Cirrhilabrus exquisitusExquisite fairy-wrasse

Geographic Range

Found from east Africa to the Tuamotu Islands, north towards Japan and in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

The Exquisite Wrasse is predominantly the only species of Wrasse found over its geographic range.

(Randall, 2000; Allen, 2000)


The Exqusite Wrasse is normally found on reef slopes and lagoon habitats that are around ten meters below sea level. They prefer areas that are prone to strong currents.

(Randall, 2000; Allen, 2000)

Physical Description

Color variation, due to geographic differences, is common between the Pacific and Indian Ocean forms. Males and females do not have the same coloring, although females attain the ability to change sex during their lifetime. When the female changes sex, her coloring and markings change into that of the male. The females are usually olive or reddish-brown in color with dark and light stripes that run along the sides of the body. A blue stripe is present on the posterior side of the female's body and dark spots are located on the underside of the fins. The males are more colorful and have bright red areas on the dorsal and pectoral fins. The younger forms do not differ greatly from the adults, but are distinguishable from the adults because they have a white spot on their nose.

(Randall, 2000; Allen, 2000)

  • Range mass
    0 to 0 kg
    0.00 to 0.00 lb
  • Average mass
    2 kg
    4.41 lb


The Exquisite Wrasse mates year round. The male courts females by following her and showing the brilliant colors located on the sides of his body. He then releases sperm into the water where the female filters it through her gills and becomes impregnated. Like most other marine life, the female does not watch over the eggs. The eggs hatch and the Wrasse enters what is sometimes called the larval stage. The newborn fish are colorless with a spot on the end of their nose. For food, they often clean the bacteria off other fishes gills until they are big enough to find food in other places.

(Shaws, 1999; Wells, 1999; Stevenson, 1999)


The Exquisite Wrasse is normally found in small or fairly large schools. During courtship, the male Wrasse displays his purple markings. These markings serve as a multi-functional characteristic. While the male is courting any number of females, he can display these colors to other males to warn them not to take these females away from him.

In order to protect itself from predators during the night while it sleeps, the Wrasse uses its carnivorous front teeth to burrow into the sand, creating a little hollow in the sea floor. This protects it from predators who do not look on the ocean floor for their food.

(Shaws, 1999; Wells, 1999; Stevenson, 1999; Randall, 2000; Allen, 2000)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Cirrhilabrus exquisitus is a carnivorous fish. It has a unique, sharp, tooth-like appendage enclosed in its mouth that is used to eat its larger prey which is primarily mollusks. In order to get through the hard shell, the Wrasse uses its sharp tooth to break the shell open. Its food also includes zooplankton, rotifers and copepods. Since these organisms are much smaller, the Exquisite Wrasse must filter these foods from the water.

(Shaws, 1999; Wells, 1999; Stevenson, 1999; Taggart, 1992)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The Exquisite Wrasse is an extremely interesting fish for scientists to study because of its ability to change sex mid-life.

(Allen, 2000; Randall, 2000)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Cirrhilabrus exquisitus has an extremely unpleasant taste. Therefore it is not naturally hunted for food by humans.

(Allen, 2000; Randall, 2000)

Conservation Status

The Exquisite Wrasse is already a rare fish to see, and now its habitat is being destroyed. The pollution accumulated by toxic wastes deposited into the oceans has created a habitat that is not well suited for the Wrasse. Since the Wrasse lives close to shore, it is subjected to denser deposits of toxic wastes.

(Shaws, 1999; Stevenson, 1999; Wells, 1999)

Other Comments

The Exquisite Wrasse moves in schools where there are only one or two dominant males. If these males are removed, the largest female quickly changes sex and becomes the dominant male. In order to change sex, the female cuts down its supply of estrogen. This process insures that offspring will always be produced.

(Allen, 2000; Randall, 2000)


Erin Wayman (author), Milford High School, George Campbell (editor), Milford High School.


Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.


uses touch to communicate


Randall, D., D. Allen. "Exquisite Wrasse" (On-line). Accessed Oct. 7, 2000 at

Shaw, G., R. Stevenson, H. Wells. 1999. Accessed Oct. 22, 2000 at

Taggart, R., C. Starr. 1992. "Biology: The Unity and Diversity of Life". Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth Publishing, Inc.