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Related FAQs: Wrasses, Wrasses 2 Wrasse Identification, Wrasse ID 2, Wrasse Behavior, Wrasse Selection, Wrasse Compatibility, Wrasse Systems, Wrasse Feeding, Wrasse Disease, Wrasse Disease 2, Wrasses & Crypt, Wrasse Reproduction

Wrasse Regional Accounts: Cook Islands, Wrasses Found in Indonesia Part One, Two, Three,               

Wrasse Articles/FAQs on: Ideal Wrasses To Keep in Marine Aquariums by Bob Fenner, Anampses, Hogfishes/Bodianus, Maori Wrasses/Cheilinus & OxycheilinusChoerodon/Tuskfishes, Harlequin Tuskfish/Choerodon fasciatus, Fairy/Velvet Wrasses/Cirrhilabrus, Coris & Coris gaimard, Bird Wrasses/Gomphosus, Halichoeres, Cleaner Wrasses/Labroides, Tubelip Wrasses/Labropsis, Lachnolaimus, Leopard Wrasses/Macropharyngodon, Oxycheilinus, Pencil Wrasses/Pseudojuloides, RazorfishesDragon Wrasse, Paracheilinus, Pseudocheilinus, Stethojulis, Thalassoma,

The Best Livestock for A Marine Aquarium

The Wrasses, Family Labridae

by Bob Fenner

  Cirrhilabrus, Bodianus

The Wrasses constitute one of the largest (the second largest family of fishes (after the Gobies with at least 60 genera and six hundred plus species.) and most diverse families of marine fishes. From amongst the smallest (Minilabrus striatus of the Red Sea at under two inches and part of an ounce) and largest (the Napoleon Wrasse, Cheilinus undulatus at more than seven feet and four hundred pounds) of species, they are plain to outright gaudy in their markings and coloration, easygoing to the point of total non-competitiveness to true terrors of the reef. (Labrid fishes are found in shallow waters, tropical to semi-temperate, worldwide with the exception of the Arctic and Antarctic seas).

Their usefulness and survivability as aquarium species and specimens parallels their size, structural and color diversity. Some rarely live at all under captive conditions, others you have to literally "beat with a stick" (or leave an opening at their tank top for them to jump out) to kill. Quite a few of the species offered in the trade have specialized "social" needs, requiring others of their kind, lots of hiding spaces, soft sand to burrow and bury in, easygoing tankmates, and dedicated feeding. On the other hand, this family contains some real aquarium stalwarts that do well under the broadest of reasonable conditions.

Many Wrasse genera, comprise several (from the Middle English meaning "many") other species than listed here that might, would, will make suitable aquarium specimens, but have yet to make their way into pet-fish markets. Much of this "lack of use" is a function of ignorance ("I don't know they exist, so why would I ask for them?"), and poor infrastructure (e.g. no airline service to/out of the area they're found in). As time goes by there will continue to be new offerings assuredly.

Here is my rundown of the genera and species of wrasses that are used (and others that should be) by the aquarium interest, with a ranking of their relative/historical likelihood of staying alive in your system, with some pertinent notes on their selection, husbandry and natural history.

Captive Suitability Scoring:

After long thought, investigation of others declared opinions, and handling thousands of these fishes over the last thirty some years in the trade I've come up with the following scheme of "scores" for each on its likelihood of surviving the rigors of aquarium care. To a degree this information is necessarily historical (what has happened, may not be the general trend to come), and is subject to "improvement" on the keepers side as a consequence of providing larger, more stable quarters and more diligent husbandry. But, by and large a relative score of one (1) indicates the "highest and best" survivability under captive conditions; let's say most of the specimens of this species collected surviving more than three months. A score of two (2) is indicative of a mortality of more than fifty percent between one and three months. Lastly, and sufficient for our purposes, a three (3) is the worst score, with more than 50% of the species perishing before a months time of capture. I entreat you to leave the latter group to the sea, or at least to study and provide the best possible circumstances for these animals.

I'm aware that other authors, even highly respected scientists' ratings are different than those stated here. And that your dealer's) probably consider my "judgments" too harsh. My advice is indeed, not to rely on what's stated here and/or any one other source of information. Before purchasing these (or other livestock) do your best to gather as much pertinent "accurate, significant, and meaningful" information as you can from reading, other hobbyists and the industry.

For coverage of genera and groupings, click on the blue-highlighted names.

Genus Anampses: The touchy Tamarins.

Genus Bodianus & Lachnolaimus: The Hogfishes

Bulbometopon muricatum, the Bumphead Wrasse... second in size only to the Napoleon... 

Genera Cheilinus & Oxycheilinus: The Maori or Splendour Wrasses

Genus Cheilio: I'll mention the seagrass-dwelling Cigar Wrasse, Cheilio inermis (Forsskal 1775) (3), only because it occasionally is offered in pet-fish markets, and rarely lives in captivity. Indo-Pacific, including the Red Sea, out to Hawai'i. To twenty inches in length. At right: one in the Gilis, Indonesia in a typical flanking behavior, disguised with a Goatfish. Below: Three color varieties in S. Sulawesi.
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Genus Choerodon: Harlequin Tuskfish (Choerodon fasciata), nineteen species in this genus.

Genus Cirrhilabrus: The Fairy or Velvet Wrasses

Genus Clepticus: Here is another species we?ll mention, the Creole Wrasse, Clepticus parrae (Bloch & Schneider 1801) (3), simply because it (mis)enters the trade from time to time. This reef roamer is not often identified as a wrasse at all, as it cruises above the reefs of the tropical western Atlantic. The Creole Wrasse almost always dies in route from being shipped from the wild. To one foot in length. This one in Cancun, Mexico.

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Genus Coris: including a species article on: Coris gaimard

Genus Diproctacanthus: One species; Diproctacanthus xanthurus (Bleeker 1856), the Yellowtail Tubelip Wrasse.
Doronotonatus megalepis Gunther 1862, Dwarf Wrasse. To three or so inches in length. Here a two incher hides in shallow eel grass bedding in Cozumel. Found in the eastern and western tropical Atlantic.

Genus Epibulus: The Sling-Jaw Wrasse, Epibulus insidiator (Pallas, 1770) is showing up more and more in the industry, and is a real winner looks-wise, though I'll still have to rate it a moderate score (2) in historical hardiness. Below: Juvenile with distinctive markings, females are golden yellow over-all, while males are blackish in the back, pale on the face, with an orange-brown "coat" on their back. To fourteen inches total length. Indo-Pacific.

Sling-Jaw Wrasse. Discerning Epibulus spp.       5/28/16
Hi Guys
I have been trying to find a definitive answer to identifying the differences between the two Sling-Jaw Wrasse species, Epibulus insidiator and Epibulus brevis but keep finding contradictory information. I have gathered that there are differences in colours as they mature within each species and between the species but am not completely sure what these are. The reason I ask is that there is a 3.5" Sling-Jaw at my local fish shop but I don't know which species it is.
<Almost all specimens sold in the trade are E. insidiator. Oh, this lifted from FishBase re E. brevis: This species is distinguished from its only congener Epibulus insidiator by the relatively drab coloration of the male; a prominent black pigment on the pectoral fins of most females (vs. absent); smaller size with slightly longer pectoral fins">
It changes colour frequently from a grey-brown to much lighter version of this (I assume depending on its mood) and as it is the only one of its genus present I am unable to compare it with any others of similar size for differences.
<Look for the dark pectoral fin base....>
I am looking to add a Epibulus insidiator to my aquarium so would like to make sure I buy the correct species. I hope you can help me with this and I appreciate your time!
Many thanks,
<See the pix on FB... The two species are rather distinctive. Bob Fenner>

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Genus Gomphosus: The Bird Wrasses

Genus Halichoeres: Halichoeres A-M, Halichoeres N-Z

Hemigymnus & Hologymnosus Genera Wrasses:
Genus Hemipteronotus: part of the Razorfishes, See genus Novaculichthys.
Genus Labrichthys: The sole member of this genus is the Tubelip Wrasse, Labrichthys unilineatus

Genus Labroides: Cleaner Wrasses

Genus Labropsis: Tubelip Wrasses

Labropsis xanthonata, stkg./sel.    2/18/12
Hi Bob,
I hope that all is well!  Labropsis xanthonata - what's the consensus on the species being reef safe (more concerned about SPS munching)?
<May eat Acropora polyps as adults; and is a touchy genus, species to keep... Not a good shipper>
  I have not found much info on them online in this regard.
<Sold off and on in the trade... a beauty>
Many thanks,
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Genus Lachnolaimus: Another " Hog" genus and this one's really more of a pig than any of the Bodianus species. Lachnolaimus maximus, is THE Hogfish (2) in the tropical western Atlantic. A beauty when small (most offered in the trade at 6-8 inches) but quickly grows BIG (to thirty-two inches in the wild!). A shy giant that often comes in too beat to acclimate to captivity.

Genus Larabicus: Larabicus quadrilineatus (Ruppell 1835)(2), the Fourline or Arabian Cleaner Wrasse is actually a cleaner only as a juvenile. As adults (they only get to five inches) the Fourline Wrasse mainly feeds only on coral polyps. Occasionally imported from the Red Sea. Also found in the Gulf of Aden to the south. Adult/male and female shown. Males dark blue in color overall.

4 striped wrasse cocoon, Cleaner wrasse in nocturnal "cocoon" - 7/23/07 <<interesting... don't know that I've ever heard of a Cleaner Wrasse (likely a Labroides) exuding a sleeping cocoon, though many wrasses and Parrotfishes do... And there are a bunch of organisms that might use such feeding techniques that might render your observation... And it does sound like there is a "mystery" culprit in your tank... but who? A sea cucumber? Large polychaete worm? Bob Fenner>> i was rearranging the rockwork in the morning right after I turned the light on in my refugium... the blue 4 stripped wrasse wasn't out yet, but when I moved one of the rock he came bolting out of what was a mucus cocoon, usually I find him sleeping in the smallest crevises of the LR but ive never seen anything like this... just thought id confirm that Larabicus quadrilineatus can and do sleep in mucus cocoons. though I don't think they 'prefer') as I've been moving his 'sleeping' spot everyday for 2-4 days now (he got moved to sump after eating SPS).. bastard...anyway...good day. -Devon sorry no spell check or punctuation. <Thank you for this input. Bob Fenner>

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Genus Lienardella: See the Genus Choerodon.

Genus Macropharyngodon: The Leopard Wrasses.

Genus Novaculichthys: Part of the Razorfishes

This genus contains the most prominent "Rock Mover" or Razorfish species, The Dragon Wrasse, N. taeniourus (formerly in the genus Hemipteronotus). There are actually a few other genera (e.g. Xyrichthys) and several species of these specialized, wedge-headed fishes in the Worlds tropical seas. Most are too plain, or get too rambunctious to be of interest/use to aquarists. All are prodigious diggers and movers of decor that need digging room, substrate and well assembled decor to prevent toppling.

Novaculichthys taeniourus (Lacepede 1801), the Rock Mover, Dragon or Indian Wrasse (2) is a very hardy fish that is more often killed by aquarists than dies from other influences. As an aquarium specimen this species requires regular "beefy" feedings of animal-based foods. It is a gluttonous feeder that quickly starves if underfed. Not for reef tanks, Razorfishes are territorial and aggressive fishes. To about a foot in length.  Juvenile in captivity and adult in Hawai'i shown. One other species in this genus. Not used in the trade.

Genus Oxycheilinus: The Maori or Splendour Wrasses, see above under Cheilinus.

Genus Paracheilinus: The Flasher Wrasses.

Genus Pseudocheilinus: The Lined Wrasses.

Genus Pseudocoris: Here: Pseudocoris yamashiroi Schmidt 1931, The Redspot Wrasse. Western Pacific into Indian Ocean. Indonesia to perhaps the Mascarenes. To 16 cm. Here in N. Sulawesi.
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Pseudodax moluccanus (Valenciennes 1839), the Chiseltooth Wrasse. Monotypic. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea to the Tuamotus. Up to a foot in length in the wild. Occasionally imported for the aquarium trade, rarely lives due to captive trauma. A juvenile and adult in the upper Red Sea shown.
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Genus Pseudojuloides: The Pencil Wrasses.

Genus Pteragogus: Pteragogus cryptus (Valenciennes 1839), the Cocktail Wrasse. Indo-West Pacific; East Africa to PNG, south to Australia, north to Japan. To eight inches overall length. This four inch specimen off Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia. 

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available)
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Semicossyphus pulcher (Ayres 1854), the Sheephead. Both Californias. One of three temperate species in this genus. Live in rocky bottom areas, particularly in kelp beds. Males to three feet, fifty years in age. Female off of San Diego and a two foot male in a public aquarium. Tow inch juv. below

Genus Stethojulis: The Ribbon Wrasses.

Genus Thalassoma:

Wetmorella nigropinnata (Seale 1901), Sharpnose or Possum Wrasse. One of two species. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea to the Marquesas, Southern Japan, Micronesia. To three inches in length. Lives in caves and crannies; secretive species. Feed on small benthic invertebrates. Aquarium photo. 

Genus Xyrichthys: The bulk of Razorfish Wrasses

In Conclusion:

Can you believe it, this is only a sampling of the family Labridae! As you can see, the wrasses comprise the full-gamut of aquarium fish possibilities: meek miniatures to gargantuan giants; almost filter feeders to algae eaters, plankton and parasite pickers, to fish-tearers and gulpers; somber hide and seekers, to the boldest and brightest fishes of the seas. What is germinal in their selection and care is the same for all-captive livestock selection and husbandry: knowing what constitutes the best specimens of the right species, selecting them and meeting their needs.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Allen, G.R. & J.E. Randall. 1996. Three new species of wrasses (Labridae: Cirrhilabrus) from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Rev. Fr. Aquariol. 23:101-111.

Baensch, Hans & Helmut Debelius. 1994. Marine Atlas, v.1. MERGUS, Germany. 1215pp.

Biagi, Mark. 1998. The bluehead wrasse. FAMA 2/98.

Burgess, Warren E. 1977. The dragon wrasse. TFH 8/77.

Burgess, Warren E. 1981. The genus Labroides. TFH 2/81.

Burgess, Warren E., Herbert R. Axelrod & Raymond E. Hunziker III.1990. Atlas of Aquarium Fishes Reference Book, v. 1 Marine Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, NJ. 768pp.

Campbell, Douglas. Marines: their care and keeping; wrasses, parts 1,2. FAMA 12/80, 1/81.

Chlupaty, Peter. 1982. The Hawaiian flame wrasse. TFH 10/82.

Chlupaty, Peter. 1976. The Flame Wrasse. Aquarium Digest International #15, 76.

Chlupaty, Peter. 1982. The Harlequin Tuskfish, Lienardella fasciata. TFH 12/82.

Chlupaty, Peter. 1989. The Aqaba red-bellied wrasse, Cirrhilabrus rubriventralis. TFH 4/89.

Church, James Lee. 1980. The rainbow wrasse, Thalassoma lucasanum. TFH 5/80.

Edmonds, Les. 1989. Wrasses. FAMA 4/89.

Emmens, Cliff W. 1985. Wrasses. TFH 7/85.

Engasser, Sandy. 1971. Fish of the month; wrasses. Marine Aquarist 2(4):71.

Esterbauer, Hans. 1992. The twinspot wrasse in nature and in the aquarium (Coris aygula). TFH 7/92.

Fenner, Robert. 1995. The conscientious marine aquarist; with notes on cleaner wrasses. TFH 5/95.

Fenner, Robert. 1996. The wrasses we call hogfishes. TFH 10/96.

Fenner, Robert. 1997. The razorfish, family Labridae. SeaScope v. 14, Fall 97 

Fenner, Robert. 1999. The Conscientious Marine Aquarist. Microcosm, VT. 432pp.

Friese, U.Erich. 1977. Wrasses. Marine Aquarist 7(8):77.

Gonzalez, Deane. 1979. The exquisite Hawaiian Flame Wrasse. FAMA 6/79.

Giovanetti, Thomas A. 1989. The harlequin tusk: a wrasse for all seasons. TFH 12/89.

Hoover, John P. 1995. Hawaii's wrasses, parts 1,2. FAMA 5,6/95.

Howe, Jeffrey. 1992. Original descriptions: Cirrhilabrus lunatus Randall & Masuda 1991. FAMA 10/92.

Howe, Jeffrey. 1993. Original Descriptions: Cirrhilabrus lanceolatus Randall & Masuda 1991. FAMA 10/93.

Howe, Jeffrey. 1995. Original Descriptions: Cirrhilabrus katherinae Randall 1992. FAMA 7/95.

Howe, Jeffrey. 1998. Original descriptions; Pseudojuloides kaleidos. FAMA 11/98.

Humann, Paul. 1994 (5th ed). Reef Fish Identification. Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas. New World Publications, Inc. Jacksonville, FL. 396pp. 

Kuiter, Rudie H. & Helmut Debelius. 1994. Southeast Asia Tropical Fish Guide. Tetra-Press. Melle, Germany. 321pp.

Michael, Scott W. 1990. An aquarist's guide to the wrasses of the genus Pseudocheilinus.FAMA 9/90.

Michael, Scott W. 1992. Leopard wrasses. SeaScope vol.9, Spring 92. & AFM 8/99

Michael, Scott W. 1995. Fishes for the marine aquarium, part 9,10; wrasses- fairy wrasses (Cirrhilabrus); flashers, lined and Maori. AFM 6,7/95.

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

Michael, Scott W. 1997. Hogfish. A mysterious common name. AFM 5/97.

Michael, Scott W. 1997. Fairy Wrasses. You can't go wrong by choosing among the species in this group. AFM 12/97.

Michael, Scott W. 1998. Wrasses. The good, the bad and the lovely. AFM 6/98.

Michael, Scott W. 1998. Coris Wrasses; Hardy, but not for reef tanks. AFM 7/98.

Myers, R.F. 1989. Micronesian Reef Fishes: A Practical Guide to the Identification of the Coral Reef Fishes of the Tropical Western Pacific. Coral Graphics, Guam. 298pp.

Parker, Nancy J. 1975. A demon dressed in scales (dragon wrasse). Marine Aquarist 6(6): 75.

Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of the World. 3rd Ed. Wiley. 600pp.

Privitera, Lisa A. The Hawaiian flame wrasse Cirrhilabrus jordani Snyder. FAMA 9/92.

Pyle, Richard L. The neon wrasse: Bodianus sanguineus (Jordan and Evermann). FAMA 12/92.

Randall, John E. 1983. Red Sea Reef Fishes. Immel Publishing, London. 192pp.

Randall, J.E., G.R. Allen and R.C. Steene. 1990. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu. 507pp.

Randall, J.E. 1992. A review of the labrid genus Cirrhilabrus from Japan, Taiwan and the Mariana Islands, with descriptions of two new species. Micronesica 25(1):99-121.

Randall, John E. 1996 (3d ed.). Caribbean Reef Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, NJ. 368pp.

Randall, John E. 1996 Shore Fishes of Hawai'i. Natural World Press, OR. 216pp.

Scheimer, Gregory. 1997. Wrasses for the reef aquarium, pt.s 1,2. FAMA 11,12/97.

Stratton, Richard F. The red wrasse: Coris gaimard. TFH 11/89.

Stratton Richard F. 1990. The Hawaiian saddle wrasse. TFH 6/90.

Stratton, Richard F. 1991. The sunset wrasse (Thalassoma lutescens). TFH 6/91.

Stratton, Richard F. 1993. The Spanish hogfish. TFH 4/93.

Stratton, Richard F. 1996. The broomtail wrasse. TFH 7/96.

Stratton, Richard F. 1997. The twinspot Maori wrasse. TFH 7/97.

Takeshita, Glenn Y. 1977. Hawaiian flame wrasse. TFH 7(8):77.

Tepoot, Pablo & Ian. 1996. Marine Aquarium Companion (Southeast Asia Volume). New Life Publications, Homestead FL. 358pp.

Thresher, Ronald. 1977. Caribbean wrasses. Marine Aquarist 8:2,77.Weingarten, Robert A. Sexual/reproductive patterns in Caribbean wrasses (Labridae). FAMA 12/91.

Westneat, M.W. 1993. Phylogenetic relationships of the tribe Cheilini (Labridae: Perciformes). Bull. Mar. Sci. 52(1):351-394.Young, Forrest A. Artificial propagation of Spanish hogfish (Bodianus rufus). FAMA 10/93. 

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