The wrasses, besides being the most populous of reef inhabitants, have been used in the marine aquarium hobby since its inception. Some are BIG (the Napoleon wrasse, Cheilinus undulatus gets to more than 2 meters and 200 kilograms), some are tiny (Minilabrus striatus maxes out at 4.5 cm), many don't adapt well to captive conditions (e.g. the cleaner wrasses of the genus Labroides), and some define the meaning of the word MEAN (some individuals/species of the genera the Razorfishes).
Such ferociousness is not the case with the gentle Tuskfish, though its appearance and name may seem otherwise. This Indo-Pacific import is a hardy, almost-shy recluse, that never fails to add a colorful focal point to its system.
Although this fish is pricey, such an investment is well-warranted in a long-lived, disease-resistant, easy-to-feed key species for your fish-only marine tank. This is almost guaranteed should you secure a healthy specimen.
Classification: Taxonomy, Relation With Other Groups
Wrasses, Family Labridae, are well known to aquarists and divers around the world. They are ubiquitous species in the temperate to tropical shallow marine waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.
In German they are commonly called "lippfisch", in reference to wrasses prominent "rubber-lipped" protractile mouths. Adding to their anthropomorphic appearance are usually separate teeth that typically project outwards.
This is by some authors, myself included, the most diverse of fish families. It is the second largest of marine fishes (after who? the gobiids), of some sixty genera and 500 described species. The group has a large number of invalid synonyms, manifest in the often striking differences color and structure-wise between juveniles-adults, males-females, and the social status of individuals.
The Harlequin Tuskfish, Choerodon (formerly Lienardella) fasciata, has the bold markings and coloring of desirable captive wrasses, but shy and retiring behavior belying its size and toothy-ness.
Most hobbyists know this genus only for the Harlequin Tuskfish, Choerodon (formerly Lienardella) fasciata (2). There are several other non-used "Tuskfish" members of the genus, but none match the beauty and small size of the Harlequin. This expensive, bold-colored but peaceful wrasse mainly comes out of the Philippines and Australia. The "Land Down Under's" are vastly superior in hardiness and beauty (1's).
Selection: General to Specific
Most well-cared for specimens that have been in captivity for a few weeks prove quite hardy, often living for years. There are, however some cardinal guidelines for choosing amongst those available.
1) Country of Origin: Choerodon from Australian sources are best (these have bluish bordered red stripes and teeth) with a few other Indo-Pacific localities vying in consistent high-quality. Decidedly inferior are specimens hailing from the Philippines and Indonesia. Whether these are simply starved, otherwise mishandled or outright cyanided, the fact is on average they are relatively much shorter-lived; weeks instead of years. Are these fish better because they're cheaper?
2) On a related note, Time In Captivity may be your best indication of "Origin" as dealers frequently have poor or misleading information concerning where their livestock was collected. Do wait a good two weeks before making a purchase of a new specimen; OR, if you're a dealer, secure a guarantee as to origin COUPLED with a warrantee.
New arrivals are prone to hide out in corners, and die not so mysteriously from continuing shock and lack of food. Wait.
3) Feeding: Is it? I have collected these fish in what I consider the most appropriate, best available technology; with baited barbless hook and line while snorkeling over the reef. The trauma of capture, hole in the mouth, and holding and transport without cover are of obvious consequence. Not surprisingly, new specimens are often on feeding strikes on arrival. Yours should be taking foods you can and intend to feed when you pick it up.
4) On Netting: Notably, wrasses possess a simpler type of scalature termed cycloid; as opposed to the more common interdigitating ctenoid ("teen-oyd"; from the Greek meaning "comb") scales of most advanced bony fishes. The practical implication here is the physical damage possible by rough handling of these fishes. Due to their vigorous dashing, often launching themselves Poseidon missile-like when pursued, you are encouraged to use two nets, one to direct the intended specimen, the other (deep pocketed, of soft material) to lift it from the tank.
Take care to immediately place the specimen in a TALL double-bag with adequate water, and if available, oxygenate it for calming, anesthetic effect; seal and place in a sealed (dark) Styrofoam box. A bunch of wrasses today will be lost due to jumping, wracking themselves hard against specimen containers, or subsequent secondary infection from scraping consequent to improper moving protocol. Don't contribute.
Also while we're on the issue of netting, WATCH YOUR HANDS when netting wrasses, especially large specimens. They do bite, and how. If you want to support the animal while in the net, place a wet towel between your hand and the net.
These fish need large (at least 75 gallon) open systems with one or more dark cavernous spaces to hide out from. Ideally your rock-work and/or coral skeleton arrangement will grant them a home of their own, away from the general chaos of other tankmates.
Not particularly fussy as regards water chemistry, physics. "Standard" fish-only conditions do fine. No ammonia, nitrite, negligible nitrates; pH 7.8 plus, temperature more or less constant 70's to low 80's F..
Should be sufficiently brisk to move around all the water in the system, a good three or more real turns per hour and incorporate functional foam fractionation to remove proteinaceous food-wastes.
These animals are found as individuals with a few hundred square meters between them on the reef. Though wholesalers and retailers will crowd juveniles of a few inches together, they maintain large specimens individually. This is recommended to the home hobbyist.
Following acclimation, involving either a prophylactic dip/bath, and/or quarantine period, you'll probably find your specimen hides out for days to weeks. This is "par for the course" with Tuskfish, and should not worry you. Make an effort to ensure your specimen is getting food, via the use of a "feeding stick" (see below) and this will facilitate its socialization.
Most everything leaves a harlequin tusk alone and vice versa. Though I've seen incorrigible triggers and angels make passing forays at a Tuskfish, they rarely do damage or continue. Alternatively Lienardella will generally not gobble down damsels, clowns et al. they've grown up with, but should not be trusted with small gobies, blennies, etc.. Reef tank invertebrates are definitely on their menu.
Reproduction, Sexual Differentiation:
Not bred in captivity or observed doing so in the wild as yet.
Some Tuskfish are more outgoing than others, but the majority are content to cruise their domain by gently wafting their pectoral fins; reserving caudal thrusts for periodic bursts of speed in feeding and back to their favorite hiding place.
Nights and a good deal of the day are spent "resting" on the bottom or under their overhang, with the fish poised on its unpaired fins, eyes alert to all going on before them.
Feeding/Foods/Nutrition: Types, Frequency, Amount, Wastes
Tuskfish readily accept meaty foods, fresh, frozen/defrosted and live. Crustaceans, shellfish, fish-flesh are all fair game. The best colored, least damaged specimens I've encountered have been kept off live foods; too often these result in the wrasse dashing itself into something hard and/or sharp. There is also considerable anecdotal evidence of increased agonistic or aggressive behavioral problems linked with live food offering.
Hunger strikes of a few days to a couple of weeks (for larger individuals) do not necessarily spell doom. Check your water quality, enact a water change, and proffer a shrimp-like tidbit on the end of a plastic dowel or tubing near the front of your tusk's cave near "night-time". Otherwise don't panic and do something more drastic if your other livestock is fine.
Disease: Infectious, Parasitic, Nutritional, Genetic, Social
Harlequins do not bury themselves in the substrate in typical wrasse fashion, but are given to their casual "scratching" behavior. This may or may not indicate an external parasitic infection.
They are susceptible to the common scourges of marine fish disease but respond well to copper therapeutics, specific gravity manipulation and the use of fish-biological cleaners. Choerodon will definitely consume shrimps, cleaners or not.
Looking for a centerpiece for your fish-only marine set-up? Got the space, money, and inclination for a long-term fishy relationship? Look no further. An initially healthy harlequin tusk may just suit the bill.
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Campbell, Douglas. 1978. Fishes for the beginner; A guide for the new marine hobbyist: Wrasses, pt. 2. FAMA 12/78.
Chlupaty, Peter. 1982. The harlequin Tuskfish, Lienardella fasciata. TFH 12/82.
Friese, U. Erich. 1977. Wrasses. Marine Aquarist 7:8(77).
Giovanetti, Thomas A. 1989. The harlequin tusk: A wrasse for all seasons. TFH 12/89.
Kuhling, D. Undated. A rainbow in the aquarium- Lienardella fasciata. Aquarium Digest International #35.
Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, NY. 600pp.
Tepoot, Pablo and Ian M. 1996. Marine Aquarium Companion (Southeast Asia Volume). New Life Publications, Homestead, FL. 358pp.