Humuhumunukunukuapua'a Facts: Hawaii's State Fish (with Pictures)
The humuhumunukunukuapua'a is Hawaii's state fish and is well-known for its long name. Although it may look intimidating, one can pronounce it correctly by sounding it out phonetically like so:
For short, the locals call this fish "humuhumu," which makes it much easier to talk about.
This fish is also known as the reef triggerfish and gets its Hawaiian name for the shape of its snout and the sound it makes. Humuhumunukunukuapua'a means "the fish that snorts like a pig" because it makes a grunting sound with its strangely-shaped nose.
The scientific term for this fish is Rhinecanthus rectangulus as it is one one of many triggerfish that are indigenous to the South Pacific Ocean.
Why does the humuhumunukunukuapuaa grunt?
The humuhumu is known to grunt like a pig (which is where it gets its name). The grunt is made possible by the strange shape of the snout and the closeness of the fish's teeth. The mouth of the humuhumu is so wide, it looks like the fish has a mouth full of marshmallows. In fact, the space in its mouth is full of air, which it uses to push jet streams out of to sort through sand as well as to make the grunting sound that is referred to in its name.
Scientists theorize that the fish grunts to warn other triggerfish about imminent danger or to call them over to join in a feast. Although the humuhumu has a long name, it is actually a very small fish that usually only grows to 8 inches at the largest.
Why is the Humuhumu Hawaii's State Fish?
Hawaii chose to claim the humuhumunukunukuapua'a as its state fish in 1985 because of the vast population of humuhumu in Hawaii. In 1990, the bill expired and the humuhumu was no longer considered the state fish by law and many people agreed that this fish, although very common in Hawaii's waters, should not be the state fish. This was because the humuhumu is not indigenous to Hawaii like many other fish off Hawaii's coasts.
The humuhumu has never been a source of food or nourishment for the people of Hawaii. In fact, Ancient Hawaiians used the fish to toss on the fire as you would lighter fluid. While some believe this fish is not very representative of Hawaii's culture, others disagree. They argue that this was a reason make it the state fish again, because it is not a common fish to catch for sport or food. If a commonly sought-after fish (like the opakapaka, mahimahi, or ono) was the state fish, environmentalists would attempt to protect the fish, causing various disturbances to both the peace and also to the economy.
In 2006, Governor Oshiro reinstated the humuhumu as Hawaii's state fish and it remains so today.
Characteristics of the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a
Humuhumus are very small fish with special abilities.
For protection, the reef triggerfish has rough scales along its body that comes in handy when the fish wants to hide within the rocks. The tough structure of its body as well as its size and shape allows the humuhumu to swim into small crevasses in the rocks to hide from predators.
Another defense technique that the humuhumu uses is its ability to change the pigment of its scales. The humuhumu, much like other triggerfish, have camouflage abilities that help them to blend into their surroundings, therefore disguising themselves from predators.
The humuhumu sifts through its food by scooping up a mouthful of sand and spitting the inedible and undesirable parts back onto the ocean floor. They have the ability to blow jet streams out of their mouths, which they use to sift through the sand quickly to avoid being eaten while hunting for their own food.
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