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Plants and Animals

Plants and Animals


Approximately 75% of Vanuatu is covered by the original vegetation, including grassland, scrub and rainforest. The rainforest, however, has been heavily affected by cyclones, logging and agricultural activities, but in the more pristine areas about 1500 species of flowers, ferns (about 250 species), shrubs, climbers and trees can be found.

Kings of the forest are the imposing banyan trees, whose crown can reach more than 70 metres in diameter. The equally impressive kauri trees, whose trunks can reach a diameter of four metres, have almost completely disappeared. Only on the island of Erromango do some kauni forests remain. Also unique is the prehistoric giant tree fern "namwele". Vanuatu has approximately 20 palm species, of which 14 are endemic (occurring only on Vanuatu), including the snakeskin palm, the beautiful Carpoxylon palm and the Natangura palm. The 158 species of orchids, 40 of which are endemic, adorn the trunks of many trees. On Aneityum Island, about half of all orchid species are found.

Less attractive are the introduced weeds such as the lantana and the American creeper, which was used as a camouflage plant by the Americans during the Second World War. Other common weeds are guava and black currant. These plants threaten to outstrip the original vegetation.


Cats, dogs, cattle, horses, goats and pigs have all been introduced to Vanuatu and many now roam the islands wild. Very special are the large numbers of hermaphrodite pigs (naravé) on the islands Santo, Malo, Ambae, Maewo and North Pentecost. Nowhere else in the world are so many such animals found together.

The only original mammals of Vanuatu are four species of flying foxes and eight species of bats. Only the white flying fox is endemic. Rats are a big pest in the villages. They are harmful to the copra industry and to the birds. The first species to arrive in Vanuatu was the Polynesian rat, followed by the European species.

The largest marine mammal is the rare sea cow or dugong. According to a 1988 census, several hundred of these special animals still lived in the Vanuatu archipelago. Different species of sea turtles live and breed around the islands. However, turtle meat and eggs are considered a delicacy, which is why the population is in steep decline. The waters around Vanuatu contain a large variety of fish. Fishermen catch bonito, yellowfin tuna, sailfish, barracuda and swordfish. Around the reefs, there are 300 species of coral and 450 species of fish.

Vanuatu has 121 bird species (seven endemic) including 32 seabird species. The rarest bird of Vanuatu is the Santo mountain starling. The most interesting bird of Vanuatu is the great-legged grouse (in Bislama: namaloo or skrab roof) that lives near active volcanoes and lays its eggs in the hot lava sand. It is a large (up to 30 cm) black bird with a small head and short tail. Young great-legged grouse can walk and fly within a day of hatching. The most common ground bird is the marsh grouse. The most famous imported bird is the noisy and aggressive Indian mynah. They are blamed for the declining populations of many native species, including by robbing nests.

Vanuatu has 19 lizard species, including thirteen skinks, five gecko species and the striped iguana, which was imported from Fiji and only occurs on the island of Efate. Ironically, the population on Vanuatu is now larger than that of Fiji. On Fiji, the animal is almost extinct due to the introduced mongoose. Vanuatu has two types of snake, a burrowing snake and the Pacific boa. The only poisonous snakes are a number of sea snake species, which are normally harmless to humans. The green and golden bullfrogs were imported from Australia. These animals are also very common on Vanuatu, whereas they are practically extinct in Australia.

Furthermore, 73 species of land snails occur on Vanuatu, including the large East African land snail, which was only introduced in 1970; further 64 species of butterflies and 124 species of insects.


O'Byrne, D. / Vanuatu
Lonely Planet

Stanley, D. / South Pacific Handbook

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info