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CRITTER: Meet lauia the Regal Parrotfish

Most parrot-fish in Hawai‘i are called uhu, and we have over five known species and maybe even some crosses between species. One reason it is hard to identify parrot-fish is because they are all hatched out as females, and then some convert into males for breeding purposes.

The females are usually drab, reef-colored, and when they convert into males they turn bright blues, yellows and green, and are called “super males.” They can be variable in color in each island, and are sometimes hard to identify.

When I saw my fist male regal parrot-fish scuba diving in Lana‘i I did not know what it was. I thought maybe it was a crossbreed because it had such an unusual color for a large male parrot-fish. This 18-inch-long fish was bright orange-red color, which is more of a female parrot-fish color and not one of the blue or green super males. I shot some video of the fish and had to look it up in some books to see what it was when I got home. It is alway exciting as a diver and marine biologist to find a fish that you have no idea what it is!

It turns out that lauia is a well known parrot-fish species up in the NW Hawaiian Islands but is rarely seen in the main Hawaiian islands. Why was this one male in Lana‘i? Since then I have not seen another one until last summer. I went on a dive trip to Maui with some pro surfers to dive the famous Jaws surf reef for a pro surf contest, and we took a long Jet Ski ride into the break to shoot some video of the reef. After scuba diving and documenting this unusual reef of giant round rocks I came across two solid-red parrot-fish that were about 15 inches long.

Once again I did not know what I was looking at because the other female parrot-fish we have in Hawai‘i have red bands but are not solid red or orange. Once again I had to go back to Kaua‘i and look up this fish to see what it was. It turns out they were female regal parrot-fish.

After doing over 2,000 scuba dives in Hawai‘i on all of the main Hawaiian Islands I have now only seen one male lauia in Lana‘i and two females in Maui. That does not exactly make enough regal parrot-fish to ever produce offspring, especially since they live on different islands, so there must be more of them out there!

The good thing about writing these articles about Hawaiian fish and posting them on social media is lots of other divers and fishermen read the articles and respond back to me with what they see out on their local reefs, so if any of you have ever seen a regal parrot-fish please let me know so we can figure out if there are any breeding colonies of this fish on the main Hawaiian Islands! We still know so little about the sea around us here in Hawai‘i.

There are more scuba divers and free divers these days with underwater cameras, so all kinds of new discoveries are happening, and sharing pictures on social media is a real gift to science, plus just fun!


Terry Lilley is a Hanalei marine biologist and 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

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