Monday, May 4, 2015


  The large terminal phase Creole wrasse is a sight to behold!

The family Labridae, known commonly as wrasses, is comprised of a plethora of beautiful, aquarium-suited species that have become more and more popular over the decades. The cradle of diversity for these fishes is the Indo-West Pacific. But there are also a number of species that can be found swimming about Atlantic coral reefs and some of these are readily available to aquarists. One member of the Atlantic labrid guild that is often overlooked by fish-keepers is the Creole wrasse (Clepticus parrae). While not a great choice for those with smaller aquariums, it is a fascinating, and attractive selection for larger reef aquariums. So let's take a closer look at the Creole wrasse.

Diurnal zooplanktivores, from various coral reef fish families, exhibit similar morphological characteristics that benefit them when it comes to feeding on minute animals in the water column. Many zooplanktivores have small, highly protrusible, upturned mouths and small or no teeth in the jaws. The mouth size and position, near the end of the head, allows the fish to see its small target with both eyes, thus providing better depth perception and greater feeding accuracy. Due to the minute size of their prey, precise targeting and mouth movements are necessary to ensure successful prey capture. Diurnal planktivores also tend to have more and larger gill-rakers that prevent small prey items from escaping through the gill opening. They also tend to possess body types that enable them to get back to the reef very quickly. For example, a lunate (i.e., moon-shaped) tail and a more fusiform (i.e., torpedo-shaped) body are indicative of superior speed that will enable them to elude predators more effectively. 

The Creole wrasses (Clepticus spp.) possess most of the characteristics described above. In many ways they are more similar in general appearance to anthias (Pseudanthias), chromis damsels (Chromis), or swallowtail angelfishes (Genicanthus) (all of which feed on zooplankton) than they are to other wrasses.
 Creole wrasse frequently visit cleaning stations - 
here a group are serviced by a  juvenile Spanish hogfish.
Meet the Genus 

There are three species in the genus Clepticus. There is the Brazilian Creole wrasse (Clepticus brasiliensis), there is an Eastern Atlantic form, the African Creole wrasse (Clepticus africanus) and then there is the species most often seen in the aquarium trade, known simply as the Creole wrasse (Clepticus parrae). The latter species is limited in distribution to the Atlantic Ocean, ranging from Bermuda and southern Florida and the Bahamas south to northern South America. Adult Creole wrasse are found on reef faces and fore reef slopes at depths of less than 3 to at least 130 feet. Juveniles often “swarm” close to patch reefs in clear water lagoons or near ledges on the reef face. In some cases, the young fish will refuge in tube sponges. Adult Creole wrasse are usually found in large shoals (often numbering in the hundreds) which move high into the water column to feed. It sometimes forms mixed schools with other zooplankton-feeders, including the blue chromis (Chromis cyanea) and brown chromis (C. multilineata). In some parts of the Caribbean, this species is a favorite of cleaner fishes.

This wrasse uses its large pectoral fins to scull through the water column, employing its large tail as a rudder unless it needs to rapidly accelerate back to the protection of the reef.  It feeds primarily on minute crustaceans (namely copepods), siphonophores, and pteropods. It will also eat shrimp larvae, salps, crab larvae, fish eggs, ostracods, gastropod larvae, and stomatopod larvae but to a lesser degree. (The related Brazilian Creole wrasse has been observed feeding on the feces of Spinner Dolphins.) Creole wrasse predators include morays, groupers, and jacks.

 Initial phase Creole wrasse is lacks the yellow wash on the body. 
This individual is posing as it is cleaned by a Spanish hogfish.

Creole Sex

The Creole wrasse spawns in the early to late afternoon and reproduction occurs all year round (although in some areas it may peak during the summer months). I have seen huge groups of C. parrae streaming past along the reef face as they move to a traditional spawning areas. In one case, I watched for over 40 minutes as a river of these fish flowed past. It is a protogynous hermaphrodite; males result from female sex change. Sex change typically occurs at a length of 6 to 7 inches. Spawning males adopt a bicolor chromatic attire (black to dark purple anteriorly, yellow on the posterior portion of the body and fins), with white lips and black pectoral fins. During courtship, the male chases a female and attempts to contact her dorsum with his belly. If she is in the mood, she slows down, the male moves beneath her and begins to push her up into the water column by beating the caudal fin. If totally receptive, she will go limp and allow the male to continue to move her into the water column, which he typically does by placing his snout against her flared gill covers, until they reach the apex of the ascent and they release their gametes. After that, they slowly swim apart, the female moves toward the substrate, while the male will search for another potential mate. If a female is not ready to spawn, the male and female may engage in rapid head-to-tail circling as the male attempts to take his position under the female or she may attempt to get rid of her potential suitor by dashing and diving erratically. In some cases, amorous males may chase heterospecific neighbors and try to court with them! Courtship can last for hours, with individual males chasing a single female for as long as 15 minutes! Like most other wrasses, they produce pelagic eggs. Males may fight over females, and some may bare scars as a result of these battles. It is usually smaller males that get chased and chastised by larger consexuals. Juvenile Creole wrasse are approximately 0.8 inches in length when they settle from the plankton. The newly-settled fish are mainly translucent, with a purplish cast. Some areas see a large influx of young C. parrae (ranging in size from 1.2 to 2.0 in.) in the fall.

 Most Creole wrasse that enter the aquarium trade are juveniles, 
like the one pictured here.
 Creole Keeping 

The Creole wrasse can make a colorful addition to the larger reef or fish-only aquarium. Because it feeds on zooplankton it is less of a threat to sessile invertebrates. Larger individuals, however, may try to consume delicate shrimps and the like, especially if the crustaceans are added after the wrasse is established. Clepticus parrae needs to be fed frequently—at least a couple of times per day—with prepared foods for carnivores, shredded seafood, and/or mysid shrimp. Small juveniles will eat frozen Cyclops.

The Creole wrasse gets rather large (up to around 12 inches) and will need to be housed in a tank of at least 135 gallons with plenty of open swimming space, as well as some suitable hiding places. It spends most of its time swimming and bobbing about the water column and is a capable jumper, so a tank cover is a must. While the Creole wrasse is unlikely to pester larger or more aggressive fishes, adults may bully smaller zooplanktivores (e.g., smaller fairy wrasses, flasher wrasses, dartfishes). Although juveniles can be kept in small groups, adult males may fight with each other.


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Kuwamura, Tetsuo. Diurnal periodicity of spawning activity in free-spawning labrid fishes. Japanese Journal of Ichthyology 28.3 (1981).

Ojeda-Serrano, E. D. G. A. R. D. O., R. Appeldoorn, and I. D. E. L. F. O. N. S. O. Ruiz-Valentin. Reef fish spawning aggregations of the Puerto Rican shelf. Proceedings of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute. Vol. 59. 2007.

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 ©  Scott W. Michael- Reef Tectonics

 Reef Tectonics Aquarium Maintenance and Design - Lincoln, Omaha, Des Moines, Kansas City

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