming from the trees? The ferns? The grass? As you approach the brush, the song fades. However, you can't help but notice the brightly colored snails grazing on the leaves of the native plants. Some are yellow with bold, brown stripes. Some are a rich, chocolate brown. Others are white with caramel swirls. You might even be led to believe that the beautiful song had come from these snails, rather than from the less conspicuous crickets hiding on the forest floor.

Slow-moving and isolated on island ridges and in lush valleys, Hawaiian tree snails exploded into a variety of shapes and colors. These snails are born live, emerging from their parent as miniature adults, ready to graze on the nutritious fungi and spores that live on leaves. In this way they are helpful because they do not eat the leaves themselves.

Hawaiians call these snails pupu kani oe, meaning "the shell that sounds long." It was believed that the snails sang as they crawled up and down the trees. These "singing snails" were once so abundant that it was said that if you shook a tree, snails would rain down upon you. The pretty snails were prized by shell enthusiasts and were collected by the thousands. Later, habitat destruction and predation by introduced rats and carnivorous snails also took a heavy toll on the tree snail population. Today, many of the species are extinct, and the remaining populations of Hawaiian tree snails have been classified as endangered.

To learn more about Hawaiian tree snails and for keiki activities, visit the Native Hawaiian Library

Photo of Hawaiian tree snails:

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Hawaiian Tree Snail Origami


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