News / Species Spotlight / Lunate Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus lunatus) (06/18/18)

Lunate Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus lunatus)

Species Spotlight - Lunate Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus lunatus)
Fairy wrasses are one of the most diverse groups of wrasses and also among the most colorful. From the brilliant reds of the Magma Wrasse (C. shutmani) to the purple and yellow of the Golden Fairy Wrasse (C. rhomboidalis) to the rainbow of colors seen in the Scotts Fairy Wrasse (C. scottorum) and the Lineatus Fairy Wrasse (C. lineatus). But there are some exceptions to this rule species whose colors appear a bit more muted and are best appreciated by the true labrid diehards out there.

One such example is the Lunate Fairy Wrasse. Cirrhilabrus lunatus has a limited distribution in the deep reefs of Japan and south into the northernmost portions of the Philippines. It belongs to a complex of species spread across the West-Central Pacific, including C. brunneus (reported from scattered locations in Indonesia and the Philippines), C. johnsoni (from Micronesia), and C. squirei (from the Coral Sea).

Cirrhilabrus lunatus Male

These species all share a similar look and differ mostly in the extent of the darkening which eventually develops in mature males. For the poorly known C. squirei, the darkening is limited to the fins. For C. johnsoni, theres no darkening at all, and the fins instead appear a beautiful shade of crimson. In C. brunneus, almost the entire fish, save for the yellow belly, appears sooty. And then theres C. lunatus, which is mostly yellow and orange along its sides, but with an extensive overlay of dark pigmentation along the lower third, extending rearward into the caudal fin.

The Lunate Fairy Wrasse is a mesophotic organism, rarely found above 30 meters. Here, it swims alongside another close relative, the recently described Pintail Fairy Wrasse (C. isosceles), and the two are known to produce a hybrid, one of the few recorded in this speciose genus. These hybrids show a mix of the parent species colors and fin morphology.

Cirrhilabrus lunatus Female

In captivity, C. lunatus is a relatively timid fish, best kept from boisterous tankmates. Even larger Cirrhilabrus are apt to bully this little guy; mature males are some of the smallest in the genus, topping out at little more than 3 inches in length. This small size is great in that it makes this one of the better fairy wrasses for smaller reef tanks, but a tight fitting cover is usually required to keep this spastic creature from jumping out onto the floor or into an overflow.

Females, as is typical of fairy wrasses, look drastically different, with a reddish back and white belly, along with several thin stripes running lengthwise across the top. Pairs and harems can be successfully kept in larger aquariums, though it is normal for the females to eventually turn into males in captivity, which often creates significant compatibility issues. One of the most remarkable traits of this species and its larger species group is the bright flashing of nuptial colors, which glows in a pinkish or bluish patch, termed the epaulette. Few ever have the privilege of seeing this stunning mating display in person.