In the midst of holidays we often find a turkey at the center of the dinner table, but in the case of the Hawaiian turkeyfish, you’re best to leave the gravy and mashed potatoes at home.
The Hawaiian turkeyfish is reminiscent of our favorite holiday bird in appearance. Fine venomous spines extend from the dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins resembling the plumage of a turkey, which may be the reason for its common name. In Hawaii, the endemic turkeyfish is called nohu pinao. Nohu is the Tahitian name for the deadly stonefish, which doesn’t live in Hawaiian waters, while pinao translates to “blurred vision”. It’s possible that the ancient Polynesian travelers, not finding the familiar deadly stonefish here, used the same name for similar looking fish that were also in the scorpionfish family. Blurred vision could also reflect the side effect after having come in contact with the fish’s venomous sharp spines.
This red and white striped fish is similar in appearance to other Indo-Pacific lionfish species but is very unique to Hawaii. They are excellent at using their mottled colors and irregular physical characteristics to blend in with their environment. Turkeyfish are known as lie-and-wait predators that hunt primarily in the late afternoon or evening. Hiding under ledges, the turkeyfish ambushes small fish and crustaceans with lightning speed and are known to use their fan-like fins to corner prey or stir up small critters hiding in the ocean floor.
Although Thanksgiving has now passed, we must always remain thankful and appreciate the beauty and wonder of our colorful coral reef communities. If you happen to dive or snorkel in Hawaii, please be cautious and avoid placing your hand on corals where animals like the turkeyfish may be hiding. At the same time, always keep a watchful eye, you’ll never know what you might see living among Hawaii’s coral reefs!