News / Species Spotlight / Revisited - Scott's Fairy Wrasse (02/19/14)

Revisited - Scott's Fairy Wrasse

by Kevin Gaines

  • Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)
  • Order: Perciformes (perch-likes)
  • Suborder: Labroidei
  • Family: Labridae (wrasses, lip-fishes)
  • Subfamily: Cheilininae
  • Genus: Cirrhilabrus
  • Species: scottorum

The wrasse family, which includes the parrotfishes and rainbowfishes, is one of the largest and most abundant groups of fishes on the reef. With almost 500 species in 65 genera, they play an important ecological role in the coral reef habitat. Labroids have a continuous dorsal fin, a non-forked tail and distinct jaws with conspicuous teeth, sometimes fused or beak-like in the case of parrotfishes. They range in size from only 3cm, Minilabrus striatus in the Red Sea, to the 2.3m Napoleon Wrasse, Cheilinus undulates found in the Indo-Pacific. Cirrhilabrus scottorum reaches a maximum size of 10cm, which makes it an ideal aquarium fish. Some species show slight variations in color between juvenile and adult phases, but most change dramatically with age. Typically, the male C. scottorum has a bright red dot on the side of its blue-green body. The fins are ornately marked in yellows, pinks, and blues. Sometimes the differences between males and females in some species are so different; they are often mistaken as a different species. To further complicate field taxonomy, color variations occur within the same species and sex in different geographical locations and Scott's fairy wrasse is no exception. The color morphs from Australia, Tonga, Cook Islands and Samoa, especially in the adult males, are quite distinct. As young males and females grow, they are considered to be part of an initial phase (IP), while older males are in a terminal phase (TP). Since most wrasses in the Cirrhilabrus form harems, or breeding groups with usually a dominant male to several females, the color phases play a vital role in reproduction strategy and territorialism.

Natural Habitat:

C. scottorum is usually found in shallow (<30m) tropical coral reefs on the Great Barrier Reef to the Pitcairn Group. Lagoons and outer reefs with moderate current provide an ideal habitat. While juveniles prefer coral rubble areas and stay close to the seafloor, adult groups are usually seen above the reef feeding on zooplankton. It is quite common to see several males with large groups of females and other Cirrhilabrus species feeding together. During reproduction, a male and female will swim vertically in the water column before simultaneously releasing eggs and sperm (pelagic). Little is known about the life cycle of many wrasse species. C. scottorum is diurnal and sleeps in coral rocks and crevices at night.

Aquarium Care:

Due to their appropriate size, beautiful color and hardiness, C. scottorum is an excellent aquarium pet. Feeding consists of pellet food, frozen mysis, brine and almost any other available carnivorous diet. It is important to note that C. scottorum benefits from smaller, more regular feedings, if possible. C. scottorum requires a tank larger than 30 gallons and can be kept with a variety of other species. As with most marine aquarium fish, habitat layout, the size of the tank, as well as other inhabitants all play a role in compatibility. Unfortunately, the less colorful females are rarely collected, so pairs are often difficult to obtain. Scott's wrasse does not seem to bother corals and other invertebrates, which make them especially popular in stony coral tanks. Care should be taken to have a cover or netting over the tank that houses Cirrhilabrus wrasses, due to their jumping abilities. Some aquarists have reported spawning in the home aquarium. C. scottorum is an active swimmer and is mesmerizing to watch. It uses its pectoral fins to propel itself around the tank in a unique wrasse-like fashion. In large aquariums, this species swims around the entire tank end-to-end in search of food and is constantly in motion. Another interesting fact about the Cirrhilabrus species is that they form a mucous layer over their entire body while they sleep. This is believed to be toxic to certain predators and gives them added protection at night. So if you have the right tank, Scott's Fairy wrasse is one of the most prized, yet commonly available, aquarium specimens.