News / Species Spotlight / Highly Underrated Fish - Bluehead Wrasse (01/26/16)

Highly Underrated Fish - Bluehead Wrasse

In The Wild

The Bluehead Wrasse (Thalassoma bifasciatum) is a fish common to the Caribbean and tropical West Atlantic Ocean. They can be found at a variety of depths, ranging from the surface down to about 120 feet. They are generally found around reefs.

These fish will spawn year round, in the middle of the day. Spawning happens either in mass spawning events, or in non-monogamous pairs where one male will defend a territory where he will spawn with several females.

As Juveniles these fish will frequently engage in cleaning activities, but will generally abstain from cleaning piscivores who tend to eat them. As the fish grow larger, some will continue this behavior, but more fish will be sustained on zooplankton. Groups of adults have also been known to raid nests of fish like damselfish that spawn in one location and guard their eggs (demersal spawning).

Bluehead wrasses have been known to associate with Condylactis anemones, especially as juveniles, but adults may also use the anemones for shelter if the anemone is large enough. Little is known as to whether these wrasses have similar defenses as clownfish to the nematocyst sting of the anemone. More study is needed to decide whether this relationship is symbiotic (both parties gain) or parasitic (one party gains).

There are three distinct color phases of T. bifasciatum. Fish pictured here are terminal phase males.

In The Aquarium

Bluehead wrasses have a small adult size at just about 7 inches. This combined with their high activity level, and brilliant adult coloration make them a very desirable fish in the aquarium trade. This is the most common wrasse in the Tropical Eastern Atlantic, but because they aren't known all that well, they are somewhat uncommon in the hobby, which is a shame for such a gorgeous, hardy fish.

When young, these are relatively safe in reef environs, choosing planktonic foods, and parasite cleaning over invertebrates. However, as they age, they are extremely likely to consume motile inverts of all types, including snails, crabs, sea stars and even urchins. When feeding them, give them a varied diet including things like mysis, krill and other ocean based small meaty foods. Feeding them multiple times a day is recommended as they are very active and keeping them full will help keep them away from desirable inverts.

Groups of juvenile and sub adult blue head wrasses can be housed together; generally one of them will become a dominant male. While this is among the more docile of the Thalassoma Wrasses, the adult males can be belligerent to aquarium new comers. Because of a wild tendency to eat Damselfish eggs, they are very likely to quarrel with damsels in captivity.

As with all the other fish in the genus, they are capable jumpers at all stages of their life, so a covered aquarium is a requisite.

Scott W. Michael, Marine Fishes, 1st ed. (T.F.H. Publications Inc, New Jersey, 2001).
Rudie H Kuiter, Fairy & Rainbow Wrasses and their relatives, 1st ed. (TMC Publishing, Chorleywood, UK, 2002)
In House Resources: Adam Mangino, Eli Fleishauer Name