Hawaii State Insect

Pulelehua or Kamehameha Butterfly

Hawaii State Insect: Pulelehua or Kamehameha Butterfly

(Vanessa tameamea)

Adopted on April 23, 2009

Introduced on January 23, 2009, House Bill No. 135 (HB135) was approved by both houses of the Hawaiian Legislature by mid-April, 2009, due to the work of a group of 5th graders from Pearl Ridge Elementary. When HB135 was signed by Governor Linda Lingle on April 23, 2009, the pulelehua, or Kamehameha butterfly, (Vanessa tameamea,) became the official insect of Hawaii.

Pulelehua is the Hawaiian name for the Kamehameha butterfly. It is one of only two species that is native to Hawaii. The other native is the Koa butterfly, (Udara blackburnii). It's sometimes called Blackburn's bluet or the Hawaiian blue.

Hawaii State Insect:
Pulelehua or Kamehameha Butterfly

Hawaii State Insect: Pulelehua or Kamehameha Butterfly

The Kamehameha butterfly (Vanessa tameamea) is one of the two species of butterfly native to Hawaii (the other is Udara blackburni).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, a 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 5th graders from Pearl Ridge Elementary. 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 G.T. (Gifted & Talented).

Characteristics of the Kamehameha butterfly

The pulelehua, or Kamehameha butterfly, is one of only two butterflies that are native to Hawai'i. With its bright red wings, bold black borders, and 2 1/2 inch wingspan, pulelehua are often seen fluttering near koa trees, where adults feed on the sweet sap oozing from broken branches. The Kamehameha butterfly lays its eggs on the mamaki plant, a native shrub that was sometimes used by Hawaiians to make a coarse tapa (the leaves are also used to make an herbal tea). Young caterpillars protect themselves by cutting a flap of leaf, pulling it over themselves, and securing it with silk to make a shelter. As they grow older, the caterpillars sit motionless on the branches, waiting for nightfall. Once the sun has set and the forest birds have gone to sleep, it is safe for the caterpillars to venture onto the leaves to eat. Even their chrysalis is well-camouflaged, looking like a withered leaf. In a little over two weeks, the chrysalis splits open, and out pops a beautiful pulelehua!

The Pulelehua Project

The Kamehameha butterfly (Vanessa tameamea) is endemic to Hawai'i, meaning it is found nowhere else in the world. It was officially adopted as our State Insect in 2009, in response to a proposal by a group of elementary school students. The butterfly was named in honor of the House of Kamehameha, the royal family that unified the Hawaiian Islands in 1810, and reigned until the death of Kamehameha V in 1872. The Kamehameha butterfly was formally described in 1878.

Although the butterfly is historically known from all the main Hawaiian Islands (Kaua'i, O'ahu, Moloka'i, Lana'i, Maui, and Hawai'i), it is no longer found in some areas where it used to be common (e.g. Tantalus on O'ahu), and it appears to be declining. The Pulelehua Project is an effort to map current populations of the Kamehameha butterfly using observations submitted by the public, combined with surveys of remote areas by scientists. ;Pulelehua is the Hawaiian word for butterfly.

The Pulelehua Project was developed by researchers at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, with funding from the State of Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

Hawaii H.B. NO. 135

The law designating the Kamehameha butterfly as the official Hawaii state insect is found in the Bill Status and Documents. Hawaii State Legislature. 2009. 29 April 2009


H.B. NO. 135




SECTION 1. Chapter 5, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is amended by adding a new section to be appropriately designated and to read as follows:

"§5- State insect. The pulelehua (Vanessa tameamea), also known as the Kamehameha butterfly, is established and designated as the official insect of the State."

SECTION 2. New statutory material is underscored.

SECTION 3. This Act shall take effect upon its approval.

Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
Phylum: Arthropoda (Arthropods)
    Subphylum: Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class: Insecta (Insects)
Order: Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily: Papilionoidea (Butterflies and Skippers)
    Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies)
        Subfamily: Nymphalinae (Crescents, Checkerspots, Anglewings, etc.)
Tribe: Nymphalini
Genus: Vanessa (Ladies and Red Admiral)
Species: tameamea (Pulelehua or Kamehameha)

State Insects,
Butterflies, and Bugs
State Insects,
State insects are selected by 45 states of the 50 United States. Some states have more than one designated insect, or have multiple categories (e.g., state insect and state butterfly, etc.).