Fact Checked

What is a Humuhumunukunukuapuaa?

KD Morgan
KD Morgan

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.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

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.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


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

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Woman standing behind a stack of books
      Woman standing behind a stack of books