[Phylum: Chordata] [Class: Actinopterygii] [Order: Perciformes (perch-like)] [Family: Labridae]
Wrasses are small marine fishes, most of which can be easily identified by their vivid and detailed colours, such as the moon and cuckoo wrasse.
This section contains fun facts and information about 500 different wrasse species, including their diet, where they live, and how they reproduce.
Most divers, and a large number of snorkelers, have seen wrasses and know exactly where to find them.
They live and multiply best in tropical and subtropical waters, such as:
In fact, you will find the wrasse fish species thriving in most of the temperate waters of marine habitats around the world.
The large, diverse family includes well over five hundred (500) different species. It also spreads across eighty one (81) genera and divides further into nine (9) tribes (groups).
The exact population status of wrasse fishes is difficult to establish. Even so, they are commonplace around coastal rocky shorelines, coral reefs, and sandy sea floors of many tidal pools.
Juvenile wrasse (and the smaller species) tend to move around in groups. Whereas, large specimens - such as the humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) - are somewhat reclusive creatures by nature.
As a result, solitary wrasses often become aggressive toward any new fishes that move into their environment. In particular, many will display this kind of 'territorial' behaviour after reaching adulthood.
In general, most of the small species grow to about five (5) centimetres long. But, some of the largest wrasse fish can measure almost two (2) metres in length.
There are several traits that differentiate them from other sea life creatures of a similar size. For example, most of the species have long (elongated) slender bodies with smooth scales.
But, the most distinctive feature of marine wrasses has to be their thick lips (Labridae) and protrusible mouth.
The age, gender, and habitat of any particular species determines the body colouration. Plus, a complete change of colour may also occur if it changes sex (e.g. from female to male).
Wrasse display bright and colourful bars, stripes, and other types of body markings. Typical colours include yellow, white, orange, purple, red, blue, grey, green, brown, and black.
In addition, most of the smaller species have a pointed snout. Their canine teeth are prominent (oriented outward) and they have long anal and dorsal fins.
There are many different types of wrasse. But, a list of the most common species of wrasse fishes would include:
Fun fact: Most wrasses swim fast, using wing-like fins and flexible metabolism (e.g. the blue-lined wrasse). They also use very little energy when doing so.
In fact, wrasses are typical examples of marine vertebrates, meaning they are sea animals that have a spine and a skeleton.
These carnivores (meat eaters) will feed on most small invertebrates and tiny reef fishes. So, their preferred prey will include:
Some groups follow closely behind large marine predators to collect 'leftover' scraps. In addition, cleaner wrasses (e.g. the bluestreak cleaner wrasse) will collect and eat dead tissue and parasites from the mouth of large marine fishes.
Other species that act as cleaners include Labroides and young blueheads (Thalassoma bifasciatum). They pick off external parasites from giant groupers, moray eels, snappers, and others - typically at a 'wrasse cleaning station' - defined as a congregation of aquatic life to get cleaned by smaller species.
The average lifespan varies between three (3) and five (5) years. But, some species that live in the wild (not kept in an aquarium) can live up to thirty (30) years.
They are sexually dimorphic animals. But, some will be both male and female at some time in their life. This only works because most of the wrasse species are protogynous hermaphrodites (able to transform from females into males).
The spawning season for species living in tropical water may occur at any time during the year. Those that inhabit subtropical and temperate areas need to wait for the warmer months to spawn.
Here's the thing:
These fishes mate using a process called 'broadcast reproduction' - a common occurrence in bony fish. Simply put, a female will release eggs into the water column and the male will release the sperm for fertilisation.
When females produce eggs, the average clutch size will be around one thousand. After releasing the eggs, many of the species will adopt a role of 'parental care'. Even though the parents take on this duty, the incubation period is only twenty four (24) hours.
In a nutshell, the males will guard the eggs until they hatch - usually scattered in various cavities in the reef. The larvae become part of the plankton bloom for the first thirty days. Then, they should be large enough to join the adult community.
Interesting fact: After hatching, bluehead wrasses are female. Even so, some of the females will transform into males to help preserve the population of the species.
The current conservation status of most wrasse species remains as 'not endangered'. But, some wrasses are cited on the endangered list, such as the humphead (previously known as the king of the coral reef).
Some of the major contributing factors for the significant decline in humpheads includes:
The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) is working with others to discourage fishers of endangered wrasses. In fact, organisations have helped to return around 900 humphead wrasse into the wild in the last decade.
Some of the small wrasse species face threats from several of their natural enemies. The most voracious predators include:
Interesting fact: The hogfish (Lachnolaimus maximus) is valuable for its culinary benefits. Large specimens can weigh up to seven (7) kilograms (15 pounds).
In fact, many of the species have a small mouth when compared to the size of the body. But, they all have very strong teeth that tend to jut out of their thick lips.
They are naturally diurnal creatures. Thus, they are active during the day time and they will sleep at night - often in the sand, under coral branches, or beneath rock shelves.
These colourful marine fishes have very efficient pectoral and caudal fins. So, they can swim away quickly to escape capture. Some will bury themselves in the sand and others will hide among the large tentacles of sea anemones and mushroom corals.
Many of the small species are quite easy to take care of in an aquarium. But, some of the 'temperamental' species can be difficult to keep outside of their natural habitat.
Note: The short video [1:23 seconds] contains some amazing footage of some of the largest species, such as the Asian sheepshead (Kobudai).