Saturday, August 28, 2010
Creature Feature: Reef triggerfish...
...AKA Humuhumunukunukuāpuaa. That's one of the longest words in the Hawaiian language, right there. I'll stick with "reef triggerfish," (or Rhinecanthus rectangulus) thanks. It is also called the rectangular or wedge-tail triggerfish for obvious reasons.
OK, maybe not as rectangular as the name implies.
The Hawaiian name of the reef triggerfish means "triggerfish with a snout like a pig." That is exactly what it is. The reef trigger is, first of all, a triggerfish - that is, it belongs to a group of fish related to sunfish and pufferfish. (The pufferfish has been adequately covered in the entry on fugu; the ocean sunfish deserves a bit more love.) All of these fish, true to the title 'tetradontiformes,' have four teeth ready to deliver a nasty bite at any time.
Triggerfish in particular are known for a 'lock in' defensive tactic. All triggerfish, including humminahummina up there, can wedge themselves into tight spaces and stay there thanks to an erect second spine. Many of them are also aggressive little fuckers and can change color depending on their moods. Their toxicity ranges from "nasty" to "delicious."
So, for this fish, what's in a name? According to Hawaiian lore, every land animal has a counterpart in the ocean. This is not an uncommon way of thinking; check out sea lions and sea cows, for example. Given that the hakunamatata actually grunts like a pig when predators approach and has a porky physique, we really cannot blame the Hawaiians for calling it such. They can also shoot water from their mouths in order to rummage up more edibles, but bar the fixation on food, that is not very porcine.
What a wonderful phrase...
Seriously, though? I think Hawaii picked this fish as their State Fish just to screw with our heads. Humuhumunukunukuapuaaa~