We will devote a webpage to wrasses as they are such a unique and varied family of fish and one of them is a great addition to many saltwater aquariums. We will then review in more detail some of the more common species best suited to different types of home aquariums.
Wrasses are very beautiful and a real fun addition to a marine aquarium. They are usually very hardy and peaceful although a few species like the cleaner wrasses are extremely difficult to sustain in captivity. Some wrasse fish are social their entire lives, others are social as juveniles and become aggressive as adults, and yet others are aggressive their entire lives. Then there are species that are territorial just with members of their own kind. This means you have to really take the individual species into consideration before adding one to an aquarium. The smaller ones will be more passive but will not be intimidated by other fish of similar size. If you have a large wrasse it might become aggressive towards other wrasses or smaller fish. Generally, it’s best to keep one wrasse to a tank with other fish of similar size and temperament (not overly aggressive.)
The Wrasse family Labridae, contains about 60 genera and over 500 species of fish. Wrasses are found throughout all the tropical regions of the world. They are often very colorful and many, though not all, are well suited to aquarium life. There are lots of variations within the family. Wrasse fish range in size from just a few centimeters to over 2 meters in length, some have cylindrical body shapes while others are deeper bodied.
Warning about the Cleaner Wrasse
We can not recommend you try to keep a cleaner wrasse. The loss rate of captive specimens of cleaner wrasses has been astronomical with almost all cleaner wrasses dying within a few days to a few weeks, ultimately of starvation. They only eat parasites off of larger fish in the wild and simply will not be able to adapt to a home aquarium. However, there are many wrasses that will do well in a home aquarium. The larger wrasses are not considered reef safe although they do not actually eat corals. They will however, eat tube worms and invertebrates and that is generally considered incompatible with a reef aquarium. In a reef system it’s best to stick to the smaller wrasses to prevent possible issues.
Wrasse Feeding and Care
Wrasses are fast moving fish using a lot of energy, thus a large appetite. With the exception of the cleaner wrasses, these fish are usually not overly picky eaters and will quickly adapt aquarium foods. Although diet varies from species to species, most wrasses eat mollusks and crustaceans in the wild. In the Aquarium they should be fed all kinds of meaty foods, including brine shrimp and most frozen fish foods. When they sleep they will also often wrap themselves in a slime cocoon which is very interesting to see.
Since wrasses all have a high metabolism and really need to be fed meaty foods twice a day. They also should be in a mature tank with a lot of copepods and microfauna as this will supplement their feedings. Lastly, wrasses are known jumpers … you need to make sure you have a cover on the tank or a high canopy to keep them from escaping the tank.
Types of Wrasses
Wrasses can be categorized into several different groups. We will review a few of the most common ones on individual pages. Before you make a final decision, make sure you attempt to research the exact species as some are not really suitable for a home aquarium but the information here will point you in the correct direction and give you general information not clearly given elsewhere.
Fairy Wrasses, Leopard Wrasses, Lined Wrasses, Cleaner Wrasses (avoid), Flasher Wrasses, Thalassoma or Lyretail Wrasses, and many others.
The Fairy wrasses, Leopard wrasses, Flasher wrasses, and most Lined wrasses stay under 6 inches and are fine to keep in a reef aquarium. The smallest aquarium you’ll want to keep one in is maybe 30 gallons but slightly larger reef aquariums are ideal.
The Lyretail (aka Thalassoma) wrasses, are identifiable by their distinctive tail. They get up to 10-12 inches long and are considered better off in a mature 100 gallon or so fish only with live rock tank. Please note the “forked” tail on the Lunar Lyretail wrasse to the left.
Many wrasses will have a color in their name when you see them for sale, such as the Yellow wrasse, Green wrass, Bluehead Wrasse, Neon wrasse, etc. These are often larger species that are considered best for a fish only with live rock tank. They should still have a mature tank with a lot of live rock. They will need a canopy or lid on the tank to prevent jumping. So a general rule of thumb is if it’s not a Fairy wrasse, Leopard wrasse, Flasher wrasse, or a Lined wrasse it’s likely best to not put in a reef tank and if they have a forked Lyretail then they will probably be a bigger fish. It’s best to try and positively identify the species and research as much as you can about it as some of these species don’t do well in home aquariums.