Muhe’e – Squid

Bobtail squid

Biology Connections – Ike Noeau:

Muhe’e, or squid, are cephalopods closely related to octopus and cuttlefish. Squids have elongated tubular bodies, compact heads, a feathery-shaped internal structure called the pen, and ten appendages, including eight arms (like an octopus) and an additional two tentacles covered in suckers. Muhe’e are fast moving predators which can move by jet propulsion when they expel water through their siphon. They also have the remarkable ability to change the color and texture of their skins to camouflage with their surroundings and have eyes just as complex as humans. There are over 300 species of squid around the world, ranging from the 1.6 cm (less than 3/4 inch) long Southern pygmy squid (Idiosepius notoides) to the 20 meter long (more than 65 feet) Colossal Squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). There are various species of squid that have been found in Hawaii, including Oval, Bigfin reef, Flying Red, and Diamondback squid. Perhaps the most famous species of squid in Hawaii is the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid (Euprymna scolopes), an endemic, bioluminescent species that has been named “the cutest thing in the ocean”. Growing to an average of 1 inches (2.5cm) in length, these nocturnal muhe’e feed on small shrimp and worms during the night. Hawaiian Bobtail Squid have a symbiotic relationship with a bioluminescent bacteria, Vibrio fischeri, which lives inside a specialized light organ in its mantle. The bioluminescent bacteria produces light at night to camouflage the small squid against the light of the moon and stars as well as help it find its prey, and the bacteria simultaneously benefit from using sugars produced by the squid as food. Watch the below video for an explanation of how the Bobtail Squid is able to do this! During the day, Hawaiian Bobtail Squid bury themselves in the sand to avoid predators. However, these iconic shrimp are threatened by urbanization, runoff, sedimentation, and collection for the aquarium trade. 


Cultural Connections – Mo’olelo:

Hawaiians commonly used he’e interchangeably to refer to octopus and squid, although they also used muhe’e to specifically refer to the squid. The prevalence of he’e, though, makes it difficult to tell if a story or chant is describing the octopus or squid. In the chant below, June Gutmanis translates he’e as squid. 


E Kanaloa, ke akua ka heʻe!

Mai loko mai ʻo Na Pule Kahiko, na June Gutmanis

E Kanaloa, ke akua ka heʻe!

Eia kau mai ʻo (inoa).

E ka heʻe o kai uli,

Ka heʻe o ka lua one,

Ka heʻe i ka papa,

Ka heʻe pio!

Eia kā ʻoukou mai, ʻo (inoa)


O Kanaloa, god of the squid!

From Na Pule Kahiko, by June Gutmanis

O Kanaloa, god of the squid!

Here is your patient, (name)

O squid of the deep blue sea,

Squid that inhabits the coral reef,

Squid that burrows in the sand,

Squid that squirts water from its sack!

Here is a sick man for you to heal, (name)

A patient put to bed by the squid that lies flat.



Due to the interchangeable use of the word he’e, it is difficult to know if line 185 of the Hawaiian creation chant is referring to the octopus, the squid, or both,

Hanau ka He‘e noho i kai
Born is the He‘e [octopus] living in the sea