Cleaner Wrasse | Definitive Care Guide |Reef Safe Aquarium Fish

Do you know a fish that can enter the larger fish’s gills and mouth? Do not be excited. Cleaner wrasse is a tiny saltwater fish that can eat dead tissues of other fish.

Let’s look at more details about cleaner wrasse care.

Quick Overview

The Cleaner wrasse, blue streak Cleaner wrasse, or common Cleaner wrasse is the same fish. They are the tropical fish variety that has amazing and unique color patterns.

Cleaner Wrasse

Cleaner wrasse has 5 unique species. Among them, a Blue streak wrasse is the most popular variety.

All these five varieties are associated with the coral area of tropical seas. They generally live as a pair or a group of fish. wrasse got this name due to their exciting feeding behavior.

They mainly depend on dead skins and dead scales. Further, they eat ectoparasites that live on the fish body. Hence, they clean other fish’s bodies, they are called Cleaner wrasse.

Interesting Facts About Cleaner Wrasse

  • The most shocking factor is that Cleaner wrasse can enter into the mouth of large predatory fish. They search for parasites in the large fish’s mouth and eat them.
  • Not only the mouth, but Cleaner wrasse can also enter into the gill areas of larger fish to eat dead tissues and ectoparasites.
  • Wrasse is commonly available in pet stores and they are inexpensive.
  • Moreover, the blue streak wrasse is ideal for a community saltwater tank.
  • Because of their reef-safe behavior, they suit reef saltwater tanks.
  • But keep in mind this tiny fish is difficult to adjust to a new environment immediately. Thus, you have to acclimate them before adding them to the main tank.
  • This small and beautiful creature lives around 4 years in its natural environment.

Further, you need to have good knowledge of the wrasse to rear in the aquarium. This guide supports you to rear and care C wrasse with good practices.

One Look Care Guide

Scientific name Labroides dimidiatus
Common nameBlue streak cleaner wrasse, common cleaner wrasse & striped cleaner wrasse.
Care levelExpert
Reef Compatible Reef safe
Native toMost wrasses inhabit the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, 
Indian and Pacific ocean Commonly found in Africa,
Indonesia and Maldives
ColorBlack,
Blue,
White,
yellow
Tank sizeMinimum 55 gallon (110 gallons recommended)
Preferred temperature72-78° F
Preferred hardness8-12 dKH
Preferred pH8.1-8.4
Other water parametersAmmonia – 0 ppm
Nitrate – 0 ppm
Nitrite -0 ppm
Preferred salinity1.023-1.025 specific gravity (35ppt)
Size3-6 inch
TemperamentPeaceful
Recommended tank matesReef fish
Damselfish
Tangs
Large Angels
Large wrasses
Sea Horses
Pipefish
Mandarins
Sea Anemones
DietCarnivore
Preferred fooddead tissue and scales,
mucus and ectoparasite
Feeding frequency3,4 times per day (if they eat supplement foods)
Propagation bySexual – External fertilization of eggs

Cleaner Wrasse Natural Habitat 

Most wrasses inhabit tropical and subtropical waters. They are commonly found in;

  • Pacific Ocean
  • Indian Ocean
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Red sea

 Africa, Indonesia, and the Maldives are the popular stations of cleaner wrasse.

Cleaner Wrasse Appearance

  • The most common type is Blue streak cleaner wrasse.  They have long, slender bodies and pointed noses.
  • You can easily identify them by observing their color patterns. Their black strips start from the snout and end at the edge of the caudal fin.
  • The Blue streak Cleaner wrasse’s dorsal side is light blue and the belly side is white or slightly yellowish. They can change this white area into a light blue color in front of another animal.

Additionally.

  • Cleaner wrasse is an active swimmer.
  • They can grow around 3.5 inches to 6 inches long in the wild
  • The major important feature is their protruding teeth. Those teeth are like tweezers and help them to pluck dead tissues and parasites from the other fish’s bodies.
  • They are hardy little fish and prone to diseases.

The Blue streak wrasse gives a pleasant look to your saltwater aquarium. Their swimming behaviors give a fascinating look to your aquarium.

Cleaner Wrasse cleaning

Cleaner Wrasse Colors And Types

Cleaner wrasse has five unique species.

Blue streak Cleaner wrasse –Labroides dimidiatus

Black spot Cleaner wrasse – Labroides pectoralis

They can be easily distinguished due to their yellow head and bold black spot situated near the belly area.  The black color stripe runs laterally and it starts from the snout and ends at the fish caudal fin. This strip fades at the posterior side of the fish body.

Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse – Labroides phthirophagus

Hawaiian wrasse or golden wrasse is commonly found in waters around Hawaiian Islands. They can grow around 5 inches in size.

The anterior part of the body of this fish is golden color and dark lateral stripe running from the eye to the caudal fin.

This strip is wider in the posterior part of the body. The purple and violet coloration can be seen on their fins.

Bicolor Cleaner Wrasse – Labroides bicolor

Bicolor wrasse has a beautiful bicolor appearance. Their body is bluish-gray color and the dark blue lateral stripe present in the anterior part of the body.

Red Lip Cleaner Wrasse – Labroides rubrolabiatus

Red lip wrasses can grow around 3 inches in the wild. They are rare species.

The male and female Red lip cleaner wrasses have a darkish strip that starts from the snout and fading into dark yellow at the posterior side.

The caudal fin is black color. Red lip cleaner wrasses upper and lower lobes edges are white.

Tank Requirements

Blue streak Cleaner wrasse is ideal for a community saltwater tank. Because they love to live with other saltwater varieties.

Further, they need a large space to swim. Hence you should have a large tank to rear them.

Cleaner Wrasse Tank

Size Of The Tank

The recommended tank size is 110 gallons. If you can provide larger than more than 110 gallons, it is better. The C wrasse is an active swimmer and they love their swimming space.

Important tip : Do not select a small tank

  • Because their diet highly depends on the amount of fish available in the tank.
  • You cannot add much fish into the small tank and it will cause a deficiency of food for Cleaner wrasse.
  • Try to take a big tank as much as possible.
  • Then you can add a huge amount of saltwater fish into it.
  • The Cleaner wrasse can live healthily and happily in the large tanks.

Water Quality

The Cleaner wrasse does not need any special tank conditions. The traditional reef aquarium water parameters are ideal for them. wrasse is a relatively hardy fish.

Temperature

They Prefer72-78° F, because they are tropical water fish. Install aquarium heaters to maintain water temperature.

Temperature measuring tool: The digital thermometer will help you to measure temperature regularly.

Preferred Hardness

Cleaner wrasse prefers water with 8-12 dKH hardness.

 Preferred pH

They prefer slightly alkaline water and pH level should be in between 8.1-8.4.

pH measuring Tool : Digital pH meter

Salinity

Salinity should be the same as ocean water. Thus, the salinity level should be in between 1.023-1.025 specific gravity ( or 35 ppt).

Salinity measuring tools: Hydrometer / refractometer.

Tips: How to prepare salt water solution at home

You can prepare a 35 ppt salt water solution at home. Clean fresh water and aquarium salt are the major components that you need.

  • Add 35 grams of aquarium salt to one liter of water and mix it properly.
  • Check the salinity of the prepared solution using a refractometer or Hydrometer.  

Substrates

Please add sandy substrates to the tank bottom. Because Cleaner wrasse bury themselves in a sand bed at the night time.

Additionally,

They also spend their nighttime in the cavity of the coral reef. They also like to live on rocks. Because Cleaner wrasses use these places as their hiding grounds and cleaning stations.

Flow rate

They do not need any specific flow rate. Anyhow you can use a good filter system to maintain water quality in your reef aquarium.

Lighting

They do not have any special lighting requirements. They can live healthily and happily under the lighting conditions of your reef aquarium.

 You can use:

  • LED lights
  • Kessil Tuna blue A80 lights
  • T5 lighting

Tank Roof

  • Cleaner wrasse spent and enjoyed all layers of water columns. They never stay in a certain area for a long period.
  •  Moreover, they are well known to jump.
  • Hence your reef aquarium should be covered with a proper roof cover.

How To Place Them In A Tank?

Do not add Cleaner wrasse directly to your main aquarium. First, you should quarantine them in a separate tank. Because marine fish contain lots of parasites and other disease-causing agents.

During the quarantine period, you must pay high attention to the C wrasse. Because they do not eat formulated stuff or any other live or frozen foodstuff. 

First, you should acclimate them before introducing them to the new environment. You can use;

  • Floating bag method 
  • Drip method

I recommend doing the floating method along with the drip method for Cleaner wrasse fish.

How To Acclimate Cleaner Wrasse Fish

  • Take a bucket and add 35 ppt (1.023-1.025 specific gravity) saline water to it.
  • Float the fish bag on that water for 20-30 minutes
  • Then water temperature of the bag same as the water in the bucket
  • Then allow fish to enter into that water
  • Take oxygen pipe and put one end to the main tank and another end to the bucket
  • Suck water from the main tank and regulate the water passing rate
  • The water passing rate should be 3 drips per second
  • Acclimate fish for 30 minutes
  • This drip method help to adapt the fish for tank water, then they can perform well
  • After one hour you can catch Cleaner wrasse using the net and placed them into a quarantine tank
  • The quarantine tank should fill with the water of the main tank

Tank Mates Of Cleaner Wrasse

Blue streak Cleaner wrasse is a nonaggressive and reef-safe species. You can add them to your reef water aquarium.

Do not add small fish varieties with wrasse fish. Because these small fish can disturb your wrasse when they try to clean the tank.

Cleaner Wrasse fish tank

The suitable tank mates for Cleaner wrasses fish are;

  • Gobies
  • Dartfish
  • Assessors
  • Fairy wrasses
  • Clownfish
  • Dwarf angles
  • Anthias
  • Dotty backs
  • Damselfish
  • Tangs
  • Large Angels
  • Large wrasses
  • Sea Horses
  • Pipefish
  • Mandarins
  • Sea Anemones

How Cleaner Wrasse Reproduce

Male And Female Identification

It is difficult to distinguish male and female Cleaner wrasse by observing their physical appearance.

But if you take the same age Cleaner wrasse, the male wrasse is larger than the female fish.

Important facts about their gender

  • They are hermaphroditic. It means every c wrasse has male and female sex organs.
  • When the male fish is not present, the dominant female can change their gender into male within 24 hours.
  • Then he can mate with female fish.
  • Usually, this gender transformation will happen before the fish turns 3 years old.

How Cleaner Wrasse Mate

Breed Cleaner wrasse in captivity is a bit difficult. Because most of the experiments are failed in captivity and rarely succeed in some breeds.

Interesting Facts About Cleaner Wrasse Breeding Process

  • Blue streak Cleaner wrasse is breeding one time per year
  • MaleBlue streak wrasse start mating dance to attract the sexually matured female wrasse.
  • Females will stimulate and lay eggs. Then male wrasse will fertilize those eggs.
  • C wrasse show external fertilization.
  • Male wrasse breed with multiple females at a time.
  • The spawning activities commonly happen in the afternoon hours of the day.
  • The fertilized egg hatches within a few days
  • The planktonic larvae are released into the water column.
  • In the wild, planktonic larvae move with water currents.

What Do Cleaner Wrasse Eat?

The wrasse is a carnivore, and they are fast eaters. They have a symbiotic relationship with the fish in your tank.

Cleaner wrasse mainly prefers to eat fish’s

  • Dead skins
  • Dead scale
  • Mucus
  • Ectoparasites

Moreover, they will eat parasites that are present in the tank too. Thus, you need to ensure that your tank has enough fish.

Cleaner Wrasse cleaning

Then Cleaner wrasse can fulfill their dietary requirement from that fish.

Do Cleaner Wrasses Eat Fish Food?

Some aquarists try to give them prepared food such as;

  • Frozen foods
  • Live foods
  • Pellets
  • Flakes

Some formulated foods are accepted by Cleaner wrasses. But most of the Cleaner wrasses do not adapt to the prepared food.

But you can try the following food types. There is a possibility to adapt them for that stuff when they fully adapt to the tank. Here I mentioned several successful food types for Cleaner wrasses in captivity.

Meaty foods such as;

  • Chopped shrimp, squid meat
  • Clams
  • Chopped beef heart
  • Frozen brine shrimp

Cleaner wrasse starvation

If the tank has not enough food, their life is in a threatened state. Because they are difficult to acclimate to the traditional formulated food. Most of the poor Cleaner wrasses tend to die because of starvation.

Thus, you should pay much attention to them and properly care for them. Thus, make sure to add Cleaner wrasses into the community tank that have enough fish. Then they can survive by eating fish debris.

How to feed Cleaner wrasses?

There is no special method to feed the Cleaner wrasse. Because they obtain their food by themselves.

The only thing that you can do is add enough fish into their saltwater environment. Then they can eat those fish’s detritus.

Feeding frequency

Most cleaner wrasses do not rely on formulated foods. Thus, one need not worry about their diet. They will eat dead fish tissues and scales when they want.

Additional information

  • Cleaner wrasses are small fish with slender bodies. Hence, they are unable to store food like other fish varieties. Therefore they need to eat throughout the 24 hours of the day.
  • According to the research studies, aquarists found that Cleaner wrasse can consume around 1200 parasites from 2300 fish within 4 hours.
  • Their fast swimming behavior helps them to achieve enough food within a short time.

Diseases Of Cleaner Wrasse

  • Cleaner wrasse is a hardy fish and has a strong immunity system. 
  • They have huge tolerance against the disease-causing agent.
  • Furthermore, they can eat parasites that live in other fish’s mouths, skin, and gills.

Predators Of Cleaner Wrasse

Cleaner wrasse show mutualisms with predatory fish. In nature, predatory fish are carnivores and have large bodies.

But they do not harm the wrasse. When they need cleaner wrasse’s service, they come to cleaner stations and clean their bodies.

Interesting Factors

  • Cleaner wrasses are entered even to the predatory fish’s mouth to clean parasites.
  • However, these large fish do not tend to eat them.

But Following species show some predatory behaviors against cleaner wrasse.

  • Lionfish
  • Groupers
  • Soap fish

Cleaner Wrasse Mutualism

The relationship between two fish is called mutualism. C wrasse and reef fish are the popular varieties that show mutualism.

In this partnership both parties got benefits. As an example wrasse eat dead cells and parasites that live on the body of reef fish.

The reef fish gain benefit by removing parasites and dead tissues from their body.  

FAQ

Are Cleaner Wrasses Hard To Keep?

Yes, Cleaner wrasse are fast eaters and they highly depend on fish debris and parasites. In the natural environment, they can obtain plenty of parasites within a short period.

They can eat 1200 parasites that are present in 2300 fishes within four hours.

But the tank environment is free from parasites. Further, it is impossible to rear hundreds of fish in the home aquarium.

Therefore Blue streak cleaner wrasses fish unable to fulfill their nutrient requirement in captivity.

Moreover, they do not like to eat formulated, live, frozen and freeze-dried fish food. Because of the above reasons, they are starving in captivity. Then they tend to die.

Do Cleaner Wrasse Fish Eat Algae?

No. Blue streak cleaner wrasses is a carnivore. Thus they only rely on animal matters such as;

  • Skin debris
  • Scales
  • Parasites
  • Fish mucus

Thus, they do not eat plant matter and algae.

Can I Keep Two Cleaner Wrasses Together?

Male cleaner wrasses show aggression to other male cleaner wrasses. Thus, you should keep one male cleaner wrasses fish in a tank.

Then that male can be paired with one or multiple female cleaner wrasses fish.

Important: Cleaner wrasses are sequential hermaphrodites

  • It means every cleaner wrasse has both male and female reproductive organs.
  • Because of this special feature, they can change their gender in a special situation.
  • As an example, if male cleaner wrasses die in a group, the most dominant female becomes the male fish.

Cleaner wrasses also show aggressive behavior for other species such as Melanurus wras.

Source

Wismer, S., Pinto, A.I., Vail, A.L., Grutter, A.S. and Bshary, R., 2014. Variation in cleaner wrasse cooperation and cognition: influence of the developmental environment?. Ethology, 120(6), pp.519-531.

Grutter, A., 1996. Parasite removal rates by the cleaner wrasse Labroides dimidiatus. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 130, pp.61-70.

Bshary, R., 2003. The c wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, is a key organism for reef fish diversity at Ras Mohammed National Park, Egypt. Journal of Animal Ecology, 72(1), pp.169-176.

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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.