A Traveller’s Guide to Wildlife in Tonga(c) tongapocketguide.com
A Traveller’s Guide to Wildlife in Tonga

Wildlife in Tonga: Animals in Tonga & Where to See Them

(c) tongapocketguide.com

The Flora and Fauna of Tonga

There’s an astonishing array of wildlife to be found on and in between the 170 islands of Tonga. From migrating humpback whales to thousands of fish and coral, the underwater world is well worth exploring. While most of Tonga’s original tropical rainforest has been lost, there are still small tracts where you can observe interesting land birds, as well as wading and seabirds on the coast. There’s not much diversity when it comes to land mammals, but who can complain about seeing a flying fox? Learn more about the species found across the islands in this traveller’s guide to the wildlife in Tonga.

10 Animals that are Native to Tonga

Before we begin our guide to wildlife in Tonga, here are just 10 of the animals that are native to Tonga.

  1. Tongan megapode – Endemic and national bird of Tonga on the endangered list
  2. Tongan whistler – Small yellow-crested bird endemic to Tonga
  3. Red shining parrot (koki) – Medium-sized red-feathered parrot found on the island of ‘Eua
  4. Greenback turtles – Reptile species found in many of the lagoons
  5. White-rumped swiftlet (pekapeka) – A native bird found in caves and cliffs
  6. Kingfisher – The white-collared subspecies can be found across Tonga
  7. Flying fox (peka) – Tonga’s only native land mammal
  8. ‘Eua forest gecko – One of the native forest dwellers in Tonga
  9. Branded rail (veka) – Also called “roadrunners” for reasons you can probably guess
  10. Tonga robust tree skink (emoia mokolahi) – Reptile endemic to Tonga.

For more animals native to Tonga, as well as introduced species, check out the 10 Animals & Birds Found in Tonga.

A Traveller’s Guide to Wildlife in Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com

Marine Species in Tonga

Tonga’s most extensive and diverse range of wildlife can be found in its waters. It’s thought that there are around 1,500 species of fish and 700 species of coral in Tonga. Most famously, humpback whales frequent Tonga’s waters during their mating season, but there’s a lot more to discover when it comes to marine life in Tonga.

Fish Species in Tonga

Some of the fish species in Tonga include surgeonfish, emperor angelfish, flame hawkfish, unicornfish, clownfish, sailfish, pufferfish, butterflyfish, grouper, spinefoot, barracuda, yellowfin tuna, dogtooth tuna, Spanish mackerel, mahimahi, parrotfish, ponyfish, bigeye scad, bluefin trevally, giant trevally, yellowfin goatfish, wahoo, albacore, opah, striped marlin, blue marlin, black marlin, swordfish, ruby snapper, jobfish and lionfish.

Encountering fish in Tonga can be done through snorkelling and scuba diving. Check out The Guide to Snorkelling in Tonga and The Guide to Scuba Diving in Tonga. Certain fish are also targeted for fishing, as listed in The Types of Fish in Tonga.

Humpback Whales and Dolphins in Tonga

A significant number of humpback whales migrate to Tonga between July and October every year from Antarctica. With that, Tonga is one of the best places in the world to swim with whales under strict regulations. There’s plenty to say about one of Tonga’s most popular tourism activities, so head to The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga to learn more.

Tonga also has small pods of resident spinner dolphins in its surrounding waters. If you’re lucky, you may spot them on one of the 10 Best Boat Tours & Day Cruises in Tonga.

Turtles in Tonga

Turtles are frequent visitors to Tonga’s waters with snorkellers and divers often stumbling upon them. The main species of turtles found in Tonga are green turtles, locally known as tu’auli, and hawksbill turtles, known as fonu koloa. There is controversy surrounding turtles in Tonga, as they are still hunted for eating despite being on the endangered list. However, there are strict restrictions on the gender and size of turtles that can be hunted in order to make the practice more sustainable.

Wildlife in Tonga: Animals in Tonga & Where to See Them© TongaPocketGuide.com

Are There Sharks in Tonga?

With plenty of open water, there are certainly sharks in Tonga, including blue sharks, Oceanic whitetip sharks, silky sharks, mako sharks, thresher sharks, whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, bull sharks and white sharks. Several species of reef sharks can be found in Tonga’s lagoons, while larger species are found in the open water.

The best way to see sharks is to join scuba diving trips and visit some of the 10 Best Dive Sites in Tonga. Note that there is a safety risk concerning sharks when whale swimming, as discussed in Is it Safe to Swim with Whales in Tonga?

Corals and Anemones in Tonga

Tonga has around 700 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 Tonga Safety Tips.

Giant Clams, Crabs, Starfish and More

Our final aspect of marine wildlife in Tonga is hard-shell and soft-shell marine animals, starting with giant clams. There are four giant clam species in Tonga: the smooth shell tridacna derasa, the fluted clam tridacna squamosa, the elongated giant clam tridacna maxima, and tridacna tevoloa.

A few other honourable marine species mentions include the blue and black starfish which you’re likely to see in the lagoons of Tonga. There are also octopuses in the surrounding reefs and an abundance of hermit crabs on the coasts of Tonga. Some forested islands, such as Eueiki in Vava’u, have coconut crabs.

A Traveller’s Guide to Wildlife in Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com

Birds in Tonga

On land, the most prevalent type of wildlife is birds. Tonga has only a small handful of surviving endemic birds, while most other bird species can be found across the South Pacific. For visitors, visiting the national parks and bird sanctuaries on uninhabited islands is the best way to admire the birdlife. Learn more about where to see birds in the 5 Best Places for Bird Watching in Tonga.

Land Bird Species in Tonga

Some species found in the forests and coast of Tonga include the Pacific black duck, northern pintail, Tongan megapode, junglefowl, Pacific harrier, banded rail, spotless crake, Pacific golden plover, friendly ground-dove, Pacific pidgeon, many-coloured fruit-dove, crimson-crowned fruit-dove, blue-crowned lory, red shining parrot, long-tailed cuckoo, white-rumped swiftlet, white-collared kingfisher, Pacific swallow, Polynesian starling, jungle mynah, Tongan whistler, Polynesian triller and wattled honeyeater.

A Traveller’s Guide to Wildlife in Tonga(c) tongapocketguide.com

Seabird Species in Tonga

Tonga is home to nesting grounds and feeding habitat for a wide range of seabirds, including the brown booby, brown noddies, white terns, white-tailed tropicbirds, black and brown noddies, white terns, black-winged petrels, red-footed booby and much more.

What is Tonga’s National Bird?

Tonga’s national bird is the Tongan megapode (Megapodius pritchardii), also known as the Tongan scrubfowl. The bird endemic to Tonga is classed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List and can only be found on a select few islands in Tonga, most famously, Niuafo’ou in The Niuas.

Are There Parrots in Tonga?

Yes, there are parrots in Tonga, such as the red shining parrot found on the island of ‘Eua, locally known as koki. There are also blue-crowned lorikeets found in Tonga.

A Traveller’s Guide to Wildlife in Tonga(c) tongapocketguide.com

Reptiles in Tonga

Tonga has several reptiles, including sea turtles, kraits, geckos, skinks and more. The banded iguana was once naturally found in Tonga but has since been reintroduced from Fiji, while sea turtles are a source of cultural and natural conflict (see the “Marine Species in Tonga” section above to learn more).

Reptile Species in Tonga

Some reptile species in Tonga include the green sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, ‘Eua forest gecko, Tonga robust tree skink, banded iguana, azure-tailed skink, copper-tailed skink, Tonga ground skink, mourning gecko, banded sea krait, brown-lipped sea krait and more.

Marine reptile species can be seen on snorkelling and scuba diving excursions in Tonga – check out The Guide to Snorkelling in Tonga and The Guide to Scuba Diving in Tonga – while other species can be found in the forested areas of Tonga.

Are There Snakes in Tonga?

The only snakes found in Tonga are the banded sea kraits, which although venomous, are non-aggressive and their bites cannot typically penetrate human skin.

Was There a 200-Year-Old Tortoise in Tonga?

Famously, Tui Malila was a 200-year-old tortoise that was the pet of Tonga’s royal family. It is said that the tortoise from Madagascar was gifted to King George Tupou I by Captain James Cook in July 1777. The tortoise stayed with the royal family until it died on 16 May 1966.

A Traveller’s Guide to Wildlife in Tonga(c) tongapocketguide.com

Land Mammals in Tonga

The only native land mammals in Tonga are bats. Otherwise, there are plenty of introduced species of mammals on land in Tonga, particularly dogs and pigs.

What Mammals are Native to Tonga?

Tonga’s only native land mammals are the Pacific flying fox, locally known as peka. These large bats can be found across the islands and are a protected species as they are considered the official property of the King. Other native mammals in Tonga are marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins.

Domestic Mammals in Tonga

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 Tonga. You’re highly likely to encounter all of these animals while visiting Tonga, whether it’s dogs greeting you on the beach, cats roaming around accommodation complexes, or pigs rummaging in the rubbish bins.

Wildlife in Tonga: Animals in Tonga & Where to See Them© TongaPocketGuide.com

Plants and Vegetation in Tonga

Many plant species have found their way to this island nation over millions of years, many representing the common landscape of the South Pacific. Hibiscus, frangipani, bird of paradise and other flowers add a touch of colour to the coconut groves, banyan, pandanus and banana plantations. There are tracts of rainforest, particularly in ‘Eua and Toloa in Tongatapu, as well as mudflats of mangroves making the ideal habitat for many of the species already mentioned.

Medicinal Plants in Tonga

The local plants and vegetation play an important part role in the culture of Tonga due to their beauty and medicinal purposes. A popular medicinal plant is tuitui (candlenut) used to moisturise the skin, while the nonu (noni) tree produces pungent noni fruit made into juice or tea. Many of Tonga’s medicinal plants can be found in locally-made drinks and skincare products.

More about Tonga’s medicinal plants can be learned about on cultural tours, such as ‘Ene’io Botanical Garden (Vava’u), Katea Retreat Medicine Walk (Tongatapu) and Ancient Tonga (Tongatapu) – see the 15 Best Culture Tours & Experiences in Tonga to learn more.

Fruit and Vegetables in Tonga

With fertile volcanic soil combined with favourable all-year-round weather, tropical fruit and vegetables grow in abundance in Tonga. 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 Tonga includes mango, pineapple, papaya, breadfruit and much more which we list in the 10 Exotic Fruits in Tonga You Have to Try.

Some vegetables grown in Tonga include taro, cassava and sweet potato, which you can find out where to try in the 10 Foods to Try in Tonga.

Wildlife in Tonga: Animals in Tonga & Where to See Them© TongaPocketGuide.com

What is the National Flower of Tonga?

The national flower of Tonga is the heilala (garcinia sessilis). The tree produces a range of small coloured flowers, from pale yellow to coral red, with the red-blossomed heilala being the symbol of Tonga used for celebrations such as the Heilala Festival – see the 10 Biggest Events & Celebrations in Tonga to learn more.

Trees in Tonga

The only endemic tree species in Tonga are Aglaia heterotricha, which is in the mahogany family, and Podocarpus pallidus, which is in the conifer family.

Trees that most visitors will see and likely be able to identify include banyans, pandanus, banana and coconut trees. Learn about some protected areas of forest that visitors can explore in The Guide to Ecotourism in Tonga while forest hikes are among some of the best ways to experience Tonga’s forests, as listed in the 15 Best Walks & Hikes in Tonga. For instance, the forest of the ‘Eua National Park is home to two of the country’s most famous trees, creatively named Giant ‘Ovava (Banyan) Tree #1 and Giant ‘Ovava Tree #2.

More About Wildlife in Tonga

That’s it for our traveller’s guide to wildlife in Tonga. For more about Tonga’s amazing flora and fauna, take a look at more of our insightful guides:

Finally, inspire yourself with more experiences with the 101 Best Things to Do in Tonga: The Ultimate List. Plus, get even more tips in The Complete Travel Guide to Tonga.


Laura (Lola) S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of Tonga Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as Tonga. She knows the islands inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Tonga’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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