Labridae (Wrasses)

Wrasses are nearly always seen in reef aquaria, since many of the species are both attractive and useful in battling a range of unwanted invertebrates like i.e. flatworms, pyramide snails.
These fish live of everything from zooplankton to large crustaceans, sea urchins and the like.

The needs and behaviour of Wrasses vary greatly, so it is vital to familiarize oneself with the specific species before buying one.

Anampses (Tamarin Wrasses)

Species in the genus Anampses are often very beautiful, but it can be a challenge to keep them in good condition. There is a great difference in appearance, not only between males and females, but also between juvenile and adult fish.

The greatest chance of success with these fish is when they get live food right from the start and if they are being fed frequently. Later when they are full grown twice daily should suffice. When one has plenty of zooplankton in the tank, feeding need not be so frequent.

Even though these fish become quite large, they are not normally a threat to shrimps and other invertebrates. Very small invertebrates, however can prove too much of a temptation.

These Wrasses are typically peaceful towards others and thrive best in a small group with just one male.
When they feel threatened or need to rest, they bury themselves into the sand.

When one selects these fish at the fish store one must make certain they are not injured during transport. Specifically the area around the mouth can easily be damaged.
Very small individuals need feeding very often and the larger ones find it hard to acclimatize. For the middle sized fish, to thrive and accept food is also quite a challenge.

It is not easy to add them to an existing aquarium with other fish, as these Wrasses can be very shy. It is an advantage if one has an empty tank or one with peaceful species, until they start feeding and have become bolder.

Bodianus (Hogfishes)

Hogfish (Bodianus) get their name from the way they look for food in the substrate using their snout. They can regularly be seen blowing water down into the sand and in their natural habitat they often follow other fish which have disturbed it.

Hogfish are quite hardy and in time eat all the most common available fish foods. They do however, demand plenty of space to swim and for concealment.

They can hide for long periods of time if kept with more aggressive species. Hogfish can also be aggressive towards more docile species or those that resembles themselves.
When fully grown they can become a threat to various invertebrates, e.g. worms, snails, small bivalves and crustaceans amongst others.

Cheilinus (Maori wrasses)

Fish in the genus Cheilinus are larger than most Wrasses, even up to 6.5 foot (2 metres).

These fish are a threat to most invertebrates -but not corals- and small fish. It is probably necessary to feed with living foods at first and after some time with large pieces of seafood every, or every other day.

It must be noted that even though they can be aggressive themselves when first introduced. They can easily be stressed by other fish, or indeed aquarists, before they are properly acclimatized.


The Cheilio is a single species genus, which greatly resembles the Hologymnosus species.

They are large and very active fish which require a lot of space, but otherwise they are well suited to aquaria.
They will dig themselves into the sand at night.

Choerodon (Tuskfishes)

Species in the genus Choerodon become quite large and require plenty of space, as they are very active and intelligent fish. Large individuals are known to spit water upwards from the tank, so site electrical instalations with care.

They can be fed with various kinds of seafood, frozen and dried foods. They should be given food several of times a day, as they are active fish.

They can be aggressive, but if one avoids introducing docile fish, or similar Wrasses afterwards, it should be fine. Large specimens will eat various crustaceans, snails, starfish and sea urchins if they are within reach. They will also move lose corals and stone about in their search for food.

Choerodon fasciatus are less likely to eat invertebrates and move stones and corals then the other species, they can -with care- be kept in a reef aquarium.

Cirrhilabrus (Fairy-wrasses)

Fish in the genus Cirrhilabrus are very colourful and most of them are well suited to aquarium life.

They are for the most part very peaceful, but in some cases can be aggressive to closely related species. Add the largest males last, if one wants to keep multiple species together. The tank should be at least 100 gal (400 liters), but preferably 200 gal (800 liters) or more.

There is a little difference in how bold they are, some will be in the water column shortly after their introduction, whereas others need peace and quiet when first added.

As their normal reaction to being hunted or chased is to swim straight upwards there needs to be a lid on the aquarium and a secure overflow. One should therefore avoid keeping these fish with species that hunt them to avoid injury when they hit the cover.

Males can be rough with each other, but one male and several females go well together. It is best to introduce them simultaneously, or alternatively the females first. One needs a lot of space for a larger group.

There is often a large colour variation, depending on their origin and there can be a big difference between male and female. They can also change gender both from male to female and vice versa.
Males can change and flash their colours during courtship.

Fairy Wrasses like some Parrotfish, sleep between rocks in a cocoon of mucus.

They eat for the most part frozen- and flake foods of appropriate size and if their colour is to be kept, need a varied and high quality diet. Since they are very active they need feeding at least twice daily.

When these fish are chosen in the fish store, pay close attention to the mouth area as this can be injured during transport, which can lead to infection. It is also worth checking that they are active when feeding, especially in regard to large individuals.

Coris (Rainbow wrasses)

Rainbow Wrasses (Coris) grow to a large size and their appearance changes markedly from juvenile to adult.

They dig themselves into the substrate of the tank to sleep or when threatened, so it is necessary to have an appropriate depth of substrate.
2-4 inch (5-10 cm) depending on their size.

One is often tempted to buy them as they are seen as small fish in the store, but they quickly end up being discarded or sold on, as they outgrow most domestic aquaria. When large they are a threat to bivalves, sea urchins, starfish and large crustaceans. When small, they eat Mysis, Artemia or similar foods. The larger ones will also eat small fish if given the chance, so be aware when having small, slow swimming fish.

When the fish get bigger they begin looking for food beneath loose objects which can be very destructive in a reef aquarium if this natural behaviour is not taken into account.

When selecting them, pay particular attention to the area around the mouth to make sure they have not been injured during transit. They must have the opportunity to dig themselves in, even during transportation.

When first introduced they can remain buried in for several days, but will soon appear if not stressed by other fish or the aquarist.

Epibulus (Slingjaw wrasses)

There are two species in the genus Epibulus (Slingjaw Wrasse) which get their name by the way they swing out their jaws to make a tube to catch their prey. This tube makes up about half their length.

These Wrasses live mainly of shrimp, crabs, fish and worms and this must be taken into account. They are most likely to eat living food, have therefore some live shrimps or fish ready if at first they refuse to eat frozen foods. Over time they can be made to eat various kinds of seafood.

Gomphosus (Bird Wrasses)

Birdwrasses (Gomphusus) are so called because of their special beak-formed jaw, which they use to hunt for prey amongst rock and corals.

They eat mainly crabs, shrimps and crayfish, but also mussels, small fish and starfish are included in their natural diet. If the prey is too large to be eaten whole, these Wrasses will hit it against rocks until the pieces are of the right size.

They normally sleep between rocks.


Fish of the genus Halichoeres are very populair in aquaria, as they are attractive and effective at eradicating flatworms and pyramid snails.

They are generally more peaceful than Pseudocheilinus hexataenia, which are often acquired to the same end. However, most fish of the Halichoeres genus will quickly become too large for smaller aquaria.

There is a difference in which food these fish live on, some on small invertebrates, whilst others can crush various crustaceans. Some species will take prey larger then themselves and smash it against rocks, so be aware of this when one has small fish, crabs, shrimps, snails etc. in the aquarium.

These Wrasses will dig themselves into the sand when feeling threatened or needing to sleep.

When they are choosen at the fish store one must make sure they are not injured during transport, especially in the area around the mouth. If the fish will be long in transit, it is a good idea to have enough sand in the container used so they can bury themselves.

They have an excellent biological clock, but after transportation it takes a bit of time before it start working properly again.

Hemigymnus (Thicklip Wrasses)

Fish in the Hemigymnus grow to be very large, and therefore require a spacious tank.
They are typically fairly peaceful towards other fish, but do pose a threat to many invertebrates.

They must be fed four times a day, which requires good filtration. 

Before purchasing these fish one must be aware that they often cover corals with sand, in their search for food.

Hologymnosus (Ring Wrasses)

Hologymnosus species are very active and relatively large, they therefore need a lot of space. Has one space enough, these fish are well suited to aquarium life.

They cannot crush prey like many other Wrasses, but eat a range of invertebrates and fish, as long as they can be swallowed whole. Occasionally they can be observed smashing up their prey on rocks, into smaller pieces.

They dig themselves into the sand when feeling threatened or needing to sleep. When they are transported without sand in the container, they can sustain injury around the mouth. When selecting fish in the shop, this must be checked for.

Labroides (Cleaner wrasses)

Cleaner Wrasses, of the labroides genus, remove parasites from fish, but only particular types of parasites.
They do not remove marine ich (Labroides dimidiatus are the easiest to keep in an aquarium as they will often happily eat frozen food, especially if helped along by having live food to begin with. 

These fish can be kept in pairs or alone, but two males will kill each other.
As it can be problematic to distinguish gender, one should buy these fish at a young age, if one wishes to have a pair. 

They sleep in a mucous cocoon between the rocks. 

Even though predatory fish will rarely eat Cleaner Wrasses in the wild, the same cannot be said for in captivity. 

Lachnolaimus (Hogfishes)

Macropharyngodon (Leopard Wrasses)

Leopard Wrasses have fascinating colours and patterns, but they are not for the novice because of their nutritional and dietary needs.

One must have a well established aquarium where these fish can find their own food in the form of small snails and pods. If there is not enough food they will slowly die, due to malnutrition. This means too, that it is a bad move to keep them with competitors for the same foods, such as Mandarinefish, unless one is absolutely certain that there is sufficient to go around.

One should supplement their diet with various kinds of frozen foods, several times daily.

These Wrasses dig themselves into the sand when feeling threatened or when needing to sleep.

If they are transported in a container without sand, can they be injured in the area around their mouth, this is something which must be checked when selecting fish in the fish store. They have an excellent biological clock, but after transportation it takes a bit of time before it starts working properly again.

One must not introduce Leopard Wrasses into an tank with aggressive fish, as then it will be hard to get them to eat.

Novaculichthys (Rockmover)

Fish in the genus Novaculichthys are not often seen in aquaria, but has one a big tank with ample sand, these fish are interesting to observe. When they are fully grown they will spend a lot of time rearranging loose objects.

These fish are well known for being able to swim vertically into the sand and even to swim under it.

When first introduced they are very shy and thus need a lot of calm and quiet. Later on when they have become bolder, they can become aggressive and a threat to small fish and various kinds of invertebrates.


Paracheilinus (Flasher wrasses)

Flasher Wrasses (Paracheilinus) are generally very colourful and spend most of their time out in the water column. They are peaceful and a little shy and therefore shouldn't be kept with aggressive species.

Males are normally more eye catching and may have longer filaments on their dorsal fin. In captivity it can be tricky to keep their colour and they need to be provided with a variety of high quality foods.

They are not normally very choosy and eat most foods, although it can take a day or two before they start eating, when they are first introduced.

When these Wrasses are kept in a group of several females and one or two males, the latter will show off their colours more often. If the tank is less than 125 gal (500 liters) only one male should be kept.

At night they sleep in a mucus covered cocoon between rocks.

Several species in this genus resemble each other closely, it is difficult to distinguish them. In practice this is not a problem as they resemble each other also closely in their behaviour and demeanour. There are also hybrids between the species which makes distinguishing them very challenging, as well.

When one chooses these fish it pays to check the area around the mouth, as they can be injured during transport, which can lead to infections.
It is also important to make sure they feed actively.


Pseudocheilinops (Pelvic-spot wrasse)


Fish of the Psuedocheilinus are popular aqauarium fishes, as they are attractive and effective at keeping flatworm and pyramid snails at bay.

It is the Psuedeocheilinus hexataenia (Sixline Wrasse) one sees most in the trade. P. hexataenia can occasionally show extreme aggression towards other fish of the same size, in which case consider fish of the Halichoeres genus instead.
Eventhough these fish can be very aggressive, if they are hunted by larger, even more aggressive species, they will hide themselves.

They don´t dig themselves into the sand, but sleep between the rocks.

It is normally easy to feed them with different types of frost and flake foods. Some individuals like to eat small crustaceans, but this is usually not a problem.

Pseudodax (Chiseltooth wrasse)

Pseudojuloides (Pencil wrasses)

Pencil Wrasses are a tempting buy, but can be hard to keep successfully for a long time. After a while many die due to malnutrition.

If one is determined to try, it is vital that there is a healthy amount of pods in the aquarium so they can find their own food. In addition it is important to supplement feed, several times a day with a variety of foods, like Mysis, Artemia and cyclops.

These fish dig themselves in at night to sleep or when they feel threatened.

Stethojulis (Ribbon wrasses)

Stethojulis are very beautiful when in full colour, but when young their colouring is more matte. Most require almost constant feeding if they are to survive in an aquarium for any length of time. Their frequent feeding is required because of their constant activity, this also means they must be provided with ample space for swimming.

When one has an very large tank with plenty of zooplankton and hiding places, then the chances of success are good. Without available natural food it is essential to have an automatic feeders to provide regular, daily food of a varied nature.

These fish eat most of types of frozen foods like, i.e. Mysis, Artemia and cyclops. They can be a threat to small invertebrates like snails and shrimps.

They must not be kept with aggressive fish, as this will make their acclimatization problematic.

When feeling threatened or needing sleep, they dig themselves into the sand.

Thalassoma (Banana wrasse)

Thalassoma species are beautiful both as juveniles and as adult fish, even though there is quite a difference in appearance. On the whole, they quickly grow too large for most aquaria and are therefore often offered for sale.

Depending on size they live on everything from Artemia to larger invertebrates like snails, crustaceans and sea urchins. They are well able to smash larger crustaceans on rocks to get pieces small enough to swallow.

Large individuals can be extremely aggressive towards other fish and will happily eat the smaller ones.
They should really be fed three times daily, as they are very active, which incidentally, means they require a lot of swimming space.

Although these Wrasses often dig themselves into the sand, a sandy substrate is not absolutely necessary for them to thrive.

Wetmorella (Possum wrasses)

Wetmorella species are very small thus these Wrasses are well suited to nano aquaria. They are peaceful and live of a diet of invertebrates, but if they cannot find their own food they need feeding several times a day.

They should not be kept with aggressive fish. One can keep more of these Wrasses together, if the tank is larger than 75 gal (300 liters).

These fish is shy and spend a lot of time amongst the rocks, thus it is imperative that it is peaceful in and around the tank, if they are to be visible.