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Related FAQs: Halichoeres Wrasses, Halichoeres 2, Halichoeres Identification, Halichoeres Behavior, Halichoeres Compatibility, Halichoeres Selection, Halichoeres Systems, Halichoeres Feeding, Halichoeres Disease, Halichoeres Reproduction, Wrasses, Wrasse Selection, Wrasse Behavior, Wrasse Compatibility, Wrasse Feeding, Wrasse Diseases,          

Related Articles: Halichoeres N-Z, The Diversity of Wrasses, Family Labridae, Cook Islands Wrasses

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Outgoing and Beautiful, The Checkerboard Wrasse, Halichoeres hortulanus

Bob Fenner

  Halichoeres hortulanus

    What are you looking for in the way of a mid-sized fish specimen or car for that matter? Something compact, sporty, good-looking, easy to handle? All of these qualities fit the member of the super genus Halichoeres we're going to discuss here. The Checkerboard wrasse is a looker that can hang with the best of rough and tumble reef livestock (perhaps with the exception of worms and crustaceans...) and gets along with most all fish life as well. This readily available species is more outgoing than an average Labrid, and due to its widespread distribution and ease of capture, it generally is very reasonably priced.


    Within the family of Wrasses (Labridae) there are two large polytypic genera... The Thalassoma and our genus here, Halichoeres... All told there are some 75 described species with the genus, and I suspect a few more to be found still... Of the Halichoeres there is quite a range in size, personality and apropos for our purposes here, suitability for aquarium use. Not to be disingenuous, all of these species are "reef associated", found on and about corals and sandy, rocky areas in shallow tropical seas... but depending on how crowded, kept in small circumstances, they have a variable adjustment or not to captive conditions. The Checkerboard Wrasse is a "tween" species... not as easy-going, compatible with small reef organisms as some of the smaller members of the genus (e.g. Halichoeres chrysus, H. iridis, H. ornatissimus...), but certainly easier going, more amenable to captivity than some of the even larger, more free-ranging Halichoeres (e.g. the Puddingwife, H. radiatus>). 

Halichoeres hortulanus (Lacepede 1801), the Checkerboard Wrasse (2), comes in two varieties, the more common one from the Pacific and a more colorful color morph in the Indian Ocean into the Red Sea. Pictured: At right a tiny juvenile (hovering over a Fungiid) in S. Sulawesi. Below: A juvenile of about two inches length, and a "pair" in the Maldives. A larger Halichoeres at ten or so inches in an aquarium. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=12663&genusname=Halichoeres&speciesname=hortulanus



    Some larger Halichoeres develop heavy jaws and muscles with age and growth, reflecting their hard-shelled food preferences and practices. The Checkerboard is conservative in this regard, preferring to consume smaller crustaceans, molluscs and worms, as well as smaller urchins. Smaller fishes might be at risk if very slow or introduced to a smallish system where the Checkerboard is already established, but by and large this good-sized Wrasse (Up to eleven inches in length) leaves most all alone.

    Like most Wrasses, the Checkerboard is best housed either alone, one to a tank or in "pairs"... It is as usual a synchronous protogynic hermaphrodite... Progressing from being sexually undifferentiated to become an "initial phase" (female), and later... if conditions permit, including the absence of other males, to become a male itself.

Lysmata wurdemanni's killer/Shrimp Compatibility 1/24/12
Hi Crew!
I'm from Italy so pardon me for my English...
<Much better than from many English speaking queriors.>
I'm trying to win the war against the Aiptasia (Glass Anemones) that infested my LR/LPS/SPS/Fish 60g tank.
I've tried different solutions (Red-Sea AiptasiaX, Salifert one, vinegar, etc..) without success.
I've bought 4 Lysmata wurdemanni but after 3 weeks they suddenly disappeared. One of them I saw in the claws of my Stenopus hispidus, but I really don't know if the Stenopus killed the wurdemanni or someone else in the tank did the job and the Stenopus simply had the lunch.. :(
<The Coral Banded Shrimp is aggressive toward other shrimp including it's own kind unless a mated pair.>
Before introducing other, and so expensive, wurdemanni I was wondering which tank inhabitant(s) take out from the tank to avoid the wurdemanni to be killed again.
The tank inhabitants are:
1 Halichoeres Hortulanus - Checkerboard Wrasse (15 cm)
<Larger specimens have been known to attack/eat shrimp.>
1 Lo Vulpinus (12 cm)
4 Amphiprion Ocellaris (from  3 to 7 cm)
3 Chromis Viridis (3/4 cm)
2 Pseudanthis squamipinnis (4/5 cm)
1 Zebrasoma flavescens (7 cm)
1 Paracanthurus Hepatus (6 cm)
1 Stenopus Hispidus (6 cm - only the body)
<I would remove the hispidus.>
1 Blennius Gattorugine (8 cm)
6 Enctmea <Entacmaea > quadricolor (red BTA)
<Another good possibility, especially with six BTAs present.  You did not state your nitrate level and Peppermint shrimp will not tolerate high nitrate levels and do require an iodine/dide supplement.>
I know that the wrasses have shrimps in their diet, but I'm very afraid to take him out from the tank and not be able to see his amazing livery anymore... :(
Could be the Stenopus the wurdemanni's killer instead? In this case, say goodbye to a Stenopus will be not so painful to me.
<I would definitely start by removing this shrimp.  The Nudibranch, Berghia verrucornis, is also known
to eat Aiptasia as well as (depending on their eating personalities)
Copperband and Raccoon Butterflyfish, but your tank is a bit small for the later two.   You may want to read here as well.
Thanks in advance for any suggestion and for the great job all the Crew do.
<You're welcome.  James (Salty Dog)>
Leonardo (Italy)
Re Lysmata Wurdemanni's killer/Shrimp Compatibility <<RMF>> 1/24/12

Thanks a lot for the prompt reply and for the precious suggestions.
<You're welcome.>
So I start with taken the hispidus out of the tank. I didn't understand the relationship between BTA's and nitrates.. :0
<Was relating to the Peppermint Shrimp although BTAs appreciated water low in nitrates.>
In my tank the nitrates are always not-detectable..and the BTA continue splitting.
Do you think that I may leave the wrasse in the tank?
<It's your risk to take.  At 15cm (6 inches) in length it would be very well capable
of making a meal out of a Peppermint Shrimp if not well fed.  I'd try adding one Peppermint Shrimp and observe.  Since shrimp have a hard exoskeleton, I'm not so sure now that a BTA's sting would be powerful enough to kill/stun a shrimp.  The shrimp are generally smart enough to avoid these creatures.
I will ask Bob for his valuable input on this.><<From ayer's mail, I see this is a Halichoeres hortulanus... will get bigger and VERY likely consume any shrimp in time. I would not place these together. RMF>>
<Ditto.  James (Salty Dog)>


    Most specimens of this species arrive at dealers in good condition, save for the usual wear and tear of capture (most are fence-netted against a barrier net hung in the water... some are sieved through a net dug into the substrate where they've interred themselves. Do be on the look out for more than nominal/minimal damage to their mouths... as this is the largest area of trouble with captive Labrids... Their protrusible jaws and apical jaws are easily damaged by netting, being new to clear-walled confines and being shipped in too-small bags... and such injury can lead to secession of feeding, and its subsequent ills.

    Most all specimens offered in the trade are of appropriate size (3-5 inches overall), and this species readily adapts to suitable captive settings.


    The family name for Wrasses, Labridae, is thought by some to derive from the Greek word "Labros" for "greedy"... And these fishes are by and large big messy eaters and waste makers... This behavior, as well as their active, busy swimming nature calls for large, well circulated and filtered systems. Add to this some substantial decor and a suitable substrate to dive into, and their world is replete.

    A few notes re the issue of sand use with this and other burrowing Labrid species. This needs to be "soft", the best, small (1 or 2 mm.) coral sand... of depth. A few to several inches ideally... to allow these fishes to "dig in" if frightened, and often to sleep within... A behavior that they employ in the wild largely to avoid predation.


    "A fish that eats is a fish that lives" is a useful, almost-always true axiom... Getting this Halichoeres to feed is almost-never a problem... indeed, leaving food for its tankmates may be more of an issue.

    Small individuals may be sustained on a mix of dried (pelleted, freeze- and sun-dried) foods, but larger specimens need fresh and frozen-defrosted meaty items to sustain them. Whole or shelled molluscs, crustaceans and worms are welcomed, as well as prepared mixes, mashes that are cohesive, large enough to be recognized as food.

    Once or twice daily feedings are fine... but of course, having a live sump, aka refugium, delivering occasional live treats through-out time is non-paralleled for health and instigating natural foraging activity.

Disease/Health Issues:

    Knowing how active this species is, it should come as no surprise that it can/does suffer occasional mechanical injuries from dashing into the side, top of the system, against hard decor items... This often expresses itself as dark (neuronal reaction) and bloody (petecchial) areas. These "miscellaneous" markings should no cause for alarm or overt action... removal, treatment... As the vast majority of cases resolve themselves with "general good care and maintenance" over a week or two's time.

    The usual protozoan complaints can be treated with common chemical remedies... Copper compounds (chelated are better), with testing daily at regular dosages for Cryptocaryon, and Quinine compounds for Amyloodinium are fine.


    Though it gets a bit large for many home hobbyist set-ups (I would not place this Halichoeres in anything under a hundred gallons), the Checkerboard Wrasse has much to recommend it for a hurly burly fish-only, fish-only-with-live-rock or rough and tumble reef system (with no crustaceans or desired worm livestock). It is beautiful, intelligent, active, and relatively easygoing for a "mid-size" Labrid.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Michael, Scott W. 1997. Beautiful wrasses. The unique species of the genus Halichoeres. AFM 3/97.

Michael, Scott W. 2006. Halichoeres wrasses. They can be beautiful, but some are predatory feeders with hearty appetites. AFM 8/06.


Recommend me a wrasse please -- 7/30/08 Hey there "Crew". <Grant> Quick and hopefully easy question for you, I'm just wondering on what type of wrasse you personally would put in this tank if you had the choice. It is a 210g with 150 lbs of live rock and a 1 inch aragonite sand bed, 250w 14K MH light over the center, 55g sump with a 24" x 12" by 6" deep sand bed and Gracilaria, 40 lbs of live rock in the sump. My tank has the following fish... 5" Emperor angel 2 x 3" Semilarvatus B/F Purple tang Male blue throat trigger, the Hawaiian type, not the Red Sea endemic ones. Possibly getting a female in the next month or two, haven't decided yet. <Mmm, saw one washed up on the beach ayer at Mauna Kea> I'm wanting to add some sort of wrasse to the equation. I love the shape and activity of the fish, they don't look anything like my current fish. If this was your tank and you were able to pick a wrasse or multiple wrasse to put in your tank, which ones would you choose? I like the Canary wrasse (commonly called the Yellow Coris) quite a bit, but with only a 1" sand bed I don't know how they would do. I like the C. gaimard BUT I've heard they get real aggressive, I'd worry about my not too aggressive B/F. <Agreed... I would not use this species> Anyway, thanks for your help. This is purely just wanting an opinion from people who work with fish for a living, I'm hoping for an interesting, fun to look at and watch fish and you guys seem like you would be the ones who would be in the know! For what it's worth, I was trying to stick with a Red Sea theme but the triggers ruined that. If you know of a good Red Sea wrasse that wont cost an arm and a leg to purchase, I'd prefer that over a wrasse from another part of the globe. Grant <Mmm... if you could find a Maori/Splendour species this would be ideal... see WWM re the genera... but if not sticking with the Red Sea theme, maybe a Halichoeres hortulanus, Coris gaimard... even a Gomphosus (likely varius) though caeruleus would be great if you could find it... Otherwise, let me check... Mmm, nope, don't have posted my pc. on Labrids of this region... though you can/could peruse "Fishwatcher's Guide..." v. 1, or go over the bit of it on the Wrasses of the Red Sea archived on WWM. Bob Fenner>

Re: Recommend me a wrasse please, F' fixing,  7/30/08 Hey Bob, thanks for the reply. I actually have looked over your web page already dealing with wrasses. I read about the Maori/Splendor wrasses but to be honest, none of them really "do it for me" so to speak. <There are some beauts, and occasionally available in the west... but to each their own as they say> I do like the H. hortulanus, I'm glad you recommended that one as it was one I have already seen and thought was a pretty fish. As far as I could tell, there is no "Wrasses of the Red Sea" page on WWM. I've been reading over WWM on wrasses for the last 2 days and I just checked again after getting your email, I cant find it. <An outline here: http://wetwebmedia.com/redseafwgv1.htm> I'm looking on http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marine/fishes/index.htm for it. BTW, there are two identical lines there under the wrasse section dealing with Maori. About a quarter of the way into the wrasse section, it says "The Maori or Splendor Wrasses, genera Cheilinus, Oxycheilinus by Bob Fenner & FAQs on: Oxycheilinus," And then about two thirds of the way down it says " The Maori or Splendor Wrasses, genera Cheilinus, Oxycheilinus by Bob Fenner & FAQs on: Maori Wrasses," <Thanks... some code troubles from years back... will try to fix... Oh! Tis the fact that this common name group includes both genera... can't think of a less-confusing way to list. RMF> You can see it is worded a little differently, but both links go to the exact same spot. Anyway, not a big deal but I saw it two days ago when I started researching wrasses and forgot to mention it in my last email to ya. Thanks again for the help, I'll probably end up with a H. hortulanus. I've seen those in LFS here in Alaska, I really did like the way they looked. They were only about 3" when I saw them, but the web sites I've read state they get up to about a foot. However, they are supposed to be peaceful when compared to something like say a C. gaimard, which sounds great to me. Do you think the H. hortulanus compares to a C. gaimard in personality? <Mmm, I do> I want a good, active fish that shows a fishy intelligence, but stays peaceful so my B/F don't stress out. My other question regarding that wrasse is that LiveAquaria states they need a 2-3" sand bed to hide in... I don't have that in my tank. Will the wrasse not survive well without a 2-3" sand bed? <Very likely so... not as much as a burrower as other genera, species of Labrids> I don't want to get a fish that will survive but basically wont be "happy" in the tank as I have it set up. Also, can I possibly keep 2 or 3 of these wrasse in the tank at the same time or is this a species that I need to keep only one to a tank. <If there's room...> I think I would like 2 or 3 of them swimming around in there. Grant <I really like the Checkerboard... BobF>

Re: Recommend me a wrasse please 7/31/08 Alright, well H. hortulanus (I'd hate to have the word anus in my name but oh well, I bet the fish are OK with it) sounds like the wrasse for me. <Ah, good> You said they would be OK kept as a pair IF there was enough room... How much is enough? <Hundreds of gallons> About 4 or 5 other medium to large fish in a 210 with a 55g sump and a refugium. I'd say around 250g total water volume, about 150 lbs of live rock in the 210. I'd really be OK with just one wrasse in there if you think there is potential for problems. <There is some... but starting them of discernibly different size should be fine> Would this wrasse be OK with a Candy Cane hogfish? <Yes> Or do you call it a Peppermint hogfish? <Either, both> Bodianus sepiacaudus I think is the scientific naming of it? <Mmm, there are a few: Bodianus izuensis is more common> This wrasse as a pair or else a single wrasse and a single hogfish would be the last 2 additions to my tank. <Okay> And lastly, do the H. hortulanus or the B. sepiacaudus not handle a 5-10 minute freshwater formalin dip well? <Yes> That is my standard procedure before placing fish into quarantine but I know some species have a harder time with it than others. <Yes... do provide aeration during. BobF> Grant Gray

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