Saddle wrasse

A fish family where sex changes are common

The saddle wrasse, like other wrasses, is capable of sex reversal. Most saddle wrasses begin their lives as females. Male saddle wrasses can be either primary males (born male) or secondary/terminal phase males (females that have undergone sex change). Secondary males have a white bar behind their red saddle.

saddle wrasse
Common and colorful
While not broadly distributed geographically, saddle wrasses are abundant in the Hawaiian reefs where they live. They get their name from the red, saddle-like stripe behind their pectoral (side) fins. Saddle wrasses have many other striking colors as well: blue heads, green bodies, and lavender highlights on their tail fins.
Labriform locomotion
Unlike other fish that use their pectoral fins primarily for stabilization, saddle wrasses rely almost entirely on their pectoral fins for propulsion. It’s enough of a trademark that this kind of movement—called labriform locomotion—is named after the Labridae (wrasse) family. Wrasse pectoral fins work like oars, pushing the water backward in a powerful stroke that thrusts the fish forward. Then, during the recovery stroke, pectoral fins are held close to the body to reduce drag in the water as they return to their starting position in anticipation of another thrust forward. Saddle wrasses use their caudal fins (tails) when an extra burst of speed is needed.
Behind the smile
Saddle wrasse forage for small reef invertebrates like crustaceans, mollusks, worms and urchins. Behind the fish’s prominent lips are canine teeth used to pluck food from reefs. Bones in the saddle wrasse’s gill area help crush the shells of their prey.


Saddle wrasse range

Quick Facts

Diet: Carnivore
Size: 10" (25cm)