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What is a Humuhumunukunukuapuaa?

By KD Morgan
Updated May 21, 2024
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The humuhumunukunukuapuaa, or humuhumu, is known and loved throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Pronounced “Hoo-moo-Hoo-moo-NOO-koo-NOO-koo-AH-poo-AH-ah,” this beautifully colored Hawaiian reef fish became famous in the song “My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua Hawaii” written in 1933, by Bill Cogswell, Tommy Harrison and Johnny Noble.

Humuhumunukunukuapuaa is the Hawaiian name for the triggerfish. The official name is Rhinecanthus rectanglulus. This colorful fish dwells in the outer reefs of many central and South Pacific Ocean islands. The coloring of the humuhumunukunukuapuaa is striking, yet subtle. Its cream, pink and tan labeling is accented with black bands. Its teeth are blue from the ingestion of coral and algae grown on the coral.

The Hawaiian legends say that every land animal has an equivalent in the sea. The humuhumunukunukuapuaa’s counterpart is the pig, as it has a snout that is blunt. Within the name is nuku which means "small snout." Reduplication of nuku refers to a counterpart and pua’a is pig. During retreat from predators, humuhumunukunukuapuaa will make grunting sounds to warn others of the eminent danger.

When sleeping or demonstrating submission, the humuhumunukunukuapuaas will camouflage their color to a muted, drab version of their otherwise colorful appearance. This transformation can take place in a very short time frame.

Other interesting features are that they have a small second spine, allowing its main spine to lock in an upright position. This allows them to wedge themselves into small crevices. The fish also has the ability to blow jets of water through its mouth. This is a great tool for cultivating burrowing organisms buried under the seabed. They are commonly seen spitting sand from their mouths as they sift through for edible organisms. Because of their general aggressiveness, they are often found secluded and isolated even from their own specie.

The humuhumunukunukuapuaa is the Hawaiian state fish. The state law that appointed the fish this status expired in 1990. It took several years before anyone noticed the oversight and in 2006, a bill was presented and passed to permanently reinstate the humuhumunukunukuapuaa as the Hawaiian state fish. Some controversy arose, as some believed the honor should go to a local fish rather than one that was common in other Pacific island regions. Eventually everyone agreed with the decision based on the appreciation that the humuhumunukunukuapuaa is not eaten by anyone.

The popularity of the little fish has inspired songs, TV episodes (Star Trek: The Next Generation), animated films (Bugs Bunny), comic strips (Sherman’s Lagoon), movies, and even a bicycle carries its name.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Humuhumunukunukuapuaa?

The Humuhumunukunukuapuaa, also known as the reef triggerfish, is a colorful and iconic fish native to the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean, particularly around Hawaii. It is recognized for its distinctive, rhombus-shaped body, vibrant patterns, and the ability to make grunting sounds, which contribute to its unique name.

Why is the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa significant in Hawaii?

In Hawaii, the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa holds cultural significance and was designated the official state fish. It is a symbol of the rich marine life surrounding the Hawaiian Islands and is celebrated in local folklore and songs, reflecting the islanders' connection to the ocean and its inhabitants.

What does the name Humuhumunukunukuapuaa mean?

The name Humuhumunukunukuapuaa translates to "triggerfish with a snout like a pig" in Hawaiian. This name is a nod to the fish's distinctive snout and its ability to grunt like a pig, a sound it produces by grinding its teeth together and resonating the noise through its swim bladder.

What does the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa eat?

The Humuhumunukunukuapuaa is an omnivore with a varied diet that includes algae, crustaceans, mollusks, and small fish. Its strong, beak-like mouth allows it to pick food off coral reefs and rocks, playing a role in maintaining the health of the reef ecosystem by controlling algae growth.

How does the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa protect itself from predators?

The Humuhumunukunukuapuaa has several defense mechanisms. Its tough, rhombus-shaped body and strong dorsal spine can lock into place when threatened, making it difficult for predators to swallow. Additionally, its ability to rapidly change colors helps it blend into its surroundings, effectively camouflaging it from potential threats.

Is the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa endangered?

As of the current knowledge cutoff, the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa is not listed as endangered. However, like many marine species, it faces threats from habitat loss, climate change, and human activities. Conservation efforts are important to ensure the sustainability of its populations and the overall health of coral reef ecosystems where it resides.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By bookworm — On Jul 07, 2008

I saw this beautiful fish while snorkeling of the coast of Maui. It took me a while to memorize the name though.

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