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Kamehameha butterfly
Not evaluated (IUCN 3.1)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Nymphalidae
Genus: Vanessa
Species: V. tameamea
Binomial name
Vanessa tameamea
(Eschscholtz, 1878)

The Kamehameha butterfly (Vanessa tameamea) is one of the two species of butterfly endemic to Hawaii, the other is Udara blackburni.[1] The Hawaiian name is pulelehua. This is today a catch-all native term for all butterflies; its origin seems to be pulelo "to float" or "to undulate in the air" + lehua, "reddish," or "rainbow colored," probably due to the predominant color of the Metrosideros polymorpha flower: an animal that floats through the air, from one lehua to another. Alternatively, it is called lepelepe-o-Hina – roughly, "Hina's fringewing" – which is today also used for the introduced monarch butterfly.

The Kamehameha butterfly was named the state insect of Hawaii in 2009, due to the work of a group of fifth-graders from Pearl Ridge Elementary.[2] These 5th graders (Robyn-Ashley Amano, Ryan Asuka, Kristi Kimura, Jennifer Loui, Toshiro Yanai and Jenna Yanke) proposed the butterfly as the state insect to various legislators as a project for Gifted and Talented.


The caterpillars feed on the leaves of plants in the Urticaceae family,[3] especially those of māmaki (Pipturus albidus)[4] but also ōpuhe (Urera spp.), ʻākōlea (Boehmeria grandis), olonā (Touchardia latifolia), and maʻoloa (Neraudia spp.).[3] Adults eat the sap of koa (Acacia koa) trees.[5]


It is named after the royal House of Kamehameha; the last king of this lineage, Kamehameha V, had died in 1872, a short time before this species was described. The specific name tameamea is an old-fashioned and partially wrong transcription of "Kamehameha". The Hawaiian language has no strict distinction between the voiceless alveolar plosive and voiceless velar plosive; use varies from island to island, but today, "k" is used as the standard transliteration. The voiceless glottal transition "h" is distinct and should always be pronounced - for example, "aloha" is correct whereas "aloa" is a wrong pronunciation. Thus, while "Tamehameha" would be a legitimate transcription (though considered old-fashioned on most islands), "Tameamea" is not.


  1. ^ Oboyski, Peter T. "Kamehameha Butterfly (Vanessa tameamea)". University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2009-11-27. 
  2. ^ Cooper, Jeanne (2009-08-21). "Emblems of Hawaii a surprise to many Americans". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  3. ^ a b Scott, James A. (1992). The Butterflies of North America: A Natural History and Field Guide. Stanford University Press. p. 281. ISBN 978-0-8047-2013-7. 
  4. ^ Little Jr., Elbert L.; Roger G. Skolmen (1989). "Mamaki" (PDF). Common Forest Trees of Hawaii (Native and Introduced). United States Forest Service. 
  5. ^ Scott, Susan (1991). Plants and Animals of Hawaii. Bess Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-935848-93-9. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Vanessa tameamea at Wikimedia Commons


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