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Wrasse & Parrotfish

There are over 185 species of wrasses (Family Labridae), and they are some of the most commonly seen fish on the coral reefs of the South Pacific.  Like parrotfish, wrasses swim primarily with their pectoral fins and are generally very colorful.  Unlike the parrotfish which scrape algae from the reefs, wrasses fed on invertebrates such as crabs, shrimps and gastropods.  They have a prominent set of canine teeth.  One of the challenges of identifying wrasses is that many change size and color as they mature; some even change shape.  Not noticeable to a diver is that they also change sex as they mature, and the terminal phase fish are all males at the height of their reproductive activity.

Sunset Wrasse, intermediate phase
An intermediate phase Sunset Wrasse Thalassoma lutescens, still showing the light green body and vertical blue band.  Juveniles of the species are all yellow.  The yellow pectoral fin with blue trim is characteristic in all phases. (Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia)
Sunset wrasse, adult (terminal) phase
A terminal phase Sunset Wrasse with the reddish-pink head with green line.  This species forms groups and is found on sand, rubble, and coral patches both inside and outside lagoons. (Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia)
Checkerboard Wrasse, intermediate phase
The intermediate phase Checkerboard Wrasse Halichoeres hortulanus is common on the French Polynesian reefs, noticeable for its bright yellow saddle spots.  It is often solitary. (Tahiti)
6-Bar Wrasse in adult phase
The Six-bar Wrasse Thalassoma hardwicke (10" or 25cm) is the same in intermediate and terminal phase, and easily recognized by its 5 to 6 black saddles that decrease in size towards the tail. These fish are often in groups and live on reefs both in lagoons and outer reefs. (Moorea)
Juvenile Clown Coris
A Juvenile Clown Coris Coris aygula (3" or 8cm, also in the wrasse family) is one of the bright spots of color on the reef. they are found on sand and coral rubble bottoms, up to 35 m. deep. (Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia)
Intermediate Phase Clown Coris
An intermediate phase Clown Coris (up to 16" or 40cm) has lost the bright orange-red spots of the juvenile.  The terminal phase clown coris can attain a length of 4' or 1.3m (we never saw one) and are found near reefs in 6-100' or 2-30m. (Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia)
This Juvenile Yellowtail Coris Coris gaimard (right, part of the wrasse family) is partially changed to its intermediate phase when the white saddles will be gone and the blue and green body will be speckled by bright blue spots.  These are solitary fish, found on sand and coral rubble bottoms of lagoons. (Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia) Juvenile Yellowtail Coris
The slingjaw wrasse The Slingjaw Wrasse Epiulus insidator grows to over 35cm (14") long found to over 50 meters deep on both inner and outer coral reefs. It has a large body, with a distinctive white head, a black line running from the eye to the gill. The lower jaw protrudes prominently. (Tonga)
Bird Wrass, intermediate phase Bird Wrasse Gomphosus varius (left and right, intermediate phase with orange snout) have very elongated snouts, and like other wrasses change color when changing from juvenile to intermediate to terminal phase. Bird Wrass, intermediate phase
Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse The Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse Labroides dimidiatus is one of many species of wrasse which have a commensal arrangement with other fish.  Setting up cleaning stations (which they fiercely defend), they await a customer from whom they will clean parasites.  Cleaner wrasses even go inside the mouths of larger fish, knowing, somehow, that they will not become dinner.  Most swim with jerky motions to attract customers.  Unfortunately, they often confuse human legs and arms with large fish, and we have been nibbled by these fierce little housekeepers while diving throughout the South Pacific (so we're relatively parasite free).

Parrotfish (Family Scaridae) are often some of the most noticeable fish on tropical reefs -- not only for their size, but for their noisy crunching of coral upon which they feed. In the Pacific they tend to be one of the less colorful fish, though still quite large. The females range from 2-6" (5-15 cm), while the males are larger (from 10-30", or about 25-80 cm) and more colorful. They are closely related to the wrasses, and like them, change sex from female to male, swim with pectoral fins, and have complex social systems. Most parrotfishes live in harems with one dominant terminal phase male. When he dies, one of the females undergoes a 2-3 week transformation to male, changing not only sexual organs, but receiving a bright new set of colorful scales. We think this is a harem of Tricolor Parrotfish Scarus tricolor. (New Caledonia) A harem of Tricolor Parrotfish
Steephead Parrotfish Unlike other species of parrotfish, the Steephead Parrotfish Chlorurus microrhinos tends to be solitary. Identified by its very prominently vertical forehead, this fish can grow to over 2' (up to 80 cm) long. There is also a red variation, with yellow fins. These fish are found from Bali, Indonesia, to east of French Polynesia. (New Caledonia)
The fused front teeth of the parrotfish act as a rasp to scrape off the coral they feed on. Seventy-five percent of what they eat is inorganic, and if you've ever followed a parrotfish around, you'll know  that what leaves the body is sand. According to our Reef Fish Identification Guide a single large male can deposit up to 5,000 pounds (2.5 tons) of sediment (sand) per year! We're not sure of the identification of this one -- could it be a Bullethead parrotfish Chlorurus sordidus? There are  only about 40 species of parrotfish in the Indo-Pacific but they are surprisingly hard to identify. The juveniles change dramatically as they mature, and females can change to males, thus changing their colors as well. Confusing!  (New Caledonia) No ID Parrotfish
Surf Parrotfish Although our guide book gives a range for the Surf parrotfish Scarus rivulatus only as far east as New Caledonia, we saw schools of this medium-sized parrotfish in western Fiji where they were attracted to the fish-feeding off Treasure Island. The large orange patch in front of the pectoral fin is a distinguishing mark. (Fiji)

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