Okinawa Plants and Okinawa Animals

   The islands of Okinawa are surrounded by coral reefs and mangrove forests, growing in the saltwater marshes where rivers empty into the sea.

     The forested area of northern Okinawa island (the main island) is home to many species of animals and plants that can be found nowhere else in the world. These include the Okinawa woodpecker, which has no close relative anywhere else in the world; the Okinawa rail, a flightless water bird discovered in 1981; the large, five to six centimeter long long armed beetle; the Oritzuru violet, which is thought to be a relic of an extinct plant type; Katabami and many species of wild orchids.

The mountain streams are also home to many frog species unique to Okinawa such as the Ishikawa's stream frog, the Holst's spine-thumbed frog, and the tapering snouted frog.

     The Iriomote yamaneko (wild cat) attracted worldwide attention when it was discovered in the second half of the twentieth century on Iriomote jima (island), which lies near the far southern tip of Okinawa.

     The habu snake, while deadly poisonous, is also an important part of Okinawan evolutionary history, as we shall see later.

Okinawa has a very diverse ecosystem

     Why is this collection of tiny islands home to so many unique organisms? First of all, Okinawa's climate is subtropical. Furthermore, while most other subtropical climatic zones are arid, Okinawa receives over 2,000 millimeters of precipitation per year, making it a wet, or humid, subtropical climate. The abundant rainfall due to the Black Current, monsoons, and the annual typhoon season and an average annual temperature between 22 and 24 degrees Celsius has made Okinawa's flora and fauna flourish while also giving it a range of organisms that differs greatly from that of other regions.

     An even more important factor behind Okinawa's unique wildlife is the very fact that the prefecture consists of many small islands. Land-dwelling plants and animals are confined on the island on which they are found and each island becomes a major stage for speciation. The geological history of the Okinawan islands is also deeply tied to the wealth of unusual plants and animals found there. Over the millennia, Okinawan islands rose from the seafloor and sank again. Sea levels, too, have risen and fallen. At certain points, land bridges connected some islands to the Asian continent, while others were connected to Taiwan and other southern landmasses while still others were linked to the Japanese archipelago.

See also: Plants and animals of Kerama Islands

The Flora and Fauna of Northern Okinawa