All About Labrid Fishes (Wrasse)

by Kevin Kohen on May 10, 2010

Maldivian terminal phase male Social Fairy Wrasse.

Maldivian terminal phase male Social Fairy Wrasse.

I thought it may be helpful to explain some of the more scientific terminology that is used when describing Labrid fishes (Wrasse). I hope that everyone finds this information helpful in gaining a better understanding of my personal favorite group of fishes.

Labrid/Labroid Fishes

Fishes of the family Labridae are commonly known as Wrasse. There are over 460 recognized species in 65 genera, making this group one of the largest and most important group of reef fishes. The name Labridae is derived from the Latin Labrus meaning “Lips” therefore Labroid Fishes are ”Lip-fishes.” Most Labroids have separate canine teeth and crushing teeth, which are used to crack open the shells of small mollusks and crustaceans.

Sexually Dimorphic/Sexual Dimorphism:
Term used to describe fish of the same genus and species, where there are marked physical differences between the two sexes. These differences include the shape of their bodies, shape of their fins, or the length of their fin.

Sexual Dichromatic:
Term used to describe fish of the same genus and species, where males and females have coloration difference between the two sexes.

Sequential Hermaphrodite:
Term used to describe fish of the same genus and species that are born as one sex but can later change into the alternate sex.

Protogynous Hermaphrodites:
Term used to describe fish of the same genus and species that begin life as female and can change sex into a fully-functioning male. This transformation is triggered by internal and external factors. Protogynous hermaphrodites can shift sex into a fully-functioning male that can successfully reproduce. Fishes of the Subfamily Anthiinae (Anthias) are another example of a group of reef fishes that are protogynous hermaphrodites.

Protandrous Hermaphrodites:
Term used to describe fish of the same genus and species that begins life as male and can change sex into a fully-functioning female. Clownfish are one example of a protandrous hermaphrodite.

Bi-Directional Hermaphrodites:
Term used to describe fish of the same genus and species that have the ability to change sex back and forth. Some species of Cirrhilabrus can change from female to male, then back to female based on the hierarchy of the harem or group, as well as other social or environmental factors.

Diandric Development:
Term used to describe many species of Labrid Fishes where there are two types of males.

Juvenile Phase – These fish are sexually immature fish and are either born male or female and, more often than not, have different coloration than adults of the same species.

Initial (Primary) Phase Females – Initial (Primary) Phase Females are fish that hatch and develop into females and are normally not as colorful as their Terminal (Secondary) Phase Male counterparts. These Initial (Primary) Phase Females can be found in small groups or harems.

Initial (Primary) Phase Males – Hatch and develop into males but resemble females in appearance, are not territorial, and can be found swimming among female fish in the harem or group. In many species, Initial (Primary) Phase Males can spawn with females in the harem or group.

Terminal (Secondary) Phase Males – Describe the largest female in a harem or group of fish that undergoes transformation into a territory-holding male, or is when an Initial (Primary) Phase Male changes its coloration and behavior into a territory-holding male, but never changes sex. Terminal (Secondary) Phase Males always exhibit the most vibrant coloration, dominate the harem or group, and take priority in obtaining food and in spawning.

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About the author: Kevin earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Wright State University, and is an avid marine life photographer, lifelong aquarist, and marine fish enthusiast. He has worked in the aquarium industry since 1983. He launched the web site in 2000 and designed and oversaw the installation of the Drs. Foster and Smith Aquaculture Coral and Marine Life Facility, which opened in July of 2005. Kevin is currently the Director of LiveAquaria at Drs. Foster and Smith. See more articles by Kevin Kohen.

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May 10, 2010 at 7:25 am

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Jacob May 13, 2010 at 11:52 am

Nice write up. Fairy wrasses are great reef fish.

Christine Greenwald May 13, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Fascinating and beautiful fish! Nearly enough to entice me into keeping a saltwater aquarium. Think I will stick to freshwater for now, however.

JacobO May 13, 2010 at 4:13 pm

My Dad just got a sixline wrasse and I love it! Watching it eat the copes off the rocks and glass is very entertaining.

Bradley Miller May 13, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Fairy wrasses are great and add a lot of color and diversity to any aquarium.

Richard Unger Jr May 14, 2010 at 9:00 am

I love my wrasses! always out in the open putting on a show for us.

Bryan May 14, 2010 at 9:03 am

Good read.

Kevin May 14, 2010 at 9:08 am

Great article, wrasses are often misunderstood. Especially since there are so many with an abundance of different behaviors.

William Levantovsky May 14, 2010 at 9:26 am

one of the best saltwater fish species! love them! great article!

Sally G. May 14, 2010 at 2:27 pm

My husband just purchased a six line wrasse for our tank. Very pretty and active little fish. 🙂

RonO May 14, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Very nice write up. Very informative. There are so many different types of wrasse from the very small to pretty good sized. They are also so colorful and have such a great personallity. Nice write up. Thanks!

Heath May 14, 2010 at 4:51 pm

I have gotten a trio of Solar Fairy Wrasse and a Trio of Lubbocki Wrasse from yall a few weeks back they are akk doing great.

Anthony May 14, 2010 at 5:58 pm

My favorite fishes! I currently have 8 species and looking for more..

Aaron May 18, 2010 at 8:00 am

I’ve never really had much of an interest in wrasses but after reading this article and hearing a recent presentation, I’m going to look into them more. Thank you!

Jay May 18, 2010 at 8:00 am

Good read on some of the best reef fishes.

Melanie May 18, 2010 at 8:04 am

Terminology explanations were very helpful. Wrasses are a favorite of mine. Thank you for sharing the info.

gary May 18, 2010 at 8:10 am

ive never kept a wrasse maybe now ill do it

Mike May 18, 2010 at 9:23 am

are there any issues mixing wrasses with other fish? I had a fairy wrasse and my coral beauty ripped the fishes lower jaw off his face. (I can’t imagine there are normally problems between wrasse and angels)

Kevin D. May 18, 2010 at 10:25 am

Love the simple terminology. Great article!

TZ May 18, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Let me win. : P

Jeff Bair May 19, 2010 at 9:10 am

Very interesting article. I love these little guys.

Ryan Cole May 20, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Thanks for this article, love wrasse’s. Funny thing, my wife calls the six-line an “80’s fish”

Brandon Klaus July 1, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Wrasses are my absolute favorite fish. They are so diverse and add so much personality to any tank. I had a Orange-Back Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus aurantidorsalis) that would literally let me hand feed it and hold it in my hand. It would swim up to me and go into my cupped hand and then just hang out there.

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