Okinawa is known for its luscious, tropical atmosphere, its white sand beaches, and beautiful oceans. But through all this scenery, many animals reside and cohabit with the local Okianwans, many of which are cute and some that are dangerous– yet, beautiful– to look at. Here are some of the animals one may find in Okinawa, and some that one should look out for:
The dugong is one of the cuties that swim around the shores of Okinawa, and look slightly like a manatee. They are omnivorous creatures, but primarily dine on sea grass, giving them the nickname “sea cow”. Although these creatures are fun to watch swimming around, their days might be numbered– the dugong is considered an endangered species, and have are faced with a huge threat in Okinawa, with only a reported 10 of these beautiful animals around Okinawa back in 2014. With it being three years from then, how are the dugongs faring, I wonder? Hopefully well.
-The Okinawan Coconut Crab
With a bright colorful shell and humongous in stature, the Okinawan coconut crab will grab second glances from passerbys as the huge crab bumbles about its day. With colors ranging from blue, purple, or orange, the omnivorous creature dines on dead marine animals that wash ashore or flowers, pines, as well as fruits and seeds. Japan and Okinawa are known to catch these crabs and have a lovely meal of them, with comments that the meat tastes similar to that of a lobster! The name comes from the crab’s amazing strength to be able to crack coconuts with its claws.
-The Tobihaze (Mudskipper)
Almost as if the little creature got stuck between a tadpole phase, the tobihaze, or the mudskipper, looks as if it has the head of a frog, but the body of a fish. From the amphibious group, these fish-frogs can be found in Okinawa’s marshes and, although they can come up on land, need to stay moisturized.
-The Sea Turtle(s)
Okinawa not only has one type of turtle that frequent its beaches, but 3! The loggerhead (aka umigame), green turtle (ao umigame), and hawksbill (taimai) all frequent the islands, and must be treated with respect… While the loggerhead and green turtle as not nearly as endangered as the hawksbill, the turtle’s ecosystem and lifestyle are delicate! There are also reports of leatherbacks and olive ridley turtles seen around Okinawa, though they will never come to shore to lay their eggs.
-The Erabu Umi-hebi (WATCH OUT!)
These snakes may look tiny with the average length being 2 1/2 feet, but do they pack a punch! With venom more lethal and terrifying than the Habu snake, the erabu umi-hebim, aka the black-banded sea krait, is not an animal to mess with. Fortunately, the snake is quite docile and will only bite when threatened, so as long as you give a respectful distance from it, you can watch this beautiful creature do its thing! If you do somehow find yourself bitten by the snake, seek immediate medical attention.
Fun fact: During the reign of the Ryukyu Kingdom, irabu-jiru (a soup made from the umi-hebi), was served as delicacy, and is thought to help a woman’s womanhood!
-The Lion Fish (WATCH OUT! )
While beautiful, the lion fish is not an animal that you would like to pet– with a sharp sting from its barbs, the venom from a lion fish can cause extreme pain. The best thing to do is wash the area with soap and warm water, make sure there isn’t anything in the wound, and seek medical attention. Also, the lion fish is native to the Okinawan islands, so while it is dangerous, it is also a wonderful member of the beautiful islands. 🙂
-The Moray Eel (WATCH OUT!)
Unlike the erabu umi-hebi or lion fish, the moray eel does not have venom… However, it does have quite a powerful, painful bite. Lined with razor sheep teeth, moray eels, when provoked, may latch on to its attacker and not let go. Usually inhabiting small caves in the Okinawan oceanbed, it is definitely not recommended to stick your fingers in any holes… Lest you want a bite!
-The Crown of Thorns Starfish (WATCH OUT!)
Back to venomous creatures, the Crown of Thornes starfish is no joke– with a beautiful red body covered in spiky needles, these needles can inject venom that can cause nausea, vomiting, and even paralysis in some cases for an adult human. Because it is a predatory animal and feeds on coral and fish, it can lunge for an unsuspecting human’s foot and attack. Either that, or if you’re not looking, you may step on it. Either way, if you are stung, apply and soak the affected area in hot water for 30min to an hour, and seek immediate medical attention.
-Fire Coral (WATCH OUT!)
If you thought it was just fast-moving creatures were the dangerous ones, think again! The fire coral, though pretty, can sting you with thousands of tiny barbs if you brush up against it. Characterized by its mustard-yellow coloration, these coral are definitely not to touch!
-Sea Urchins (WATCH OUT!)
Aside from them looking spiky and not inviting, these creatures come in a variety around Okinawa’s waters and can be deadly. Watch out for the flower and the fire urchin, as they can attract divers with their beautiful display, and both cause nasty stings that need immediate medical attention (ESPECIALLY the flower urchin!)
-The Box Jellyfish (WATCH OUT!)
If you’re a fan of American movies and saw “Seven Pounds” featuring Will Smith, you might already know about this creature. But if you haven’t, the box jellyfish is characterized by its box-like shape and long tentacle arms that trail behind them. Because they are transparent, it can be hard to see them, and there are dozens of reports of people accidentally swimming into one. With their stings trailing pain up one’s entire body, the best thing to do is to remove the jellyfish’s tentacles from one’s body as fast as possible, clean and disinfect the wounds (there will be welts), and go to the nearest hospital for further treatment. If one does not react fast enough and can’t get the jellyfish off, it can prove fatal.
-The Cone Snail (Imo gai) [EXTREMELY DANGEROUS, WATCH OUT!]
With an intricate design on the shell, divers and beachgoers alike are mesmerized and compelled to want to pick up the pretty prize. However, if the snail is still inside, it can act defensive and deliver a sting that CAN PROVE FATAL. These beautiful cones may be a prize for one’s collection, but be sure that there is nothing in it… Or you may be bargaining more than you originally thought. (With that said, if you are stung, seek immediate medical attention! There are several cases where a human has perished from the sting).
-The Blue-Ringed Octopus (Oomarumon-dako) [EXTREMELY DANGEROUS, WATCH OUT!]
As one of the most venomous creatures on Earth, this blue and coral-colored octopus is definitely not an animal you want to play with. With a bite that can inject enough venom to kill an adult human in one go, it is super dangerous and should be avoided as much as possible. If, for some reason, you are attacked by this creature, you will most likely go into shock and will need to be administered artificial respiration and transported to the nearest hospital immediately. The blue-ringed octopus is no laughing matter.
-The Stonefish [EXTREMELY DANGEROUS, WATCH OUT!]
Coming in as the most venomous fish in the world, the stonefish can be a hard creature to spot when perusing the beaches. Sometimes they hide in the sand, and, when stepped on, deliver an excruciating sting that has had many cases in which an adult human has died. Just like its name, the stonefish really looks like a rock on the oceanbed… But be aware and make sure that you don’t step on the stonefish!
With all this in mind, please be safe when traveling in Okinawa and, although these creatures are delightfully beautiful and may cause one to want to touch or pet it… DON’T. Also, wear shoes for protection (especially after reading about the stonefish… Eek!).
What animals did I leave out that you would like to inform about? Let me know in the comments below!
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