Wrasse species identification guide

Some of the most lively and inquisitive reef fish

With about 500 species, the Labridae family (wrasse) is the second-largest family of marine fishes.

Wrasse species appear in a diverse range of size, shape and color, sometimes varying considerably even within a single species, as they proceed through several distinct phases during their life.

Cortez rainbow wrasse changes between initial and terminal phase
Many wrasse species coloration changes between the initial phase (on the top, females or primary males) and the bright terminal phase (bottom, secondary male). Here, illustrated with Cortez rainbow wrasses (on the top, in Chileno Bay, Mexico; at the bottom, in Playa Danta, Costa Rica).

Wrasses are among the most abundant and conspicuous fish on shallow coral reefs, but also in temperate seas. Some wrasse can be really inquisitive, making them some of the easiest fish to see and photograph while snorkeling.

Where are the most emblematic wrasse species found?

The largest (and also the most famous) species in this family is the Maori wrasse, which can reach a length of more than 6ft/2m. It is mainly seen on the Great Barrier Reef and in the Tuamotu Islands, where some individuals are almost tame.

Thalassoma genera wrasses, bright and colorful, are common over coral reefs around the world. The sixbar wrasse, widely distributed from East Africa to French Polynesia, is certainly the most common in the Indo-Pacific.

Maori wrasse, or Napoleon
The Maori wrasse is the largest known wrasse species. In this picture, encountered at Tetamanu‘s drop off in Fakarava, French Polynesia.

In the Caribbean, the bluehead wrasse is simply unmissable. The vibrant colors of the ornate wrasse give a tropical touch to the Mediterranean underwater landscape.

Some other wrasse species are known for cleaning larger fish from their parasites, which they feed on. The best known among them is the bluestreak cleaner wrasse, found from the Red Sea to the Marquesas.

Finally, if we had to vote for the most beautiful wrasse species, the juvenile clown coris, with its exquisite white body decorated with two black and orange eyespots, would undoubtedly be among our favorites.

Caribbean & Western Atlantic Ocean wrasse

Indian & Pacific Oceans wrasse

Eastern Pacific Ocean wrasse

Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic Ocean wrasse

Discover more fish families


Sergeant major



Butterflyfish & bannerfish

Marine life ID guide

See all fish families

Still trying to identify a fish you've seen?
Ask our experts!

    Our underwater life experts are here to help you identify a species you've seen. Please specify where you saw this species and, if possible, attach a photo

    You can upload pictures in .jpg, .png and .bmp format. Files in .JPG (capital letters) can't be uploaded with this form. Please modify the file extension with .jpg before uploading.

    Check out our selection of fish identification guides!

    Fish ID
    Fish ID book on the beach

    Want to learn more about the species you’ve observed or photographed underwater?

    The identification guides are true treasures for those curious to know about the underwater world, and a beautiful way to dream about your future snorkeling explorations!