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Vibrant Island Nature: the Brilliant Bluehead Wrasse

February 9, 2015

One of the tropical reef fish that I get excited to see on a Caribbean getaway or escape to the Florida Keys is the Bluehead Wrasse. These fish may be tiny, but their vibrant colors shine like gemstones against a backdrop of corals or sandy ocean floor.

(Bluehead Wrasse with seafan & yellow juvenile. Photo: James St. John, Flickr.)

 

Another reason the sight of a Bluehead Wrasse makes me kick my fins with happiness – on a snorkel, that is? Because this particular creature is so easy to identify. Three to four and a half inches long, with a blue head: What could be more obvious? But, as I learned while researching the Bluehead Wrasse, it’s not always so simply to identify this species.

 

Here are five facts about the Bluehead Wrasse to prepare you for your next island snorkeling or scuba trip:

 

1. The Bluehead Wrasse isn’t always blue! In its male juvenile phase or when it’s female, it’s actually yellow with black marks on either side. Sometimes you’ll notice black markings on its fins, too. Only in the adult male or “terminal” phase does this wrasse develop its distinctive blue head with a green body.

(An adult male Bluehead Wrasse. Photo: James St. John, Flickr.)

 

2. Yes, not only do certain Bluehead Wrasses change color, they also change sex. Each grouping of these wrasses has a primary and secondary male; if the secondary male dies, one of the females changes color and sex to become the next secondary male.  (This just goes to show that the oceanic world is full of marvels, doesn’t it?)

 

3. If you want to spot a Bluehead Wrasse, head to the Caribbean Sea and the tropical Atlantic, including Bermuda. Their underwater range goes from about 10 feet to 130 feet deep, and they make their home among coral reefs, sea grasses, and certain other inshore areas.

(A juvenile or female Bluehead Wrasse. Photo by James St. John, Flickr.)

 

4. The Bluehead Wrasse is a carnivore. What exactly does it like to feed on? That would be crustaceans and invertebrates. Sometimes they also eat ectoparasites off other fish, as “cleaner fish” for other creatures.

 

5. The Bluehead Wrasse belongs to the wrasse family of fish (scientific name: Labridae), which contains more than 600 species. In general, wrasses tend to be small with vivid coloration. The largest type, however, is the humphead wrasse which can grow up to 8 feet long.

(Klunzinger's Wrasse in the Red Sea. Photo by Derek Keats, Flickr.)

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short look into the Bluehead Wrasse and its unusual biology. The first time I spotted these brilliantly pretty fish was snorkeling on a reef near Key Largo in the Florida Keys. Since then, I’ve noticed them on trips to Caribbean islands such as Guadeloupe, sometimes just off the beach. Is this a fish that you’re familiar with? Or was the Bluehead Wrasse a new one for you?

 

If you’d like to see a particular tropical reef creature featured in an upcoming post, be sure to let us know on Facebook or via our Guest Island Experts contact form. Have a great day, fellow Island Runaways!

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