The delicate and brightly colored butterflyfish, stand out as one of the most beautiful reef fish you will encounter while snorkeling or SCUBA diving in Hawaii. More characteristic of coral reefs than any other family of fishes, these brightly colored and intricately patterned fish are an underwater delight.
Recognizing butterflyfish is easy. Look for yellow coloration and bold patterns that conceal certain body features. There is often a dark bar near the eye as well as the tail. These dark markings, called “blind eyes”, confuse predators as to which part of the fish is the butterfly’s head or tail. The disc-shaped body is designed to move quickly, especially in and out of tight places in the lava rocks and corals.
Marine Biologists who study coral reefs in tropical waters use population studies of butterflyfish as an indicator of coral health. A visual census of these coral feeders can help monitor small changes, due for example, to a chronic low level of pollutants that would be otherwise difficult for humans to detect.
Feeding fish is not recommended as it upsets the natural balance and chemistry of the water in an area. Racoon butterfy or “ki kakapu” were mentioned in spiritual chants and were “strictly forbidden” to take in old Hawai’i. It is unknown whether this was due to their strong fish spines that would give fisherman a prickly mouthful or because they were sacred.