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Fish in Molokini Crater

Moorish Idol (Kihikihi)

The popular and striking kihikihi is marked by its contrast of black and bright yellow bands. These speedy swimmers love the coral reef of Molokini and can be found alone or in schools. Kihikihi are actually related to surgeonfish. They have long snouts to help them feed in the crevices. Kihikihi like to eat sponges and coral. They are finicky eaters when in captivity, as their normal diet is difficult and expensive to replicate out of their natural habitat. Moorish Idols are said to get their name from the Moors of Af-rica, who were believed to value the fish as bringers of happiness.

Squirrelfish (‘Ala’ihi)

The squirrelfish, also known as holocentrinae, are red with large eyes. Although squir-relfish are similar in appearance to the soldierfish (‘u’u), squirrelfish possess a venom-ous spine protruding from their gills. The squirrelfish return to the same spot every morning, before the sun rises.

Barred Filefish (‘O’ili)

The ‘o’ili, with its tiny blackish-grey dots, uses its strong teeth to bite hard corals and invertebrates. At night, they can be seen resting on the bottom, mooring, with teeth clamped to the coral.

Gurnard (Loloa’u)

The Gurnard stalks the bottom, using little whiskers on its front pectoral fins to stir up sand and expose flounders, mollusks, and crustaceans to eat. When sensing a threat, the gurnard expands its fins to give the impression of large wings. In extreme distress, a dorsal spine rises and the gurnard makes a loud pop to scare away predators.

Bluefin Trevally (Ulua)

Also known as the bluefin jack, this large fish is in the jack family, which stretches from South Africa across to Japan, Hawai’i, and Indonesia/Australia. Ulua can grow to known sizes of 170 cm long and 80 kg. They are apex predators at the top of the food chain. A popular game fish in Hawai’i, bluefin are particularly sought by fisherman during Ulua Fishing Tournaments. Although ulua prefer deeper water, they frequent cleaning stations near Molokini’s reef and can often be seen by snorkelers.

Epaulette Soldierfish

The epaulette soldierfish are a nocturnal species that seek plankton under the ledges of Molokini’s wall. Their large eyes help them hunt for bottom dwellers at night. These fish are red in color, with rough scales, a forked tale, and a red bar behind the head.

Cornetfish (Nunu Peke)

Cornetfish are related to trumpetfish and pipefishes. They are extremely thin and elon-gated, and can almost disappear while hovering in the water. Cornetfish live on tiny fish, invertebrates, and crustaceans. They make their home on Molokini’s reef.

Arc-eye Hawkfish (Piliko’a)

Piliko’a love to perch on coral heads, which makes them easier for divers to see. If a diver gets too close, the piliko’a will move to another part of the reef, where they will perch once again. Their unique fins allow them to hover, and their lack of a swim blad-der enable them to swoop down on their prey like hawks. Piliko’a grow to almost 20 centimeters. They come in different colors: orange, brown, and green. Arc-eye hawk-fish eat crabs, fish eggs, small fish, larvae, and shrimps. They are found on Molokini’s reef at depths of 3-100 feet.

Benny (Pao’o Kauila)

Blennies reside in shorelines and tidepools. Endemic to the Hawaiian islands, blennies like warm water and hide in caves and crevices on Molokini’s reef. They like to stay near the sea floor, and sometimes burrow themselves into the sand or create reclusive dwellings in the coral or empty shells. Blennies have round tail fins, short pelvic fins, and long dorsal fins.

Bicolor Anthias

These fish are orange-bodied with fluorescent/transparent magenta fins and tail. They travel in harems, with a dominant male. Anthias eat drifting plankton and can be found on Molokini, cruising around the bottom.

Black Triggerfish (Humuhumu’ele’)

Our state fish, the famous humuhumunukunukuapua’a, has made quite a name for it-self, just off its lengthy name! The fish is named for its pig-like snout. Humuhu-munukunukuapua’a are also found in multi-colored with blue, yellow, and white stripes, and grey shading.

Blue Dragon Nudibranch

The exquisite blue dragon nudibranch expose themselves on Molokini’s reef knowingly, having earned the reputation for stinging those who bite off one of their branches. Branches are able to regenerate. The symbiotic algae provide food to the nudibranch. Nudibranchs have male and female sex organs. They exchange sperm to copulate, and then each lays an egg mass.

Bluespine Unicornfish (Kala)(Ulua)

These beautiful fish are a light blue and grey color, with prominent mouths and a slight ‘unicorn horn’ between eyes. The unicornfish are best found near “the wall” of Molo-kini, where the bottom falls to the depths. They seek plankton, which are carried in by multiple currents. When the moon is full, the unicornfish swarm by the hundreds along the wall, the males courting the females.

Christmas Wrasse (‘Awela)

The colors of the ‘awela closely resemble those of the parrotfish, but the wrasse lacks the signature ‘beak’ of the ‘uhu. However, the wrasse possess jaws strong enough to crush mollusks and crabs.


The frogfish catch their prey by surprise by camouflaging with their surroundings. If they don’t like their habitat, they will move and adapt within six weeks. On Molokini, the juveniles are a bright yellow, resembling a poisonous sponge, and the adults are red like the sponges on Molokini’s outer wall.

Forcepsfish (Lau-wiliwili-nukunuku-oi’oi)

The forceps fish got its name from its long, bird-like snout, which it uses to pick at the tube feet of crustaceans, fish eggs, urchins, and worms. The forceps fish has a black spot on its back fin. Its body is a beautifully brilliant yellow. Molokini divers can look for forceps fish traveling alone, in couples, or in small schools. Growing up 22 centime-ters long, the species can be found across the Indian ocean to the Pacific, all the way to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef.

Cleaner Shrimps

Cleaner shrimps have a relationship of mutual symbiosis with eels. Eels allow shrimp to feed inside of their mouths without threat of being mauled. The cleaner shrimp can be identified by their white antennae, which are long and poke out from beneath rocks or caves to get the attention of fish and eels. By doing so, the shrimp can attract fish and eels for cleaning without exposing their bodies to predators such as octopus. The shrimp works its way up to the mouth by cleaning the outside of the mouth and the gill openings. Once inside the mouth, the shrimp still leaves a couple legs out, just in case of… emergency. The eel communicates with the shrimp that time is up by suddenly shaking its head.

Four Spot Butterfly

Black and yellow with two distinct white spots on either side of its body, the four spot butterflyfish populate Molokini. They can also be found in Taiwan, Micronesia, and Marshall Islands, as well as the islands of the Ryukyu, Ogasawara, Hawaiian, Marque-san, Pitcairn, Samoan, and Austral waters.

Convict Tang

Convict tang are commonly spotted in large schools by Molokini divers. Also known as convict surgeonfish, convict tang earn their name because of their five vertical black stripes crossing their silver-yellow bodies. They range in size from 5-9 inches, and have slender bodies. These surgeonfish can be found in Fiji, Tahiti, and the Solomon Islands. Convict tang are herbivores who eat algae and coral polyps by day.

Flame Angelfish

One of the most remarkable fish on the reef, the flame angelfish, is a bright, deep orange color with black vertical stripes. Not commonly seen, the beautiful flame angelfish feed off algae at the bottom.

Yellowfin Goatfish (Weke’Ula)

The yellow goatfish travel in schools for protection. Goatfish hunt using their “barbels” (tentacles) to detect chemicals that are released by their prey. Weke seek out worms and crustaceans at night. By day, divers can spot weke schools. The fish have white bellies, orange backs, and yellow fins. A large horizontal band strikes the side of weke. Yellowfin goatfish can be found at Molokini reef, in depths up to 100 meters.


The wrasse around Molokini can be found on the coral ledge, near sand. During the day, wrasse feed; at night they hide in the sand. The wrasse are parasite feeders, who depend on a variety of fish to clean and feed off. Wrasse are sexually dimorphic and are capable of changing sexes during their lifespans. Generally, the transition is from juvenile females to males, but sometimes females remain female if it increases her chances of survival. In experimental conditions, when two male wrasses are placed in a tank, the smaller of the two morphs into a female.

Pinktail Triggerfish (Humuhumu-hi’u-kole)

The dark, emerald-green triggerfish grows up to 40 centimeters in length. With a bright pink tail and yellow accents, this fish looks like a watercolor painting. The pinktail triggerfish can be found in Molokini waters, in depths from 4 to 60 meters. In addition to being found in Hawaiian waters, pinktail triggerfish inhabit waters near East Africa, South Africa, Japan, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Psychedelic Wrasse

The head of the male psychedelic wrasse stands out on the reef for its brilliant orange and blue head. The colors help attract females, and the males travel with a harem. If the male dies, the harem’s dominant female takes charge, and begins to change its col-ors and sex to fill the vacancy!

Peacock Grouper

This psychedelic fish is a dark brown hue with hundreds of iridescent blue spots and cobalt blue fins. Groupers can reach lengths up to two feet. Roi feed from the bottom, preying upon juvenile surgeonfish and crustaceans. In other regions of the Pacific, roi are appreciated as a food source, but the groupers in Hawai’i are known to contain cig-uatera, a dangerous toxin. Peacock groupers were introduced to Hawaiian waters in the 1950s in order to boost the fisheries here. Since the 1980s, the population has multi-plied dramatically. Unfortunately, roi have since become dominant predators on the reef, according to the Hawaii’i Division of Aquatic Resources.

Juvenile Rockmover Wrasse

This wrasse, uniquely shaped with vertical, hair-like fins, brown stripes and white dots, looks just like a piece of seaweed. It even moves about in a languid manner, as if it was just a piece of debris floating along with the tide. This disguise helps to ward off poten-tial predators until it reaches a size at which it somewhat safer.

Sand Star

Sandstars has five long, flat arms. They camouflage into the seafloor well with their various colors of green, brown, and grey, sometimes with white spots. Sandstars hide under the sand in the daytime, and can only be seen by a slight sand depression. The large sea star eats smaller sea stars whole, as well as heart urchins. Their feet tube into points, adapted for agility across soft sediment, but lacking suckers and thus traction.

Saddleback Butterfly

The saddleback butterflyfish are some of the most beautiful, with colors of black, deep orange, bright yellow, and white. Their tails are translucent. These fish resemble angel-fish more than their actual relatives. Their diet consists of fish eggs, invertebrates, coral polyps, and algae.

Manta Rays

Cruising into the rim every morning, the graceful manta rays hover so that fish can pick off all their dead skin and parasites. Sometimes the fish even plunge deep into the ray’s gills to clean them. Due to their unique spotting, individual rays can be identified and have been seen year after year at Molokini.

Yellow Hairy Hermit Crab

The largest hermit crab on Molokini is also the most likely to be spotted by snorkelers. The yellow hairy hermit crabs have few options when it comes to shelter, as the only shells large enough to accommodate them are the triton’s trumpet and the partridge tun.

Milletseed Butterflyfish (Lau-wiliwili-nukunuku-‘oi’oi)

One of the most commonly seen fish on the reef are the milletseed butterflyfish. These yellow beauties have vertical lines of black dots decorating their sides. They feed in schools, picking plankton off the reef with their little mouths. Millet butterflyfish are endemic to Hawai’i.

Spottail Dartfish

The spottail dartfish travel in pairs and can often be seen feeding off plankton on the Molokini reef. When threatened, the dartfish literally dart off in different directions with alacrity. They attain 4 inches in length, so they can fit easily into little burrows. These skittish fish are found in Hawai’i and Okinawa.

The Bandit Angelfish

Endemic to Hawai’i, this fish has no relatives in the Indo-Pacific ocean. It is an uncom-mon site to see, but can be spotted by its grey and white horizontal banners.

Sunset Basslet

This unique fish is found only in the Hawaiian islands, usually in deep water. Occa-sionally, the sunset basslet ventures from its depths of 100 feet, where it lives along Mo-lokini’s ledges, searching for food.

Titan Scorpionfish

The largest scorpionfish in Hawai’i is the titan scorpionfish, which can be almost two feet long. Its strange fleshy sides help it to camouflage despite its large size. The titan scorpionfish is endemic to Hawai’i.

Threadfin Butterfly

The threadfin makes its home on Molokini, amongst other places such as the Red Sea, Great Barrier Reef, South Africa, Japan, and the Marquesas. With a yellow dorsal fin, the threadfin have v-shaped stripes and a black band near the eye. This band helps to disguise the eye. There is a black spot near the tail, which enables the fish to trick its prey and predators.

Decoy Scorpionfish

The decoy scorpionfish is lucky to have a ‘decoy’ – a dorsal fin that looks just like a lit-tle fish. The decoy appears to be separated from the scorpionfish, but the fin really just has a transparent membrane. The decoy even has a pretend ‘eye’ and what appears to be its own dorsal fin poking out. The decoy scorpionfish waves its dorsal fin, making it seem as if the decoy is swimming. When fish come in to eat the pretend fish, the scor-pionfish goes in for the kill.

Longnose Butterflyfish

The longnose was the first fish from Hawaii ever described, brought back on Captain Cook’s third voyage, in the 1770s. This fish only eats small crustaceans. Longnose but-terflyfish can be seen from afar due to their bright yellow coloring. The longnose but-terflyfish slightly resemble the forcepsfish, but have longer snouts and black dots. They are heterosexual and monogamous, in relationships of several years with their partners. These fish are territorial, and chase threats away. Females chase females to defend food resources, while males chase males who are trespassing.

Little Potter’s Angelfish

These fish are found only in Hawai’i. They were named after Frederick Potter, first di-rector of the Waikiki Aquarium. Orange with neon blue stripes, they make their homes in Molokini’s inner reef and ledges. Potter’s angelfish eat algae and detritus. Males swim around with their harems, so they can be seen in groups.

Whitley’s Trunkfish (Moa)

It is rare to spot a moa, but chances are better on Molokini than on Maui. They live in the reef, depths 3 – 27 meters. The male is a beautiful dark blue with light blue spots, the female is white with brown spots. The females and males are hardly ever seen to-gether. They are bottom-feeders who eat algae.

Lizardfish (‘Ulae)

Prior to spawning, lizardfish stay extremely close to one another. Sometimes touching each other, the male follows the female around until they spawn, hours later. ‘Ulae have the capacity to camouflage with their surroundings. They spring from the bottom to capture squid, fish, and shrimp.

Parrotfish (‘Uhu)

‘Uhu feed from Molokini’s coral reef, eating mostly algae. Their small, parrot-like teeth earn them their name. From their diet of algae, ’uhu can grow relatively large in size, from 12-20 inches in length. ‘Uhu have the ability to expel mucus from their mouths and form a protective cocoon to sleep in during the night. The cocoon blocks their scent from predators. ‘Uhu are a beautiful rainbow color, with plenty of pinks and greens. Some species of parrotfish are known to graze on coral polyps and sponges.

Panther Flounder (Paki’i)

The flounders flatten their bodies against the sea bottom, camouflaged perfectly and waiting for their prey. Panther flounders, also known as leopard flounders, are adapted with both eyes on one side of their bodies to enable bottom hunting. Paki’i are dull-colored with spots, to match the rocks of the seafloor.

Picasso Triggerfish/Reef Triggerfish(Humuhumunukunukuapua’a)

Our state fish, the famous humuhumunukunukuapua’a, has made quite a name for it-self, just off its lengthy name! The fish is named for its pig-like snout. Humuhu-munukunukuapua’a are also found in multi-colored with blue, yellow, and white stripes, and grey shading.

Redstripe Pipefish

Endemic to Hawai’i, the redstripe pipefish are small and attain only 4 inches in length. They are brown with a red stripe. Besides Molokini, redstripe pipefish live in Christ-mas Island and Indonesia. Like other pipefish and like seahorses, the male redstripe pipefish fertilize the female’s eggs and then carry them around on their abdomen. The eggs change from pink to dark grey as they mature, then hatch and go out into big blue world.

Raccoon Butterfly (Kikakapu)

The Raccoon Butterflyfish get their name from their faces, which are masked like rac-coons’. They are active during the night, sleeping suspended in schools during the day. The Raccoon butterflyfish like shallow reefs like those of Molokini.


Trumpetfish are long-bodied, ranging from lengths of 15 to 30 inches. They are yellow and dark brown in color, and have tubular snouts. Trumpetfish hang vertically to cam-ouflage themselves with pipe sponges, sea rods, and sea pens. They swim very slowly, sneakily, through the water, and sway with the waves to go unnoticed. When an un-suspecting fish such as a little wrasse gets close enough, the trumpetfish can enlarge its mouth and literally inhale its prey, head-first. Besides Molokini, trumpetfish can be found in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes trumpetfish are confused with cornetfish, as the two are closely related.

Red Tooth Triggerfish

Red-tooth triggerfish are dark blue in color, with bluish-green fins that have yellow and blue trim. As this type of fish tends to inhabit spaces subject to strong currents, the out-er ledge of Molokini is where most can be found. Their diet consists mainly of zoo-plankton and sponges. Red toothed triggerfish can reach up to 50 centimeters in length.

Devil Scorpionfish (Nohu ‘Omakaha)

The devil scorpionfish has an incredible ability to camouflage. The fish is an amalgam of blurry spots – white, red, green – making it almost algae-colored. The skin flaps ren-der it difficult for divers to distinguish the outline of the fish. Crustaceans and fish, its prey, are caught unaware. Even the eye has a strange shape, which may help to protect it from the glare of the sun as it peers up from where it is lurking, practically invisible, on the bottom. When threatened, the devil scorpionfish flares its yellow and orange pectoral fins, warning predators that it is venomous.