Cute, cool and dangerous: Okinawa's diverse wildlife

Cute, cool and dangerous: Okinawa's diverse wildlife

From gentle dugong to fiery vipers, island life is something to see ... but not toy with

The subtropical beauty of Okinawa makes it Japan’s top resort destination. 

And much like Okinawa's food and culture, the wildlife found on these Japanese islands is completely different from what you'll find in the rest of the country.

Here’s a rundown of some of Okinawa's most famous wildlife, the cute, interesting and downright dangerous.

Cool and cute

Dugong

Legend has it mermaid myths started with pirates and sailors sighting dugongs at sea. Consider yourself extraordinarily fortunate if you catch sight of one of these critically endangered creatures.

A distant relative of the manatee, the Okinawan dugong can reach up to 1,000 pounds, but these gentle giants have more to fear from us than we do them.

Their numbers have dropped dramatically from hunting (now banned), boating incidents and habitat destruction.


Ryukyu flying fox (Yaeyama ookomori)

Raven, dog or bat? Some might say, parts of all three. More than a few first-time visitors to the islands have been shocked at seeing large ravens in flight at dusk, only to realize the “ravens” are actually enormous bats with dog-like faces.

Don’t let their size or appearance fool you: these creatures of the night prey on fruit.


Okinawa coconut crab (Yashi-gani)

A handy creature to have around when you can't find your nut cracker. Godzilla-sized versions of the hermit crabs you played with as a kid, minus the shell. Weighing in at up to two to four kilograms (4.4 to 8.8 pounds), these hefty crustaceans are the largest land-living anthropod in the world.

They eat the fruits of palm trees.

Coconut crab are considered a deilicacy, but over-catching is threatening the species. It's best to keep your distance if you happen to run into one: they get testy when disturbed, and their claws can easily take off a finger. 


Atlas moth (Yonaguni-san)

The looks on these kids faces says it all. If the coconut crab is the islands’ Godzilla, this is the undisputed Mothra.

These huge insects can grow to have wingspans of up to 25 centimeters –- close to a foot.

Found mainly on Yonaguni, they’re called “Yonaguni-san” throughout Okinawa. Although occasionally spotted on Iriomote and other islands, Yonaguni remains the best place to see the Atlas Moth; there's even an entire Atlas Moth Museum dedicated to them there. 


Mudskipper (Tobi-haze)

Part frog, part fish? Fish or frog? The former, though it’s kind of hard to tell with these guys as they blend features of both.

Of the gobi family, these tiny (roughly 10 centimeters), beady-eyed amphibians lounge ashore at low tide, using their arm-like front fins to hop back into the water if danger approaches.

They can be spotted in mangrove marshes throughout the Okinawan islands.

More on CNN: Searching for Southeast Asia's incredible wildlife


 

The not so cute

Pit viper (habu)

Deadly pit viper, curled up into a snuggly little ball. This is the poster child for dangerous animal life in Okinawa.

Although there are a variety of subspecies, all grow to an average of 150 centimeters (four to five feet) and pack a venomous wallop.

Pit vipers are irritable and aggressive; should you see one, stay well out of striking distance, which can be well more than a meter (more than three feet).

Treatment: Head to the nearest hospital immediately. 


Black banded sea krait (Erabu umi-hebi)

If you see this guy in the water, swim the other way.   This pretty, striped sea snake can be found throughout the waters of the Okinawan islands.

They grow up to 80 centimeters (about two and a half feet) and their venom is actually more toxic than that of the dreaded habu, rivaling that of a cobra.

Fortunately, they're docile and only bite if unnecessarily provoked.

Treatment: Head to the nearest hospital immediately. 


Blue-ringed octopus (Oomarumon-dako)

Tiny but deadly, the blue-ringed octopus packs a lethal dose of venom.  
These tiny, colorful cephalopods look like something out of a Pokemon cartoon, with neon-blue ringed polka dots that make you just want toy with them. Don’t.

In spite of their pint size –- just 15 centimeters (6 inches) or so –- they're among the world’s most venomous sea creatures, capable of injecting enough tetrodotoxin in a single bite to kill an adult human.

Treatment: Immediate artificial respiration and transport to a hospital. 

More on CNN: Okinawa: Which island is for you? 


Fire coral

Fire coral Although these mustard-colored organisms resemble coral formations, they're actually related to jellyfish and anemones.

Brush against one and millions of microscopic stingers are triggered. It feels like a lighter being held against your skin.

A sting is more annoying than dangerous, but the pain can last quite a while.

Treatment: Hospitals will apply cortisone cream, but in a pinch in the field urine does a great job of neutralizing the sting. 


Cone snail (Imo-gai)

Scuba divers beware: you don't want a piece of this little beast. These beautifully patterned clams glide along the seafloor looking for fish and other prey, which they immobilize using a poison-packed, harpoon-like stinger.

Only scuba divers are likely to encounter these creatures.

Their empty shells are prized by beachcombers for their beautiful patterns. Just be sure the shell is empty before you pick it up.

Treatment: Head to the nearest hospital immediately if stung. 

More on CNN: How to take good wildlife photos

This is just a selection of Okinawa's wildlife. Let us know what other wildlife experiences you've had on the Japanese islands.


 More on CNN: Okinawa: Which island is for you? 

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