Blue-ring angelfish Pomacanthus annularis; only diligent fishkeepers with giant tanks hould try their hand at larger marine angels, as they not only reach significant sizes but require specialized, high-quality diets.
Aquarists used to seeing smaller wrasse species are in for a shock once they see the
gargantuan Napoleon wrasse Cheilinus undulatus, which can exceed 10 feet in length.
private aquarists, although there are some
other wrasses that get pretty big.
Goluba/Shutterstock Iliuta Goean/Shutterstock
The first is the popular harlequin tuskfish
Choerodon fasciatus. Oddly enough, many
people don’t realize that this fish is actually
a wrasse. Even more interesting is the fact
that it has blue teeth and blue bones. The
harlequin tusk, like many other big fish,
is often sold at 3 or 4 inches in length.
Don’t let the petite juvenile size fool you.
These guys can grow to be well over 10
inches from tip to tail. Furthermore, the
strong tusklike teeth that give the fish its
name make it very suited to crunching up
invertebrates and corals and therefore bar
this large fish from any reef aquarium.
Another wrasse that tricks many
aquarists is the popular dragon wrasse
Novaculichthys taeniourus. These fish are
also referred to as rockmover wrasses due
to their habit of rearranging the aquarium’s
sand and rocks. They are enthralling as
small juveniles, but they later take on a
dramatically different appearance and size.
While often sold at less than 4 inches,
these fish grow to a foot or more in length.
To make matters worse, they are excellent
The red-breast wrasse Cheilinus fasciatus
looks charming and small as a juvenile.
Believe it or not, this colorful little fish
will eventually attain a length of nearly a
foot and a half. Even the colorful bluehead
wrasse of the Caribbean reaches a length
of 7 inches and is unsuitable for tanks
under 90 gallons.
While wrasses are a fun and colorful
species of fish for the home aquarium,
the responsible choice is to keep smaller
wrasses suitable for private systems.
Eventually, after several weeks, the
fish developed a severe fungal infection.
The aquarist in question ignored pleas
from both me and other aquarists to
treat the fish in a hospital tank and then
donate the animal to another aquarist
or aquarium store in hopes of finding a
more suitable home, and this specimen
perished shortly after.
What is truly upsetting about the
fate of many large marine angelfish is
that aquarists have a responsible and
excellent alternative to keeping them.
Dwarf angel species such as the flame
angelfish Centropyge loricula or potter’s
angelfish C. potteri are beautiful and
easily kept in an aquarium of 55 gallons
or more. These are a far better choice,
even for larger aquariums, than many
hefty marine angels.
When I envision a wrasse, I think of
the bright-blue cleaner wrasse Labroides
dimidiatus or the South Pacific or bluehead
wrasse Thalassoma bifasciatum of the
Caribbean Sea. The wrasse family exhibits
some of the greatest diversity in terms of
size. You have tiny wrasses that barely
reach 3 inches on one side of the coin,
and the huge Napoleon wrasse Cheilinus
undulatus, which can grow to 10 feet or
more, on the other. I have never heard of a
Napoleon wrasse being offered for sale to
If you really want to see my mood
bottom out, take me into an aquarium
store where a nurse shark is being
offered for sale. Sadly this scenario is not
uncommon. These fish command a high
price, and nurse sharks are popular status
symbols for many aquarists. The reality
is simple: There are very few species of
sharks that have any business in a home
aquarium, regardless of size, and nurse
sharks are unsuitable even for many
Sharks are delicate, intelligent, and
ecologically important fish that often grow
large and belong on the coral reef or in
the open ocean. If you want to appreciate
sharks, it is best done underwater with