Wrasse Species Spotlight - What to Know about Keeping Them
When it comes to adding color to your fish tank, Wrasses are an excellent option. In the wild they are considered a very diverse group of fish that can be found along shallow reefs as well as at significant depths. In this article, I will talk about some of the more common wrasse species found available for home aquariums.
TYPES of WRASSES
Wrasse species can be broken down into several groups wherein the wrasses will have similar characteristics or even behaviors. These first few groups are broken down by Genus.
A. Cirrhilabrus or Fairy Wrasses:
- Red-Headed Wrasse; Cirrhilabrus solorensis. Native to Indonesian waters, this Wrasse species is colorful. A yellow face, red forehead, and a body which fades from dark to light down it’s length. It has a white belly with orange and purple fins.
- Laboute’s Fairy Wrasse; Cirrhilabrus laboutei. The Laboute’s Wrasse is pink, purple, and white with distinct yellow and purple lines along the length of its body.
- Scott’s Fairy Wrasse; Cirrhilabrus scottorum. One of the darker colored fairy Wrasses, this species has dark greens, reds, yellows, and white colors with their patterns differing depending on their native waters.
- Exquisite Fairy Wrasse; Cirrhilabrus exquisites. Depending on where in the world this Wrasse is found, their color pattern can be different. Typically their colors are comprised of white abdomens with dark reds, greens, and blacks along their bodies.
B. Paracheilinus or Flasher Wrasses:
- Carpenter’s Flasher Wrasse; Paracheilinus carpenteri. Both the wrasse males and females of this species have a bright reddish orange color. The males however, have a yellow abdomen with 2-4 broken horizontal dark blue stripes along their bodies. Their dorsal fins are also different as there are 3 longer fin rays as opposed to the smooth dorsal fin the females have.
- McCosker’s Flasher Wrasse; Paracheilinus mccoskeri. The McCosker’s Wrasse has a variety of patterns depending on their age and sex, however their colors are fairly similar. Ranging from pale to bright orange bodies with a variety of pink, blue, and red patterns along their bodies and fins. The males have a singular long fin ray as a part of their dorsal while the females will not.
- Red Tail Flasher Wrasse; Paracheilinus rubricaudalis. Males and females of this species look a bit different. The males are more of a reddish orange while the females are more of a pinkish red with blue stripes. Additionally, the males have a singular long fin ray as a part of their dorsal while the females’ dorsal is the same height all the way across.
C. Pseudocheilinus Wrasses:
- Mystery Wrasse; Pseudocheilinus ocellatus. This pink fish has purple fins, a yellow face and yellow caudal peduncle marked with a black spot. Despite it’s eyes being the same yellow as it’s head, they seem to stand out more than they blend in.
- 6-Line Wrasse; Pseudocheilinus hexataenia. As their name suggests this species of Wrasse have 6 bright orange lines running horizontally along their blue bodies. With a green tail and a reddish orange face they are quite colorful.
D. Halichoeres Wrasses: While this is not a very scientific description I like to think of them as the snub nose Wrasses. If you look close at the tip of their nose and the edge of their mouth, it almost looks like it is pointed up as if to say “I’m too good for you”.
- Yellow Wrasse; Halichoeres chrysus. Happy to consume unwanted pests in your tank, the Yellow Wrasse is solid yellow with the exception of the small black spot that is located on the middle of its dorsal fin as a juvenile wrasse and near the front of its dorsal as an adult.
- Christmas Wrasse; Halichoeres claudia. The main body of these fish is a pale green which turns darker along the edges. Along the length of its body are red stripes with a black spot near the middle of its dorsal fin.
E. A smaller group of Wrasses are the Possum or Wetmorella Wrasses:
- Sharp Nose Wrasse; Wetmorella nigropinnata. Also known as the Yellow Banded Possum Wrasse, this reddish brown Wrasse has pink lips, 2 noticeable yellow bands- one just behind its eyes and another at the base of its tail. Additionally it has 3 white ringed black spots on its fins.
F. Dimorphic Wrasses: the males of these wrasse species will look different than the females.
- Bird Wrasse; Gomphosus various. The male Bird Wrasses are a deep emerald green while the females are a dull brown. One thing that sets these apart from the other Wrasses is their elongated noses.
- Hawaiian Flame Wrasse; Cirrhilabrus jordani. The females of the species tend to be smaller in size with smaller fins and a body that is primarily red. The males, sometimes considered super males have noticeably larger fins, and are red and yellow in color.
- Leopard Wrasse; Macropharyngodon meleagris. Leopard Wrasse females have black leopard patterns with a bluish white background while the males have more of a dotted pattern with red and green coloring.
G. Metamorphic Wrasses. In this group of Wrasse the adult of the species look different from the juvenile. Oftentimes your local fish store will have the juveniles and adults differentiated on the tank. If you’re thinking of purchasing one of these, I’d recommend purchasing it as a juvenile so you can watch them go through metamorphosis.
- Dragon Wrasse; Novaculichthys taeniourus. Juveniles of this species are a pale army green with white spots and black cross hatching across their body. On their heads is a very noticeable pair of antennae-like dorsal fins. The adults have a grey brown body color with a white and olive tail.
- Red Coris Wrasse; Coris gaimard. These juveniles are a bright reddish orange with the exception of a few white spots along the top of their body. The adults however, are significantly more colorful with the same reddish orange, blues, blacks, yellows, and sky blue spots along its body.
H. Burrowing Wrasses: Most Wrasse species have the potential to burrow if they are stressed or threatened, however there are a small handful who will do it as a part of their natural healthy behavior. With burrowing Wrasses, it’s important to be mindful of your sand bed and the type of substrate you have in your tank. The Wrasses that burrow are as follows:
- Christmas Wrasse; Halichoeres claudia. (see group D above)
- Blue Striped Tamarin Wrasse; Anampses femininus. The front of their body is yellow and the back is a royal blue with horizontal sky blue stripes. These beautiful fish are not often seen and can be hard to come across in the hobby.
- Melanarus Wrasse. This Wrasse will also help to remove pests from your tank. These fish have horizontal blue and orange stripes with the oranges turning to a reddish pink near their faces.
- Coris Wrasses. Red Coris Wrasse (see group G above), or Formosa Wrasse.
TANK SIZE REQUIREMENT
When it comes to deciding the size of tank you want for your Wrasse, always consider going a little bit larger than what you need. Despite the fact that Wrasses (as a group) are a smaller fish, they do like to swim a lot so you want to make sure you’re giving them enough room. Smaller Wrasse species, like the 6-Line Wrasse, which can grow to between 3-4 inches, will need a minimum of a 55 gallon aquarium. Most of the wrasse species listed above can grow to between 5 and 7 inches in length and will need at least 100 gallons to make sure they have enough room. Wrasses like the Bird Wrasse and some of the Coris Wrasses, can grow to over a foot in length, so make sure you provide them with upwards of 180 gallons.
DIET & NUTRITION
Wrasses are carnivores which means they are going to need a lot of meaty foods. That’s not to say they won't eat some of the veggies you put in the tank, but meat is primarily what they would be going after in the wild. One of the interesting things about Wrasses, with respect to their food preferences, is that some of them will help take care of your tank by eating unwanted pests. For example the 6-Line Wrasse will eat Vermatids, Yellow Wrasses will consume bristle worms and flatworms, and Cleaner Wrasses, as their name suggests, will help to keep parasites off of the fish in your tank. On the flip-side, there are also some Wrasses that will eat coral, shrimp, and crabs, so it’s very important that you do your research before buying fish.
There are several different types of food available on the market and they can be broken down into a few different categories:
Dry: Flake & Pellet : Keep in mind when you are selecting a pellet food to make sure it will be small enough to fit into your fish’s mouth.
DIY & Gel: These foods are great to use with medication or as a form of enrichment.
- New Life Spectrum Gel
- New Life Spectrum Dough
- DrTim’s Aquatics Bene-Fish-alDrTim’s Aquatics Bene-Fish-al nbsp;
- Easy Reef Masstick
Frozen: Frozen food comes in a variety of shapes and sizes from blister packs, and sheets, to multi pound bulk sizes. Consider all the fish you have to feed before purchasing, as you don’t want to end up with so much that it will go bad before you are able to use it all.
Live: You can purchase live foods from a variety of places, but you might already have some living in your tank. Aside from the pests like the bristle worms mentioned previously, you might have copepods in your tank. If you have ever cleaned your filter media and seen what look like little bugs jumping around, you likely have a decent sized population already. But if you don’t, or if you want to change it up, you have the following options:
- AlgaGen Tisbe Pods
- Reef Nutrition Pods
- Coral Vue Pod Habitat can be placed in your tank to help give your pods a place to live and encourage their population numbers to increase.
Once Wrasses are established in a system, they tend to do well, but getting them to that point can be a bit tricky. Here are some of the more common issues I’ve seen when it comes to Wrasses.
Issue - Newly added fish:
A newly added fish, despite the best acclimation process, can stress out but Wrasses are especially notorious for having a hard time. When Wrasses are stressed they like to hide in or around rocks, and will even bury themselves in the substrate, sometimes for several days.
In addition to keeping the lights dimmed, especially as you are adding the Wrasse to the tank, make sure to provide plenty of places for them to hide. Something else you can do is add a product like DrTim’s First Defense, or Stress Coat by API to help boost their slime coats and immune systems.
Issue - Jumping:
Wrasses are jumpers. Even if they have been established in a tank the simplest things can spook them and send them chaotically swimming around, jumping out of the water.
I cannot stress enough, how important lids are for your tanks. Hopefully a well fitted lid will help keep your Wrasse in the tank. If your tank didn’t come with one, there are companies who sell kits which allow you to make a custom fit lid like this one from Innovative Marine or this one for Red Sea tanks. In addition to having a good lid on your tank, consider how your lighting comes on. Several lights like the Aqua Illumination, come with apps which allow you to control your light. Opt for a setting that allows your lights to gradually turn on and off over the course of 30 minutes to an hour.
Issue - Poor Water Quality:
As one of the more sensitive groups of fish, poor water quality can take a huge toll on your Wrasse.
With Wrasses (and any fish) it is incredibly important to keep your water quality up. There are a variety of test kits out on the market which you can use. The API test kits (pH, Nitrate, Nitrite) are great and easy to use. Make sure you are keeping your tank topped off with freshwater and don't forget to keep an eye on your salinity using a Refractometer.
Issue - Aggression:
Female wrasses will live peacefully together in a harem, with one male, but more than one male will likely end in aggression.
Prior to purchasing your Wrasse, check to make sure what you are getting. Oftentimes the males will be larger, and have brighter or more vibrant colors.
Enrichment is the act of changing something, big or small, in an environment. Oftentimes, it seems this gets left out of the conversation when it comes to keeping long-living, healthy fish. Here are a few small things you can change to help your fish live their best life.
Something as simple as changing the type of food you are feeding is a quick, easy way to add enrichment. The frozen multi blister packed foods work well if you have a smaller tank or if you have a larger system with more fish, you could get multiple kinds of food and switch them when you feed. Another option is using one of the Pod Habitats in your system to help encourage the population of pods to grow to a self-sustaining size. This way there will be a constant source of food for your fish to find.
Differentiating the water flow in your tank is another way to change up your fish’s environment. There are programmable powerheads like the Ice Cap Gyre or the manually adjustable Hydor powerhead that you can use and adjust their direction and flow. For a simpler, and slightly more affordable route, you can add a random flow generator nozzle to your existing return.
Changing the time and the location you feed is another easy method of enrichment. You can use the gel or DIY foods like Masstick and smash them in along the rock work or in a different part of the tank than where you normally feed.
Enrichment in Quarantine:
Quarantine tanks are bare and unexciting, so it’s especially important to provide enrichment during that time as well. You can use the methods above, but you can also provide objects for your fish to explore and hide in. Just make sure that what you use is something that’s easy to remove and clean, like spare pieces of PVC pipe.
As a group Wrasses do well and get along with most other fish in your tank, but there are always exceptions. One thing you can do to check the compatibility of potential tankmates, is to look at the Saltwater Fish Compatibility Chart.
Here are a few of the tips I’ve learned when it comes to Wrasse compatibility:
- Mixing different types of wrasses is okay.
- Multiples of the same species are okay, as long as they are all females.
- If you want a Super Male, make sure to have at least 3 females, this will help to eliminate one from getting harassed constantly.
All photos in the article by Felicia McCaulley
This sums up some of the basics when it comes to the common and more popular Wrasses you might find in the hobby. Check out the video from our favorite marine biologist, Hilary!