Hawai’i has just two endemic species of butterflies: Pulelehua (which now is the word for all butterflies) a monarch known commonly as The Kamehameha butterfly and the second, much smaller one is the Hawaiian Blue butterfly, also known as the Koa butterfly, or Blackburn’s little blue butterfly.
Pulelehua originally referred to the Kamehameha butterfly and is now the word for all butterflies. Pulelo means to float or to undulate in the air, and lehua is the famous blossom of the ‘Ohia lehua tree (Metrosideros polymorpha): thus the name means one that floats through the air from one lehua blossom to another.
Hawaiian Native Butterflies
This mural depicts the only two native (and endemic) Butterflies of Hawai’i: a monarch known as The Kamehameha Lady or The Kamehameha Butterfly (Vanessa tameamea) and the much smaller, very rare Hawaiian Blue or Blackburn’s Blue, often called the Koa Butterfly (Udara blackburni). The Kamehameha is also known as Lepelepe-o-Hina (sister of the fire goddess, Pele), which translates to Hina’s fringe wing. The official insect of the state of Hawai’i, the Kamehameha is named after the last king of the sovereign Native Hawaiian monarchy.
The 1878 scientific name is a somewhat amusing, inaccurate translation of King Kamehameha’s name as the scientific nomenclature is written as tameamea. The avid backpacker can see the Kamehameha Lady along mountain trails and forest openings on all the main Hawaiian Islands except Kahoolawe. Its’ principal host plant is the native nettle, mamaki.
Also shown is the rare White Monarch called the Kona Morph, unique to the Big Island of Hawai’i. The lovely Kona Morph has distinctive dark sections of the margins of its dorsal forewings on a pure white ground. There is also an Oahu Morph with more black and a Kaua’i Morph, which is brownish instead of white. The Hawaiian blue has beautiful iridescent green scales underneath its wings, thus the name and bluish brown scales on the top.
Hawaiian Native Butterflies (10’ X 20’) exterior relief mural, Politec on panels relief Malama Pono Center, Kamuela, Hawai'i.