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Sea of Cortez 810

Family Labridae
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned)
Order: Perciformes

Key Features:
Most wrasses are small and brightly colored.  Although most are cigar shaped, this is a tremendously large family and there is a great deal of diversity in body shape.  There are many wrasses that resemble parrotfishes, others like the razorfish that are deep-bodied.  Wrasses are often the most abundant and conspicuous members of reef communities.  They exhibit as much variability in lifestyle as they do in shape, with herbivores, pickers, omnivores, planktivores detritivores, and predators.  Wrasses usually have a pointed snout with easily visible canine teeth that project forward in many species.  Wrasses also have cycloid scales and a single dorsal fin, usually without notching between the spines and soft rays.   

Notable Species in the Sea of Cortez

Bodianus diplotaenia
Mexican Hogfish
Halichoeres semicinctus
Rock Wrasse
Halichoeres dispilus
Chameleon Wrasse
Halichoeres nicholsi
Spinster Wrasse
Halichoeres chierchiae
Wounded Wrasse
Halichoeres notospilus
Banded Wrasse
Thalassoma lucasanum
Cortez Rainbow Wrasse
Thalassoma grammaticum
Sunset Wrasse
Xyrichtys pavo
Peacock Wrasse
Novaculichthys taeniourus
Rockmover Wrasse

mexican hogfish intermediate terminal phase, Bodianus diplotaenia

Bodianus diplotaenia
Intermediate Terminal Phase Mexican Hogfish



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San Carlos Scuba Diving

Family Labridae
Wrasses (Viejas y senoritas)

The wrasses are among the most diverse and successful of marine fish families.  The majority of the wrasses are small to moderately sized, and are often brilliantly colored. While most are excellent swimmers, many species prefer to propel themselves by paddling their pectoral fins, rather than by pushing with their caudal fins.  Because of this form of locomotion, wrasses demonstrate tremendous maneuverability along rocky crevices and reef structures where often they will follow larger fishes and even sharks, picking at the scraps of their attacks. 

In contrast to most wrasses there are several deep-bodied species that have forgone the torpedo-shaped form and more closely resemble parrotfish.  There is even one species in the Indo-Pacific that reaches seven and a half feet in length (2.3m). 

One of the most unusual characteristics of the family Labridae is their ability to change sex.  Unlike members of Pomacentridae and others that undergo a terminal sex change from male to female, the labrids instead produce terminal super males.  The results of this protogynous hermaphroditism, is a male with striking sexual dimorphism that looks drastically dissimilar to its original female form.  These supermales often enter into haremic breeding situations with multiple females.  Worldwide there are at least five hundred species within sixty genera in the family Labridae.  Of these, seventeen species in nine genera have been observed within the Sea of Cortez. 

One of the most commonly encountered wrasses by scuba divers is the Mexican hogfish, Bodianus diplotaenia.  It is often fearless in approaching scuba divers and has been known to nip at the fingers of scuba divers, as well as to dart in and attack anything disturbed by the divers fins. 

There are several wrasses found throughout the Gulf that are characteristically cigar-shaped and colorful.  These include the rock wrasse, Halichoeres semicinctus, the chameleon wrasse, Halichoeres dispilus, the spinster wrasse, Halichoeres nicholsi, and the wounded wrasse, Halichoeres chierchiae.  One of the most colorful and abundant wrasses in the central and southern Gulf is the Cortez rainbow wrasse, Thalassoma lucusanum.  This species occurs in small schools and aggregations in which a few large and socially dominant females undergo sex reversal to become territorial supermales.  These wrasses are broadcast spawners and during spawning season these aggregations will suddenly shoot to the surface and the mass of males and females will simultaneously emit clouds of sperm and eggs into the water column. 


Updated August 28, 2009

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