Wrasses belong to the family of Labridae. Wrasses come in every shape, size and colour. Their colouration is simply stunning, as is the complexity of their brilliant patterns.  What wrasse have in common, generally speaking, are their elongate bodies and their fleshy, thickened lips; as if they are swimming against a strong current the whole day…

The world of the Labridae is the world of aquatic transgenders. The majority of the family members go through a first stage of being female, turning male during the second phase of their lifespan. This is why they are classified as hermaphrodites. They are diurnal creatures.

All wrasses are primarily carnivorous feeders, which means their prey is living. Still their diet can vary dramatically, including fish, benthic invertebrates, molluscs, worms, decapod crabs, coral mucous, amphipods, plankton and plant vegetation. Some species are strictly corallivorous wrasses and some are planktivores.

Wrasses are diurnal. They have developed a habit of sleeping half-buried in the sand lying on one side, sheltered by rocks or a grotto and wrapped in a capsule of protective mucus. Their way of locomotion is distinctive to say the least. In fact, they propel themselves forward by using their pectoral fins, exerting powerful strokes.

Also member of the Labridae are so-called cleaner wrasses. Cleaner wrasses play a pivotal role in keeping reef fish healthy. They act as managers of aquatic launderettes and ‘fish-wash’, where other fish line up for ‘ disinfection’ service.

It feeds on so-called ectoparasites, living on the flesh of fish, hence creating an elementary version of symbiosis. It also cleans fish from their damaged and dead scales, food residue and particles. The cleaner sometimes enters the gills or mouths to perform cosmetic ‘duties’.

We distinguish ‘mandatory’ cleaning and facultative cleaning. Mandatory or obligate cleaning occurs when cleaners obtain their required nutrition in this manner. The facultative cleaner wrasse is an opportunist who occasionally cleans or during a limited period of time until its food demand is met satisfactory.

Family Members

Cheek-Lined Wrasse

Size up to 35 cm  (1,1ft). Depth up to 60m (197ft)

The cheek-lined wrasse or bandcheek wrasse has a greenish hue, a red to orange belly, horizontal stripes while the front of the head has pinkish spots. Its body is although garnished with purple marks. It’s indescribably beautiful. They live in coral reefs, sheltered inland areas, and lagoons. The cheek-lined wrasse’s, voracious predators by the way, favourites on the daily menu are sea urchins, crustaceans and molluscs. It uses other fish as a decoy to approach its prey.

Klunzinger’s Wrasse

Size up to 20 cm (0,65ft).  Depth up to 20m (65ft)

The Klunzinger’s wrasse, with its tapering body, resides in lagoons and rocky and coral seaward reefs. It has a mesmerizing colour palette and gaudy pattern, being basically olive green and light sky blue, adorned with fanciful red and pinkish stripes. The large primary males are haremic. Carnivorous as it is, it craves small fishes and invertebrates.

Moon/Crescent Wrasse

Size up to 25 cm (0,82ft).  Depth up to 20m (65ft)

The moon wrasse, or crescent wrasse if you like, also has an amazing chromatic spectrum. Its primary colours are dark cyan, green and blue, larded with violet and purple accents. The moon wrasse hangs out in lagoon waters and near seaward coral and rocky reefs. It has a healthy appetite for benthic invertebrates and the occasional fish. Males socialize with females in harems.

Napoleon Wrasse

Size up to 230 cm  (7,5ft). Depth up to 60m (197ft)

The gigantic napoleon also goes by the name of hump head wrasse and can reach the age of 30 years old. . It roams outer, seaward reefs and lagoons in solitary mode. Some have their private caves to hide and sleep in. It finds hard-shelled molluscs and invertebrates such as sea urchins and crown-of-thorn starfishes quite palatable. Its coloration shows an intriguing deep cadet blue and green, sometimes with a purplish-blue sheen. Napoleons prefer life as a single.

Bi-Colour Cleaner Wrasse

Size up to 14 cm  (0,46ft). Depth up to 20 m (65ft)

The solitary bi-colour cleaner wrasse turns to obligate cleaning duties as juveniles and as adults. They have a slender body with fascinating navy blue morphing to intense yellow. in juvenile and adult mode. They use ‘ambush’  techniques to convince and pursue their customers to enjoy their cleaning trade along coral ledges. As a reward they eat organic debris to satisfy their food demand.

Common/Blue Streak Cleaner Wrasse

Size up to 11 cm  (0,36ft). Depth up to 40m (131ft)

The body of the solitary and diurnal common cleaner wrasse is elongate and thin. It’s bluish with a white hue is ornate with a longitudinal  black stripe, decorating the entire length of its body. This common species inhabits sheltered coralline sea floors and seaward reef slopes. The cleaner is diurnal and creates small territories for its cleaning services. It lives either alone, in couples or in small harems. It seduces potential clients with an enchanting and seductive ritual. Cleaning stations are usually located along coral ledges. Clients advertise their demand by posing with their heads up and with spreading fins and gills. It feeds on left-overs from the visitors.

Other Family Members

Abudjubbe wrasse

Bird Wrasse

Chiseltooth Wrasse

Clown Sand Wrasse

Red-Breasted Splendour Wrasse