Dragon Wrasse – Species Profile & Facts

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If you’re into exotic and more peculiar fish, you can’t skip the dragon wrasse. This one is one of the most awkward carnivorous species you can get for a variety of reasons.

One of them is their unusual looks and metamorphosis, as the juvenile looks nothing like the adult. Only butterflies undergo a more comprehensive metamorphosis.

The other one is the fish’s unhinged temperament, as the dragon wrasse ranks as an aggressive carnivore. If you’re interested in the dragon wrasse, you’ve come to the right place because we’ll discuss this species in detail during the following sections.

But let’s start with the beginning.

What is a Dragon Wrasse?

The dragon wrasse belongs to the Labridae family and ranks as a rock-mover fish due to its frequent tendency to reorganize its environment.

This is a rather large, powerful, and active predator that’s equally beautiful and unique-looking. The fish’s uniqueness comes from the vast differences between juveniles and adults in terms of body size, body shape, coloring, and even the existence of new appendices.

Here are the main differences to note:

  • Juvenile dragon wrasse – The juvenile wrasse is generally dark green, showcasing a snakelike head with white spots all over the body and face. The fish displays a multitude of brush-like fins covering the entire dorsal area, the abdomen, and the tail. These appear as spikes, presumably intimidating potential predators and discouraging them from targeting the juvenile wrasse as prey. The wrasse also features 2 head ‘horns,’ which earned the fish the name of Reindeer wrasse.
  • Adult dragon wrasse – The fish’s adult form looks nothing like the juvenile. Adult wrasses are torpedo-shaped with yellow, purple, or light green bodies, covered by small white spots everywhere, including the fins. The dorsal and anal fins are compact, now lacking the trademark spiky look present in juveniles. The head is generally white with red/black eyes and crack-like black stripes decorating the fish’s face. The adult also features 2 pairs of sharp incisors used to eviscerate prey.

There’s no denying that the dragon wrasse is a sight to behold, and that’s not its only charm.

This should be your go-to species if you like aggressive and territorial species that prefer to hunt and eat live food exclusively.

Dragon Wrasse Requirements

While the fish itself isn’t too difficult to keep in terms of water parameters, the tank’s layout makes all the difference.

So, let’s discuss that!

Tank Size & Setup

These are large predators with a well-developed territorial sense, causing the fish to patrol larger aquatic areas.

You need at least 100 gallons for an adult fish and no other tankmate in that space. The adult dragon wrasse will exhibit extreme territoriality, especially as it grows older and establishes its territory more strictly.

It’s common for the fish to eradicate all forms of life swimming in their space, no matter the size.

When it comes to the overall layout, you’ll have your hands full. This type of wrasse exhibits an unusual behavior compared to your normal tank fish. For one, the dragon wrasse is an avid substrate digger.

It’s common for this species to bury itself in the sand and move through it, similar to a snake. You need a 2-4-inch sand substrate for that purpose.

The sight can get eerie fast, especially for people unaccustomed to the fish’s behavior. Then you have the habitat reorganization problem.

These wrasses are powerful and very curious; it’s natural for them to move around decorations and rocks, unearth plants, and practically destroy their habitat.

This makes it difficult to craft a proper setup for them. You either use heavy rocky structures that the wrasse can’t move or choose lighter ones that they can move with ease.

If you choose the latter, ensure that the elements can’t hurt the wrasse or other tank occupants when tipping over.

Water Requirements

Aim for temperatures between 72 and 80 F and a pH level of 8.1 to 8.4. These fish are rather pretentious in terms of water quality and, more importantly, substrate quality.

You need a good filtration system and pristine water maintenance to preserve your fish’s health and state of mind.

The substrate itself is a noteworthy, make-or-break element in this sense. You need clear and fine sand devoid of rocks, wood shards, or pebbles that could hurt your wrasse.

These fish are not only skin-sensitive but very active and snappy as well. A stressed or startled dragon wrasse will dig itself into the substrate in the blink of an eye.

The fish can easily hurt itself in the process, which is why most dragon wrasses raised in captivity deal with skin infections first and foremost.

Feeding and Diet

This carnivorous fish can literally eat anything that lives and breathes in its habitat.

Nothing is off-limits: shrimps, snails, crabs, other fish, worms, and every crustacean it can catch.

The wrasse requires a healthy and nutritious diet based on live food-only, so commercial fish foods won’t cut it.

Provide your wrasse with 3 meals per day, depending on the fish’s appetite. Some specimens may require 4 meals based on their large size and voracious nature.

Does Dragon Wrasse Need a Heater?

Yes, they do. It’s not because the fish has difficult-to-please temperature requirements but because it requires temperature stability.

Temperature fluctuations won’t sit well with a dragon wrasse and might cause aggression and stress spikes.

You naturally want to avoid that, given that the dragon wrasse is extremely violent as it is.

Does Dragon Wrasse Need a Filter?

Yes, this wrasse demands a good filtration system. The filter is especially necessary due to the fish’s routine activity and feeding behavior.

However, setting up the filtration system for your wrasse tank may be trickier than it seems.

Here’s what I mean by that:

  • The need for excessive space – You need at least 100 gallons for your adult wrasse, but many aquarists use more. This is typically due to the fish’s high activity levels and extended patrolling routes. The dragon wrasse can cover quite the surface when looking for food or simply securing its territory. One filtration system alone may not be able to handle all this space. You may need to get 2 filters instead for better cleaning and more control over the filters’ output force.
  • The sand-related danger – The filter’s placement matters a lot. Placing your filters too close to the substrate may cause them to suck in the sand, especially due to your wrasse stirring it up regularly. This can clog the filter’s media, reducing its activity or even ceasing it completely.
  • Wrasse activity – Dragon wrasse, are curious, powerful, and very active predators that can tip over and bump into everything in their habitat, including any piece of equipment they can reach. It’s not uncommon for wrasse to target the filtration system out of curiosity or simply because they’re bored. Make sure you secure the system in place.

Furthermore, the filtration system should function as a backup cleaning mechanism. It shouldn’t be your main cleaning unit.

That would be you with your two handy hands. Regular maintenance, substrate vacuuming, and water changes are vital cleaning jobs for a dragon wrasse tank.

The substrate, in particular, should be in pristine condition, given that your wrasse will spend a lot of time there.

How Much do Dragon Wrasse Cost?

The dragon wrasse varies in price between $50 and $200, depending on the specimen and the seller.

I advise getting a juvenile, though, as this allows the fish to adapt to its new home easier.

Also, since you’ll most likely only have 1 wrasse, you might as well get it from a reliable source. I don’t recommend commercial wrasse because fish shops aren’t exactly mindful of the fish’s quality and care.

You’re infinitely more likely to get a sick fish from a commercial seller than a private one.

What is the Lifespan of Dragon Wrasse?

The dragon wrasse can live up to 10 years or more in captivity. Several factors will influence the fish’s lifespan, with the diet, living space, and water quality being the primary factors.

Tankmate-related stress isn’t really an issue because you’re unlikely to keep the wrasse in a community tank. Not without incidents, at least.

And even if you do, the dragon wrasse will stress the other fish, not the other way around.

To prolong your wrasse’s lifespan:

  • Provide the fish with sufficient swimming space, at least 100 gallons for an adult specimen
  • Have a thick sand substrate to cater to the fish’s digging tendencies
  • Hiding spaces aren’t really necessary, but some aquatic decorations can be useful to keep the wrasse occupied and active
  • A varied and satiating diet is necessary to provide your wrasse with adequate sustenance
  • Aim for live food as often as you can to scratch the wrasse’s hunting itch; it will work wonders for its mental health
  • Always monitor the fish’s health status so you can detect any health issues early

Most importantly, try to keep your wrasse in a healthy, stable, and stress-free setup.

So, don’t keep more than 1 wrasse per tank, and don’t pair it with excessively larger or overly aggressive tankmates.

How Big do Dragon Wrasse Get?

The adult dragon wrasse can grow up to 12 inches with good food and optimal water parameters.

Are Dragon Wrasse Aggressive?

Dragon wrasse aren’t aggressive, they are aggression. Few species are as aggressive as this one, which is what makes it so difficult to pair it with any other fish species.

Even more impressively, the dragon wrasse has a method to its madness. You can watch the fish exhibit a tactical aggression that’s interesting to note.

Here are some baseline points to work with:

  • Gradual violence – The juvenile wrasse are more tolerant because they’re still growing and haven’t figured out their territory yet. Once they mature, their innate aggression will become more visible as the fish takes on the title of King of the Hill. Its territory becomes a no man’s land where no other fish can cross. Everything that dares enters the fish’s dwelling space is bound to perish.
  • The need for increasingly more space – The juvenile fish can cope with less space than the adult, which can be deceiving for more inexperienced aquarists. The juvenile wrasse can live happily in a 50-gallon setup, and you can even have tankmates at some point. But the situation changes as the fish grows, taking up even more space as its territory. Many 12-inch wrasse can rule over even more than 100 gallons, making keeping a community tank unfeasible.
  • You can run, but you can’t hide – Most guides recommend adding live plants, rocks, and hiding places to mitigate the natural tendencies of more aggressive fish species. This is typically to break the line of sight between fish and allow the more peaceful and defenseless species to hide from their aggressors. But this doesn’t work with dragon wrasse, simply because there’s no hiding from them. If the wrasse spots another fish in its habitat, it will literally destroy the tank’s layout to get to it. The wrasse tank has no safe spaces because the entire aquarium layout is the wrasse’s lair.
  • The natural predatorial tendencies – With most aggressive fish, you can hope that the fish will eventually become acquainted with their tankmates and learn to tolerate each other. Again, this doesn’t work with dragon wrasse simply because these fish are predators. They will happily disembowel and consume any living creature unfortunate enough to reach the fish’s habitat.

As you can see, the dragon wrasse is special because aggression and predation are 2 of its core characteristics. They’re what make the wrasse a wrasse in the first place.

Dragon Wrasse Tank Mates

As we’ve just discussed, finding some viable tankmates for your wrasse is pretty much next to impossible.

Not quite impossible, though, as there may be some potential options you can weigh in.

Snappers, grunts, and triggerfish might be good options, so long as you consider several aspects:

  • The size – These fish are also large in their own right, so you need to increase the tank’s size considerably to accommodate all species. Otherwise, you’re just asking for trouble.
  • The aggression – Snappers, grunts, and triggerfish are also aggressive species that showcase territorial tendencies. This can cause significant conflicts between them and the wrasse. But, at least, the wrasse won’t be able to eat them. Again, you can somewhat mitigate the violence by increasing the tank’s size.
  • The quality of care – These are large fish with their own quality requirements. So, it might be difficult to satisfy all species in the same habitat. I definitely don’t advise novice aquarists to take on the task.

So long as you keep these aspects in mind and consider you are wrasse-ready, you can have a shot at a minor and controlled community setup.

However, remember to buy the tankmates and then get the juvenile wrasse. This way, the wrasse will come into a setup that already contains other fish.

So, it’s less likely that it will exhibit excessive territorial tendencies.

If you get the wrasse first, the fish will take up the entire tank as its territory and consider any other fish coming in later as intruders.

Is Dragon Wrasse Good for Beginners?

No, they’re not. Dragon wrasses aren’t particularly difficult to keep, but there are aspects that make them incompatible with inexperienced aquarists.

These include:

  • The need for a lot of space requiring you to invest in a large tank with a lot of powerful equipment
  • The predilection towards live foods-only
  • The aggression and territorial behavior, combined with the fish’s tendency to constantly reorganize its habitat
  • The need for specific environmental conditions like the thick substrate for burying purposes which demands additional cleaning and maintenance

I would stay away from the dragon wrasse if you have no experience in fish keeping, to begin with.

How to Tell if Dragon Wrasse is Male or Female?

It’s very difficult to differentiate between dragon wrasse males and females. They don’t showcase different coloration and are typically of the same size.

The only slightly noticeable difference is in behavior. Males tend to be more aggressive and territorial than females.

The problem is that this isn’t a reliable metric either, given that wrasse females are also notoriously violent and predatory.

You also don’t want to play get 2 wrasses in the same tank and hope that they’re different sexes.

This is the wrasse version of a Russian roulette, as 2 male wrasses in the same environment will spell disaster.

How do Dragon Wrasse Breed?

The mating and breeding in wrasse are pretty straightforward. The male will court the female by circling and poking it gently to announce its intentions.

If the wrasse female accepts the courtship, she will lay the eggs and allow the male to fertilize them.

The eggs take approximately 75 days to hatch, which is one of the longest incubation periods in tank fish.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to witness your wrasse mating and breeding in the first place, even if you do manage to get a male and a female.

These fish rarely, if ever, breed in captivity since they require special breeding conditions that are usually only common in open marine environments.

Conclusion

There’s no denying that the dragon wrasse is one of the most fascinating marine fish you can get.

It’s only a matter of learning the fish’s requirements and behavior and preparing the ideal aquatic setup for maximum comfort.

Your wrasse won’t ask for much more than that.

avatar I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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