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humphead wrasse

Humphead Wrasse

Cheilinus undulatus

The colossal Humphead Wrasse, also called the Napoleon Wrasse, is one of the largest fish inhabiting coral reefs. It is easily identifiable by its thick lips, prominent bump on its forehead, and two black lines behind its eyes. The coloring of Humphead Wrasses can range from a dull blue-green to brilliant shades of green or purplish-blue.

The Humphead Wrasse swims in outer coral reefs during the day and sleeps in reef caves or below coral ledges at night.

Humphead wrasses, like most wrasses, are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning that they can function as members of both sexes over their reproductive lives and that they will start as females. Later in life they may transition to males, but in some species not all individuals will transition. The exact queues that trigger this amazing transformation are still being studied.

Did You Know?

This fish is immune to the toxic spines of animals like the crown-of-thorns starfish.


The Humphead Wrasse feeds on mollusks, reef fish, sea urchins, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. They can even eat toxic sea hares, boxfish, and starfish.


These enormous fish can grow up to six feet and weigh a whopping 400 pounds!


The Humphead Wrasse can be found throughout the Indian Ocean, from the Red Sea to South Africa and the Tuamoto Islands. It also ranges from the Ryukyu Islands to New Caledonia in the Pacific.

Population Status

Conservation Alert! The Humphead Wrasse is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is currently on the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service’s Species of Concern list. This species is rare in the wild and is extremely vulnerable to over-exploitation because of its slow breeding rate and predictable spawning sites. The population has seen a 50% loss just in the last 30 years.


The Humphead Wrasse is subject to population loss from the live reef fish trade, especially in Southeast Asia. It is highly valued because of its large size and is considered a luxury food in some countries.

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