News / Species Spotlight / Species Spotlight - Laboutes Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus laboutei) (11/01/17)

Species Spotlight - Laboutes Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus laboutei)

Species Spotlight - Laboutes Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus laboutei)
The fairy wrasse genus Cirrhilabrus is likely the single most diverse group of wrasses on the planet, with 55 species currently recognized, and perhaps more than 70 thought to exist. Of these, Laboutes Fairy Wrasse stands apart for a variety of reasons.

Cirrhilabrus laboutei has long been a favorite of aquarists, boasting an impressive mix of colors and patterns that few reef fishes can match. Mature males are colored purple dorsally, with a contrasting white belly. Along the sides are a series of stripes in teal, yellow and a much darker shade of purple. These form a sort of looped line above the pectoral fin which has parallels in a few other species within the genus (C. exquisitus being the best example).

The caudal fin sports a variety of teal spots and squiggles arranged into a pleasingly symmetrical pattern. The pelvic fins are unusually small and rounded (compare these to the greatly exaggerated fins of C. pylei or C. temminckii to see what we mean here). The anal fin is even stranger, featuring two greatly extended spines. No other fairy wrasse has anything remotely similar, though the function of this, if there is one, remains unknown.

Normally for fairy wrasses, the juveniles and females look quite different from the terminal males. Theyll usually be pink or red, with a dark nasal and caudal spot, and often with a series of stripes running along the body that disappear with age. However, in C. laboutei the juveniles are not far off from the males. The colors are mostly the same, though they tend to be a bit less purple, and the curious looping stripe develops quite early on.

Geographically speaking, this species has few parallels. It occurs throughout the Coral Sea, from Australia to New Caledonia and as far east as Vanuatu. Most other fairy wrasses belong to closely related species complexes that stretch across either the West Pacific or the entire Indo-Pacific. The only other example from the Southwest Pacific can be seen among the Hooded Wrasses (C. bathyphilus, C. efatensis, C. nahackyi), though these extend further east to Tonga and are obviously more highly diverse.

Due to its unusual distribution and its many peculiar morphological traits, its thought that C. laboutei represents an isolated evolutionary offshoot in this genus.

Laboutes Fairy Wrasse generally occurs in deeper waters, but in areas of cool upwellings it can be encountered as shallowly as 15 meters. Males dominate harems of females and juveniles, erecting their fins to intimidate any nearby rivals. Most Cirrhlabrus have an obvious nuptial signal, either a brightened body or a flashed caudal fin or dorsal stripe, but there doesnt appear to be anything particularly extravagant about how C. laboutei woos its mates. Perhaps its already beautiful enough.

And, if youre curious, Pierre Laboute was a French diver and photographer who published the first images of this species in an early field guide to New Caledonia.