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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: 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

Ideal Wrasses To Keep in Marine Aquariums



by Bob Fenner


Amongst one of the largest families of fishes, the Labridae have some 517 and counting described species; ranging from less than an inch to more than 90 inches in length; there is really a Labrid for most any type and size saltwater system. What is germinal to matching them with your tank is understanding likely compatibility with your other livestock AND the likelihood of given species, specimens adapting to your captive conditions.            

    Here I’m presenting a brief introduction to some of the better choices in terms of historical survivability of some of the seventy genera by aquarists, how to go about selecting better specimens, and what sorts of settings are best for these choices.

For Easy-going Reef Systems:

            All wrasses live either on reefs or are “reef associated”; however, only smaller, more-peaceful species are suitable for our facsimile reef systems. Of these the Velvet or Fairy Wrasses, genus Cirrhilabrus are supreme. With literally dozens of species available year in and out, there are only a few guidelines to consider in their keeping. One; they need space… I would not endeavor to keep Velvet Wrasses in anything smaller than sixty gallons; a hundred plus being better. Secondly; these are very social species, living in haremic conditions in the wild; one alpha/adult male with several females and sexually undifferentiated individuals. You should buy and keep them in such numbers, mix. Lastly, they need frequent, meaty feedings; best provided via a large, healthy refugium (with DSB, RDP lighting, macro-algal culture…) tied in with their main/display. Otherwise, a well-established tank with a good deal of vibrant live rock, live sand and perhaps a timer to deliver high-quality pelleted food several times daily.

Cirrhilabrus lubbocki Randall & Carpenter 1980, Lubbock's Wrasse. Western central Pacific; Philippines, Celebes/Indonesia. At right a male in captivity.


            Other suitable easy-going reef genera whose species are offered in the trade include the Lined Wrasses, Pseudocheilinus and Flasher or Filament Wrasses, the genus Paracheilinus. Lined ones generally need to be kept one specimen to a tank, lest they fight amongst themselves. Filaments live in groups akin to Cirrhilabrus; and really won’t do well, nor put on their spectacular displays unless stocked as such.

For Medium Fish Only to FOWLR Systems:

            There are several, meaning “many” from Middle English, of Wrasse genera suitable for stocking in FO and FOWLR systems that lack super-aggressive tankmates. Amongst these are some of my faves in the genera Halichoeres, smaller Hogfishes of the genus Bodianus, and some Thalassoma species. These choices too should be amongst the last fishes you stock; giving your system time to mature, produce some native food organisms in and amongst the live rock, substrate for them to hunt and consume. Most species of Thalassoma are better stocked one individual per tank; the Halichoeres and Thalassoma one male to a system; with the option of placing non-males left up to you if there’s room.

Halichoeres chrysus Randall 1981 (1), is a fish of two "good" and one bad common name. It should be called the Golden or Canary Wrasse for its bright bold sun-yellow color, but is most often listed as the Yellow Coris Wrasse (Arggghhh!, it is not a Coris genus member of course). This is an exemplary aquarium species that is suitable for peaceful fish-only and reef systems. To a mere 4 inches or so total length. Aquarium image.


For Rough & Tumble Systems:

            Here you can put in a bunch of the larger, more aggressive Wrasses; and there’s quite a wide range of possibilities. Standards include the two species of Bird Wrasses, genus Gomphosus, the smaller Maori or Splendid Wrasses, genera Cheilinus and Oxycheilinus, larger Hogfishes (Bodianus and Lachnolaimus), Coris Wrasses, the Rock Mover Razorfish (Novaculichthys taeniourus ), and Tuskfish, genus Choerodon. These species are best displayed one specimen per species to a tank, and are fine with larger Basses, bigger Angels and Puffers, the usual more-community Triggers…

Gomphosus varius Lacepede 1801, is the much more common Bird Wrasse in the west. Its males are lighter green over-all, and females transversely white to black front to back, with an orangish upper "beak". The common Bird Wrasse is found in Hawai'i to the tropical western Pacific and eastern Indian Ocean. Here is a male one in Indonesia.


Wrasses to Avoid:

            Unfortunately there are many species, whole genera of Labrids which don’t do well in captivity. For whatever reasons; damage from collection, shipping, handling… something missing in foods; perhaps just being hard-wired (genetically pre-disposed) to living in larger, natural conditions, these fishes almost always die within a few days to weeks of capture. Beware of the Leopard Wrasses, genus Macropharyngodon, the touchy Tamarins, genus Anampses, Cleaners of the genus Labroides and more. Look before you leap, purchase Wrasses.


            You should know more regarding these fishes before undertaking their purchase… Such as they are tremendous jumpers… leaving tanks to become “floor jerky” way too often. Some need rather deep fine sand beds (or trays of such) to dig in, dive in to escape/feel safe, and sleep at night. Many of the larger species can and will consume motile invertebrates like snails, shrimps, hermit crabs… Not to worry; all this pertinent information can be easily found in books, magazines and valid internet references. Do research and provide appropriate habitats, plan on foods, feeding of use, ahead of Labrid acquisition.

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