Photo: ʻApapane
Birds are tetrachromates and have a fourth type of cone cell in their eye allowing them to see in the ultraviolet light range. The exposed orbital ring around the eye is one of the bird's most vulnerable spots for a mosquito bite. - Photos: Ann Tanimoto Johnson/ LOHE Lab

Catch a glimpse of a flittery red bird, and chances are it is the animated and articulate ʻapapane (Himatione sanguinea). These darting honeycreepers are common residents of the wao akua (the divine cloud forests of the uplands) and thrive amongst the sweet nectars of ‘ōhiʻa lehua and māmane flowers.

ʻApapane was once established across all Hawaiʻi, including a subspecies on Kauō (Laysan) Island. With the growing pressure of mosquito-borne diseases, ʻapapane experience some of the highest malaria infection rates, although surprisingly seem to have lower mortality than other native honeycreepers.

Photo: ʻApapane enjoying a sip of māmane
Enjoying a sip of māmane (Sophora chrysophylla) nectar in the early hours. The young age of this juvenile bird is confirmed by the smattering of gray feathers in areas that would otherwise be completely red.

Fortunately, this suggests that ʻapapane is on track to develop greater tolerance and possible future resistance to avian malaria.

Aside from their crimson bodies and jet black features, ʻapapane are easily identified by their bright white undertail coverts, resounding wing beats, and diverse vocal repertoire. Their name, ʻapapane, is a not-so-subtle nod to their proclivity for dawdling social chatter.