Press "Enter" to skip to content

CRITTER: Meet hinalea the psychedelic wrasse

This small, fast-moving, seven-inch-long fish only occurs in Hawai‘i and is rarely seen by divers. The juvenile female is red, black and white, and is usually seen on shallow reefs in groups of three or four.

They dart around so fast that it is almost impossible to take a clear picture of them. The males are super-rare to find because they live out in the deeper water, and they have a bright-orange-and-blue head. Hinalea is like most of the wrasse family, as they are all hatched out as female, then a few of them will convert into males as adults for the purpose of breeding.

It must have been confusing in old Hawai‘i for the fishermen to try and identify the small wrasse species because they could not watch them grow like us modern-day divers can. Most of the wrasse are one color when hatched, change colors as juveniles and change colors again as adults! With modern DNA testing we can tell which species is which, but in old Hawai‘i different names were often attached to different color patterns of the same species.

“Hinalea” is an important name, as it refers to this entire group of fish as female and connected to the cycles of the moon and spawning of the corals. The goddess Hina is the guardian of the coral reef, and in old Hawai‘i when a pregnant woman wanted a girl child she would eat a certain hinalea species, and when she wanted a boy child she would eat a different species! This just shows how connected the Hawaiian were to their marine environment!

The psychedelic wrasse feeds on small crustaceans, and their speed and agility keep them from becoming food for larger fish like the omilu or ulua.

These fish dart around so fast that you can get dizzy just trying to shoot a video of one.

I tried for hours to get a good picture of one of the hinalea, so I observed them turning over small rocks out on the sand to find shrimp under the rocks.

So I got an idea to do the same and I turned over a couple of small rocks without disturbing any coral, and sure enough the wrasse zoomed in to eat the critters from under the rock and I finally got a good video clip of them.

You can see all the Hawaiian wrasse species up on my underwater educational web page at, and also check out our world wide marine life educational series posted on my YouTube at Underwater2web.


Terry Lilley is a marine biologist living in Hanalei. He is co-founder of Reef Guardians Hawai‘i, a nonprofit on a mission to provide education and resources to protect the coral reef. To donate to Reef Guardians Hawai‘i go to
Source: The Garden Island

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: