As a fairly large and geographically diverse country it may seem like
New Zealand would be home to great plant and animal diversity, but New Zealand
is composed of volcanic islands so the native life in the country is very limited
and land animals native to New Zealand are essentially absent. Despite this lack
of native plants and animals, the country is fairly diverse today as animals, plants,
and seeds from neighboring islands have arrived with the winds, ocean currents,
animals, and people.
As an island nation that rose from the sea floor there were no native mammals in
New Zealand, although a few bat species arrived thousands
of years ago. Other than this, no land mammals existed on New Zealand until the
arrival of the earliest people, who arrived only about 1,000 years ago. Until this
point no mammals (other than bats) existed on the islands, but these early settlers
likely brought pigs, dogs, mice, and rats with them.
Despite the lack of land mammals, New Zealand's
surrounding waters are home to mammals, including dolphins and whales. These waters
are also filled with thousands of fish, shellfish, and other forms of sea life.
In these waters you can find surgeonfish, clownfish, sailfish, puffer fish, butterfly
fish, grouper, barracuda, tuna, mackerel, marlin, mahi-mahi, shrimp, krill, crab,
seahorses, manta rays, sharks, jellyfish, starfish, and sea urchins among many others.
Inland, in the islands' lakes and rivers there are numerous freshwater fish
as well, including the spiny lobster (known locally as a crayfish).
This water and land environment has proven ideal for birds and today the bird life
in New Zealand is incredibly diverse. Additionally,
from a historic perspective, these birds have always been the most dominant animals
in the food chain as no land mammals (including people) existed to compete. Among
these birds are doves, owls, passerines, scrub fowls, heron, the albatross, and
hundreds of water fowls. Additional birds native to New Zealand that are now extinct
include the Moa, which was heavily hunted by the earliest settlers.
Like the mammalian life, the reptilian and amphibious life is fairly limited. The
most common of these animals are those adapted to the water and swimming as sea
turtles can be found in the nearby waters. Frogs, toads, lizards, and even some
snakes have also been introduced and are now common on the islands.
The insect and other small animal life is fairly diverse as many insects can fly
or float and have made their way to New Zealand. These
animals include butterflies, bees, ants, flies, snails, spiders, and worms among
The plant life on the islands is quite diverse, especially since the volcanic soil
is very fertile and the winds, currents, birds, and people have brought with them
new plants. Being heavily forested, the largest and most noticeable plants are trees,
including the cabbage tree, metrosideros tree, and kauri tree as well as cress,
ferns, shrubs, grasses, and flowers.