Spots on The Rock

Getting to know the ga'ga's of Guam

  • 4 min to read

Editor's note: The following feature provides insight into Guam's marine and animal life, but is not an exhaustive list of the island's wildlife.

I've always found it interesting when international journalists write stories on Guam.

Their personal accounts more often than not provide a fresh perspective of the island culture most of us have grown up with. Everything here's pretty normal, or so it seems. 

We don't bat an eye to the wild chickens, or mannok in CHamoru, that openly graze near and around our homes, and we're almost too familiar with the miserable potholes we meet on drives around the island.

We might scratch our heads when it rains while the sun is still shining, but even that island occurrence isn't exactly a rare one.

"The forests of Guam are eerily quiet. Ever since birds disappeared a few decades ago, only the hum of insects and rustling of leaves float on the humid air of this 210-square-mile island in the Western Pacific Ocean," Eric Wagner writes in a Winter 2018 feature for Audubon magazine.

The sound of silence

I've lived here all my life and have hiked into the island's innards. Not once have I ever noticed the lack of animal sounds in Guam's wilderness. But it's true.

You take a walk outside, into the jungle or on the beach and you'll get a nice breeze, a kiss from the sun or perhaps a pack of stray dogs following you.

But you won't hear a peep, literally.

This had me thinking. Besides the island's great loss of native birds – including the Guam kingfisher, or sihek, and the Guam rail, or ko'ko' – what animals do we have out in the wild?

Guam is no Australia. We don't have wild kangaroos and koalas. But we should feel fortunate that, for the most part, we don't have many threatening animals, either.

Of course, there are painfully stinging stonefish and man-of-war, and even the invasive brown tree snake could constrict a tiny infant, but we've definitely benefited from missing out on some of the scarier creatures in the animal kingdom.

I think the most frightening things you could find in Guam's wilderness are weather-related, such as flash floods and rip currents, but probably not animals.

All of which begs the question: What kind of animal or marine life can we see on Guam?

Well, it depends on where you look. With the island's different ecosystems, you could find a few furry or finned friends in one place or another.

Familiar fauna

An iconic symbol of CHamoru culture, Guam's carabao might be the first animal that comes to mind for locals.

However, it's not necessarily a "wild" animal anymore. You see carabaos at village fiestas, the Chamorro Village and branded across the Bank of Guam – but how many times have you seen a "wild" carabao?

That's because our carabao have long been domesticated for human use, mostly traveling and farming, though nowadays they're seldom used for those purposes, either.

Today, you see carabao partaking in ceremonial events, such as weddings or church celebrations. A handful of island residents might keep one as a pet at their home, as well.

But when the water buffalo was first introduced to Guam from the Philippines in the 1700s, according to Guampedia, they dominated land transportation and fostered local farming.

After the carabao, what other local animals come to mind?

You have two fiesta-table favorites: deer (binådu) and pig (babui). Though, it should be said that we more often see sliced bits of these animals on our plate than out in the wild.

Binådu, I think, are harder to come by unless you're a hunter, and if you do see them, it's for a split second before they sprint away.

Babui sightings might depend on where you live. I've never left Santa Rita at night without seeing wild babui on the main highway. But seeing them is probably less common in central and northern Guam.

Either way, at least you get to see both at family parties.

On land and in the jungle, you won't find many more animals, but a few might include small lizards and skinks, nonnative birds and invasive species such as the coconut rhino beetle or brown tree snake.

We do also have the humble hilitai, or monitor lizard, which creeps and crawls in an art form of sorts. These large lizards are of the island's wilder variety, but they're not too hard to find.

Hilitai are common in less developed areas and find homes in large tree trunks. Ritidian is probably the best spot on island to try and find one.

Underwater wildlife

We all know one place, however, that is teeming with wildlife. Hint: It's the ocean.

We've got a vast variety of fish with bold colors and features swimming in our sea. If you go snorkeling at the Fish Eye Marine Park in Piti or at Ypao Beach in Tumon, you'd get a decent display of underwater life.

And for a grand display, swimming at hiking destinations such as Spanish Steps in Sumay or Shark's Hole in Dededo feels like exploring a fully stocked aquarium.

In these places, you can see an even greater variety of fish, and maybe even green sea turtles (haggan), manta rays (hafula') or sharks (halu'u). It also shouldn't be hard to find octopus, or gamson, in the nooks and crannies of the reef.

Besides fish, I've seen people posing with bright blue starfish more often on Instagram, so those must be abundant, too. And what would a trip to the beach be without a search for the cutest little hermit crabs, or duk duks?

Even in the island's rivers, mainly in southern and central Guam, shrimp (uhang) and eels (asuli) call freshwater systems home.

Shrimp are funny creatures. In the murky water, you can't see them, but sometimes they'll kind of just tap you out of curiosity, but it's enough to scare you a bit.

Outside the water, they might take some warming up, but you can closely observe the shrimp swimming with their little legs. Ideal places to spot them are at Priest's Pools in Merizo or Fonte Dam in Piti.

Know your neighbors

Animals, on land or in the water, have always been interesting. They're captivating creatures that incite a natural curiosity, and they probably feel the same about us humans.

Since we all live on this Earth, it might not be a bad idea to get to know the ones who also call Guam home.

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