All About Saltwater Wrasses for Aquarium Hobbyists

Ornate Wrasse (Thalassoma Pavo) Colorful Fish Underwater
Allexxandar / Getty Images

Saltwater wrasses are some of the most interesting and vibrantly colored fish in the ocean. They can be found in any number of color combinations and can add another dimension to a saltwater aquarium.

Care for wrasses can be difficult to maintain considering most have strict dietary, substrate, and tankmate needs. Consider this information on wrasses before you decide to add one to your aquarium.

  • 01 of 10

    Bird Wrasse (Bird Fish)

    Male Green Bird Wrasse
    Keoki Stender

    The bird wrasse (bird fish) is a hardy fish which adapts rather well to aquarium life. Only one male, also called green birds for their coloring, should be kept in an aquarium. A male-female pair should be added to the aquarium at the same time, introducing the female, also called a black bird, first.

    Scientifically called Gomphosus varius, bird wrasses all start out as females at birth. In the wild, you will find small groups of black bird wrasses with only one green bird wrasse. If something happens to the male, one or two of the females will start to change into males. It takes several months for the female to complete the change into a male.

    In an aquarium, this fish is an active fish, so give it plenty of room. Also, this bird is a jumper, so secure the tank cover to make sure that no bird fish take flight.

  • 02 of 10

    Black and White Wrasse (Yellowstripe Coris)

    Black & White Wrasse (Subadult Phase)
    Keoki and Yuko Stender

    The black and white wrasse, more commonly known as a ​yellowstripe coris, is a carnivore that possesses two prominent teeth in the front of each jaw that is used for feeding on its favorite prey such as snails, hermit crabs, crabs, shrimps, mollusks, and sea urchins. It will eat nuisance bristle worms, but other beneficial worms as well, including decorative tube species.

    Its scientific name is Coris flavovittata. It can be found in the wild in the waters off Japan and the central and west Pacific Ocean. These fish are diggers and substrate rearrangers. They have a tendency to dig themselves into the substrate of the tank to sleep or when threatened, so it is necessary to have an appropriate depth of substrate. 

  • 03 of 10

    Dragon Wrasse (Rockmover Wrasse)

    Dragon Wrasse
    Keoki Stender

    The dragon wrasse (rockmover wrasse) is notorious for turning over and moving rocks and corals around to look for food. This can cause damage to desirable organisms. It can also make rock formations to become unstable, which may damage the tank's structure. In a tank setting, Novaculichthys taeniourus eats hermit crabs, snails, and marine worms including bristle worm.

    Dragon wrasse will burrow into the sand to sleep at night and for protection when frightened or harassed. It also will dive into cracks, crevices, and holes in rocks. The dragon wrasse likes room to move so you will need at least a 100-gallon tank for this fish. As well, tightly secure a tank cover, since, ​upon startling, this fish can jump and might pop out of your tank.

  • 04 of 10

    Eight-Lined Wrasse (Eightstripe Wrasse)

    Eightline Wrasse
    Keoki Stender

    The eight-lined wrasse, also commonly called the eightstripe wrasse (Pseudocheilinus octotaenia)is very shy at first, but once it gets used to being in an aquarium it becomes bolder and will take food out of your hand. The eight-lined wrasse likes to hide, so be sure to give it plenty of cover. As its name implies, it has eight horizontal red stripes or lines on a striking orange body. This wrasse can get aggressive around other wrasses, so it is best to keep it solo.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Elegant Wrasse

    The elegant wrasse (Anampses elegans) is a carnivore that will eat small crustaceans and invertebrates. It is native to the Pacific Ocean from Australia and New Zealand eastward to Easter Island. This species prefers lagoons and can also be found on coastal reefs.

    Be sure to be careful putting any of these animals in with this wrasse or they may become a snack. They will eat shrimp, fish, and other tank fed foods and are a fairly easy wrasse to care for in an aquarium.

    It is suspected that, like many other wrasse species, all juvenile elegant wrasse are all female. Once mature, the dominant female changes sex to a male and will control a school of female fish. If the male disappears, the most dominant female, usually the largest, will change sex and take over the school. Males cannot change back to females and are referred to as terminal males. Terminal males are territorial and swim between groups of females.

  • 06 of 10

    Four-Lined Wrasse

    Four-Line Wrasse
    Keoki Stender

    The four-lined wrasse, scientifically classified as Pseudocheilinus tetrataenia, has a bright blue body with four longitudinal bands on the upper part of the body that are bright blue, outlined by fine black lines and an orange color between them.

    These small, active fish are popular for a small marine aquarium. They are quite hardy, disease resistant, and long-lived. These fish will rid a few pests in the aquarium, like the pyramid snails and commensal flatworms. They are considered reef safe as they will not harm corals or coral anemones.

  • 07 of 10

    Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse (Cleaner Royal Wrasse)

    Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse
    Keoki Stender

    Because the Hawaiian cleaner wrasse's (cleaner royal wrasse) diet is mainly derived from its symbiotic relationship with other fish by eating parasites, it has been reported that this wrasse does not do well in captivity. It is extremely difficult to get this fish to eat any other types of foods, and once the parasite food population is gone, it can result in poor health and most likely death for this wrasse.

    However, if this wrasse is in a healthy environment and offered tank-available foods like mysis shrimp, to begin with, as well as other meaty seafood fares, then it is possible to do well in a marine aquarium of at least 50 gallons in size.

  • 08 of 10

    Ornate Wrasse (Christmas Wrasse)

    Ornate Wrasse (Halichoeres ornatissimus)
    Keoki Stender

    The ornate wrasse, primarily brightly red and green colored, is an aggressive carnivore. Its main diet consists of small crustaceans and invertebrates. In captivity, Halichoeres ornatissimus will feed on meaty fares such as fresh or frozen seafood, dried, frozen or live brine and mysid shrimp, live grass shrimp, as well as flake foods. It may also nip at polyps and fleshier corals, so it should not be kept in a reef tank. It is recommended that they feed several times a day.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Saddleback Wrasse (Jansen's Saddle Wrasse)

    Male Saddle Wrasse
    Keoki Stender

    The saddleback wrasse, also commonly known as Jansen's saddle wrasse, is a beautiful fish with its vibrant blue and green colors and the brownish-orange saddle bar marking around the body behind the head, which gives it its name. When viewed closely you can also see short, vertical, purple-red bars on its body. This species (Thalassoma duperrey) should reside in a 75-gallon or larger aquarium with larger, aggressive tank mates, and plenty of live rock for hiding. It will become territorial and harass any new additions and it should be one of the last additions to the aquarium.

  • 10 of 10

    Yellowtail Coris Wrasse (Red Coris Wrasse)

    Adult Female Yellowtail Coris Wrasse
    Keoki Stender

    The yellowtail coris wrasse (Coris gaimard) should be fed a hardy diet of suitably bite-sized pieces of meaty foods that include fresh or frozen seafood, live or frozen brine and mysid shrimp, live grass or ghost shrimp, live black worms, and flake food. Also commonly called a clown wrasse or red labrid, this fish has an extreme and vibrant color transformation from juvenile to adulthood. When very small, these fish are safe with almost any fish that will not eat them, but as they grow, they can become destructive. They should not be kept with invertebrates.