Pele's Fire - Apapane in Ohia-lehua

Ronald W. Schlorff©
Original (9 x 12) - $950.00

Eons ago, shortly after Hawaii was born of the tectonic processes that raised the island-chain from the ocean's depths through repeated volcanic eruptions over a several million year period, certain plants and animals began to colonize the virgin land. First came the plants and their insect pollinators, followed by other life forms including birds. No ground dwelling mammals were able to make the original journey of over 2,500 miles from the nearest mainlands. A few bats made it, however. One of the first birds to adopt Hawaii as its new home was a finch species that was adapted to eating the seeds and pods of some of the newly established plants. This bird with a conical bill further evolved into a variety of species, some of which look nothing like their ancestor. These birds have changed due to natural selection to exploit niches and food sources that the original finch-like species would be ill-equipped to deal with. The most notable changes in some of the new species were in their bill shapes and sizes. Today, many of the Hawaiian honey creepers have sickle-like and other specialized bills that allow some the species to feed on the nectar of various native plants such as the Ohia-lehua. The apapane is a common species in the Islands and it flourishes wherever its nectar food source is abundant. Not all such birds have fared as well as the apapane, however. Most native species of birds on the Islands are either extinct or endangered; this has occurred primarily due to changes brought about by humans, beginning with the first Hawaiian people who colonized the Islands a thousand or more years ago. The introduction by man of several species of birds and mammals not native to the Islands has caused changes in several important bird habitats. Mosquito-borne diseases also have taken their toll. All of this has generally upset the delicate natural balance that allowed the honey creepers and other birds to thrive prior to the arrival of humans.

In this painting I've tried to show an apapane in its natural habitat, a nectar-bearing tree species, the Ohia-lehua. These plants grow in many climatic regimes on several of the islands as shrubs or trees and are important as habitat for many of the remaining Hawaiian species of birds, including the apapane. The red stamens of the plant, splayed out below the brilliant red bird, suggest the title of the painting and the reference to the fire goddess of Hawaii.

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