The Flora and Fauna of Samoa
The ultimate nature-lovers getaway awaits on the lush tropical islands of Samoa. Of course, marine life reigns supreme among the lagoons and bluewater of this island nation, but the endemic land birds, migratory seabirds, small selection of lizards and even its plantlife are nothing to turn your nose up at. In this guide to the flora and fauna of Samoa, we’ll show you not only the wildlife in Samoa that you’re likely to see but some of the best ways to see them.
10 Animals that are Native to Samoa
Before we begin our guide to wildlife in Samoa, here are just 10 of the animals that are native to Samoa.
- Manumea (tooth-billed pigeon) – Endemic and national bird of Samoa on the endangered list
- Greenback turtles – Reptile species found in many of the lagoons
- White-rumped swiftlet (pe’ape’a) – A native bird found in the caves of Samoa
- Kingfisher (tiotala) – Flat-billed and white-collared subspecies can be found across Samoa
- Pacific boa – Native land snake found in Samoa’s forests
- Samoan starling (fui’a) – Commonly seen endemic bird in Samoa
- Flying fox (pe’a) – Samoa’s only native land mammal
- Pacific black skink – One of the many forest dwellers native to Samoa
- Branded rail (va’e) – Also called “roadrunners” for reasons you can probably guess
- Mao (ma’oma’o) – Endangered endemic bird that has now gone extinct in American Samoa.
For more animals native to Samoa, as well as introduced species, check out the 20 Animals & Birds Found in Samoa.
Marine Species in Samoa
Being an island nation in the midst of the vast Pacific Ocean, it’s no surprise that most of Samoa’s wildlife can be found in its surrounding waters. There are a recorded 200 species of coral and around 900 species of fish in Samoa’s waters.
Fish Species in Samoa
There are said to be around 900 species of fish in Samoa, categorised as either reef fish or bluewater fish. Some of Samoa’s coastal reef species include squaretail mullet, fringelip mullet, Indian goatfish, bluespine unicornfish, orangespine unicornfish, common silverbiddy, blotcheye soldierfish, little spinefoot, Indian mackerel, striated surgeonfish, bicolour parrotfish, steephead parrotfish, goldspotted spinefoot, ambon emperor, little spinefoot, streamlined spinefoot, humpnose bigeye bream, humphead wrasse, bigeye scad, blue sea chub, highfin grouper, snubnose pompano and fimbriated moray.
Some of the bluewater fish found in the waters surrounding Samoa are yellowfin tuna, wahoo, mahimahi, Pacific barracuda, blue marlin, Indo-Pacific sailfish, striped marlin, rainbow runner, swordfish, albacore, skipjack tuna, bigeye tuna and just about anything you might like to reel in on a fishing charter. Find out more in our guide, Fishing in Samoa: The Types of Fish in Samoa.
Turtles in Samoa
Many travellers come to Samoa for the opportunity to see endangered sea turtles living the high life! Turtles are frequent visitors to Samoa’s lagoons with snorkellers often stumbling upon them. Alternatively, there are dedicated turtle snorkelling tours to swim with turtles in their natural habitat, as listed in the 7 Best Snorkelling Tours in Samoa. Otherwise, the best spots to coincidentally see turtles while snorkelling are listed in the 10 Best Places to See Turtles in Samoa.
The most common species of turtles seen in Samoa are hawksbill turtles which nest on Samoa’s shores, and greenback turtles which only feed in Samoa’s waters.
Humpback Whales and Dolphins in Samoa
The warm waters of Samoa are the migration destination of humpback whales coming from Antarctica between August and November. A small number of individuals migrate to Samoa compared to other South Pacific islands, which you can find out more about in Can You See Whales in Samoa?
Samoa also has small pods of resident spinner dolphins and rough-toothed dolphins in its surrounding waters. Learn more about how to encounter dolphins in Can You See Dolphins in Samoa?
Are There Sharks in Samoa?
Yes, there is the occasional small shark that makes its way into the lagoons, but reef sharks are mostly spotted in the passages or around the fringing reefs where people only tend to swim on scuba diving trips. The most commonly spotted species of sharks in Samoa are whitetip reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks and grey reef sharks.
The best way to see sharks in Samoa is to join scuba diving trips with operators listed in The Best Dive Shops & Operators in Samoa. The best dive sites for spotting sharks are detailed in The Best Scuba Diving in Samoa: Top 10 Places to Dive.
Corals and Anemones in Samoa
Samoa has around 200 species of coral. Unfortunately, there are spots of coral bleaching caused by sea temperatures rising and the locals say that even 20 years ago, the coral was much more vibrant, while tsunami damage is also present in some areas. Nevertheless, some coral is regenerating and comes in the form of table coral, resilient staghorn coral, brain corals, soft coral colonies, gorgonian sea fans, anemones and more.
Needless to say, you should never touch corals, not only because they are easily damaged and it takes a long time for coral to grow, but because coral cuts can give nasty infections – see our Samoa Safety Tips.
Giant Clams, Crabs, Starfish and More
Our final aspect of marine wildlife in Samoa is hard-shell and soft-shell marine animals, starting with giant clams. There are five giant clam species in Samoa, with most being introduced to Samoa to create an aquaculture industry: the largest of the giant clam tridacna gigas, the smooth shell tridacna derasa, the fluted clam tridacna squamosa, the small giant clam thought to be native to Samoa tridacna maxima, and tridacna noae.
However, some of the giant clam species cultivated in Samoa are part of eco-tourism projects, like the Savaia Giant Clam Sanctuary where clams are protected in a lagoon marine reserve. Learn more about the snorkelling spot in The Best Snorkelling in Samoa: Top 10 Places to Snorkel.
A few other honourable marine species mentions include the blue starfish which you’re likely to see in the lagoons of Samoa. There are also octopuses in the surrounding reefs and an abundance of hermit crabs on the coasts of Samoa.
Freshwater Fish of Samoa
At least a short shoutout needs to be given to the freshwater species of Samoa, as so many visitors are likely to encounter these species when enjoying a dip in the freshwater springs and waterfall pools of the country’s inland swimming spots.
Freshwater Fish Species in Samoa
Some of the native freshwater fish species found in Samoa’s rivers, lakes and streams include flag-tailed glass perchlet, shortfin eel, celebes longfin eel, giant mottled eel, dusky sleeper, broadhead sleeper, tropical carp-gudgeon, rock flagtail, otomebora mullet, greenback mullet, short-tailed pipefish, ragged-tail pipefish, bichique, chinstripe goby, jarbua terapon and shadow goby. Check out some of the best places to spot freshwater fish in the 10 Best Swimming Spots in Samoa.
Goldfish in Samoa
Yes, you read that right. There are goldfish in Samoa with a wild population only found in the crater of an extinct volcano, Lake Lanoto’o. They are thought to have been introduced to the lake by German settlers during their colonial rule in the 19th century. Learn more about Samoa’s political history in A Brief History of Samoa. Lake Lanoto’o can be accessed on a 5 km (3.1 mi) hike, which is available with various guides as listed in the 10 Best Guided Walks in Samoa.
Birds of Samoa
On land, some of the most interesting wildlife in Samoa is its birds. There are around 80 species of birds in Samoa, only around 10 of which are endemic.
Endemic Birds in Samoa
Some of the Samoa’s endemic bird species include the manumea (tooth-billed pigeon), mao, Samoan fantail, cardinal honeyeater, Samoan starling, Samoan flycatcher, Samoan parrotfinch, Samoan triller, many-coloured fruit dove, Samoan whistler and Samoan white-eye. Find out more about the endemic species you are most likely to see listed in the 20 Animals & Birds Found in Samoa.
Other Bird Species Found in Samoa
Some of Samoa’s other bird species that you’re most likely to see, whether native or introduced, include the white-rumped swiftlet, Pacific pigeon, common and jungle myna bird, purple swamp hen, flat-billed kingfisher, white-collared kingfisher, red junglefowl (chickens), rails (ve’a), red-vented bulbul, Pacific golden plover and much more.
Seabirds in Samoa
Unsurprisingly, the islands of Samoa are a refuge for many seabirds. Some of the commonly sighted seabirds include Tahiti petrel, wedge-tailed shearwater, Polynesian storm-petrel, red-tailed tropicbird, white-tailed tropicbird, brown booby, red-footed booby, great frigatebird, lesser frigatebird, black-naped tern, sooty tern, white tern and more.
What is the National Bird of Samoa?
The national bird of Samoa is the manumea whose common name is the tooth-billed pigeon. It is a large ground pigeon only found in Samoa and is on the endangered list.
Which Bird is Found on Only One Island in Samoa?
A common but incorrect assumption about the manumea is that it is only found on the island of Savai’i. However, the species has been reintroduced to Upolu and can now be found in some of the protected conservation areas on both of Samoa’s largest islands.
What is the Vea Bird?
Vea or ve’a is the Samoan name for rails, which are common ground-dwelling birds seen frequently darting across the roads in Samoa.
Where to See Birds in Samoa
The best places for bird watching are outlined in the 5 Best Places for Bird Watching in Samoa where you can learn about where to see many of the bird species mentioned above. Plus, check out the 20 Animals & Birds Found in Samoa for more details about the birds you’re most likely to encounter.
Reptiles in Samoa
Reptiles in Samoa mostly consist of two species of turtles (see the Marine Species in Samoa above), and a few species of snakes, geckos and skinks.
Geckos in Samoa
Geckos are easy to spot in Samoa, happy to hang around urban areas and resorts and are most active at night. There are around six species of gecko, including the stump-toed gecko, Oceanic gecko, house gecko, fox gecko, mourning gecko and Pacific slender-toed gecko.
Skinks in Samoa
There are around eight species of skinks in Samoa. Unlike geckos, they are more active in the daytime, have long slender toes instead of padded toes, and are more likely to be spotted in forested areas. Some skink species in Samoa include the snake-eyed skink, Micronesian skink, Murphy’s skink, Pacific black skink, Samoan skink, dusky-bellied skink, white-bellied skink and moth skink.
Are There Snakes (or Poisonous Snakes) in Samoa?
Yes, there are snakes in Samoa, specifically the Pacific boa which is not venomous nor harmful to humans. They feed on lizards, birds and rats.
Land Animals and Mammals in Samoa
The only native land mammals in Samoa are bats. Otherwise, there are plenty of introduced species of mammals on land in Samoa, particularly dogs, cats and pigs.
What Mammals are Native to Samoa?
The only land mammals that are native to Samoa are three species of bat: Samoa flying fox/insular flying fox, insular myotis and Polynesian sheath-tailed bat. The remaining mammals in Samoa are marine mammals, such as whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Domestic Mammals in Samoa
It’s worth taking a moment here to mention that there are a lot of domestic animals, like dogs, cats and pigs, that wander freely in Samoa. You’re highly likely to encounter all of these animals while visiting Samoa, whether it’s dogs greeting you on the beach, cats roaming around accommodation complexes, or pigs rummaging in the rubbish bins.
Plants and Vegetation in Samoa
Of course, Samoa is alive with vibrant vegetation and plant species with many island interiors lush with forest, while flowers decorate the gardens of Samoa’s resorts.
Samoa is thought to have the second-largest native vascular flora in Polynesia after Hawaii with around 540 native species (186 of which are endemic), nearly 300 naturalised flowering plant species and around 225 fern and fern allies, according to a study by the NTBG.
Flowers in Samoa and the National Flower
The largest family of flowering plants in Samoa is the orchid family with around 101 native species. The national flower of Samoa is the teuila (red ginger), which is used extensively for decoration and is the name given to Samoa’s largest festival, the Teulia Festival, which you can learn more about in the 5 Biggest Festivals in Samoa.
Samoa is particularly proud of its gardens and decorated villages, particularly along the roadsides, as are the resorts which hire gardeners to keep resort gardens looking neat and vibrant all year round. Some tropical flowers found in Samoa include Chinese hibiscus, crown of thorns, ti plant, parrot flower, frangipani, dendrobium flammeus, taeniophyllum savaiiense, corybas betchei and hundreds more.
Medicinal Plants in Samoa
The local plants and vegetation play an important part role in the culture of Samoa due to their medicinal purposes. A popular medicinal plant is lau ti (tea leaves) where leaves are stripped from the middle stem and soaked in a cold bowl of water. Matalafi (psychotria insularum) is used to treat inflammation, while the noni tree produces pungent noni fruit made into juice or tea. Samoans put a lot of significance on turmeric also, found in local drinks and skincare products.
Fruit and Vegetables in Samoa
With fertile volcanic soil combined with favourable all-year-round weather, tropical fruit and vegetables grow in abundance in Samoa. Needless to say, the coconut tree is the most utilised for its fruit, as well as its fibres and wood which has many uses. Other fruit grown in Samoa includes mango, pineapple, papaya, breadfruit and much more which we list in the 10 Exotic Fruits in Samoa You Have to Try.
Some vegetables grown in Samoa include taro, arrowroot and sweet potato, which you can find out where to try in the 20 Foods to Try in Samoa.
Trees in Samoa
Although forests cover much of Samoa, around 80% have been lost between Samoa and American Samoa. Forests mostly consist of lowland, montane and cloud forest, with the central Savai’i forest being the largest tract of tropical rainforest in Polynesia.
Trees that most visitors will see and likely be able to identify include banyans, pandanus, mangrove and coconut trees. Learn about some protected areas of forest that visitors can explore in The Guide to Ecotourism in Samoa while forest hikes are among some of the best ways to experience Samoa’s forests, as listed in the 15 Best Walks & Hikes in Samoa.
More About Wildlife in Samoa
That’s it for our ultimate guide to wildlife in Samoa. If, for some ungodly reason, you need more information about wildlife in Samoa in your life, then check out these other articles:
- 10 Best Nature & Wildlife Tours in Samoa
- 10 Best Eco Tours in Samoa
- The Top 20 Natural Wonders in Samoa