Not Reef Tank Suitable
Likely Fish-Only Tank Suitable
These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Labroidei as members of the Family Labridae (Wrasses), which include 60 genera and 500+ species.
This is a very large family of fishes with only the Gobies family larger. Wrasses for the aquarium can be divided into two large groups: those that burrow and those that do not. They include some of the most difficult and easiest fishes to keep. They also have a wide variety of temperaments.
Wrasses are mostly long, cigar-shaped or flattened cigar-shaped fish. They swim basically using their side pectoral fins, and when a burst of speed is required, they use their caudal fin. Even though they do not have a large mouth, they do have strong lips with large, pointed teeth. So much the better to crush their favorite foodstuffs.
The burrowing wrasses of interest include the Anampses, Coris, Halichoeres, and Macropharyngodon genera. These wrasses hide under the sand at night and/or when frightened. Actually, this mode of sleeping can be quite beneficial in sandbed systems as it stirs up detritus that can then be carried by water currents to the mechanical filter. Some newly introduced specimens can remain buried for hours, sometimes days until they become comfortable with the photoperiod or their tankmates. Almost all species are diurnal and can be observed during the daytime.
Wrasses in the genera Bodianus, Gomphosus, Hemigymnus, Stethojulis, and Thalassoma sometimes bury themselves if extremely frightened. Usually, they sleep under rock shelves, on or under a coral branch, in a crevice, or directly on the sand surface. Some very active species will take occasional rest periods during the day.
All wrasses are hardy eaters and will take a wide variety of foodstuffs, including some form of algae. Most are very fond of worms, crabs, shrimp, urchins, snails, and mollusks. Some are parasite consumers, others are plankton feeders, and yet others eat coral polyps and/or other smaller fishes. Therefore, tankmates need to be carefully selected.
Many wrasses are simply too large or need more room than the average aquarium can provide. Some wrasses in the juvenile stage are easily frightened by larger tankmates and will spend most of their time buried in sand, slowly starving to death. Some exhibit stunning color changes and/or true sex changes where the female becomes a male, and some species have supermales that exhibit a totally different color pattern from the normal male.
As for those in certain genera, the following may be helpful;
Most of these wrasses are poor shippers and generally refuse to eat when first introduced into the aquarium. Live foods such as black worms or enriched adult brine shrimp may be necessary to induce a feeding response. They also should only be kept in aquaria with a deep sandbed, and when so, may often disturb bottom dwelling corals, such as brain corals. These wrasses should be considered marginal reef or fish-only aquarium fishes, as they can be difficult to maintain for any length of time. They are often timid and difficult to feed.
The wrasses/hogfish of this genus are usually territorial, require hiding places, may eat invertebrate, need lots of swimming room, may provide cleaning services, and mostly feed upon worms and crustaceans, therefore pose a danger in reef tanks. Will take a wide variety of foodstuffs.
There are nine species in this genus, yet only a few are suited for hobbyist aquariums if that! They do not burro, yet like to sleep in caves and crevices. All eat snails, worms (feather dusters) shrimp, crabs, brittle stars, sea stars, and smaller fishes, therefore they are not recommended for the reef aquarium. Most are also big eaters, and after a big meal can go days without feeding again.
Fairy Wrasses of this genus are composed of approximately 36 species. They are distributed throughout the Indo-West Pacific with most coming from the Western Pacific. Males are usually larger than females and mostly differ from females in coloration. Males usually live with several females and juveniles. They make good reef aquarium inhabitants if supplied with ample crevices and caves.
They do not bury themselves in the sand at night, as do many other wrasses. Instead, they form a mucus cocoon similar to some parrotfishes and/or wedge themselves into a rock crevice. It should be noted the cocoon remnants do not seem to harm water quality or other aquarium inhabitants. They feed on small crustaceans and are among the most beautiful of marine aquarium fishes, especially the male Scotts wrasse, C. scottorum. However, they are jumpers and the aquarium top should have some sort of cover, possibly an eggcrate cover, to prevent them from jumping out of the aquarium.
There is about 27 species in this genus, and some are fine as juveniles for the reef aquarium. Yet they grow destructive with age and are too big as adults, even for the average fish-only aquarium. They prefer bottom areas of fine sand, and spend much of their time turning over rock and coral rubble searching for small crustaceans. They bury themselves at night.
There is only one species in this genus, and it is commonly described as the Slingjaw Wrasse. The mouth of this species can extend outward about half the length of its body. When not in use to capture prey, it conveniently folds under the head. There are various color phases.
They are almost constant swimmers during the day and have a long snout to probe branches of coral and crevices for crabs, shrimp, and mollusks.
These wrasses are hardy, adapt well to aquarium life, peaceful, take a wide variety of foodstuffs, resistant to parasitic infections, and are compatible with other wrasses. They are usually found in outer reef areas, near rocky/coral rubble and sandy surroundings, yet may have an appetite for tubeworms.
Another one of those large wrasses that shows up from time-to-time in the trade as an attractive juvenile. Probably best left in nature.
Cleaner wrasses are extremely dependent upon other fish external parasites. Usually, their natural food supply is in very short supply in the aquarium and they often waste away.
All wrasses in this genus are usually referred to as Leopard Wrasses, and bury themselves in the sand during the night. They are mostly found over shallow bottom areas composed of rock and coral rubble near sandy surroundings. Some are hardy, peaceful, adapt well to aquarium life and accept a wide variety of foodstuffs making them good reef aquarium inhabitants. Others simply waste away no matter how well they are cared for.
The Dragon Wrasse is a notorious rock-mover, constantly looking for a meal under a small shell or rock. Can easily rearrange the decor in the aquarium.
They will eat snails, worms (including fire worms and feather dusters) shrimp (ornamental and mantis), crabs, brittle stars, sea stars, and small fish, therefore they are not recommended for the reef aquarium.
Members of this genus are considered flasher wrasses and closely related to Cirrhilabrus. There are about 13 different species. They are distributed throughout the Indo-West Pacific with most coming from the Philippine-Indonesian area. Males are usually larger than females and mostly differ from females in coloration. Males usually live with several females and juveniles. They usually make good reef aquarium inhabitants if supplied with ample crevices and caves. Feeds on zooplankton above reef areas. Should not be kept with more aggressive fishes, e.g., dottybacks and some damsels.
These wrasses are fairly secretive, very small, found amongst heavy coral growths, and some make good reef aquarium inhabitants.
Most common in shallow waters, and usually quite cryptic, spending its time among seagrass beds/macroalgae and often found in crevices on walls having a lot of invertebrate growths. Has a natural diet of zooplankton, benthic invertebrate and small fishes. Generally too secretive for aquariums, as they are very shy, therefore difficult to feed properly unless in aquaria with few very compatible tankmates.
These wrasses may sleep in the sandbed or in small caves and crevices. They are highly active swimmers, some juveniles associate with anemones, and they feed on benthic creatures and/or zooplankton in the water column.
If you chose carefully, there are many that do very well in the fish-only or reef aquariums.