FIA is community supported website. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn More.

Wrasse Fish Species Overview, Popular Types & Care

Most wrasse fish species are popular in the saltwater aquarium hobby. These beautiful fish come in various colors and sizes and make an exciting addition to any marine tank, with or without corals.

Their care requirements are beginner-friendly because it’s simple to mimic their natural habitat.

To help you care for them, we’ve put together a detailed guide to get you started with your new saltwater pet.

Species Overview

Level of CareEasy
TemperamentPeaceful to semi-aggressive
AppearanceMany colors depending on the species
Life Expectancy5 years or more depending on the level of care provided
SizeOnly about 5 inches
DietCarnivorous meat eaters
Tank Size60-gallon tank
Tank EnvironmentSaltwater with spacious swimming space and rock-work for hiding and grazing
Tank MatesGenerally peaceful with other community fish

There are over 600 species of wrasses, some easy for beginners such as the McCosker’s Wrasse, others not so much (like the Leopard Wrasse). Depending on the species, they will have an extensive set of appearances ranging from yellow, purple, orange, and even black.

Their colors provide a good indication of their health and whether they are actively trying to show off other wrasses in the aquarium.

They originate in all areas of coral reefs, including lagoons and outer reefs, which allow them to seek shelter from predators quickly.

These fish occupy depths of water from 3 to 98 feet. They can find their reefs in the Red Sea, Japan, Eastern Africa, Maldives, Australia, Africa, and Bali.

Most species stay small enough, allowing experienced aquarists to accommodate them without any difficulty. It is worth noting that these species are not suitable for small aquariums – irrespective of the wrasse fish species.

One of the most commonly owned wrasse fish is the Exquisite Fairy Wrasse, which has a winning combination of crucial characteristics that make it suitable for saltwater, including its docile nature, small size, and reef-friendly. They’re relatively low cost, too, allowing most aquarists to buy them without breaking a bank.


Wrasse fish enjoy beautiful, distinct markings that make them a crown jewel in any marine aquarium.

Males are typically bigger than females and are comparatively brighter. Males have the unique ability to change their patterns and colors when trying to impress females or warn other males.

Juvenile species are more muted than their adult counterparts. Their colors change depending on their age, so there is no telling exactly what your fish will look like at any given point in time. Most wrasse fish only reach about 5”, which is reasonably small enough to occupy modest-sized aquariums (no shorter than 60 gallons).

One thing you’ll notice is their unusual eyes, where the cornea split into distinct parts. Some experts believe that the center of the cornea allows the fish to see tiny prey from afar.


Most of these species are usually peaceful, and as such, can be added easily to well-established tanks.

They are friendly with other communal species and gentle with members of their species. Occasionally, however, their natural hunting instincts will get triggered, and these will become territorial.

They will often fight among male members of their species, with aggression only getting worse as they age. For these reasons, many aquarists recommend adding only one wrasse per tank.

Most of these are reef-safe and will not harm invertebrates that are at least half an inch big. However, they will consider copepods and zooplankton as prey, which may be good or bad depending on your tank.

Wrasses will never bother corals as they don’t like bumping into rocks, nipping at corals, or picking at their skeletal bases.

They are very adventurous swimmers and are prone to jumping out of the tank now and then. It necessitates the installation of an appropriately secured lid on the tank. If you want your wrasse to survive, then a cap is mandatory.

Because of the nature of wrasses, it’s a nature of when not if. If you don’t want to install a lid on your tank, do not keep these species.

Be sure to plug the tiniest of holes in your tank because they will find a way out, and that will lead to their demise.

6 Most Popular Types of Wrasse

There are many wrasse fish species that you may want to know. In this section, we’ll learn about the most prominent ones.

Bird Wrasse (Gomphosus Varius)

Bird wrasse

Bird Wrasse can adapt to a wide range of aquarium conditions. Only one male should be kept in a tank. If you want to breed wrasses, try introducing male-female pairs to an aquarium simultaneously, starting with the female. Males are easily identifiable because of their green pigmentation. Females, on the other hand, are darker in appearance.

Elegant Wrasse (Anampses Elegans)

Elegant wrasses are carnivorous species that thrive on small invertebrates and crustaceans. They originate from the Pacific Ocean in Australia. They prefer to live in coral reefs and lagoons. All juveniles start as females. The dominant female will change her sex to a male and start controlling a harem of females.

Black and White Coris Wrasse (Coris Flavovittata)

Female black and white coris wrasse

Black and White wrasses, also known as yellow stripe coris, are carnivorous species that possess two prominent teeth in their frontal jaw used to feed on prey such as mollusks, shrimps, and crabs.

They originate in the western Pacific Ocean and Japan. They like to dig around in the substrate when threatened. It means you should add a decent amount of substrate in the tank if you decide to pet them.

Dragon Wrasse (Novaculichthys Taeniourus)

Juvenile dragon wrasse

Dragon wrasses (also known as rock mover wrasses) have earned a reputation for displacing corals and rocks in search of food. It is a very annoying habit with potentially deadly ramifications for various organisms that you may be petting. These can also damage the aquarium, so watch out.

They prefer to dig deep into substrates when harassed or frightened. They also like to hide in cracks and crevices in rocks for safety.

Eight Lined Wrasse (Pseudocheilinus Octotaenia)

Eight lined wrasse

Eight lined wrasses, so-called because of the eight horizontal red lines against a pale orange body, are shy fish. However, once they get acclimated to a tank, they will become bold enough to snatch food right out of your hands. They’re very adventurous and prone to escaping from small holes in the tank. It necessitated a properly-secured lid.

Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides Phthirophagus)

Hawaiian cleaner wrasse with ornate butterflyfish

These guys don’t do well in captivity because they form a symbiotic relationship with other fish and nourish their bodies by eating their parasites. It isn’t easy to recreate in average home aquariums, and the Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse won’t eat anything else – which results in poor health and, ultimately, its death.

Tank Mates for Wrasses

As mentioned earlier, We can keep docile Wrasses with other community fish. You can keep flasher wrasse, four-line wrasse, fairy wrasse, and leopard wrasse in the same tank.

Do not keep two wrasses of the same species together because they are known for changing from female to male in home aquariums. When this happens, they become territorial and fight each other – often to the death.

Do not add fish species that rely on copepods because the mere sight of these tiny critters will trigger their hunting instincts. These are naturally inclined to go after copepods even if they have correctly eaten.

Ideal tank mates for wrasse fish species include the following:

Ideal Tank Conditions

The vast majority of wrasse fish species don’t require challenging aquarium conditions. A typical reef aquarium with well-maintained water chemistry should do well.

These are very tough species and tolerate a wide range of water conditions. But like most wrasse species, they are active, adventurous swimmers and love performing acrobatics in the tank.

Their unique swimming patterns are what drove many aquarists to them in the first place. The water parameters are as follows:

  • Temperature: 72 to 77° Fahrenheit
  • pH Value: 8 to 8.3
  • Salinity: 1.020 to 1.025
  • Tank Size: 80 gallons minimum

Tank Setup: Things to Add

Most wrasse fish species need many rocks with caves they can swim into and sleep when tired. They like to rest in caverns and coat themselves with a mucus cocoon.

The mucus keeps them safe from damage done to their tank and also conserves their energy. This mucous may give the impression that your Wrasses have died, but do not disturb them while they feel; otherwise, they won’t feel safe in your tank. The rocks also provide them with a safe hiding spot should they feel threatened.

If you decide to keep them with eels, be sure to provide them with their cavers to stay as far away from each other as possible.

They like to eat leftover or uneaten food that sinks into the tank, which explains why most aquarists keep them in a bare bottom tank. However, an empty bottom tank means that any rock installations will be loose and insecure, thus prone to frequent displacements.

Consider adding gravel or sand substrate. If you don’t want to add any substrate, consider gluing the rock to the bottom to prevent them from shifting them around.

Wrasses are known for jumping outside of the tank. They require a closed tank with all holes covered.

It also applies to filtration tubes and the small cutouts around the power cord. Any opening more extensive than their heads is large enough for wrasses to swim out. Even something as little as a 1/3rd of an inch can be a threat to them when they are still small.

Cleaner wrasse cleaning golden goby
Cleaner wrasse cleaning golden goby

Food & Diet

Wrasse fish are carnivorous species and typically feed on zooplankton in their natural habitats.

In a marine aquarium, they will thrive on meats such as brine shrimp and Mysis shrimp. Other protein-rich options include clam, squid, marine flake, mussel, and even pellets. They also enjoy eating copepods and oyster eggs.

Supplement their protein-rich diet with vegetable flakes and seaweed. The vegetable matter enriches their bodies with fiber and allows them to digest food properly.

It is worth noting that wrasses have a unique biological need to eat frequently throughout the day.

They have a smaller stomach and shorter digestive tract, which means they can eat only so much at a given time. They need small portions of food spread throughout the day. It is essential to dice up the food into small pieces.

These don’t do well if we feed them once or twice a day. Most Wrasse fish species need food 4 to 5 times a day.

It may seem a little tricky at first, but their care requirements are much more forgiving than many other difficult saltwater fish. They enjoy a versatile diet and won’t feel upset if you make rapid changes to their food. Make sure to try new things.

Most of these fish are not picky eaters, but they will let you know if something is wrong. Some species like the Leopard Wrasse have the often annoying habit of spitting out the food they don’t like. If this happens too often, it’s time to change their food.

Below is a list of food items that you should experiment with:

  • Copepods
  • Worms
  • Vitamin supplements in case their color starts to fade
  • Live brine shrimp
  • Frozen brine shrimp
  • Diced up shrimp
  • Nori or seaweed

Breeding Guidelines

Breeding wrasses is easier said than done. In the case of the Fairy Wrasse, experts failed to find any juvenile males in the wild.

The female is the dominant fish that will change into a male when it wants to breed. If you’re adamant about producing these fish, place one male with many females to encourage mating.

If you put more males than females in a harem, you’ll likely see a lot of in-fighting. Success stories of home aquarists breeding wrasses have been few and far between. Breeding is something that is left mostly to the experts – or in their natural habitats.

Care: Diseases and Dangers

Wrasse fish species are known for being very hardy and, thus, not vulnerable to various diseases. However, they are known for harboring a host of bacteria or viruses when first purchased.

If allowed to spread in your tank, these viruses could decimate your stock in a matter of days. that is why it is essential to quarantine new wrasse fish in a small aquarium tank for about a month before introducing them into a community aquarium.

During the quarantining period, inspect the wrasses for any signs of illnesses. It is easy to see in the case of Flame Wrasses, which shows a significant color change when something goes wrong.

These are prone to ich. There are various ways to treat this. One standard solution is to add copper. Just do not do this in your main tank if you have other invertebrates. They are sensitive to copper and will quickly die of exposure to copper-based medicines.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is wrasse reef safe?

These are reef safe and will not harm invertebrates that are at least bigger than ½” in size. Except for the Dragon Wrasse, they do not bump or move rocks and corals around.

Is six-line wrasse aggressive?

Like other wrasses, you should keep Six Line Wrasses singly because they see other lined wrasses as hostiles. They are not aggressive towards corals, anemones, and similarly sized semi-aggressive species like tangs, butterflies, and tangs.

Can wrasse live together?

Males do not share the same space. Please do not keep them in the same tank unless you’re fond of dead wrasses. You can, however, stay females together. But for the most part, we Should keep all species singly.

Can wrasse change sex?

Wrasses can change their sex in a matter of days. This process involves completely remodeling their gonad from an ovary system that produces eggs to a testis system that makes sperm.

Where to buy wrasses?

Wrasses are widely available from most saltwater pet stores, but their prices depend on the species. For example, the Red-Fin Fairy Wrasse costs as low as $25, but overly expensive Johnson’s Fairy Wrasse will set you back around $500 per fish. You can also buy them from online forums and expert breeders who breed rare species in captivity.

Wrapping Up

Wrasses are definitely worth your time and money. They are vividly colored, have a voracious appetite for small invertebrates that is fun to watch, and have elegant swimming patterns that will keep you hooked for hours.

Most species are relatively easy to stay in saltwater tanks. The critical thing is to provide a balanced ecosystem with ideal water chemistry.

Before adding any wrasse fish into your tank, you should quarantine them in a small to medium tank for about a month to get rid of diseases (especially ich).