Wrasses are a very beloved family (Labridae) in this hobby, the biggest reason is obvious, they're bright, colourful, and for the most part 'reef-safe'. Cirrhilabrus are often the first genus you look at and think of when Wrasses are mentioned. I can understand why, they resemble everything you'd want a wrasse to be. Each one is different and all of them are reef-safe, many of them remain small and stay in the 2 to 4 inch range. Not only are they small but there are over 60 recognised species in this genus.

But what are characteristics of Cirrhilabrus species? The eyes of Cirrhilabrus are much more unusual to other species. The thing that makes these so unusual is due to the cornea being split into two distinct parts. The centre of the cornea is what acts like a close-up lens which can help these wrasses to spot closeup prey. This adaptation is seen in other wrasses of the genera; Psueocheilinus, Paracheilinus, Pseudocheilinops as well as Pterogogus. So what separates Cirrhilabrus from those genera? This is the way they swim, they will use their caudal and pectoral fins to propel themselves forward. They will also use their dorsal fin to help them swim by undulating it. The undulating dorsal is often seen better on larger species such as Cirrhilabrus melanomarginatus and Cirrhilabrus roseafascia.

Now, what do they eat in the wild that cause them to be so reef-safe in captivity? These wrasses in the wild eat plankton, these are small and microscopic organisms that float in bodies of water. usually consisting of diatoms, protozoans, small crustaceans as well as young larval stages of larger animals. In captivity, it's recommended to feed these enriched foods of pellets, enriched mysis and brine shrimp along with flakes. Another thing you can do is dose your tank with phytoplankton to help add to the natural diet and give them some more nutrients.

One of the biggest questions about Wrasses I see around is 'can I mix males and females?' The easy answer is... No. The long answer is potentially yes. Although it's recommended by many to keep to males of different species and not have females and males of the same species, owning a female and male pair of Cirrhilabrus is possible in a large enough tank. The reason it's not recommended to have several of the same species is due to all females transitioning to male even with an established male in the tank. Now, I don't recommend this however it isn't impossible to keep a 'pair' in the same tank. I say 'pair' when really I mean two males, there is no way of stopping a Cirrhilabrus species of Wrasse from transitioning in captivity so you wont be able to enjoy both colours for a long period of time. For those of you who know me and have seen photos of my tank will know I have two males of the same species in my tank, the way I managed this is due to my tank size, the hiding spots in my tank and also having several wrasses to minimise aggression. The absolute minimum tank size I would try mix same species 'pairs' in is a 4 foot tank with a 2 foot width. The larger the species then you'll want a larger tank size to mix same species 'pairs' in. The reason for the larger tank sizes needed when mixing two males of the same species of fairy wrasse is so that they don't have the tendency to fight to the death and each one has their own territory. Now, obviously there is going to be some wrasses that are more aggressive than others so you will want to look into which wrasses may mix better if you want to try this.

Cirrhilabrus lubbocki Indonesian terminal-phase male showing great colouration. Photo by I Cant Think.

Now that we've been through mixing two males of the same species, how do you know when a Cirrhilabrus species is male or not? Well, Cirrhilabrus are protogynous and monandric hermaphrodites. This means that all individuals are first females then transition into males. Young specimens of Cirrhilabrus spp. are asexual and as they begin to mature, the ovaries begin to form. Most individuals develop functional ovaries, reproduce and then transition into males. However, a small number of them will never turn female and transition straight into males. Now, females and juveniles of Cirrhilabrus species look drastically different to a mature male. The females often look drab and don't show much colour at all - usually showing as one solid colour. Whereas males tend to be highly vibrant and show a multitude of colours. Another way to know if your Cirrhilabrus is a male is if they display. Only the males of Cirrhilabrus are able to display and show nupitial colouration. Due to how hyper male Cirrhilabrus can get, it's recommended to have them in no less than a 3 foot tank.

(Top) Cirrhilabrus naokoae terminal-phase male in display. (Bottom) Cirrhilabrus lubbocki Cebu terminal-phase male in display. Photos by I Cant Think.

One thing you may hear thrown around a lot with Cirrhilabrus is the term 'Complexes'. Sometimes you may wonder what a complex is. To put it simply, a Complex is a group of wrasses that are closely related within this genus. There is a chart that is often used to show the complexes and species within them on here. Now, some complexes shouldn't be mixed with other wrasses, the most known one of them is the Scottorum Complex. This complex holds; Cirrhilabrus scottorum, Cirrhilabrus melanomarginatus and Cirrhilabrus cf. scottorum. There are many complexes and it is often recommended to mix wrasses from different complexes - Same complex species mixing is done the same way as mixing males of the same species, The reason for this is due to aggression being minimal in comparison to two species of the same complex. Again, mixing complexes that aren't recommended to mix with other complexes isn't impossible and can be done - I have personally managed it before, but I don't recommend it unless you're aware of the risks and know what to look for if it did not go well.

(Top) Cirrhilabrus melanomarginatus terminal-phase male - Complex: Scottorum. (Bottom) Cirrhilabrus lubbocki Cebu terminal-phase male - Complex: Lubbocki. Photos by I Cant Think.

So, are Cirrhilabrus wrasses a good choice for you? I'll let you decide on that :)


Cirrhilabrus naokoae terminal-phase male close-up.