An elongated slender body characterizes this large and diverse family of fish, the wrasses. Very commonly seen in coral reef environments, these colorful, vibrant fish are easy to spot but can be tricky to identify. Just about all 45 species of wrasses found in the Hawaiian Islands have the ability to change sex, where most will be born female in the initial phase and proceed to become a male in the terminal phase. Various color patterns can be displayed during these phases of juvenile to adulthood. Within every phase of their life, they will display different color patterns making them very difficult to distinguish between species.
Wrasses commonly live in what we call a “harem,” where one dominant male lives with a group of females. If for whatever reason, this “supermale” is removed from the harem, the largest and most aggressive female will transform into the supermale. Most wrasses that are born males will never become dominant in this social arrangement.
Most wrasses inhabit coral reefs or rocky substrate areas, with very few found over sandy bottoms. They are diurnal carnivorous fish, mainly feeding on fish, small invertebrates, and plankton. Some even pick parasites and mucus from the skin and gills of other fish. At night, wrasses are known to take refuge deep into the reef or bury themselves in the sand. Many use their pectoral fins for swimming. Their compressed body and thin foreheads give them the ability to dive into the sand if need to.
There are over 600 species of wrasses, making them the second-largest family of fish. Of the 45 species found in Hawaiian waters, 16 are endemic to the islands. Some range in size from very small, to about 20 inches, to the six-foot humphead or napoleon wrasse. The Hawaiian name hīnālea applies to most species of wrasses. The Hawaiian Islands are a perfect place to see these beautiful and intrinsic fish, and there are so many to identify!
*Due to the constant rotation of animals back to the ocean, we cannot guarantee the presence of any specific animal.