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The islands of Hawaii are home to some incredible marine life. If you’ve ever wondered what fish is so special that it was named the official state fish of this Pacific paradise, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The state fish of Hawaii is the humuhumunukunukuāpua’a.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Hawaii’s unique and colorful state fish, including its unusual name, its identifying features, what it eats, where it lives, how it reproduces, current conservation status, and some fun facts about this reef fish.

What is the Humuhumunukunukuāpua’a?

Unusual Name

The humuhumunukunukuāpua’a has an exceptionally long and difficult to pronounce name, even for native Hawaiian speakers. The name consists of repeated words in the Hawaiian language, with “humuhumu” meaning “triggerfish” and “nukunuku” meaning “beak”.

The “āpua’a” portion refers to the pig-like snout of the fish.

Identifying Features

The humuhumunukunukuāpua’a is a small, vibrantly colored fish in the triggerfish family. Some key identifying features include:

  • Oval-shaped body with small fins
  • Distinctive beak-like snout
  • Thick lips
  • Coloration that can range from yellow to orange, black, white, blue, and green
  • Up to 6 inches long
  • This fish uses its beak-like mouth to crush the invertebrates and algae it feeds on. Its small size and bright coloration helps it blend into coral reef environments.

    Size and Appearance

    The humuhumunukunukuāpua’a is a small fish, averaging 4 to 6 inches in length. However, some exceptional individuals may reach up to 9 inches.

    Its oval-shaped body is compressed side-to-side to allow it to easily maneuver in small spaces in the reef. Small, rounded pectoral and caudal fins provide agile propulsion.

    Coloration is highly variable between individuals, displaying complex mottled patterns of yellow, orange, black, white, blue, and green. This helps provide effective camouflage within the wild array of colors found on coral reefs. The intensity of the colors also varies based on the fish’s mood.

    Average Length 4 – 6 inches
    Maximum Length up to 9 inches
    Body Shape Oval, compressed side-to-side
    Coloration Yellow, orange, black, white, blue, green

    The vibrant patterns and colors have made the humuhumunukunukuāpua’a a popular species for home aquariums. However, extensive coral reef damage over decades has substantially reduced its wild population.

    It was officially designated Hawaii’s state fish in 1985, in part to help raise awareness about protecting its reef habitat.

    Habits and Habitat of the Humuhumunukunukuāpua’a


    The diet of the humuhumunukunukuāpua’a, also known as Hawaii’s state fish, consists primarily of small crustaceans and algae. These reef fish use their tiny mouths to pick at surfaces and remove algae, detritus, and tiny animals like amphipods and copepods.

    Their diverse palate allows them to thrive in coral reef habitats around the Hawaiian islands. Some amazing things about the humuhumunukuāpua’a’s diet include:

    • They can adapt to eat different kinds of algae and microorganisms based on availability
    • Their small size allows them to pick food particles out of tight spaces in the reef
    • They play an important role in cleaning the reef of debris and algae overgrowth

    Reef Habitat

    Humuhumunukunukuāpua’a are found abundantly on shallow reefs in the Hawaiian island chain. These small fish thrive in the warm, sunny waters protected by the reef structure. Some key details about their habitat include:

    • They prefer sheltered lagoons and backreef pools
    • Abundant in tidal pools and coral heads in water up to 15 feet deep
    • Their bright colors and patterns blend into the coral backgrounds

    The health and biodiversity of Hawaii’s coral reefs is essential for the survival of these state fish. Maintaining good water quality and preventing damage to reef habitats allows humuhumunukuāpua’a populations to remain stable.


    Humuhumunukuāpua’a display fascinating behaviors perfectly adapted to survive on Hawaii’s bustling coral reefs. Some highlights include:

    • They establish feeding territories and can recognize other individual fish
    • Males will flash their bright colors to attract a mate
    • If threatened, they will hide within the reef structure
    • They sleep wedged into rocks and corals at night

    Their small size and reliance on the reef habitat makes them very sensitive to environmental changes. Paying attention to unusual behaviors in humuhumunukuāpua’a populations can act as an early indicator of pollution or habitat degradation.

    Maintaining healthy reefs allows these beloved state fish to continue exhibiting their natural behaviors.

    Reproduction and Lifecycle

    The state fish of Hawaii, the humuhumunukunukuāpua’a, has a fascinating reproduction cycle and lifecycle. Here is an overview of some key aspects:


    Humuhumunukunukuāpua’a reach sexual maturity around 1-2 years old. Spawning generally occurs year-round in Hawaii’s warm tropical waters, with peaks in spring and summer.

    They have an intricate mating ritual where males use their elongated snouts to lead females to nesting sites amongst coral reef crevices. Females can produce batches of 3,000-5,000 eggs at a time, which they deposit on the ceilings of rock crevices.

    Males then come along and externally fertilize these egg batches.

    There is no parental care of eggs or offspring – the adults leave after spawning and the eggs are left to hatch and fend for themselves.

    Early Life Stages

    The fertilized eggs hatch after about 36 hours. Newly hatched larvae drift in ocean currents and feed on plankton.

    After about 50 days, the larvae have grown and developed specialized anatomical features. At this juvenile stage they transition to settlement in coral reef habitats.


    It is believed humuhumunukunukuāpua’a generally live for 4-6 years in the wild. Some reports indicate they may occasionally survive over 10 years.

    Their lifespan is limited by predation from larger fish. They are also vulnerable to habitat degradation from human activities like dredging and pollution.

    In captivity, their average lifespan is slightly longer at around 5-9 years on average.

    Conservation Status

    The state fish of Hawaii, the reef triggerfish, is not currently considered endangered or threatened. However, some conservation concerns exist due to overfishing and habitat loss:

    • Overfishing – Triggerfish are popular in the aquarium trade and for food. Increased fishing pressure has led to population declines in some areas.
    • Habitat degradation – Coral reefs, which triggerfish rely on, face threats from climate change, pollution, invasive species, and damage from boats/anchors. Approximately 25% of Hawaii’s reefs are considered to be in poor condition.

    To address these issues, Hawaii has established several Marine Protected Areas which limit or prohibit fishing. Triggerfish benefit from these protected zones. Additional conservation efforts in Hawaii include:

    • Expansion of Marine Protected Area networks
    • Restrictions on collection of reef wildlife for the aquarium trade
    • Watershed management projects to reduce land-based pollution
    • Artificial reef construction to rebuild damaged reef habitats

    While still relatively abundant, continued monitoring and protection of coral reef habitats will be important for ensuring healthy triggerfish populations into the future. Community support for conservation, along with sustainable fishing practices, will give the reef triggerfish the best chance to thrive as Hawaii’s iconic state fish.

    Fun Facts About Hawaii’s State Fish

    The state fish of Hawaii is the humuhumunukunukuāpua’a. Yes, that’s a real name! This reef triggerfish has a super long name that translates to “triggerfish with a snout like a pig”. Here are some fun facts about this distinctively named fish:

    It Has a Very Unique Appearance

    The humuhumunukunukuāpua’a is a small, oval-shaped triggerfish with beautiful black, yellow, and white markings. It has large eyes, thick lips, and a distinctive beak-like snout, which is how it got its Hawaiian name comparing it to a pig’s snout.

    Its intricate pattern and compressed body shape allow it to hide very effectively within the reefs of Hawaii.

    They are Found Only in Hawaii

    These triggerfish are endemic to Hawaii, meaning they are found naturally nowhere else in the world. They live along shallow reefs in waters up to about 150 feet deep. Their restricted range makes them a special part of Hawaii’s marine ecosystem.

    It Was Once a Symbol of Royalty

    In ancient Hawaiian culture, the striking humuhumunukunukuāpua’a was considered a royal fish. Legend says that Hawaiian chiefs and royalty enjoyed the fish, reserving it only for themselves. Today, the fish represents a proud part of Hawaiian identity as the official state fish.

    They Have Cool Abilities

    The humuhumunukunukuāpua’a has some neat tricks up its fins. It can lock itself into crevices on the reef using its fused spine, making it hard for predators to pull out. It also makes clicking sounds to communicate. Researchers think the sounds help with courtship and defending territory.

    Their Population Faces Threats

    Although still relatively abundant, the numbers of Hawaii’s state fish are decreasing over time. Major threats come from habitat degradation, pollution, climate change, and overcollection for aquariums. Conservation efforts aim to protect the fragile coral reef ecosystems these unique fish call home.

    The one-of-a-kind humuhumunukunukuāpua’a remains a beautiful, complex, and culturally iconic tropical fish. Learning about this exclusively Hawaiian species teaches us about the amazing biodiversity of our planet.

    Hopefully increased awareness and environmental protections can save Hawaii’s state fish for generations to come.


    The humuhumunukunukuāpua’a may have a name that’s tough to pronounce, but this small, vibrantly colored reef fish is well loved by Hawaiians as an integral part of their marine ecosystem. As the official state fish since 1985, the ‘humu humu’ holds a special place in Hawaiian culture.

    With its reef conservation efforts and protected habitats, Hawaii offers hope for the future of this unique fish. The humuhumunukunukuāpua’a remains a symbol of the islands’ natural heritage and beauty.

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