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Bird Wrasse | Learn About Hardy And Bird-Like Marine Fish |

Bird wrasse is an unusually shaped but beautiful-looking fish representing the Labridae family. Being a saltwater fish, this fish is actually a beginner-friendly fish because of its low requirements in captivity care. Bird wrasse is hardy and disease resistant.

However, these fish require a large tank to thrive as they are very active fish. Bird wrasse comes in two color morphs, green bird wrasse and blackbird wrasse. They are actually the same fish but different sexes.

This is a bird wrasse care guide for beginners.

Bird Wrasse

What is Bird wrasse?

Bird wrasse (Gomphosus various) is a fish belonging to the family Labridae. These fish are often found in coral reefs in the Indian ocean, but they are also found in the Pacific ocean.

Bird wrasse is a very hardy fish that can adapt to various water conditions. Hence it is recommended for beginner aquarists.

Appearance-wise, there are two color varieties of these fish. The emerald green color form, called green bird wrasse, is the male specimen, while the white form with sprinkled black color spots on the back and a brownish mid-body, called black bird wrasse, is the female specimen.

Bird wrasse is well known for its unusual beak-like snout, elongated body that is laterally compressed, and truncated tail.

These wrasses look like birds, hence the name. Although adult fish are extremely easy to identify, juveniles are not because their characteristics are similar to other wrasse juveniles.  

Habitat and Distribution

Bird wrasse is found in the open waters of both tropical and subtropical regions, from low tide zone to coral reefs.

They are found in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Since they are commonly seen in these waters, they are listed in the IUCN Red List as Least Concerned species.

How big do Bird wrasse get?

Bird wrasse is a medium-sized fish that reach about 12 inches when fully grown. These wrasses can grow to 15 inches, but it is very rare for them to get their full length.

Is Bird wrasse aggressive?

Bird wrasse is a semi-aggressive fish that become aggressive toward its prey while showing passive behavior to fish that are not small enough to fit in their mouths.

Since their mouths are small, they can only eat tiny fish and invertebrates, so most small fish species will be able to cohabit with these fish if they are fully grown.

Bird wrasse behavior

Bird wrasse is a diurnal fish species that often stay in solitary, sometimes in small groups.

The ones who prefer solitary are often aggressive and territorial, so it will not be easy for other fish to cohabit with these fish.

When they stay in groups, they are often peaceful and won’t bother other fish species. Bird wrasse is usually bottom-dwelling fish, but they can swim around all parts of the aquarium.

They are carnivores, feed mainly on crustaceans and small fish. In the wild, these wrasses are quick hunters who ambush their prey by quickly darting into their prey and swallowing them whole.

The fish will often swim close to the reef during nighttime, feeding on invertebrates on the reef. On some occasions, these fish will stay in the same spot for days as they wait for their prey to come by.

Bird wrasse is generally an active fish species, but they can become shy when introduced to a new fish tank.

When large specimens are introduced to a new tank, they often stay hidden and do not eat for a few days. While this behavior can be alarming, it is normal behavior.

So, if you are a beginner aquarist, we recommend buying juvenile specimens rather than fully grown ones as they easily adjust to new environments.

Bird Wrasse

How long do Bird wrasses live?

The average lifespan of these fish is about 3 to 5 years in captivity. How long these fish will live in the wild is still unknown.

One look Care guide

Scientific nameGomphosus various
Common nameBird wrasse
Green bird wrasse
Black bird wrasse
Brown bird wrasse
Care levelEasy
Native toIndo-Pacific ocean
Type Saltwater fish
Color Male- Emerald green, Female- white with sprinkled black color spots on the back and a brownish mid-body
Tank size100 gallons
Preferred temperature72.0 to 83.0°F
Other water parameters (ammonia, etc.)pH level: 8.1-8.4
pHHardness: 8-12 dKH
Specific gravity: 1.020-1.025 SG
Preferred salinity32.5ppt
Size 12 inches
Life SpanUnknown
Temperament Semi-aggressive
Recommended tank matesFish larger than 3 inches
Preferred foodCarnivore, live food
Feeding frequencySeveral times per day
breedingUnknown in captivity

Bird wrasse care

Bird wrasse is generally easy to care for when given a large fish tank. However, these fish are escape artists.

Therefore, it is a MUST to keep your tank well covered. These wrasses do not eat the algae that grow in the aquarium. But they love to dig and make a mess out of your substrate.

Bird wrasse size

Bird wrasse can reach up to 12 inches (30 cm) when fully grown.

However, it is very rare for these fish to reach their full length because they usually die before becoming adults. The average size of these fish in captivity is 6-7 inches (15 cm).

Bird wrasse tank size

As this fish is relatively large for aquariums, they need a tank size of at least 75 gallons (285 liters) for their initial stage.

After getting the fish, look into upgrading to a larger tank if necessary. The minimum tank size for an adult specimen is about 100 gallons (380 liters).

These fish require a lot of space due to their large size and active nature. These wrasses like swimming around and exploring, so make sure you provide them with enough space to make them comfortable.

How many Bird wrasse should be kept together?

You can keep bird wrasse as a singular fish or a group of fish. However, the tank requirement dramatically increases if you intend to keep more than one fish.

For a fish pair, you will need a tank of over 150 gallons. For a group of 3 fish, a 200-gallon tank would suffice.

When keeping a group of bird wrasse, you should be extremely careful to put only one male specimen because two male bird wrasse will quickly fight to the death over the female. It is okay to keep more than one female fish together with one male fish.

Tank setup

Bird wrasse loves to move around during the day. To fulfill their need for constant movement, you will have to provide a larger fish tank of at least 100 gallons for one fish.

The tank should be longer than 6 feet as these fish are fast-moving fish. If kept in shorter tanks, these fish may injure themselves by hitting the rocks and glass all the time.

Substrate

Wrasse is known to bury themselves in the sand in their natural habitats.

Most aquarium bird wrasse species do not show this behavior, but some may inherit the behavior from local Halichoeres. Therefore, it is wise to add sand as the substrate in your aquarium.

Decorations

As we said before, newly introduced specimens may show skittish behavior. So, it is essential to provide plenty of hiding spaces and cover for these fish.

While we don’t recommend rocks because of the risk of injury, you can use wood and rock structures to create hiding places for the fish.

Plants are also an excellent option to provide hiding places for wrasse. However, it is essential to note that some wrasse species may dig and destroy your plants if they have the chance.

If you are a more experienced aquarist, you can also add some corals into your bird wrasse tank, and your fish will appreciate it.

Lighting and filtration

Bird wrasse is not fussy when it comes to lighting, but they are picky when it comes to filtration. These wrasses are known for being fussy eaters, and some are even picky about what they eat at times.

These fish are often found in clear water, requiring sufficient lighting to see their prey clearly.

Use of power filters is not recommended when keeping wrasse. Some wrasse species may be okay with it, but others may get sucked into the filter and end up injured or dead.

In addition, the use of power filters may suck up the smaller fish in the aquarium.

Use of canister filters is recommended for wrasse tanks.

Water movement

Bird wrasse requires well-oxygenated water with a strong water flow. Therefore, in addition to your filtration system, you will need to invest in other water flow devices such as powerheads.

Wavemakers for creating waves are also highly recommended if you want to keep these fish in your tank.

Tank Lid

In addition to all other decorations and equipment, you must have a well-covered tank lid. With being so active, these fish are at risk of jumping out of the tank if you don’t have a tight-fitting lid on your tank.

Water quality condition

The bird wrasse originates from tropical regions. The water temperature should be kept at 72.0 to 83.0° degrees Fahrenheit, with a specific gravity of 1.020-1.025 SG.

The water pH range should be around pH 8.1-8.4 while the water hardness of around 8-12 dKH.

These fish are very hardy and disease-free. Keeping them would be no problem as long as you keep the water conditions up to par.

Like other fish, water changes are very important for these wrasses as well. These fishes also produce waste and require water changes to maintain good water quality for them.

However, a monthly 20% to 30% water change would be sufficient if you have a much larger aquarium.

Bird Wrasse

Bird wrasse breeding 

Bird wrasse breeding is not yet well documented. However, these fish are expected to spawn through a process called broadcast reproduction like other wrasse species.

Bird wrasse male or female identification

Identifying male and female fish is extremely easy because these fish show sexual dimorphism.

The emerald green color wrasse is the male specimen, while the blackbird wrasse is the female specimen.

The female specimen is white with fine black spots, and it has more blackish or brownish color on the backside. The females are also smaller than the males.

Interestingly, bird wrasse also undergoes a sexual metamorphosis, which means they change their gender from female to male when necessary.

All wrasse are born females, but the female specimen can change their gender to male when the social hierarchy of wrasse species is disrupted.

Bird wrasse breeding

Bird wrasse breeding in captivity is unknown. It is believed that these fish need a much larger tank of at least 300 gallons for spawning.

One aquarist actually had a mating-like experience with his bird wrasse pair kept in a 300-gallon tank. However, whether he ended up with a fish fry or not is still unknown.

The male and female were seen running in and out of the rockwork with their top fin fully erected. They halted near the top of the tank, made contact in some manner, generated gametes as a little white cloud, and then darted away.

How many babies do Bird wrasse have?

Wrasse species lay between 1,000 and 5,000 eggs at a time. So, we can expect the same amount of fries from bird wrasse too. However, no bird wrasse has been bred in captivity yet.

Special tips

If you want a wrasse pair, you can simply buy two juvenile bird wrasse or two female wrasses. It will be cheaper, and the dominant fish will eventually become a male specimen.

While these fish do fine with some reefs in the aquarium, they are not compatible with reef-only aquariums.

They will most likely eat any fish that is too small for them to swallow. So, do not add any small fish to your bird wrasse tank if you want them to live.

Bird wrasse diet?

Bird wrasse are carnivores, and they eat mostly live food, but there are reports of some captive specimens that eat frozen food as well.

These fish mainly eat all kinds of crustaceans, echinoderms, mollusks, and other invertebrates.  They don’t eat algae, but they will rummage through algae looking for copepods that may be hiding there.

They eat any living crustaceans, echinoderms, and other invertebrates in the aquarium. Some aquarists report that these fish do fine with small feeder shrimps as well.

Some foods you can give to your bird wrasse are,

  • Brine shrimp
  • Mysis shrimp
  • Shrimp flesh
  • Shaved fish
  • Fish flake
  • Squid and
  • Mussels

You can also provide a variety of frozen food and marine pellet food to your bird wrasse to check if they eat everything.

If your bird wrasse avoids eating frozen food, you can try tricking them by feeding them pieces of fresh or raw foods. This is a common practice that all aquarists do to feed their fish with frozen food.

These fish usually eat anything that moves around if that fits their mouth. So, you can make your frozen food move by using a stick.

This will make your frozen food seem like live food, and your bird wrasse may start eating it.

Feeding frequency

Bird wrasse needs several feedings per day as these fish are always active. They need at least 2 to 3 feedings per day, so do not miss out on any of them.

What fish can live with Bird wrasse?

Bird wrasse can live in the same species tank as well as a community tank.

However, you should be careful not to add any fish smaller than 3 inches. They are great in a predatory saltwater tank as well.

Same species

Bird wrasse can live with the same species of fish. However, one tank should only contain one male fish.

Otherwise, these fish may fight among themselves until death. You can keep one or more female fish with one male fish, but the tank must have a capacity of at least 200 gallons.

The tank should be well decorated with rocks, caves, and other hiding areas for the fish to claim territories.

Peaceful Community tank

Bird wrasse can live with any community fish that is larger than 3 inches and is not an herbivore. These fish are compatible with other fish that are reef safe, but they will eat smaller fish even if they are not their prey.

Some suitable peaceful tank mates are assessors, gobies, dartfish, and fairy wrasses.

Note: You should monitor the aquarium frequently, as bird wrasse may sometimes eat dartfish and fairy wrasses.

Semi-aggressive and aggressive fish

Bird wrasse does very well with semi-aggressive and aggressive fish. Because of their semi-aggressive behavior, they can defend themselves if an aggressive fish bully them.

Further, these fish won’t bother other fish as long as they are bigger than 3 inches because they can not eat them.

Some suitable semi-aggressive tank mates are clownfish, anthias, dwarf angels, tangs, large angels, and large wrasses.

Some suitable aggressive tank mates are dottybacks, damselfish, 6-line & 8-line wrasse, groupers, lionfish, and soapfish.

Corals and Anemones

These fish do fine with all types of coral and anemones.

These include anemones, mushroom anemones, LPS corals, SPS corals, Gorgonians, leather corals, sea fans, soft corals, star polyps, and sea mats. They benefit from these corals and anemones by seeking shelter in them. 

However, bird wrasse still requires sand substrate on some aquarium parts as they like to dig.

Crustaceans, echinoderms, and other invertebrates

These fish are not picky when it comes to bugs.

They eat all types of crustaceans, echinoderms, and other invertebrates. However, you should know that they will not turn down feeder shrimps either.

So, bird wrasse will be a threat to these creatures in your aquarium. Some creatures you should never cohabit with bird wrasse are,

  • shrimps
  • crabs
  • snails
  • starfish
  • flatworms
  • bristle worms
  • feather dusters
  • oysters
  • scallops and
  • clams

Bird Wrasse Diseases

One of the best characteristics of bird wrasse is that these fish are disease resistant. In fact, they don’t get infected with any disease other than parasitic diseases.

Still, they are easy to treat with typical aquarium medication. You will have to keep the sick fish in a quarantine tank to cure the fish.

Further, you can also treat your fish with a freshwater treatment. However, you will have to ensure that your fish is not stressed out because of the freshwater bath.

These fish are timid. So, stress is the number 1 killer of these fish. You need to make sure that other tank mates or you do not stress out your bird wrasse. You can do this by providing them with a lot of hiding places in the aquarium.

Related questions 

Are Bird wrasses rare?

Bird wrasse is not rare and widespread around the Indo-Pacific area in the wild. Any LFS (local fish store) would have bird wrasse in stock, and they are not pricey either.

In fact, they are quite cheap when compared to other saltwater fish in the market. 

How long does a Bird wrasse live?

The exact lifespan of bird wrasse is unknown. However, they tend to live about 3 to 5 years in captivity.

Conclusion

Bird wrasse is an excellent beginner-friendly saltwater fish because of its hardiness and disease-free nature.

They also make a wonderful addition to your community tank if other fish are not small enough for bird wrasse to eat.

However, their feeding requirement makes them somehow challenging to care for as they need live food. Still, they can be great pets if you can provide for their needs.

Credit to: Prestige Reef
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About Dr.Chamika

Hello, I'm Dr. Chamika. I am a Researcher in Water quality, Aquatic organisms, and Environmental chemistry. I am a passionate fish keeper, with10 years of experience. My mission is to help other aquarists experience the joy of fish keeping.