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Humphead Wrasse

(Cheilinus undulates)

  • Animal Type

    Fish

  • Exhibits

    Blacktip Reef

  • Range

    Indian Ocean

    Pacific Ocean

Overview

The colossal, colorful humphead wrasse (also known as the Napoleon wrasse) is one of the largest fish found in coral reefs. They are easily identifiable by their thick lips and the prominent bump on their foreheads. The coloring of adult humphead wrasses can range from a dull blue-green to brilliant shades of green or purplish-blue. Juveniles are white with dark scale bars and prominent black lines near their eyes.

Their coloring isn’t the only major change humphead wrasses undergo as they age. Like all wrasses, humphead wrasses can change sex; some individuals that start their lives as females may later transition to male. The factors that influence this amazing transformation are still being studied.

Quick Facts

Learn more about the humphead wrasse! Did you know that This fish is one of only a few species known to eat toxic animals like the crown-of-thorns starfish?

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.

The humphead wrasse feeds on mollusks, reef fish, sea urchins, crustaceans and other invertebrates. They can even eat toxic sea hares, boxfish and sea stars.

These enormous fish can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh a whopping 400 pounds!

Conservation alert! The humphead wrasse is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is currently listed as a U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service Species of Concern. 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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