Ask the WWM Crew
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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.
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.
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.