1. A distinctive bird, an adult White-bellied Sea Eagle has a white head, rump, underparts and tail, with dark- or slate-grey back and wings. In flight, its black flight feathers on the wings and short wedge-shaped tail are easily viewed from below. Often seen fishing around Hong Kong’s harbours, you’ll also spot this bird waiting for fishermen to unload their catch in the hope of an easy meal!
2. Mostly silver in colour, the Big-Eye Snapper has yellow fins and a yellow stripe along its side. Reaching around 35cm in length, it is a common species of schooling fish in Hong Kong waters, and a favourite food of raptors such as Fish Eagles and Kites.
3. One of Hong Kong’s very few truly arboreal snakes, the Large-spotted Cat Snake has a tan body with dark brown spots, and large gold eyes with vertical pupils. Mostly observed hunting just before daybreak, it feeds primarily on lizards, but will also hang on low branches over water to catch fish.
4. As Hong Kong’s largest lizard, the Common Water Monitor can grow up to four metres in length! They eat large insects, fish, crustaceans, frogs, birds and eggs and small mammals, and they also love carrion.
5. East Asian Porcupines are shy animals, mostly seen in mating pairs, and you’ll often hear their quills rustling in the undergrowth, even if you can’t see them! These large rodents normally feed on roots, tubers, bark and fallen fruits, but will also eat carrion, insects, and large tropical seeds. You can sometimes spot scat (poo), prints, and teeth marks where they have chewed at the base of trees.
6. Hong Kong has an incredible checklist of around 240 species of butterflies; this tally accounts for around 11% of China’s total species and is around five times more than the UK. The Peacock Pansy Butterfly exists in two distinct adult forms that chiefly differ in their under-wing patterns; the dry-season form has few markings, while the wet-season form has additional eyespots and darker lines. In both cases, this beautiful, rich orange-coloured butterfly has strong “eyespots” on each wing intended to startle potential predators.
7. An adult Chinese White Dolphin weighs around 200kg, can live for around 40 years and can be either white or pale pink in colour. As warm-blooded mammals, they need to surface to breathe every two to eight minutes. Their striking pink colour comes not from any pigment, but from blood vessels that are overdeveloped for thermoregulation. Sadly, they are critically endangered in Hong Kong due to habitat loss, fishing bycatch, vessel collision and pollution. Their numbers in local waters have fallen from an estimated 158 in 2003, to just 32 in 2020.
8. Threatened due to the demand for live seafood, the Hong Kong Grouper can demand a wholesale price of up to HK$1,500 per kilogram. If left in peace, these stunning fish can live up to 40 years.
9. Moon Wrasse are active, territorial fish that nip, chase and otherwise harass any fish that gets in their way! Their numbers are dwindling due to demand from the aquarium trade where they are favoured for their hardiness, bright colours, and engaging behaviour.
10. Brandishing extremely long, hollow spines that are mildly venomous, the Long-spined Sea Urchin’s sting is painful, but thankfully not fatal. The most common of Hong Kong’s 21 urchin species, this urchin is omnipresent in rocky reefs, with a population density of up to one individual per 3.4m2. The unusually large number of these urchins in the region is thought to be partly natural, and partly due to overfishing of its primary predator, the Blackspot Tuskfish.
11. The Black-Spotted Stingray has nocturnal habits, and rests motionless for much of the day in caves or under ledges. Sporting a black tail and a variable, distinctive light and dark mottled pattern on its upper surface, this slow-reproducing species is threatened by commercial fishing – both targeted and as bycatch – as well as habitat degradation.
12. Although common decades ago, Yellow Seahorses are now rarely seen in Hong Kong. Found predominantly in the territory’s eastern waters, they can reach up to 30cm in length, and have flexible necks, curled tails, and small mouths at the end of their tube-like snouts. They are poor swimmers, spending most of their lives holding onto sea vegetation with their prehensile tail. Yellow Seahorses are valuable in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and so, although their health benefits are unproven, they are captured and traded extensively both for TCM use and as curios. They are also caught as bycatch and affected by habitat destruction and pollution.
13. Although an unremarkable tree for most of the year, from January to March the Flame of the Forest becomes a riot of orange and vermilion flowers that cover its entire crown. These scentless flowers consist of five petals comprising one standard, two smaller wings, and a very curved beak-shaped keel.
14. The Golden Orb-weaver Spider is a common sight when walking in the forest. Look closely in its huge web and you will see multiple tiny red males, who often end up as a meal during mating! Prey insects, small birds and bats that blunder into the sticky lines are stunned by a quick bite, and then wrapped in silk.
15. Increasingly common in urban settings, the Wild Boar uses its long, rubbery snout for digging underground roots and bulbs, often tearing up large areas of forest… and refuse stations! An omnivore, they eat more or less everything, which is why they are particularly happy to rummage through our unattended garbage. Living in groups called “sounds” that are comprised of females and their offspring, these usually nocturnal creatures sleep for around 12 hours a day in hidden nests made of leaves. As property development continues to encroach into Hong Kong’s green belt areas, wild animals continue to be displaced, although some, like the wild boar, adapt well to living in the urban landscape.
16. One of the world’s most venomous marine animals, Blue-ringed Octopus are small and usually well camouflaged. However, despite its small size, this species carries enough venom to kill twenty-six adult humans within minutes. If threatened, they become patterned with bright blue circles, which are intended as a warning. Females lay only one clutch of about 50 eggs in their lifetime, towards the end of Autumn. These are incubated underneath her arms for about six months, during which time she does not eat. After the eggs hatch, she will die.
17. Known in Chinese as the “smiling angel” for its permanent grin, the shy Finless Porpoise is adorably round and chubby! Completely grey in colour and beak-less, its most distinct feature is that it lacks a dorsal fin. Reaching nearly two metres in length, Finless Porpoises are usually found either singly or in groups of up to 10 in Hong Kong’s southern and eastern waters. They are apex predators in this region, but are under threat from bycatch, habitat loss, abandoned fishing net entanglement, vessel collision and marine pollution. They are now considered vulnerable, with less than 200 recorded in Hong Kong’s surrounding waters.
18. With five arms that spread up to 20cm, the Comb Seastar’s scientific name comes from the Latin meaning "many thorned". This species has evolved to enable it to dig through sand, allowing it to be camouflaged on the seabed and feed on detritus. It can be found on silty sand bottoms – including right here in Victoria Harbour!
19. Other than the whale shark, the Grey Bamboo Shark, with its distinctive dark- and light-brown banded markings, is the only shark species Hong Kong won’t close its public beaches for if sighted. This small, mostly nocturnal, bottom-dwelling species is completely harmless to humans and favours warm shallows.
20. Able to alter both their colour and texture, Cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles, in contrast to octopus, who have eight arms but no tentacles. When stressed, they release an ink-like substance from a muscular siphon, which also provides them with jet propulsion when water is forcefully expelled through it.
21. Widely planted for its excellent shade, the Chinese Banyan is a member of the fig family. In urbanised areas, these trees can grow in cracks, walls, buildings and other masonry, and older specimens are easily identified by their long hanging aerial roots which gather water from the air. They are revered in Chinese culture as housing beneficial spirits and vital energy and can live for many centuries; there is a protected 400-year old specimen in Kowloon Park, as well as the famous Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees in Tai Po. Hong Kong Morris, a Hong Kong-based Morris-dancing team, dances at the Wishing Tree on May 1st each year to celebrate the arrival of summer!
22. Protected by law, the Burmese Python is Hong Kong's largest species of snake and, given its distinct colouration, pattern and size, is relatively easy to identify. Found across the territory, including several healthy populations on Hong Kong Island, this species can theoretically grow to over six metres in length, and weigh up to 90kg. However, the longest ever recorded in Hong Kong was (a still very impressive!) four-and-a-half metres.
23. Hong Kong’s only wild monkeys, Rhesus Macaques are widely believed to be the descendants of the monkeys originally introduced to the Kowloon Hills in the 1910s in order to control the spread of strychnos – a toxic local plant that was poisoning the reservoirs. The wild monkeys adapted well to their environment, forming a population that came to be known locally as “Monkey Hill”. Sociable and intelligent, macaques can live for up to 25 years, but beware – feeding them could incur you a HK$10,000 fine!
24. Up to 10cm long, with a distinctive green back and white belly, Green Cascade Frogs can often be seen (and heard!) across Hong Kong at night – particularly near streams and water catchments. Known as “The Malodorous Frog”, this species secretes a milky fluid on its skin when disturbed. This secretion is toxic enough to kill other frogs, is caustic, and has a pungent garlicky smell.
25. Reaching lengths of up to 70cm, the Chinese Ferret Badger acclimatises well to areas of human habitation, taking advantage of human-made sites such as building sites and rock piles which make good resting spots. Active at dusk and night-time, when alarmed, it emits foul-smelling anal secretions. Ferret-badgers are among the most hunted fur-bearing animals in Southern China but maintain relatively high population densities, in part due to their nearly-inedible meat and low prices of their pelts.
26. As rhizomatous aquatic herbs, Water Lilies are rooted in soil in bodies of water, with leaves and flowers either on, or emergent from, the surface. Their leaves are rounded, with stunningly symmetrical flowers. Their beauty has led to their widespread use as ornamental plants, where they have escaped from cultivation and become invasive in some areas. Insects love them – especially dragonflies.
27. One of the easiest dragonflies to recognise thanks to its characteristic short, broad abdomen and breath-taking colour, the Asian Pintail has a beautifully patterned azure-blue and black marbled body. Found in marshy habitats, it has a very weak and short flight, keeping close to the herbage and reeds of the heavily weeded ponds and lakes where it breeds.
28. There are over thirty local species of mantis, however with its trademark forelegs that are greatly enlarged and adapted for catching and gripping prey, the Praying Mantis’ upright, stationary posture – with forearms folded – has led it to become immediately recognisable.
29. One of eleven species of skink found in Hong Kong, the Five-striped Blue-tailed Skink is characterised by five yellowish-white stripes and stunning iridescent blue tail. The high-UV reflectance makes the tail conspicuous for snakes to grab, however, the skink counters this by dropping its tail and scarpering to safety! They prefer moist, wooded habitats or the inside walls of buildings, and love basking in the sun.
30. With a distinctive black cap that contrasts with their whitish throat, purple-blue wings and coral red bill, the Black-capped Kingfisher is mainly found in coastal and mangrove habitats. Their call is a cackling “ki-ki-ki-ki-ki” as they perch conspicuously waiting to dive for fish. Like many other Kingfishers, this species is much sought-after for their blue feathers, which are used in the millinery trade.
31. Sporting prominent ear tufts and reddish-brown upperparts, Brown Fish Owls spend their days in the shadows of large trees and can often be seen fishing off boats moored close to shore at night. They have huge, powerful, curved talons and will also hunt on foot, wading into the shallows. The species is monogamous, with pairs remaining together until one bird dies.
32: A weird and wonderful insect, the Lantern Bug has a head that is often nearly as large as its body, produced into a hollow structure resembling a rhino horn. It has six legs, extremely varied and brilliantly contrasting markings, and the mouth of a mosquito! These unusual creatures stay on the same tree for generations.
33. Bauhinia “Blakeana” was named in honour of the 1898-1903 British governor of Hong Kong, Sir Henry Blake. It has fragrant, orchid-like bright pink flowers and double-lobed leaves (similar in shape to a heart or a butterfly), and since 1997, the flower appears on Hong Kong's coat of arms, its flag and coinage. Blooming from early November to the end of March, the leaf of the Blakeana is known colloquially as the "clever leaf" (聰明葉), and is regarded as a symbol of wisdom, with students using their leaves as bookmarks in the hope that they will bring them luck in their studies. The species was discovered in around 1880 by a French catholic missionary near Pok Fu Lam, before being propagated to the Botanical Gardens. As far as is known, all Bauhinia Blakeana trees in Hong Kong today are propagated clones of that original tree, as the species is believed to be sterile.
34: The earliest of the cicadas to make its appearance each year in Hong Kong is the Spotted Black Cicada. Among the loudest insects known to man, a swarm of cicadas can produce sounds up to a staggering 120 decibels – similar to a rock concert!
35. The Leopard Cat is Hong Kong’s native wild cat, slightly larger and more muscular than a domestic cat. Solitary by nature, most hunt at night, favouring frogs, lizards, birds and small mammals. Their pelts are commercially traded on the black market, and despite it being illegal, these cats are sometimes kept as pets, meaning that they are in danger from poachers. Breeders keep Leopard Cats in captivity for interbreeding with domestic cats – their hybrid offspring are known as Bengal Cats and are highly prized in the pet trade.
36. Considered living fossils, the Horseshoe Crab has existed, virtually unchanged, for 400 million years – way before the first dinosaurs appeared on earth! Hong Kong is home to two species of Horseshoe Crab, mostly found on Lantau Island and in the Sai Kung area. Here, they live primarily in and around shallow coastal waters on soft sandy or muddy bottoms. A very peculiar trait of these animals is that their blood is blue instead of red due to high levels of copper! This quirk means that Horseshoe Crab blood is used in medicine worldwide, as it contains a particular enzyme that can detect the presence of toxins. Despite their name, they are not actually members of the crab family, but relatives of spiders and scorpions.
37. Mudskippers are actually amphibious fish that can live in and out of water, using their side pectoral fins to “walk”, “skip”, “jump” – even to climb trees! Very active, these strange creatures are constantly defending their territory, feeding or courting. They live in burrows made by the males who also look after the many hundreds of eggs that the females lay.
38. As its name suggests, the Yellow Boxfish is a box-shaped fish, with a distinct bright yellow colour and black spots forming a visual warning to any potential predators. When stressed or injured, it releases the neurotoxin "tetrodoxin" (TTX) from its skin, which can often prove lethal to fish in the surrounding waters.
39. Green Turtles fulfil an important role in marine ecosystems as they graze seagrass beds, preventing them from growing too tall and getting choked by sediment that obscures light and promotes disease. Threatened worldwide due to over-harvesting of both eggs and adults for illegal trade, these turtles remain in demand as a Chinese delicacy. They are also prone to accidental deaths in nets and long-lines of fishing fleets, boat and water-sport strikes, and marine pollution, as they often mistake floating plastic bags for their favourite food – jellyfish. Only one known nesting site remains in Hong Kong – a 0.5 hectare stretch of beach called Sham Wan on Lamma Island. Green Sea Turtles are slow to mature; it takes between 26-40 years before can breed!
40. Capable of withstanding temperatures as low as -6°C and as high as 31°C, Lion’s Mane Jellyfish are found in every ocean across the globe and are the world’s largest jellyfish. The largest recorded specimen was 2.3 metres in diameter, with tentacles stretching over 37 metres in length! They are composed of 95% water, and do not possess a brain, heart or eyes. Named for their showy, trailing tentacles that are reminiscent of a lion’s mane, these pelagic animals only live for around a year, and are most commonly spotted in Hong Kong’s waters in late summer.
41: Greyfaced Moray can grow up to 66cm long and is found in the sea around Sai Kung. Hong Kong is home to at least 15 species of Moray Eel, although they are rarely seen, due to being active at night and often hiding in crevices. Despite this, they are often caught by fishermen.
42. Red-whiskered Bulbuls are a pretty bird, and a common sight in Hong Kong. Found everywhere from woodlands to gardens, you’ll often hear their distinctive “kink-a-joo” call. Not only frugivores (fruit eaters), Crested Bulbuls also enjoy a tasty insect. In Hong Kong they breed from April until June, laying pretty light purple eggs.
Still favoured as pets today, they can live for up to eleven years in captivity, and you’ll often see them being “taken for walks” in their cages.
43. There is a healthy population of Red-billed Leiothrix in the forests of Tai Po Kau, where they are very active but very secretive and difficult to see, although you will often hear them due to their excellent singing. Once captured for the pet trade, these stunning little birds like to travel in large social groups.
44. The tiny Fork-tailed Sunbird is only 6-9cm long, with a distinctive and frequent “zwinkzwink” call with a metallic trill. They breed between April and June, eventually forming a ball of grass into a nest up in the trees. Only the males have the splendid iridescent plumage- the females, no less lovely- are olive green.
45. Characterised by its very unequal claw sizes, the Fiddler Crab is named for its appearance – when it is feeding, it resembles a violin player. In males, the large claw can weigh up to half its body mass and is mainly used for waving displays during combat with other males. The smaller claw is then used for eating. You may notice small sandy balls around their burrows; these crabs are detritus feeders and have advanced mouth pieces which sort through the sand, ejecting any inedible matter in the form of a pellet.
46. Rare, and mostly nocturnal, Eurasian Otters are long, slender creatures well-equipped for their aquatic habit. Brown above and cream below, they are now very rare in Hong Kong due to habitat destruction, as well as the use of pesticides that pollutes waterways, poisoning their food supply. The most common sign of this otter’s presence is their poo, which they leave on the ground near the water and which, rather surprisingly, smells like jasmine tea! They once occurred throughout the region, however, due to excessive hunting for their fur and as traditional medicine, otter populations have dramatically declined.
47. Now critically endangered, Chinese Pangolin are shy and gentle animals. They feature 18 rows of overlapping scales accompanied by hair – a rare combination in mammals. Secretive by nature, if threatened, they curl themselves into a ball so their scales act like armour plating. Hunted for their meat, claws, and scales, the Chinese Pangolin has no defence against humans – not even teeth – making them the world’s most trafficked mammal. Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in parts of China and Vietnam and has been reported to sell for prices as high as US$200/kg. Meanwhile, their scales and blood are in great demand throughout Asia for their (unproven) medicinal qualities, claimed to treat a wide variety of ailments from cancer to asthma. Each pangolin has around 500g of scales, valued at around US$350 on the black market.
48. The Golden Coin Turtle is named for its golden head and high monetary value. Teetering on the brink of extinction due to the exotic pet trade, owning one is seen as a sign of wealth and good luck in Chinese culture, and there is also a high value placed on its purported medicinal value, claimed as a cure for everything from acne to cancer. Eating the animal in a dessert jelly called “guilinggao” (龜苓膏) is falsely believed to promote general well-being. One of the most endangered species of reptile due to black market trafficking, the small populations in Hong Kong represent its last chance for continued existence in the wild.
49. Of the 23 species of amphibians in the territory, the Hong Kong Newt is the territory’s only salamander, or tailed amphibian. Brilliantly camouflaged brown with an orange belly, this newt favours unpolluted mountain streams. Its breeding season occurs in pools during the dry season of September to March in order to avoid exposing its eggs to fast currents. Males have a broad, blue streak on the tail which disappears after breeding.
50: Like most Rhinolophus bats, the Chinese Rufous Horseshoe Bat’s wing shape and highly sophisticated echo-location prey detection makes it adept at foraging in cluttered environments. This bat gets its name from its large, horseshoe-shaped nose-leaves, and roosts in caves- often with other bat species.
51: Like all typical redstarts, male and female Daurian Redstarts vary dramatically in appearance, with the males more striking in colour (as seen here). These lovely birds favour open woodland, forest edges and agricultural margins, and are also commonly found in parks and urban gardens. They are reasonably confiding, and often allow humans to approach quite closely before moving off.
52: Named for the beautiful bright green colour of their back and wings, the Emerald Dove can often be heard when out walking. Their call is a low, soft moaning cooing consisting of about six to seven coos that start quietly then increase in intensity. You may also hear a nasal "hoo-hoo-hoon" and catch sight of its iridescent feathers as it flies away.
53. The omnivorous Red Muntjac feeds on grass, fruits, shoots, seeds and birds' eggs, and has also been known to scavenge, feeding on carrion. Also known as the Reeves’s Muntjac or Barking Deer due to their distinctive call, one of the best places to see this protected species in Hong Kong is Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden.
54. Also known as Pallas’s Squirrel, Red-Bellied Tree Squirrel is primarily herbivorous, but they will also eat insects, as well as occasional bird eggs. Diurnal by nature, they inhabit much of the forest canopy and construct leaf nests. These squirrels make calls to warn neighbours of predators and have been observed to mob tree-climbing snakes, with females protecting their young being particularly likely to join in!
56. Stockier than its monochromatic cousin, the Many-banded Krait, the Banded Krait has a very distinct keeled shape to its body which makes it look triangular. Growing up to almost two metres in length, their high contrast, evenly-spaced yellow and black banding is a visual warning – this is a highly venomous snake and any bite should be treated as life-threatening.
57. Despite their name, centipedes can have a varying number of legs, and no species actually has one hundred! Hong Kong’s Giant Centipede, the Scolopendra, is the largest, and therefore the most dangerous. Capable of great speed and a nasty bite that hospitalises many people each year, this type is characterised by 21 pairs of legs, with the last pair of "legs" used as a sensorial organ, rather than for movement.