Updated: Apr 13, 2020
The stunningly beautiful reef triggerfish is the official state fish of Hawaii. And for good reason. Although the reef triggerfish is relatively shy, you can find them almost anywhere on the reefs of Kauai. This fish is easy to spot with the angular striping on their body and bright orange, blue and yellow coloring. But just to complicate things, they do have the ability to alter their coloration to match their surroundings.
The reef triggerfish can get up to almost a foot in length. They are relatively solitary, generally not tolerating conspecific individuals in their general vicinity. They have also been known to be somewhat aggressive to swimmers in their area, being highly protective of their territories. For that and numerous other reasons, when we snorkel, we always show our respect the reef, the fish and the surrounding ecosystem.
The reef triggerfish was designated the official state fish of Hawaii on a five year trial basis in 1985. When the trial period quietly lapsed in 1990, no action was taken to either reinstate it or designate a new species. It wasn't until 2006 that it was noticed that Hawaii was without a state fish, and the humuhumu nukunuku ā puaʻa was reinstated on a permanent basis.
Their Hawaiian name has elements meaning “to stitch pieces together” and “nose like a pig.” When stressed, these fish can make a pig-like sound. The idea of stitching may speak to the various colors and shapes on their bodies. Pronouncing their Hawaiian name just takes breaking it down into pieces: humu humu nuku nuku ā pu a 'a. The accent over the ā gives way to a break and the okina before the last ʻa gives it a second "ah" sound. Put it all together and it's quite melodic.
Your Reef Guides Hawaii guide will likely point out the humuhumu nukunuku ā puaʻa when you are snorkeling on Kauai. They live on the both North and South shores of the island and are generally found in shallow outer reef habitats. They swim close to the bottom, searching for potential food items including algae and reef invertebrates.