Wana – Long Spined Sea Urchin – Sea Urchin


Biology Connections – Ike Noeau:

Wana, or the Long-spined Sea Urchin, is a type of sea urchin frequently found on Hawaiian reefs. They have a shell-like calcite skeleton (called a test) coated in two types of moveable spines and often wedge themselves into crevices, making them very well protected from predators. Both the long spines, which are hollow and reach up to 10 inches (25 cm), and shorter spines, which are coated in toxins, are brittle and break off after puncturing the skin of those who venture too close. Light sensitive nerves can detect predators and move the spines toward the threat giving them a strong set of defenses. There are two other urchins which go by the name wana, the smooth spinned and banded sea urchin. All wana are most active at night as they crawl over the reef using tube feet and scraping filamentous algae of rocks and reef. There are also many other sea urchins in Hawaii that go by different Hawaiian names – ‘ina for all the rock boring urchins, hawae for the collector urchin, hāʻukeʻuke for the shingle urchin, and ha’uku’uku’ula’ula for the red pencil urchin. 

Red Pencil Urchin; photo taken by Terry Lilley

Cultural Connections – Mo’olelo:

Wana were eaten and their spines were used in carvings in ancient Hawaii. They also often appeared in dreams and had special meanings. There are a variety of Hawaiian proverbs relating to wana. For example,

Ka iʻa hōʻeha lima.
The fish that can hurt the hands.

Ka iʻa ʻumi i ka hanu.
The fish that holds the breath.
(Meaning fishermen must hold their breath when diving for wana).

Pua ka neneleau, momona ka wana.
When the neneleau blooms, the sea urchin is fat.
(Meaning when the hala fruit ripens and the neneleau blooms, wana was ready to be collected). 

The inside of a sea urchin, the part that was eaten.


The sea urchin has four early stanzas in the Hawaiian creation chant, starting with line 20,

Hanau ka ‘Ina, ka ‘Ina
Born was the sea urchin, the sea urchin [tribe]

Hanau kana, he Halula, puka
Born was the short-spiked sea urchin, came forth

Hanau ka Hawa‘e, o ka Wana-ku kana keiki, puka
Born was the smooth sea urchin, his child the long-spiked came forth.

Hanau ka Ha‘uke‘uke, o ka ‘Uhalula kana keiki, puka
Born was the ring-shaped sea urchin, his child the thin-spiked came forth