News / Species Spotlight / Gold Flake Wrasse (Labropsis polynesica) (08/08/18)

Gold Flake Wrasse (Labropsis polynesica)

Species Spotlight - Gold Flake Wrasse (Labropsis polynesica)
Polynesia is a remote corner of the Central Pacific that is home to many illustrious coral reef fishes found nowhere else. The list of aquarium highlights goes on and onthe Black Tang, the Peppermint Angelfish, the Atavai Wrasse, Claires Fairy Wrasseand one deserving species is a stunning gold-flecked labrid which few aquarists will ever see in the flesh, the Gold Flake Wrasse (Labropsis polynesica).

Mature males of this handsome fish are an inky black throughout their diminutive four-inch frame, highlighted across their sides by a series of vibrantly contrasting yellow scales and a large golden patch just behind the head. The lips are boldly colored with a reflective bluish-white, along with a similarly hued stripe that runs partly along the back. This last trait is a remnant of the female and juvenile patterning, which consists of three horizontal lines set against the darkened body.

The colors of juveniles are indicative of their behavioral adaptation to feeding as cleaners on other fishes, and we find the same sort of highly visible patterning in other groups that employ this feeding strategy, like the Neon Gobies (Elacatinus) and the Cleaner Wrasses (Labroides). This latter example is particularly germane to the discussion, as both Labroides and Labropsis belong to the same specialized branch of the wrasse family, known as the tribe Labrichthyini. These are all relatively small and elongated fishes that function as cleaners during part of their life history, but theres one interesting twist that occurs with the Gold Flake Wrasse and its relatives.

As specimens mature into adulthood, the juvenile colors are lost, and, with it, the protection this patterning serves in dissuading predation. No longer able to pick parasites and mucus from larger fishes, the fish must now begin a new life on the reef, using its highly thickened lips to remove mucus (and occasionally bits of tissue) from stony corals like Acropora. This is a rare niche for wrasses to be exploiting, but its essentially identical to what the Harlequin Filefish (Oxymonacanthus) does.

Labropsis are not commonly kept in captivity, but they do acclimate to some extent by feeding on a typical diet of frozen and dry foods. Its critical to provide ample feeding opportunities, and, ideally, to supplement this with a healthy dose of coral mucus. Aquarists with large reef tanks, especially those packed with SPS corals, can expect to see minimal damage from housing a single Labropsis and are likely to run into little difficulty in the husbandry of this gorgeous species. The Gold Flake Wrasse is definitely not a beginners fish and is much better suited to be a showpiece species for the most experienced of reef-keepers.