How Animals Came to Catalina Island

Catalina and the other Channel Islands are bustling with life. Many endemic species have lived and evolved on the islands for millennia. The channel islands, like so many other islands, have never been connected to any mainland or continent, so how did all of the different plants and animals get to there in the first place? The for most common ways for plants and animals to spread to new lands can easily be remembered with what we refer to as the four W’s.

The first W stands for Wind. The first inhabitants of newly formed islands are plants. Plants, which live very stationary lives, have had to evolve methods for reproducing and spreading their genes over broad areas. Many plants have developed the ability to spread their genes through pollen or seeds that are designed to be carried through the air far away from the parent plant.

The second W is wings. This is by far the simplest method for immigrating to new places. Birds, bats, and insects that possess wings can simply fly to freshly formed islands, especially ones as close to the mainland as Catalina.


The next W stands for water. Many animals have swum great distances to increase their range. One example of this is the pygmy mammoth of the Northern Channel Islands. Some experts think that at the time the mammoths swam across the channel that the distance was about 10-12 miles. Some animals like the foxes and squirrels that still roam the islands that distance was too great to swim. What likely happened was that they ended up stranded on floating debris piles that drifted to the islands. Once they hit the islands or were close enough, they escaped the rafts and many eventually evolved into new endemic species.


The last W can stand for either Westerners, Warner Brothers, or Wrigley’s. No matter which one you prefer the method and results were still the same. Humans brought plants and animals to the island for various reasons. Some plants were brought over for function such as the eucalyptus trees for erosion while others were brought over for décor. Animals that were brought to the island include goats, deer, and pigs. The most renowned animal on Catalina is probably the bison. They were first brought to Catalina for a movie and then they were never returned.


However they got there, the animals of Catalina have and will continue to shape it’s unique ecosystem.