For one thing, individuals are difficult
to keep, as they don’t feed well. Part of
the problem is that most individuals don’t
ship well, so that makes them all the more
vulnerable and less likely to eat in the
aquarium. Also, any fish with the least bit of
aggression, including dwarf angels, will tend
to pick out those beautiful long-flowing fins.
Given the poor survival record and the fact
that the adult form is so large, I would never
recommend this species—but I recognize how
beguiling the juveniles can be.
heard of. It
I saw a fish in a public
aquarium that I have never
was called a sling-jawed wrasse.
Is it ever kept as an aquarium fish?
Santa Rosa, California
wrasses. Its distinctive feature is a lower jaw
that folds back and can act something like a
sling, allowing the fish to capture prey that
normally would be just out of reach. That is
partly what makes them seem so intelligent,
as the fish are quite observant. In the wild,
the fish will explore areas underneath the
corals, utilizing their unusual jaw structure
to penetrate into small crevices to capture
crabs and other crustaceans.
Another reason for keeping these guys
in their own tank is that other fish are
not off the menu, although there is no
attempt to take large fish. However, small
fish might think that they are out of reach
when they are not. Like so many coral-reef fish, the sling-jawed wrasse has a
distinctive juvenile coloration. In fact, it
eventually goes through three color changes,
as these fish are protogynous.(They begin
life without much distinction in regard
Sling-jawed wrasse Epibulus insidiator.
only ones I
The sling-jawed wrasse you
saw was probably Epibulus
insidiator, which has been
kept in the aquarium, but the
have seen kept were maintained
in tanks of their own. They reach a pretty
good size, about 14 inches, and they are not
of a gaudy coloration, as is the case with
so many coral reef fish species. However,
they have their fair share of fans. For one
thing, this is a species with personality. I
recall that aquarists at one of our largest
public aquariums had grown most attached
to a sling-jawed wrasse individual. That is
saying something, as they had hundreds of
The sling-jawed wrasse is found all over
the South Pacific, as well as parts of Hawai‘i
and Japan. It is, of course, a member of the
family Labridae, which includes all of the
to sex, but they are females first, and
then some eventually become males.) The
juvenile stage is normally brown with white
stripes. The female stage is brown or yellow.
Obviously, the yellow is most popular with
aquarists, so that color morph is what is
usually collected. The male phase has the
fish with darker body coloration, with a
blue to greenish-gray head coloration.
Not many people choose to keep this
species—but that’s their loss!
and Reef Tanks
I’ve gotten positive
negative opinions about
ownfish in reef tanks. Is there
anything wrong with them?
Forest City, Arizona