News / Species Spotlight / Polynesian Atavai Wrasse (Pseudojuloides atavai) (08/14/18)

Polynesian Atavai Wrasse (Pseudojuloides atavai)

Species Spotlight - Polynesian Atavai Wrasse (Pseudojuloides atavai)
In Polynesian, atavai translates as pretty, which seems quite fitting for this beautifully colored member of the pencil wrasse genus Pseudojuloides. Though its been known to researchers for more than 60 years, this is one fish that is very challenging to collect due to its distribution in remote corners of the Central Pacific and a preference for moderately deep (15-30 meters) outer reefs, where it swims well off the bottom. Naturally, it remains a very rare find in aquariums.

And theres much we have left to learn about it. For instance, there is a uniquely colored population in the Marquesas Islands which potentially represents an endemic sister species. In the true P. atavai, males are lightly colored across the anterior half of the body, with a dark patch extending along the rest of the body around where the anal fin starts. However, in the Marquesan population, males have the head darkened as well, so that just a thin band of the underlying base coloration of the body is revealed.

Pseudojuloides atavai male

A second close relative exists far across the ocean at the Mariana Arc and remote Wake Island. This fish is much darker, with males being almost entirely blackened, save for a white dash atop the head and behind the pectoral fins. But a closer resemblance can be seen in the juveniles and females, which share a common motif of a pale, cream-colored belly and a oblique, red back, divided by a black line of variable extent. Remarkably, no records of this group exist for any of the islands between these farflung localities, which presents a perplexing situation when it comes to explaining their evolutionary origins.

But as beautiful as this fish is, pencil wrasses arent an ideal choice for the average aquarist. They are easily spooked and bullied, limiting the choices when it comes to tankmates and necessitating a layer of fine sand be present for the fish to bury itself. Theyre also excellent jumpers (along with so many other wrasses), making a tight-fitting lid quite mandatory.

Pseudojuloides atavai female

The best setup is a large, well-established reef aquarium stocked with kind-hearted fishes. And these active wrasses need to be fed HEAVILY with meaty foods, preferably a few times daily.

P. atavai can be kept in small groups and may actually benefit from being among its own kind. The fishes in this genus are unusually peaceful among themselves in comparison to what we see in most wrasses. However, at nearly 5 inches in length, a male P. atavai is a chunky creature that will require plenty of room to swim. But for those aquarists who can meet its demands, this Polynesian beauty can be a real centerpiece.