Meet humuhumu lei

  • humuhumu lei

The lei triggerfish is related to the wedge-tailed triggerfish, which is the Hawaii state fish.

The names of Hawaiian fish all have meanings that go back to ancient times. Often a name is repeated, like “humu humu,” but each “humu” has a different meaning. “Humuhumu lei” means “the fish with the stitched pattern that knows all the passageways through the reef and has a lei around its neck.”

The word “humu” comes from a star in ancient Egypt over 4,000 years ago that had its own pathway through the heavens. It was called the “humu star.” In later times pathways through thick reeds in Pear Harbor were called “humus.”

When the lei triggerfish is threatened, it puts up its dorsal fin, which is a sharp, erect spike.

The fish then darts into a hole in the reef or passageway.

It locks its trigger into the hole so it can’t be pull backwards out of the reef.

These fish are very common on all Hawaiian reefs, and they look like they have a flower lei around their neck. They feed on algae on the reef, fish eggs and small invertebrates. Their mouths are so hard that one can hear them feeding underwater while diving, as if someone was hitting the reef with a hammer. Their skin is also so thick and abrasive that it can be dried and used as sandpaper.

You can go to the web site and see humuhumu lei featured in the video, “The World’s Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fish,” and also visit the lei triggerfish in the nonprofit marine science camp at


Terry Lilley is a marine biologistand Hanalei resident. His web sites include

  1. Kauaidoug August 12, 2019 8:31 am Reply

    I find these articles about local fish and their habits very informative and glad the author and paper bring this to us. Mahalo!

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