All About Reef Safe Wrasses
Below, you will find sections about: these guidelines, wrasses which qualify as reef safe, the general requirements, feeding, shipping, quarantine, adding new wrasses to your system, mixing species and genera, the acclimation box, protogynous hermaphroditism & sexual dichromatism, “pairing” wrasses & harems, pricing and rarity, a section about each genus (Anampses, Cirrhilabrus, Halichoeres, Labroides, Macropharyngodon, Paracheilinus, Pseudocheilinus, Pseudocheilinops, Pseudojuloides, and Wetmorella), and lastly a list of popular species available in the USA with comments on each.
About these Guidelines
Before we go any further, a quick overarching note to keep in mind when reading through the following information. There are few rules here, but many guidelines. Some of which, I would not alter from, but some aquarists occasionally do and find success. However, I have attempted to provide what I believe to be the best, unbiased, universal set of guidelines available for the average hobbyist to successfully keep reef safe wrasses. With that being said, bear in mind these guidelines do not guarantee success, and nothing can ever trump an observant and caring aquarist. After all, we are dealing with wild animals here.
About Wrasses Which Qualify as Reef Safe
Well, of course that would be a wrasse which can be kept in a reef safely, right? But the problem here is, “safe in a reef” is not a universal definition and different people have different ideas as to what qualifies. Therefore, let’s consider three categories of wrasses: 1) Completely reef safe, 2) Mostly reef safe, and 3) Don’t even think about it. This write-up will focus on wrasses in categories 1 and 2. If a species and/or genus is not mentioned here, there’s a 90% chance it falls into category 3. There will be some species omitted which are a category 1 or 2, but they are omitted due to their obscurity in the trade. Additionally, there are some wrasses in the third category that some experienced reefers keep in their reef tanks, but they are well aware of what special measures are required for such to be possible.
Wrasses in category 1 do not pose any risk to your coral or motile invertebrates. Wrasses in category 2 also do not pose any risk to your coral, but may pose some risk to certain invertebrates. However, this risk is greatly minimized if you follow the guidelines in this article, mainly the feeding guidelines in the general guidelines listed below.
There are ten(ish) genera of wrasses which are considered to be reef safe and are commonly available in the trade. They are: Anampses, Cirrhilabrus, Halichoeres, Labroides, Macropharyngodon, Paracheilinus, Pseudocheilinus, Pseudocheilinops, Pseudojuloides, and Wetmorella. More about each genus follows further below.
About the General Requirements
The three big requirements for keeping wrasses, which cannot be stressed enough, are:
• Must be kept with appropriate tank mates. Basically, no aggressive fish. You need to have a relatively peaceful tank in order for it to be suitable for reef safe wrasses.
• They need to be feed several times per day. If the thought of supplying small amounts of food (nutrients) to your tank several times per day makes you cringe, look elsewhere. Wrasses are very active fish with a short digestive tract, and need a variety of meaty foods often in their diet to keep them healthy.
• Must be kept IN A COMPLETELY COVERED TANK. This is fundamentally essential. All wrasses are jumpers. They are a deep water fish and are not instinctually used to the surface being so near to them. Keep them in an uncovered tank, or one with any gaps, and it is simply a matter of time before they go carpet surfing. On that note, a wrasse with a 5/8” head will fit though a 1/2” hole. Don’t leave any opportunities for escape. If the head fits, the fish fits!
Some genera sleep or seek refuge in the sand. These genera require a sand bed in the tank of at least 1” in depth. Also, the sand does not need to be sugar-fine, but should not be as coarse as crushed coral – this can lead to abrasions and bacterial infections for the sand-sleepers. Sand 2-4mm in grain size is suitable. Only these genera require sand; other genera sleep in a mucus cocoon in the rockwork or crevices: Anampses, Halichoeres, Macropharyngodon, and Pseudojuloides.
Lastly, these points should go without saying, but I hate for them to go without consideration. You need to check the individual requirements of each species before you determine if a specific one is good for you. They all have their own requirements. Notably, please make sure you house them in an appropriate sized tank.
Wrasses should be fed small amounts of meaty foods at least 3-4 times per day. Offer a variety of foods. Feed a frozen meaty food at least twice per day and pellets or the like for another feeding each day. You may even offer nori once a week; some species will show interest, others will not. Feed small amounts dispersed throughout the tank in effort to ensure each fish gets their share, while limiting the amount to prevent excessive nutrients. A good skimmer is a must with a wrasse-dominant system if you desire to keep SPS corals. Keeping your wrasses well-fed is twofold; not only do they stay fat and healthy, but those species in the category 2 are less apt to go after your motile inverts.
On that note, it’s also somewhat important to understand feeding behaviors are common to a genus, in that some are only zooplankton feeders which only see items in the water column as objects of pray. Expect wrasses of the Cirrhilabrus and Paracheilinus genus to be strictly zooplankton feeders. On the other hand, other genera are more of a mix between zooplankton feeder and a benthic feeder which also see items on a surface (rock, sand, glass, frag plug, etc) as objects of pray.
A general note about all reef safe wrasses: they can ship poorly, and are easily stressed, especially during system transitions. The shipping “hardiness” is typically genus dependent. Often, terminal males do not ship as well as juveniles or smaller females, and for this reason many wrasse-keepers target their online purchases accordingly.
I am a strong advocate of quarantine for all new additions to your tank. I quarantine all wrasses I buy, no matter the purchase source. Sure, there are plenty of vendors on the market who offer conditioned and/or quarantined fish prior to sale, but no aquarist should inherently trust these policies. Granted, those sources do often offer the healthiest fish, and therefore the fish with the greatest chance for success.
There are many methods for fish quarantine. How you achieve such is up to you; there are hours of literature available for your research. I will offer my personal methods for you here, but realize some will disagree and argue there is no universal best practice for such.
Specifically for wrasses, my QT setup is very basic; a 10g bare bottom tank with a HOB filter and a small powerhead. The tank is tightly covered with a screen or the like leaving no escape opportunities (holes). The HOB filter will have some seeded media from my DT in it to ensure a good biological filter. I QT for a minimum of 6 weeks, and always do a least 2 rounds of Prazi-Pro. I do not start Prazi until the fish are eating well. The QT tank contains some pieces of PVC to offer cover for the fish. If the fish species is of sand-sleeping genus, then a “sand box” (a small plastic container with ~1” of sand) will be placed in the QT. I do not prophylactically treat with any other meds. If ich becomes present, I am not a fan of copper and will avoid such in favor of a known, proven alternative course of treatment.
About Adding New Wrasses to Your System
Always, always use an acclimation box! (More about such is below.) You must be vigilant when adding a wrasse to a system and when adding new arrivals. Please give a newly added wrasse time to adjust to their new system, up to a week or two. DO NOT go disturbing your tank looking for them; this will only add stress and hurt your chances of success. This especially applies to the sand burrowing genera; do not dig them up!
About Mixing Species and Genera
Mixing wrasses of different species or genus is generally possible. In fact, it is one of the big perks of keeping them; males of rival species will often display towards each other resulting in fantastic viewing. However, there is no exact science to mixing species; results when mixing wrasses will be variable but there certainly are some combinations which should always be avoided. A conscious aquarist should be mindful of such and keep a close eye on a system with multiple wrasses. Be observant for any problematic aggression, defined as any chasing which results in attack or nipping, or one wrasse constantly pushing another into hiding. It is entirely normal to see some occasional (brief) chasing and very normal to see some flashing (displays of finnage and color) between two wrasses.
Males of different species can be kept together, within the same genus (there’s a few species/species combination exceptions) or between different genera. The system must be large enough however; ensure the system size meets the needs of all species. Females of any species/genus will almost always mix just fine.
When mixing multiple wrasses in the same system, a hierarchy is established amongst them with the most dominant male at the top. However, size does not always matter here; the most dominant male is usually more so dependent on species. Changes in the hierarchy can and will happen when new fish are added to the tank, or when older fish die or are elsewise removed from the system. Occasionally, a less dominant male may later become the more dominant male with age and maturity, but this requires the former dominant male to submit to the new dominant male.
There are two exceptions to mixing wrasses which must always be avoided: 1) various species of wrasses of the genus Pseudocheilinus should not be mixed in the same system. In fact, Pseudocheilinus wrasses should be outright avoided if you desire multiple wrasses at all. And 2) caution should be expressed when mixing various species within the Macropharyngodon genus, especially two males. The bigger your tank, the more likely you will be successful here.
The one rule to never violate is keeping two dominant males of the same species together. This might work for a while, but surely will not end well. Furthermore, unless you are an experienced keeper, I would not advise two males of the same species together. While it is sometimes possible to have a dominant and sub-dominant male in the same system, please don’t give it a try unless you really know what you are doing.
When it comes to mixing Cirrhilabrus specifically, I have a helpful chart.
About the Acclimation Box
When adding new wrasses to a system already containing established wrasses, an acclimation box is a must. Place the new arrival(s) in the box for 2-3 days before releasing. During this time, observe the interaction between the new arrival(s) and the established tank mates. If aggressive behavior is witnessed and does not subside, you should rethink the release of the new addition(s). You may want to extend the acclimation period (say 4-5 days) and observe if the behavior subsides or changes. Generally, the acclimation box gives everyone enough time to “size each other up”, and much potential aggression is avoided as the hierarchy becomes established through visual interaction.
For further reading on this topic, see the full article.
There are a few options for acclimation boxes currently on the market. I prefer those with a white bottom, as it helps calm the fish inside, rather than stress trying to "swim through" a transparent bottom box.
About Protogynous Hermaphroditism & Sexual Dichromatism
Wrasses are protogynous hermaphrodites. Settled as a juvenile, they all start as female. Females then transition to male in the wild as the environment (harem conditions and space) require. Females can/may transition to male in a closed system as well, which often occurs if kept in the presence of other males of a different or same species.
As females transition, they become a transitional male, or sometimes called a sub-male. During this transitional state, a reversal back to female is technically possible and occasionally happens in the wild, but should not be expected in captivity. If the transition progresses, eventually the state of terminal male is reached. It is at this point the process is, in fact, terminal; reversal back to female is not possible. Another term which is frequently used in the trade is “super male”. This term typically is used to designate the most dominate male of a harem, which also develops the boldest and brightest coloration. However, in the trade it is more often used for males with better-than-average coloration.
In many genera, males are much more colorful than females for any given species. This is known as sexual dichromatism. Further, it is this color change which visually signals when an individual female becomes a transitional male as well as a terminal male. However, both of these points (transitional and terminal) are a bit subjective visually and difficult to state with certainty. Unfortunately, with significant frequency I see specimens for sale with their sex incorrectly labeled (this is even true for “pairs” sometimes sold). Females which are truly female are a bit hard to find in the trade, as they are not collected as frequently as males. The reason is simple; the females are plain in comparison to the males of most species, and therefore males offer a larger payday for the collector.
The genera which are sexually dichromatic are: Anampses, Cirrhilabrus, Halichoeres, Macropharyngodon (to various degrees – some species are subtle), Paracheilinus, and Pseudojuloides.
These genera are not sexually dichromatic: Labroides, Pseudocheilinus, Pseudocheilinops, and Wetmorella.
About “Pairing” Wrasses, or Harems
In the wild, most genera of wrasses live in harems, which consists of a group of females to one dominant male. Often, there are a few transitional males in this group as well, which are essentially males-in-waiting – waiting for their chance to overtake the current or become the new dominant male. Within this harem, there is an established hierarchy; there are no bonded or mated relationships – it is all about the dominance of the terminal male and submission of the females and transitional males. This behavior is similar to that of anthias; wrasses do not “pair” like clown fish do.
In aquaria, it is rather difficult to successfully duplicate nature, in that all females tend to eventually transition to male, regardless of the presence of a more dominant male. Often, when this occurs in the presence of a dominant male, the new male may end up with best coloration. However, the survival of the old male is always questionable, and sometimes removal of one male becomes necessary for obvious aggression. For these reasons, I no longer bother with more than one specimen of a single species except in certain (rare) circumstances. I have attempted to keep a male/female pair/trio from the Cirrhilabrus, Halichoeres, and Paracheilinus genera, only to always result in all females turning to male with time.
Therefore, as an alternative to keeping pairs/trios/harems of wrasses in aquaria, an aquarist may wish to keep single specimens of each species mixed with others. So long as certain species are avoided, selections are made carefully, and in accords with the “About Mixing Species and Genera” section above, the results should be rewarding. Each specimen is highly likely to eventually transition to male, providing the best coloration. As an added bonus, the hierarchy of the group lends to displays of finnage and “flashing” of colors on frequent occasions for delightful viewing. However, the only catch with this approach is that some patience may be required. If specimens are purchased as juveniles or females, it may be a while before they transition into males. This time frame is widely variable, and depends not only on the fish’s age & maturity, but also the hierarchy established amongst the tank mates. In short, the timing is complicated, and may be as short as a few weeks to many, many months.
For more on “pairing”, see this section (portions of the above are taken from here).
About Prices and Rarity
The pricing of wrasses is rather all over the map, from a few dollars to a few thousand. Pricing is mostly species dependent, with juveniles and females being the cheapest and terminal males being the most expensive. The pricing for each species is a matter of many factors, with supply & demand only a minor contributor. More so, pricing is driven by the logistics of collection, transit, and shipping. Some species are only found at considerable depths in remote locations, which of course complicates the collection process. A small subset of species is only found at rather extreme depths, beyond the capability of scuba. For these, a rebreather diver is required, which further narrows the pool of collectors around the world. It is this latter set of wrasses which are typically labeled as rare, but this is not to imply they are rare in the wild, only rare within the trade. Accordingly, the price tag of these species may approach or exceed four figures, a part of which covers the skill, risk, and difficulty of collecting them.
Often referred to as “Tamarin” wrasses, species of this genus are not for the inexperienced keeper. While this genus can be hardy if healthy and established in a system, achieving such is generally not a simple task. This genus stresses very easily in transit, and often ships very poorly (males especially). They are also prone to mouth injury after collection. If you find a specimen for sale of this genus and must have it, inspect the mouth/jaws carefully and insure there are no signs of injury. I would also recommend insuring the specimen is accepting prepared foods when offered. A sand bed is a requirement for this genus, as they will bury at night or when frightened. A bit of both category 1 & 2 in terms of reef-safeness. Large males can be closer to category 2; smaller species and females are almost always a category 1.
The crown jewel genus. Beautiful, peaceful (usually), very active, and smart, these often come with a great personality as well. These are the “Fairy” wrasses. Generally hardy, but like most wrasse genera these are also prone to shipping stress. So long as they will be entering a suitable system with compatible tank mates, this isn’t much of a concern with this genus however. Cirrhilabrus wrasses take to prepared foods very easily, and are voracious eaters. If a specimen is not eating, health concerns are certainly justified. Sexual dichromatism is high within the genus. Females are highly likely to transition to male if kept amongst other Cirrhilabrus of the same of different species. The genus does not need a sand bed, as they will sleep within the rockwork in a mucus cocoon. Category 1 in terms of reef-safeness.
A very large genus with a wide variety of species (over 75). Only some of these species are commonly offered in the trade. Most of the ones which enter the trade fall into category 2 on the “reef safe” scale. Some however, fall into category 3 as they readily consume inverts, but typically these are the species which exceed 7” in length as adults. Those in category 2 usually do not pose a significant risk to inverts if they are feed properly. I do not hesitate to keep some wrasses of this genus in my personal reef. This genus readily accepts prepared foods and will also spend most of the day searching for food amongst the rock work and sand bed in a tank. They will consume pods and various pests. A sand bed is a requirement for this genus, as they will bury at night or when frightened. Category 2 & 3 in terms of reef-safeness; see above.
I hesitate to even include this genus, as I reservations against even buying them, let alone keeping them or recommending them for a reef tank. These are the “cleaner” wrasses, as in the wild they remove dead scales/tissue from other reef fish, but primarily feed off of the slime coat of others. My reservations against buying/keeping this genus are due to the following reason: they usually cannot be sustained long term in a closed system as a diet of prepared foods does not offer them the range of nutrition they require. In a small system, they can also harasses other tank mates for cleanings to the point of problematic levels. There are some success stories about keeping a cleaner wrasse long term, but for each success there are hundreds of failures. You are probably better off skipping them. Category 1 in terms of reef-safeness, provided they actually belong to the genus above. There are some wrasses sold as "cleaners" which are not as adults.
The “Leopard” wrasses. A very delicate genus, they are exceptionally prone to shipping and collection stress. These are not for the inexperienced keeper. They can also be difficult to wean onto prepared foods. Specimens for purchase should be well inspected for any trauma and ensure they are accepting prepared foods. Make sure they are actually swallowing prepared foods, as often they will spit them back out before this change in diet has been accepted. Even if a specimen is healthy and eating well, the species in this genus easily stress upon any move from one system to another. They are also quite prone to flukes and treatment with Prazi upon purchase is recommended. Once added to a new system, it is not uncommon from them to disappear in the sand bed for a week (or even up to two). Let them be. You will see them again in time if all goes well. Do not go dig them up. A sand bed is a requirement for this genus, as they will bury at night or when frightened. Category 1 in terms of reef-safeness.
The “Flasher” wrasses. A very active genus with several colorful species, in many ways these are quite similar to the Cirrhilabrus genus except they remain much smaller. The common name arises naturally from the male’s behavior of “flashing”, either for territorial display or courting, where the dorsal and anal fins are erected and blood rushes to the scales, resulting in quite the display of color and posture. This is a generally hardy genus, but like the others is prone to shipping stress. However, like the Cirrhilabrus genus, this is not much concern if they are bound for an appropriate system. They are voracious eaters and take to prepared foods easily. There is also quite the discernable difference between male and females of the same species. Females are very hard to come by in the trade as divers do not often collect them due to their dull coloration in contrast to the males. Species in this genus do not need a sand bed, as they will sleep within the rockwork in a mucus cocoon. Category 1 in terms of reef-safeness.
The “Lined” wrasses, such as the Sixline, Fourline, etc., but also include such species as the Mystery Wrasse. Once established in a system, they often become quite confrontational towards new additions and are outright incompatible with other wrasses. For this reason, most should avoid the genus. However, they do hold some merit in the hobby as they can be a great addition in the appropriate setting. This is a very hardy genus and will readily hunt for pods and pests throughout the system. Therefore, they are a great addition to frag tanks or other small systems which are not suited for the larger genera. As much of a bully as they generally are, they are also notorious for being shy when observers are around. Species in this genus do not need a sand bed, as they will sleep within the rockwork in a mucus cocoon. Category 2 in terms of reef-safeness.
A genus which contains a sole species; P. ataenia – the pink streak wrasses. A sister genus to that of Pseudocheilinus, but the attitude could not be any more divergent. The species is exceptionally peaceful and remains under 2.5”; very suitable for 20 to 30 gallon systems. Sometimes shy, and does not need a sand bed as they will sleep within the rockwork in a mucus cocoon. Category 1 in terms of reef-safeness.
The “pencil” wrasses. Another very delicate species, but can be hardy once established. Ensure they are eating prior to purchasing to greatly improve the odds of success. The difficultly level is slightly greater than that of the Macropharyngodon (leopard) genus; not a genus for the novice keeper. A very active genus and one which certainly requires frequent feedings. The genus is also rather passive, and does not mix well with other wrasses which are much more aggressive. Unique to this genus, males (transitional males) are very prone to reversion to female if a more dominant wrasse is present in the system. A sand bed is a requirement for this genus, as they will bury at night or when frightened. Category 1 in terms of reef-safeness.
The “Possum” wrasses. A very shy and docile genus, they can be a bit cryptic at times in a system. They do not often exceed three inches and are one of the few genera well suited for the popular 30ish gallon cube systems. Usually they are very slow eaters and graze for pods all throughout the day. Pair only with appropriate tank mates, as a Wetmorella species which is picked on will lead to its demise. Species in this genus do not need a sand bed, as they will sleep within the rockwork in a mucus cocoon. Category 1 in terms of reef-safeness.
About Popular Species (by Genus) Available in the USA
A. caeruleopunctatus “Blue Spotted Tamarin”: Occasionally available & affordable, but does reach quite a large size (16"). Mature adults are very different in appearance from the juvi's sometimes for sale.
A. chrysocephalus “Red Tail Tamarin” (female) or “Psych-Head Tamarin” (male): Likely the most popular species of this genus, and can fair well if you pick according to the aforementioned guidelines. Females adapt to captivity much better than males.
A. femininus “Blue-Striped Tamarin”: Absolutely stunning, with an equally stunning price tag, when rarely available.
A. lennardi “Lennardi Wrasse” or “Blue and Yellow Wrasse”: Almost as beautiful as the A. femininus, but has a more broken pattern. This is cooler water fish, and will not do well above 76F. At this time, long term success with this fish has been non-existent (with the exception of very few). May require an even cooler environment.
A. meleagrides “Yellow-tail Tamarin”: Very similar to the Red-Tail Tamarin, just with a yellow tail. Same comments apply.
A. neoguinaicus “Black-Backed Tamarin”: Rarely available, as it's a poor intercontinental shipper. But when available, and in good health, can be a great addition.
A. twistii “Yellow-Breasted Tamarin”: Often available and affordable. One of the smallest Anampses, but can sometimes be a bit more aggressive than most (still rather mild, however).
C. adornatus “Adorned Fairy”: Generally available in the trade, not overly expensive. Is almost always aggressive with other Cirrhilabrus..
C. aurantidorsalis “Orange-Backed Fairy”: Very saturated colors and not overly expensive, but can be prone to fading coloration in captivity. Usually peaceful with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. balteatus “Gridled Fairy”: Somewhat rare in the trade, moderately priced. Mostly peaceful with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. bathiphilus “Hooded Fairy”: Somewhat rare in the trade, expensive but beautiful. Three known regional variants. Can be somewhat aggressive with other Cirrhilabrus once established, but usually not to the point which will prohibit others.
C. beauperryi “Beau's Fairy”: Somewhat rare in the trade; closely related to C. punctatus. Very prone to fading coloration in captivity. Usually peaceful with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. claire “Clair’s Fairy”: Rarely available and extremely expensive. Only known to the Cook Islands but has another variant found in Tahiti (possibly a different species). Peaceful.
C. condei “Conde’s Fairy”: Often available, inexpensive. Usually very aggressive.
C. cyanopleura “Blue-Sided Fairy”: One of the larger species in the genus (6”). Usually peaceful. There is a great deal of variation within this species depending upon collection region.
C. earlei “Earl's Fairy”: Rarely available and very expensive. Collection is remote and requires rather deep diving. Usually peaceful with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. exquisitus “Exquisite Fairy”: Commonly available, not overly expensive. There is wide color variation amongst the species dependent upon collection region. Peaceful.
C. filamentosus “Whip-Fin Fairy”: Commonly available, inexpensive. One of the more aggressive Cirrhilabrus. Use extreme caution if mixing with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. flavidorsalis “Yellow-fin Fairy”: One of the smallest of the genus. Often available at an affordable cost. While generally not overly aggressive, they will stand their ground quite well for their size.
C. isosceles “Pintail Fairy”: Prior known as cf. lanceolatus, the species is much more closely related to C. lunatus. Once rarely ever available, supply is now regular from the northern Philippians. Moderately expensive and usually very peaceful.
C. joanallenae “Joan's Fairy”: Sometimes available, somewhat affordable. Closely related to rubriventralis and can be differentiated by the pelvic fins being entirely black. Can sometimes be aggressive with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. johnsoni “Johnson's Fairy”: Sometimes available, expensive. Collection is remote and the according logistics drive the price. Fantastic displays when flashing. One of the smallest of the genus and rather peaceful.
C. jordani “Flame Wrasse”: Often available, somewhat expensive. Very vibrant coloration amongst both males and females, but dominant males are beautiful. Can be somewhat aggressive towards other Cirrhilabrus additions once very well established.
C. katherinae “Katherine’s Fairy”: Rarely available, somewhat expensive. Very closely related to C. balteatus, but their ranges do not overlap. Same traits/behavior apply however.
C. katoi “Kato’s Fairy”: Recently became available (2015) being found in the northern Philippians. Prior was only known to Japan. Moderately expensive, moderately aggressive.
C. laboutei “Labout’s Fairy”: Occasionally available, rather expensive. Beautiful coloration, subtle variation between males and females. Peaceful when young, can become aggressive with maturity.
C. lineatus “Lineatus Fairy”: Occasionally available, rather expensive. Dominant males are beyond stunning. Peaceful, except with C. rubrimarginatus.
C. lubbocki “Lubbock’s Fairy”: One of the smallest of the genus. Often available at an affordable cost. Two variants of coloration. While generally not overly aggressive, they will stand their ground quite well for their size.
C. lunatus “Lunate Fairy”: Rarely available, expensive. Several different regional variants exist. Collection is remote. One of the smallest of the genus and usually rather shy.
C. luteovittatus “Velvet Multicolor Fairy” or “Yellow-Banded Fairy”: One of the larger species in the genus (6”). Can be acclimated to bright lighting (I have kept one at one point), but does prefer dimmer tanks. Usually peaceful with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. marjorie “Marjorie’s Fairy”: One of the smallest of the genus. Sometimes available and somewhat expensive. While generally not overly aggressive, they will stand their ground quite well for their size.
C. melanomarginatus “Black Fin Fairy”: Sometimes available, somewhat expensive. A very close cousin to C. scottorum and nearly as aggressive too. Also prone to fading of the color saturated highlights.
C. nahackyi “Nahacky's Fairy”: Somewhat rare in the trade, expensive. Can be somewhat aggressive with other Cirrhilabrus once established, but usually not to the point which will prohibit others. Closely related to bathiphilus.
C. naokoae “Naoko’s Fairy”: Occasionally available, rather expensive. Can be quite aggressive with other Cirrhilabrus, use caution.
C. punctatus “Fine-Spotted Fairy”: Somewhat rare in the trade. Very prone to fading coloration in captivity. Usually peaceful with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. pylei “Pyle’s Fairy”: Often available, moderately priced. Two different regional variants. Almost always aggressive with other Cirrhilabrus, and generally aggressive to others as well. Severity of aggression depends on individual specimens.
C. rhomboidalis “Golden Rhomboid Fairy”: Occasionally available, rather expensive. These are stunningly beautiful however, and have a gold-foil appearance you must see to appreciate. Generally peaceful.
C. roseafascia “Rose-Banded Fairy”: Occasionally available, somewhat expensive. Almost always very aggressive with other Cirrhilabrus, use caution.
C. rubrimarginatus “Pink Margin Fairy”: Occasionally available, somewhat expensive. Generally peaceful, except with C. lineatus.
C. rubripinnis “Red-fin Fairy”: Often available, affordable. Can sometimes be mildly aggressive with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. rubrisquamis “Red Velvet Fairy”: Often available, somewhat expensive. Very much on the aggressive side for Cirrhilabrus wrasses, don’t mix with others which are passive/peaceful. 50/50 chance of aggression when mixing with C. jordani. Best kept without other wrasses.
C. rubriventralis “Long-fin Fairy”: Often available, affordable. Can sometimes be aggressive with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. scottorum “Scott’s Fairy”: Occasionally available, somewhat expensive. Very prone to fading coloration in captivity, males will lose their red spot and other saturated colors. Often the most aggressive of the genus and should not be kept with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. solorensis “Red-Headed Solon Fairy”: Commonly available, inexpensive. Generally aggressive with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. temminckii “Temminck's Fairy”: Sometimes available, somewhat inexpensive. Quite a few different regional variants, somewhat prone to fading coloration in captivity. Moderately aggressive with other Cirrhilabrus.
C. tonozukai “Tonozukai's Fairy”: Very similar to C. filamentosus in body shape, but with a different color palate. Sometimes available, not terribly expensive. And they can more peaceful than C. filamentosus, but still pack an attitude.
Quite simply, there are too many species which could be covered here. Hence, “popular” is the key word.
H. biocellatus "Red-Lined Wrasse": Commonly available, inexpensive. One of the smaller species of the genus and also very mild in temperament. One of the best choices of Halichoeres for a reef tank.
H. claudia “Christmas Wrasse”: Often available, inexpensive. Usually very peaceful and does not pick on inverts often. However, it is often confused with ornatissimus. Usually peaceful with other Halichoeres wrasses.
H. chloropterus "Green Coris Wrasse": As with a "Yellow Coris", this isn't a Coris wrasse at all. The common name is very misleading. Also misleading is the "Green" part, as they are only green as a juvi. As they mature, they're more of a drab olive green-gray color, and they also get quite a bit feisty. Many motile inverts will be on the menu as an adult. Usually available and inexpensive, however.
H. chrysus “Canary Wrasse” or “Yellow Coris Wrasse” (*cringe*): First, I do not like the reference to “coris” this species can sometimes be commonly referred as, since it implies the species is a member of the Coris genus, which it is certainly not. Commonly available, inexpensive. Usually very peaceful and do not often pick on inverts at all. Usually peaceful with other Halichoeres wrasses. Males get a “sunset” looking horizontal stripes on the face once mature.
H. cosmetus "Adorned Wrasse": Sporadically available, affordable. Another species on the smaller side for the genus, and is also very mild in temperament.
H. iridis “Radiant Wrasse”: Commonly available, rather inexpensive. Sharp contrast of color, must be seen to be appreciated. Usually peaceful with other Halichoeres; often does not show any interest in inverts but may pick at feather dusters.
H. lecoxanthus “Yellow and Purple Wrasse”: Usually available, inexpensive. Looks like a H. chrysus, but has a white to pale purple belly. Behavior is the same.
H. marginatus "Dusky Wrasse": Usually available, affordable. One of the larger species (7") which is suitable for some reefs. Usually somewhat mild in temperament, but may have a taste for motile inverts as an adult.
H. melanurus “Melanurus Wrasse”: Usually available, relatively inexpensive. May occasionally target snails and/or crabs (including hermits). Usually peaceful with other Halichoeres wrasses.
H. melasmapomus "Earmuff Wrasse": Occasionally available, somewhat expensive. While they have been recorded up to 9" in length, I have never seen one over 6". However, there is certainly propensity for this one to get large. Mostly mild in temperament.
H. ornatissimus "Ornate Wrasse": Common available and inexpensive. This one is also commonly (and incorrectly, IMO) labeled as a "Christmas Wrasse", but this species is VERY different from H. claudia. This one gets much larger (7"), and typically gets somewhat mean once mature. Also LOVES motile inverts. Avoid this one for a peaceful reef.
H. richmondi "Richmond's Wrasse": Sometimes available, somewhat affordable. Somewhat similar in appearance and behavior to a melanurus, yet the head is of a different shape and the coloration is predominantly blue/green. Up to 7.5" in length.
H. rubricephalus "Red-Head Wrasse": Occasionally available, expensive. While gorgeous, this one is a delicate species. In addition, the characteristic red head is prone to fading quite a bit without a conspecific female. Very mild in temperament, however.
M. bipartitus “Blue Star Leopard Wrasse” or “African Leopard Wrasse”: Usually available, moderately priced. Two variants dependent upon collection region. One of the more popular and hardy species of the genus, but not for the beginner. Peaceful with other genera, use caution when mixing with the same genus.
M. choati “Choat’s Wrasse”: The crown jewel of the leopard wrasses, but also the most delicate and toughest to keep. Rarely available and very expensive. Peaceful with other genera, use caution when mixing with the same genus.
M. geoffroy “Potter’s Wrasse”: Sometimes available, moderately priced. An extremely delicate species, with about a 50/50 chance of success. Experienced keepers only. Peaceful with other genera, use caution when mixing with the same genus.
M. kuiteri "Kuiter's Wrasse": Rarely available, somewhat expensive. A delicate shipper like the rest, but quite hardy once eating and established. Getting them to eat is usually the challenge once you get them. This species can be more aggressive than the other Macropharyngodon, I would not mix them with others of the genus. Can be mixed with other genera, however it's best to add this species last.
M. meleagris “Leopard Wrasse”: Usually available, moderately priced. One distinguishable sub-species. One of the more popular and hardy species of the genus, but not for the beginner. Peaceful with other genera, use caution when mixing with the same genus.
M. negrosensis “Black-Spotted Leopard Wrasse”: Sometimes available, moderately priced. Again, not for the beginner. Peaceful with other genera, use caution when mixing with the same genus.
M. ornatus “Ornate Leopard Wrasse”: Usually available, moderately priced. One of the few species in the genus where males are easily distinguishable from females. One of the more popular and hardy species of the genus, but not for the beginner. Peaceful with other genera, use caution when mixing with the same genus.
P. angulatus "Royal Flasher": Occasionally available, somewhat affordable. Similar in behavior in appearance as P. filamentosus, but has a straight dorsal fin with no filaments. Peaceful with other flashers and wrasses.
P. attenuatus “Diamond Tail Flasher”: Sometimes available, somewhat expensive. Found near Kenya, this species was not available in the past. Magnificently stunning when flashing. Peaceful with other flashers and wrasses.
P. carpenteri “Carpenter’s Flasher”: Usually available, moderately priced. 2-4 filaments on the dorsal fin, anal fin is pinkish in color and red on the outer part only (AKA “Pink Flasher”). Peaceful with other flashers and wrasses.
P. cyaneus “Blue Flasher”: Commonly available, inexpensive. Distinguishable from the P. lineopunctatus via a swept tail (whereas the P. lineopunctatus has a flat tail). Peaceful with other flashers and wrasses.
P. filamentosus “Filamented Flasher”: Commonly available, affordable. Has many filaments on the dorsal fin and has a swept tail. Often have red stripes along the body. Peaceful with other flashers and wrasses.
P. flavianalis “Yellow-Fin Flasher”: Usually available, inexpensive. 1-4 filaments on the dorsal fin, anal fin is yellow in color. Peaceful with other flashers and wrasses.
P. lineopunctatus “Line-Spot Flasher”: Commonly available, inexpensive. Distinguishable from the P. cyaneus via a flat tail (whereas the P. cyaneus has a swept tail). Peaceful with other flashers and wrasses.
P. mccoskeri “McCosker’s Flasher”: Commonly available, inexpensive. 1 filament on the dorsal fin. Red only appears on the anal fin (which is all red to a deep burgundy); the dorsal fin and tail have no red. Peaceful with other flashers and wrasses.
P. octotaenia "Eight-lined Flasher": Occasionally available, somewhat expensive. Not to be confused with Pseudocheilinus octotaenia; these are a VERY different species. This is a big and feisty species for the genus; will grow to over 4". Much more aggressive than most Paracheilinus, and even some Cirrhilabrus, but is still compatible with both. This one definitely needs a larger tank than most other Paracheilinus, however.
P. rubricaudalis “Red-Tail Flasher”: Sometimes available, expensive. 1 filament on the dorsal fin. Has a signature red tail and red in the dorsal fin. Peaceful with other flashers and wrasses.
P. ataenia “Pink-Streaked Wrasse”: Sometimes available, affordable. This species used to be classified as a Pseudocheilinus, but was reclassified in its own genus. A small species and somewhat shy. Very passive and should be suitable with other wrasses of a different genus.
P. evanidus “Pin-Striped Wrasse”: Sometimes available, affordable. The most shy of the genus. Does not play well with other wrasses.
P. hexataenia “Sixline Wrasse”: Commonly available, inexpensive. Just like the rest of the genus, usually becomes quite the bully. Great for pest control however. Does not play well with other wrasses.
P. ocellatus “Mystery Wrasse”: Often available, somewhat expensive. Likes to consume shrimp when you’re not looking. Can get quite large for the genus. Does not play well with other wrasses.
P. octotaenia “Eightline Wrasse”: Sometimes available, affordable. Two color variations dependant upon collection region. May consume shrimp and crabs. Can get quite large for the genus. Does not play well with other wrasses.
P. tetrataenia “Fourline Wrasse”: Often available, affordable. Very similar to a sixline in both coloration and behavior. Does not play well with other wrasses.
P. atavai “Polynesian Pencil”: Rarely available and very expensive. Also very difficult to sustain long term; there may be some still locked secrets for this species. An example of a species where both males and females are very striking and totally different in appearance. Avoid unless you seek an expensive challenge.
P. cerasinus “Small Tail Pencil”: Hawaiian endemic and the most popular species of the genus. Males are green with black/blue accents; females are mostly pink. Hardy once established, but a poor shipper. Buy locally if possible.
P. kaleidos “Kaleido’s Pencil”: Occasionally available, generally affordable. Very similar in appearance to P. cerasinus, but the markings are slightly different. Males are mostly green and females are mostly a dusky pink with some ombre at the head.
P. severnsi “Royal Pencil”: A very colorful species, but somewhat difficult to get established in a system. Once you reach that point however, the species is easy. Best to buy locally and ensure they are eating readily.
W. albofasciata “White Banded Possum Wrasse”: Commonly available, inexpensive. Somewhat shy and peaceful.
W. nigropinnata “Yellow Banded Possum Wrasse”: Commonly available, inexpensive. Somewhat shy and peaceful.
W. tanakai "Tanaka's Possum Wrasse": Sometimes available, a bit more expensive than the other two but still affordable. Peaceful.