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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

December 10, 2012

Know Your Wrasses: Not All of These Beautiful Fish Are Good Living-Reef Inhabitants

By Patrick Donston


Wrasses, colorful beautiful Labrids; their diverse pigmentation includes all the hues of a rainbow. From the smallest (1 inch) to the largest (over 8 feet), wrasses also differ dramatically in behavior. Unfortunately, the Labrids growing popularity among fishkeepers has caused confusion as to individual species’ compatibility in an aquarium.

I’ve noticed that too many novices will determine a fish’s aquarium compatibility based upon its group, such as Family, as opposed to its species. Just because there are a lot of wrasses considered “good” living-reef inhabitants, it doesn’t mean all wrasses (Family: Labridae) exhibit the same "temperment" in aquarium settings.

Larger wrasses that are closely related to parrotfishes (Family: Scaridae) or hogfishes (Family: Bodianidae) should not be housed with living coral, crustaceans or mollusks. Such wrasses are primarily from the following genera: Thalasoma (paddlefin group); Choerodon (tusks); Gomphosus(bird wrasses); and Cheilinus/ Pteragogus (snooty wrasses).

The earlei wrasse is reef-safe
The earlei wrasse is considered reef-safe.
Credit: Courtesy of Absolutely Fish

These wrasses should be kept in fish-only displays with no invertebrates. They do very well with angels, tangs, puffers, rabbitfish, smaller triggers and eels. They should not be kept with smaller fish, such as clowns, dottybacks or gobies, as the larger wrasses may eat them.

Wrasses are not terribly aggressive, thus should not be housed with larger triggers or most groupers. Almost all wrasses are born either as genderless (ambosexual) or female. Only the dominant ones increase color and change sexes to what is known as a “super-male.” Due to this reproductive behavior, it is best to keep only one large wrasse per aquarium display. Conspecific wrasses or those of close genera will fight for dominance.

Wrasses to be considered for reef aquaria include the following: Cirrhilabrus (fairy wrasses); Pseudocheilinus (lined wrasses); Paracheilinius (filament wrasses); Pseudojuloides (pencil wrasses); Wetmorella (possum wrasses); Halichoeres sp.; and Macropharygnodon (leopard wrasses).

These types are smaller with a greatly reduced mouth size adapted to eat only macro-plankton. In some respects, they are just as colorful as their larger cousins. They still follow similar mating behavior, so caution should be used when mixing similar types.

Wrasses are a beautiful group of saltwater aquarium fishes. Try them in your shop, but make sure your staff is well-informed of their differences.

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