fishes text index | photo index
Phylum Chordata > Subphylum Vertebrate > fishes
Family Labridae
updated Sep 2020

if you learn only 3 things about them ...
They belong to the second largest family of fishes after gobies.
Young fish may look very different from adults.
Some can give a nasty bite. Don't touch them!

Where seen? These colourful fishes are sometimes seen on many of our shores. Among the more colourful little fishes to be seen in tide pools at low tide, wrasses are nevertheless often overlooked as they are often well hidden. Many are active during the day, sheltering during the night in hiding places. Small ones may burrow into sand.

What are wrasses? Wrasses belong to the Family Labridae. This is the second largest family of fishes after the gobies. According to FishBase: the family has 60 genera and 500 species, found in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans and coming in a wide range of sizes and colours. Being such a large family, wrasses come in a wide range of sizes and habits. They range from small fish 8cm long to large ones up to 40cm long. The Napolean wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) can grow to 2m long and weigh up to 180kgs!

Many wrasses are brightly coloured, mostly greenish but with patterns of blue, yellow and red. Often young fish are different from the adults, their colours and patterns changing as they develop. As adults, they also change colours during breeding season, the males usually becoming more brightly coloured. Some may also change colours to match their surroundings. This is why wrasses are sometimes difficult to identify.

Well camouflaged!
Tuas, Apr 08

Often half buried in the sand.
Pulau Sekudu, Apr 06

Seen from above.
Pulau Sekudu, Apr 06
Wrasse food: Most wrasses are carnivorous predators and eat small crustaceans, snails and worms. Most wrasses have thick lips and sharp canine teeth that stick out. Mostly solitary hunters, they can be aggressive towards others of their own kind. Some wrasses may also scavange. Some eat plankton, and a few eat parasites off larger fish (see below). Many are sand burrowers.

An intriguing member of this family is the Cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus). This little wrasse performs cleaning services for larger fishes and sea creatures, picking parasites and dead skin off them. Marine 'clients' often form a patient queue at a cleaning station manned by the Cleaner wrasse, allowing the little fish to enter their mouth and gills without eating it.

Wrasse babies: Wrasses can change their gender! Most wrasses grow to become females first. A female can turn into a fully functional male within a few days. In some species, each male has a harem of females. When the male dies, the largest female changes gender and takes his place. In some species, however, there are two kinds of males. One that is born a male (primary male), and another that was born a female and later turned male. Primary males can produce more sperm than those that change into males; however, primary males usually wear the colours of a female! Mating wrasses rise up to the water surface together, releasing eggs and sperm simultaneously.

Caught by a Carpet eel-blenny.
Cyrene Reef, Jun 16

Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on his blog.

Often seen in abandoned nets and traps.
Pulau Semakau, Jan 17
Human uses: Being colourful and lively, wrasses of various kinds are extensively harvested from the wild for the live aquarium trade. Some large ones are harvested as food. The Napolean wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) is a large fish that is being over-collected as a luxury food item for the Chinese market. These gentle, intelligent fishes can live for 50 years and reach up to 180kgs. Unsustainable harvesting of these fishes may doom them to extinction.

Status and threats: None of our wrasses are listed among the threatened animals of Singapore. However, like other creatures of the intertidal zone, they are affected by human activities such as reclamation and pollution. Over-collection can also impact on local populations.

Elsewhere, harvesting of wrasses large and small may involve the use of cyanide or blasting, which damage the habitat and kill many other creatures. Like other fish and creatures harvested for the live aquarium trade, most die before they can reach the retailers. Without professional care, most die soon after they are sold. Those that do survive are unlikely to breed.

Some Wrasses on Singapore shores

Family Labridae recorded for Singapore
from Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore.
*from Lim, Kelvin K. P. & Jeffrey K. Y. Low, 1998. A Guide to the Common Marine Fishes of Singapore.
^from WORMS
+Other additions (Singapore Biodiversity Record, etc)

  Family Labridae

Chellinus chlorurus=^Cheilinus chlorourus (Floral wrasse)
Cheilinus fasciatus
(Red-banded maori wrasse)
Cheilinus oligacanthus
(Singapore tuskfish)
Cheilinus trilobatus=^Cheilinus trilobatus

Choerodon anchorago
(Anchor tuskfish)
Choerodon schoenleinii
(Black-spot tuskfish)

Coris gaimard

Duymaeria binotopsis
Duymaeria filamentosa

Duymaeria nematopterus

Epibulus insidiator

+Halichoeres argus
(Argus wrasse)
Halichoeres bicolor
(Brown-stripe wrasse)
Halichoeres binotopsis
Halichoeres chloropterus
(Pastel-green wrasse)
Halichoeres dayi
*Halichoeres dussumieri=^Halichoeres nigrescens
(Diamond tuskfish)
+Halichoeres erdmanni
(Erdmann’s wrasse)
Halichoeres gymnocephalus=^Halichoeres chloropterus
Halichoeres hoeveni=^Halichoeres melanurus
Halichoeres hyrtlii=^Halichoeres bicolor
Halichoeres javanicus=^Halichoeres nigrescens
Halichoeres leparensis=^Halichoeres argus
Halichoeres melanochir
(Orangefin wrasse)
Halichoeres nigrescens
Halichoeres papiolionaceus
*Halichoeres purpurescens
(Silty wrasse)
Halichoeres ransonneti
Halichoeres reichei=^Halichoeres nebulosus
Halichoeres scapularis=^Halichoeres scapularis

Hemigymnus melapterus
Hemiptronotus pendactylus

+Iniistius trivittatus
(Triplebar razorfish)

^Labroides dimidiatus

+Leptojulis cyanopleura (Shoulder-spot wrasse)

+Oxycheilinus digramma (Cheek-lined Maori-wrasse)

Pteragogus sp. (Weedy wrasse) and list of species recorded for Singapore.

Stethojulis axillaris=^Stethojulis balteata
Stethojulis interrupta
(Cutribbon wrasse)
Stethojulis renardi=^Stethojulis strigiventer
Stethojulis strigiventer
Stethojulis trilineata

Thalassoma lunare
(Moon wrasse)



  • Adib Adris & Vincent Ting. 29 May 2020. Floral wrasse at Seringat-Kias. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2020: 56 ISSN 2345-7597
  • Adib Adris. 30 April 2020. Erdmann’s wrasse off Lazarus Island. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2020: 45 ISSN 2345-7597
  • Adib Adris. 20 December 2019. A moon wrasse (Thalassoma lunare) off Lazarus Island. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2019: 156 ISSN 2345-7597, National University of Singapore.
  • Daisuke Taira. A Singapore record of the cutribbon wrasse, Stethojulis interrupta. 31 October 2018. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2018: 114 ISSN 2345-7597. National University of Singapore.
  • Daisuke Taira. A cheek-lined Maori-wrasse in the Singapore Strait. 22 June 2018. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2018: 65 ISSN 2345-7597. National University of Singapore.
  • Daisuke Taira. 29 Sep 2017. Argus wrasses at Pulau Seringat. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2017: 131-132.
  • Marcus F. C. Ng. 31 Oct 2017. Singapore tuskfish at Cyrene Reef Singapore Biodiversity Records 2017: 147
  • Jeffrey K. Y. Low & Koh Kwan Siong. 29 January 2016. Recent sightings of shoulder-spot wrasse in Singapore waters, Leptojulis cyanopleura. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2016: 12
  • Jeffrey K. Y. Low. 21 August 2015. Pastel-green wrasse in the Singapore Strait. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2015: 114
  • Jeffrey K. Y. Low. 29 May 2015. Orangefin wrasse at Pulau Satumu. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2015: 64
  • Jeffrey K. Y. Low. 15 May 2015. Slingjaw wrasse in the Singapore Strait. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2015: 58
  • Toh Chay Hoon, Jeffrey K. Y. Low & Debby Ng. 13 Feb 2015. Bluestreak cleaner wrasse off Big Sister Island. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2015: 27
  • Tan Heok Hui & Kelvin K. P. Lim. 21 November 2014. Moon wrasse off Kusu Island, Thalassoma lunarer. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2014: 293.
  • Ria Tan. 6 June 2014. New record of triplebar razorfish in Singapore, Iniistius trivittatus. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2014: 154
  • Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
  • Allen, Gerry, 2000. Marine Fishes of South-East Asia: A Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Periplus Editions. 292 pp.
  • Kuiter, Rudie H. 2002. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia: A Comprehensive Reference for Divers & Fishermen New Holland Publishers. 434pp.
  • Lieske, Ewald and Robert Myers. 2001. Coral Reef Fishes of the World Periplus Editions. 400pp.
  • Lim, S., P. Ng, L. Tan, & W. Y. Chin, 1994. Rhythm of the Sea: The Life and Times of Labrador Beach. Division of Biology, School of Science, Nanyang Technological University & Department of Zoology, the National University of Singapore. 160 pp.
  • Sparks, John, 1999. Battle of the Sexes in the Animal World BBC Worldwide, London. 224 pp.
links | references | about | email Ria
Spot errors? Have a question? Want to share your sightings? email Ria I'll be glad to hear from you!
wildfactsheets website©ria tan 2008