30 Types of Wrasse for Reef Tanks
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Setting up a reef tank involves preparation, knowledge, and more work than your normal tropical freshwater setup.
Finding the right fish for the environment is also critical, given that many saltwater species are not reef safe.
This brings us to wrasse. These fish belong to the Labridae family and comprise over 600 species, showcasing astounding variety in color, behavior, and personality.
Some of them are reef-safe, but others are not. Learning how to make the difference between them is critical for the safety and stability of your reef setup.
Today, we will discuss 30 of the most popular wrasse species for reef tanks. These species are either completely or partially reef safe, so we’re leaving the unsafe species out. So, let’s get to it!
1. Six-Line Wrasse
This wrasse is a true spectacle. The fish only grows up to 3 inches, but it makes up for it in coloring and pattern display.
The six-line wrasse is generally purple with yellow and blue horizontal stripes that even cross the eyes.
This fish doesn’t need more than 30 gallons of water and is considered partially reef safe due to its explosive personality. Six-line wrasses are aggressive and territorial and can nip at corals when starving.
So, you need to keep the fish well-fed to prevent food-related aggression.
Also, don’t keep more than 1 six-line wrasse per tank to avoid a full-on war. And avoid community setups because this wrasse doesn’t like companions.
2. Mystery Wrasse
The mystery wrasse is a unique entry on this list, primarily due to the fish’s outstanding appearance. The mystery wrasse comes with an elongated body and a dominant color with interesting patterns.
Most wrasses are red, but many of them also come in purple or orange. All of them showcase a tail eye used to confuse predators who mistake the tail for the head.
The fish’s head is sharp with distinct yellow markings, especially on the lower jaw, making the fish look like a prehistoric animal.
The mystery wrasse can grow up to 4.5-5 inches and demands at least 55 gallons to remain healthy and comfy. Hiding places are necessary, given that this species prefers to find safety among rocks.
You can acclimate the wrasse to a community tank, but beware of its territorial tendencies.
Make sure that your fish have a multitude of hiding spots in case the wrasse decides to go nuts.
3. Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse
The Bluestreak cleaner wrasse is another species that diverge from the rest. This fish can grow to 5.5 inches, qualifying it as a medium-sized wrasse.
Despite that, it requires more space than many larger wrasses due to its energy levels and swimming behavior. Make sure your Bluestreak cleaner has at least 90 gallons of water available.
The Bluestreak cleaner wrasse is living proof that wrasses, as a species, have no limit in terms of diversity. This fish doesn’t look like any other wrasse on this list.
Its long and streamlined body is a great complement to the fish’s main occupation: fish cleaning.
This fish spends its time cleaning other tankmates of skin and mouth parasites, making it a great addition to a community tank.
You can recognize the fish by its long, snake-like, and silvery body, traversed by a thick and black horizontal stripe. This active and energetic fish likes to live in pairs or even in small groups.
So, make sure there’s sufficient space for them; they’re among the most active swimmers you can get.
4. Leopard Wrasse
The leopard wrasse is what you get for diversity. This is a gorgeous specimen whose presence alone will make all other fish pale by comparison.
The leopard wrasse can grow to 6 inches and displays a compact body with a unique fin design and a classic leopard pattern.
The leopard wrasse showcases amazing pattern and color diversity since there are no 2 identical specimens. This is how you get the black leopard wrasse that comes with a black, white-spotted body.
The fish’s environmental requirements match its outstanding presence. Given its energetic, albeit peaceful demeanor, you need at least 100 gallons to accommodate this one.
Some pro tips here: feed the leopard wrasse at least 4-5 times per day and provide it with a thick substrate.
This is a known substrate digger. Also, pristine water quality is necessary to keep the wrasse in good health over the years.
5. Exquisite Fairy Wrasse
Few fish have more fitting names than the exquisite fairy wrasse. This species can grow to 5 inches but ranks as a schooling species.
So, you need a lot of space to accommodate a healthy wrasse population. Consider investing in at least 100 gallons for them.
The fairy wrasse is torpedo-shaped with a unique color pattern. The fish generally displays 2 dominant colors. The rear half of the body is usually dark blue or light green, while the front half displays an intense red marking.
This species showcases amazing color diversity, so expect your exquisite fairy wrasse to look completely different than others you may have seen.
6. Carpenter’s Flasher Wrasse
The flasher wrasse is another species with a more-than-fitting name. The flasher wrasse is rather small, up to 3 inches in length, but makes up for it in coloring and other characteristics.
The fish comes with a torpedo body, typical to most wrasse, and displays intense orange and red coloring. Most flasher wrasse have yellow bellies and light-blue horizontal stripes traversing their bodies in different patterns.
But it’s the fins that give this species its uniqueness. The flasher wrasse can extend its anal and dorsal fins to double its body’s thickness basically.
The brightly-colored fins will exacerbate the fish’s beauty which is always a plus.
Unlike other wrasse species, this is a group fish. Keeping your flasher wrasse in a group will boost the fish’s coloring and keep it calmer and healthier over time.
7. Bluehead Fairy Wrasse
The bluehead fairy wrasse makes for a unique addition to any marine aquarium. This wrasse grows up to 5 inches and looks like a genuine torpedo.
It has a thick, round head with an elongated body that turns slimmer towards the tail. The bluehead wrasse has a yellow body with a white and black collar and a blue head and tail.
The fish’s color pattern is simple and gorgeous at the same time.
Make sure you employ at least 90 gallons for this wrasse to satisfy its swimming needs. This fish is more energetic than other species, so it requires the extra space to remain active.
Due to its extreme hunting behavior, the bluehead wrasse will also make for a fine addition in copepod-flooded tanks.
Just make sure you don’t pair it with other wrasse and only have one bluehead per tank.
That being said, this species is compatible with a community setup, provided it has sufficient swimming space to satisfy its territorial needs.
8. Lubbock’s Fairy Wrasse
This is a hardy and resilient type of wrasse with a unique presence and a matching personality.
The Lubbock’s wrasse is rainbow-colored, looking like it was doused in a bucked with a random color blend. This wrasse will spark in the sunlight like no other.
The Lubbock’s fairy wrasse only grows up to 3.5 inches, but it stands out as a semi-aggressive reef inhabitant.
It’s pretty intolerant of other wrasse, but it can adapt to a community setup with sufficient preparation and logistics work on your part.
This wrasse is more adaptable and tamable than other wrasse species in terms of dietary requirements.
Lubbock’s wrasses are known to accept frozen foods and flakes on top of their usual live foods.
9. Pintail Fairy Wrasse
This is a 5-inch-long wrasse that stands out thanks to its colored body and unique tail fin design.
The fish comes with a slim body and is usually available in shades of orange, red, and light purple, with subtle hues tainting the dominant color.
Most pintail wrasses showcase a differently-colored stripe traversing their bodies on the sides. But it’s their tail fin that gives the fish its unique appearance.
The pintail wrasse displays a pointy tail, giving it the trademark appearance that has made this species so popular.
You need at least 90 gallons to keep this fish in a healthy and stable group. Don’t have more than 1 male per group, and make sure that your wrasses have plenty to eat to remain peaceful and tolerant.
10. Flame Wrasse
The flame wrasse comes with a distinct presence and an equal personality. You can recognize the fish by its long and orange body with a red lining covering the dorsal area, head-to-tail.
This gives the fish a fiery presence, especially when swimming actively through the tank.
The flame wrasse can grow up to 4 inches and requires approximately 90 gallons of space. This is necessary to accommodate the wrasse’s active personality and fit all necessary equipment and decorations.
11. Pink-Streaked Wrasse
This species gives out conflicting signals. On the one hand, it looks mean, piranha-mean, with its spiky dorsal fins and large yellow eyes.
On the other hand, it showcases a docile and friendly temperament, making it a nice and safe addition to a community setup.
The pink-streaked wrasse only grows up to 2.5 inches and doesn’t need more than 15 gallons to remain healthy and happy.
Just make sure you provide the fish with a variety of hiding areas because this wrasse is usually targeted by other fish for bullying purposes.
12. Yellow-Banded Possum Wrasse
This fish’s name matches its appearance perfectly in terms of uniqueness. The possum wrasse is relatively small, as it can only grow up to 3 inches, and showcases a rather peculiar presence.
The fish has a sharp head and a thick body, ending with a compact and round tail.
This wrasse has 2 yellow collars, one around the neck and the other around the tail, and displays 4 or more fake eyes.
One is located on the dorsal fin, another on the ventral one, one more on the anal fin, and 1 or 2 on the tail fin.
The fins also have different shapes and sizes. All these physical features make the fish look like an aquatic Frankenstein-type creature, with multiple unfitting body parts being sewn together clumsily.
Naturally, this only adds to the fish’s charm.
Fortunately, this is an easy-going and adaptable wrasse that likes to live in groups. Only have 1 male per group, and don’t add any other types of wrasse in its habitat.
Just because the possum wrasse is group-compatible doesn’t mean it’s peaceful.
13. Golden Rhomboidalis Wrasse
This species is less pretentious than its name suggests. That being said, it’s clearly an outstanding specimen with a unique presence and demeanor.
This fish grows up to 4.5-5 inches and enjoys a more secluded rocky life compared to other species of wrasse.
Provide this specimen with at least 90 gallons of water and a lush rocky setup with a variety of hiding places. Also, keep the reef tank out of direct sunlight, as the golden wrasse prefers shadier areas.
This is a great species for community setups, so long as you don’t add other wrasses to its tank.
And, whatever you do, don’t keep more than one male golden wrasse in the same environment. The reason for that should be fairly obvious.
14. Red-Head Solon Fairy Wrasse
This species makes for another outstanding presence in a reef tank. These fish are reef-safe and showcase a jewel-colored body with an impressive color mix.
The fish is light blue with a cream belly and a red or bright-orange head. Most specimens also feature a black and thick neck collar and a dark dorsal band traversing the body head-to-tail.
This wrasse grows up to 5 inches and demands at least 90 gallons to satisfy its swimming and territorial needs.
The red-headed fairy wrasse can adapt to a community setup, provided you brainstorm its habitat properly.
This wrasse prefers to live in deeper waters, so it needs a variety of hiding spots near the tank bed.
15. Black-Backed Wrasse
This wrasse is living proof that simplicity is often synonymous with beauty. The black-backed wrasse only displays 2 dominant colors.
Most specimens come with white, creamy, or silvery bellies and a black or dark-blue dorsal area. They also have a black anal fin for a plus of personality.
The black-backed wrasse can grow up to 9 inches, making it one of the larger wrasse species available. You need at least 120 gallons to accommodate this one.
You should only have one specimen per tank. The black-backed wrasse is known to be aggressive towards members of its own species.
The fish isn’t exactly tolerant of other tank companions either, so you will have difficulties with a community setup.
16. Pinstriped Wrasse
17. Rainbow Wrasse
18. Striated Wrasse
19. Hoeven’s Wrasse
20. Bluesided Fairy Wrasse
21 .Pink Fairy Wrasse
22. Dark Red Cirrhilabrus Sailfin Fairy Wrasse
23 .Ruby Head Fairy Wrasse
24. Melanurus Wrasse
25. Christmas Wrasse
26. Yellow Wrasse
27. Spotted Wrasse
28. Ornate Wrasse
29. Clown Wrasse
30. Birdmouth Wrasse
These are only 30 of the 600+ species of wrasses available today. So, the available pool is far greater.
While all wrasses are different, they are also similar in many aspects. One of them is their aggression and fiery personalities.
Not all wrasses are equally aggressive, but they do exhibit territorial and violent tendencies, depending on the circumstances.
Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the wrasse aggression, which will ultimately help you create a stable and thriving reef setup.
In this sense, consider the following points:
- Proper feeding – There are 2 aspects to consider here: feeding frequency and meal type. Wrasses are carnivorous fish, so don’t force them to diverge from that. Your wrasses prefer protein-rich foods and will mostly stick to live foods. Don’t force them to accept flakes or dried foods if they don’t like them. Also, wrasses have short intestinal tracts, which means that they showcase shorter digestive times. In other words, your wrasses need more frequent meals. Provide your wrasses with at least 4 meals per day to keep them full and happy.
- Sufficient space – I cannot stress the importance of swimming space for wrasses enough. These fish are both active and territorial and require a lot of space to remain healthy, happy, and less aggressive. That being said, different types of wrasses come with different space requirements. Make sure you understand your wrasse’s space needs before investing in your reef tank.
- Keep water parameters stable – Not all wrasses are extra sensitive to environmental parameters, but some are. In their case, impeccable tank maintenance and clean waters are necessary to preserve them in good health and minimize their stress and aggressive tendencies.
- Don’t mix wrasses – These fish are especially territorial and aggressive towards other wrasses. Some are even intolerant towards members of their own species, forcing you to keep them solo. This further reinforces the idea of learning about your favorite wrasse thoroughly beforehand.
- Ensure sufficient hiding areas – Wrasses are not particularly shy but require a diverse environment with open spaces and sufficient hiding areas. A reef layout is ideal for them to take shelter whenever they feel necessary. This is much more important in a community setup where tensions can arise quickly between the tankmates.
- Thick sandy substrate – Most wrasses bury themselves in the substrate when resting or sleeping. So, ensure at least 2-3 inches of sand, depending on your wrasse’s size and how many of them you have.
These strategies should keep your wrasse calm and healthy in the long run.