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Humuhumunukunukuapua'a Facts: Hawaii's State Fish (with Pictures)

Updated on November 3, 2013
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Humuhumunukunukuapua'a

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:

Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-a-pu-a-a
(hoo-moo-hoo-moo-noo-koo-noo-koo-ah-poo-ah-ah)

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.

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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.

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Characteristics of the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a

Humuhumus are very small fish with special abilities.

Defensive Attributes

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.

Eating Habits

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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    • jdavis88 profile image

      jdavis88 5 years ago from Twitter @jdavis88hub

      Interesting hub. I've been to Hawaii and seen the fish in person, so how they decide to make this fish their state fish I have no idea... I wouldn't be able to choose. So many beautiful fish there!

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 5 years ago from New York

      Looks a lot like a picasso trigger fish.

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

      A great hub! I used to have one of these when I had a saltwater aquarium. They do grunt and get very excited at meal times. They are also fairly docile in a tank setting but do eat coral! voted up and then some.

    • MickiS profile image

      MickiS 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Great Hub! I saw the fish and learned to properly pronounce it on my first to Maui ages ago. It's been a favorite ever since. Voted up!

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 4 years ago from Illinois

      What a really interesting looking fish and story of why people don't think it should be the state fish. My daughter's chemistry teacher was from Hawaii and at parent-night he told us about this fish. After hearing him say it, I never thought I would be able to, but your pronunciation breakdown works. Thanks.

    • brittanytodd profile image
      Author

      Brittany Kennedy 4 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      ktrapp, I am so glad that my break down of the name helped you! I love this fish as it is so beautiful. Thanks again!

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 4 years ago

      Is that fish name considered the longest word in English?

    • brittanytodd profile image
      Author

      Brittany Kennedy 4 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Actually it isn't, blissful, only because it's in Hawaiian (not English). Thanks for reading! :)

    • profile image

      Cayla Domnick 3 years ago

      I like how there dressed and what there talking about

    • profile image

      Gabby Veirnes 3 years ago

      wow Beautiful

      :) ;)

    • profile image

      maddie muller 3 years ago

      this fish is about as good as its state

    • profile image

      Jake 3 years ago

      Cool !

    • profile image

      Isabelle 2 years ago

      Wow I had always herd my best friend talk about it and when I went to Hawaii I loved it and I got to learn how to say it and learn about and it was a great experience.

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      Oliver 16 months ago

      Crazy name

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      derp 5 months ago

      This is a really nice article! It is nice put together and this is very helpful for my latest biology project!

    • profile image

      colin 2 months ago

      cool they also eat coral

    • profile image

      Phoebe Chen 5 weeks ago

      Humuhumu can squirt out strong water if you scared them.also it hides in holes if they are scared and then they come out.

    • profile image

      Phoebe Chen 5 weeks ago

      This is the famous book ever!Also Brittany Kennedy humu humu can squirt out strong water,and it hide in small spaces then to come out.

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