One reason I love the State Fish of Hawaii is because of its impressively long name. The Humuhumunukunukuāpua’a is colorful and beautiful – and if you can say its name quickly, it probably means you’ve lived in Hawaii for a long time and have practiced saying it. It’s a reef triggerfish, and in Hawaiian, its name means, “”triggerfish with a snout like a pig.”
Recently, I learned that there is another fish here in our waters with an even longer Hawaiian name: the lauwiliwill nukunuku ‘oi’oi.
In “Lauwiliwill nukunuku ‘oi’oi – A small fish with a big name,” Evan Pascual notes in a recent Maui News article, “Lauwiliwili refers to the similarity between the shape of the fish’s body and the wiliwili tree’s leaf, which is oval in shape and turns yellow as it ages.
Nukunuku (snout) and ‘oi’oi (sharp) describe the fish’s narrow, elongated mouth. Together, it loosely translates as ‘long-snout fish shaped like a wiliwili leaf.’
There are two species of longnose butterflyfish in Hawaii: The common longnose butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus) and the big longnose butterflyfish (Forcipiger Iongirosis). They share the same Hawaiian name, stunning yellow coloration, elongated mouth and flaring dorsal spines. Their sleek, flat-shaped bodies allow them to quickly maneuver between corals while their sharp spines protect them from predators.
Nearly identical in appearance, the common longnose butterfly has a much shorter mouth than the big longnose butterflyfish. Their beaklike mouths are used to probe corals and reef crevices in search of small invertebrates and crustaceans, but are also used in cleaning stations to remove crustacean parasites from their fellow reef fish.
Another difference between the two species is their main habitat. The common longnose butterflyfish lives in shallow water environments throughout the Hawaiian Islands and is more visible to snorkelers. However, the big longnose butterflyfish is rarely seen as it lives in deep-water environments beyond coral reefs, most notably off the Kona Coast of the Big Island.
The lauwiliwili nukunuku ‘oi’oi has a unique and perhaps lesser-known history in Hawaii. The British explorer Capt. James Cook embarked on a Pacific-voyage 1776-80 where he and his crew would become the first Europeans to encounter the Hawaiian Islands. During this expedition, which included documenting scientific observations, the big longnose butterflyfish is believed to have been the first Hawaiian marine species to be collected and identified by an English scientist.
In more recent years, over 55,000 public votes were cast in 1984 to name the Sate of Hawaii’s official fish. The lauwiliwili nukunuku ‘oi’oi finished in third place following a narrow defeat by the manini (convict tang) and a landslide victory by the humuhumunukunuapua’a. Today, it remains as a living testament to the beauty and wonder of Hawaii’s reef fishes.
At the Maui Ocean Center, a few common longnose butterflyfish peacefully swim alongside other reef fishes in the Living Reef exhibits. When we look at a coral reef, whether at the aquarium or in the waters surrounding Maui, we often see a single image of a living community rather than the individual species that make up this brilliant seascape. But if you look closely, every animal has a unique role, a connection to local culture, a lesser-known history, and in the case of the lauwiliwili nukunuku ‘oi’oi, a really, really interesting name…”
From: The Maui News, March 4, 2018, C2.
Another interesting fact about the lauwiliwili nukunuku ‘oi’oi is that the Waikīkī Aquarium adopted the longnose butterflyfish as its logo – as it represents a meeting and common interest in the marine environment by both Hawaiian and European naturalists.
Take a close look at the animals wherever you live; you are likely to find interesting facts and have more appreciation of each one.