Dragon Wrasse

Are You Ready to Train a Dragon Wrasse?

rockmover wrasse
  Jurgen Freund/Nature Picture Library/Getty Images 

The Dragon Wrasse is a fascinating fish that changes radically as it matures. It can "swim" through sand, move rocks and substrate, and reorganize a fishtank. On the other hand, it's aggressive and almost impossible to keep in a community tank. 

Characteristics

Scientific NameNovaculichthys taeniourus
SynonymHemipteronotus taeniourus, Novaculichtys bifer
Common Name

Dragon Wrasse, Rockmover Wrasse, Striped Wrasse, Clown Wrasse, Reindeer Wrasse, Red Belly Wrasse

FamilyLabridae
OriginIndo-Pacific
Adult Size12 inches
SocialAggressive
Lifespan10+ years
Tank Level No specific level (bottom feeder)
Minimum Tank Size100 gallons
DietCarnivore
BreedingEgg layer

Care

Moderate
pH8.1-8.4
Temperature72-78ºF (22-26°C)

 

Origin and Distribution

The Dragon Wrasse is native to the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Red Sea, Panama, as far north as the Hawaiian islands and Micronesia. It can also be found in the Eastern Pacific from the Gulf of California to Panama, across to Japan. They usually inhabit depths of .5 to 14 meters,  on or near sand channels which it cruises looking for food.

The sand is also a source of refuge for this and most other wrasses.  When it feels threatened, both the adult and juvenile Dragon Wrasse will dive into the sand and wiggle their way to safety. It is amazing how far this wrasse can travel under the sand in a short amount of time.

Colors and Markings

Dragon Wrasse fish are unusual in that juveniles look completely different from adults. Young Dragon Wrasse are sometimes nicknamed Reindeer Wrasse because of their unique appendages that look something like horns. Juveniles' bodies are flat and burgundy-colored with long pelvic fins and dorsal fin filaments.

The fins have variegated coloring in reds, blacks, and browns, with membranes which can look translucent in the right light. As the juveniles glide and dip near the sea floor they look very much like seaweed, providing them with useful camouflage. If they are spotted by a predator, Reindeer Wrasse will actually dive head first into the sand and hide until the danger passes.

It can even "swim" under the sand, reappearing in a new location.

As they grow up, Reindeer Wrasse lose their unique appendages and filaments as well as their special name. The coloring on their bodies changes to a gray honeycomb pattern, while their heads become gray. Their tails become white with black edging. As adults, these fish are no longer Reindeer Wrasse but are now official adult Dragon Wrasse.

Tankmates

It's not easy to find ideal tankmates for a Dragon Wrasse. While juveniles can live peacefully in a community tank, adult Dragon Wrasse will eat almost any moving creature, which means that anything other than sponges and corals is fair game. Snails, crabs, and most other aquarium fish are also prey. Even those fish that are usually able to hide from predators will find it hard to escape from a fish that can (and does) turn over rocks and search inside caves to find a meal.

In addition to these considerations, it's also important to know that Dragon Wrasse will, as they grow up, become "king" of its territory. If you plan to add these fish to a tank with any other fish, it must be the last fish in the tank; otherwise, it will simply eat newcomers. Possible tankmates (to be added to the tank before introducing the Dragon Wrasse) include groupers, hawkfishes, snappers, grunts, and triggerfish.

If you're not eager to play host to a tankful of aggressive fish, but think you'd enjoy watching a Dragon Wrasse as it metamorphoses and then learns to rearrange all the rocks and substrate in your tank, the easiest solution is to raise a single Dragon Wrasse from juvenile to adult in a live-rock tank that includes no other mobile animals.

Dragon Wrasse Habitat and Care

A fish that is constantly on the move, the Dragon Wrasse needs to be provided with plenty of room to move around, and a two-to-four-inch bed of soft sand where it can bury itself. The tank should have a tight fitting lid as the Dragon Wrasse has a tendency to jump out of tanks, especially when it is startled.

The substrate should be of small grain sand. Since the Dragon Wrasse has a tendency to bury itself in the sand, larger grain sand or crushed coral can cause cuts or abrasions on the fish's skin which leaves an opening for bacteria to enter the fish and cause a bacterial infection which can be difficult to treat and cure.

This species is also prone to developing internal bacterial infection associated with the bladder due to poor substrate environment.

Tiny juveniles typically do not fare well in captivity. It is not unusual for them to waste away and starve to death due to the lack of accepting food, and thus not taking in the high caloric diet they require to survive. It is best to obtain a sub-adult specimen of more than two inches in size, and one that is already eating well to help avoid problems with starvation.

Dragon Wrasse Diet

The Dragon Wrasse is a carnivore that possesses two prominent canine teeth in the front of each jaw that are used for feeding on its favorite prey. Prey, for the Dragon Wrasse, is a very general term: it will eat small fishes, all types of desirable crustaceans and motile invertebrates, which includes serpent and brittle starfishes, bad bristle as well as beneficial worms, shrimps, hermit crabs, crabs, and snails.

These fish should be fed a hearty diet of suitably bite-sized pieces of meaty foods that include fresh or frozen seafood, silversides, live or frozen brine and mysid shrimp, live grass or ghost shrimp, live black worms, and flake food. Smaller Dragon Wrasses can be fed chopped up pieces of meaty fares as well as Mysis Shrimp. It's best to feed these fish three times a day.

Sexual Differences

Males and females look very similar and are about the same size.

Breeding of the Dragon Wrasse

It's very unlikely that your Dragon Wrasse will breed in captivity. In the wild, the male circles the female and then rises through the water followed by the female. Side by side, they rise slowly while the female releases her eggs and the male fertilizes them. The eggs are about .59 millimeters wide, and they are buoyant so they can ride the ocean currents. The eggs float for as long as 75 days before they hatch. 

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