Fish of the Week#6 Cirrhilabrus species, the fairy wrasses


Sir Brian The Lenient
Staff member
RC Mod
Cirrhilabrus species, the fairy wrasses

Perhaps one of the most popular members of the family Labridae are the fairy wrasses. Only becoming common to aquarists in the last few years, they can be a very prized addition to any tank.

The popularity of these wrasses is for several reasons. First and foremost is the brilliant coloration these fish possess. Males especially can have stunning markings. Another attractive feature of the fairy wrasses is that they are considered to be reef safe. Unlike other wrasse species, the fairy wrasses are not as dependant on small invertebrates for food, and will not decimate beneficial life in sandbeds or on live rock (worms, crustacea, copepods, etc). It will not compete for food with other popular pod-feeding reef fish such as mandarins.

Fairy wrasses normally accept a wide range of prepared aquarium foods, including frozen mysis and brine shrimp, and other meaty foods. They eat greedily, and should be fed twice a day or so.

Though hardy once acclimated, fairy wrasses have a somewhat spotty record in captivity. One of the reasons is that they are very poor shippers. It is recommended that they are shipped in large bags of water, as confined areas seem to stress them. Additionally, they are notorious jumpers. They frighten easily, and may leap out of an uncovered tank to their keeper's chagrin.

Fairy wrasses are known as protogynous hermaphrodites, in other words, all are born as females but some will convert to males for breeding. Males will fight to the death, or one may revert back to the female sex. One drawback of keeping these wrasses is while the males have beautiful coloration, this coloration may fade unless in the
presence of females.

There are about 30 species of fairy wrasses, with some of the more popular species being:

c. scottorum Scotts fairy wrasse
c. solorensis Red-headed fairy wrasse
c. jordani flame wrasse

Most reach a length of about 6 inches and may be intolerant of other fairy wrasses in the same tank, but probably will ignore other Labridae genera.
Personal experience

About a year ago I ordered a c. solorensis from a mail order company. It readily acclimated to my tank, and accepted whatever food I offered its tankmates, including mysis and brine shrimp, plankton, and other meaty foods. It was in the same tank with a h. ornatissimus (christmas wrasse) and m. meleagris (leopard wrasse) and coexisted with no problems.

Tragically, I lost this beautiful fish a couple of months ago when it jumped from my tank. Add me to the list of aquarists who have lost a fairy wrasse in this manner.

For the year I had it, it was a wonderful fish and I highly recommend this species to those with the proper environment for it.

I had a fairy wrasse once for just a few days. I can't remember which species but it was red and gold. Bought it MO (it arrived well-packaged in an oversize bag) and it died within 48 hours in my quarantine tank. It broke my heart and I couldn't bring myself to order another one. I bought a six line from the LFS instead (and BTW my live sand bed is still in great shape a year later according to a recent microscopic exam). I'd love to try another fairy wrasse some day but after that experience I'd only get one if I could find a nice one at a good LFS.
An interesting, beautiful and under-appreciated family of fishes especially for the reef tank. Personally, I classify the fairy wrasses as either "large" or "small". The 3 mentioned by BrianD are of the "large" variety which grow to 5+ inches. The "small" include those such as c. rubriventralis (long-finned) and c. lubbocki which grow to only about 3". IMO, small fairy wrasses would make excellent additions to tanks <55 gal. The biggest problem with the fairies is they do not ship well and are easily stressed during the acclimation process. They need rock work to hide in and non-aggressive tankmates during this period. I have had more difficulty acclimating the larger fairies than with the small. My experience is that tangs, which it seems as if every one has at least 1 in their tank, will bully a newly introduced FW. For this reason, fairy wrasses make good early additions to the tanks fish population. They are fairly disease resistant due to their heavy slime production. They do not bury in the substrate at night like many wrasses but secure themselves in the rocks and build a mucous cocoon. They are jumpers and some kind of tank covering is a must. Many of these fish are not cheap and are typically $50+. However, some are available in the $20-$25 range (c. cyanapleura, c. lubbocki) and they have been some of the hardier species I have kept. Although not generally thought to be detrimental to life in the sand-bed and on the LR, my c. lubbocki can occasionally be seen with a small brittle star in his mouth. A heartily recommended family of fish for those intending to keep a non-aggressive fish community in a reef, FO or FOWLR setting.
Thanks for the input, Jeff. I appreciate you pointing out that not all species reach the 6" I mentioned. I should have made that clearer.