Humphead Wrasse

(Cheilinus undulatus)

Habitat and Distribution: Found in tidal pools, lagoons, grass beds, coral reefs, and open sand bottoms in temperate and tropical Atlantic.

Size: Up to 7.5 feet and 420 pounds

Wild Diet: Crustaceans, mollusks, sea urchins and fish

Predators: Larger reef fish, including sharks

Reproduction: Humphead wrasses breed year-round in tropical waters. They are sexually mature at about 8 years of age when females become male. Eggs and larvae are planktonic.

Behavior: Humphead wrasses stay close to a small home reef area. They are usually solitary but may be seen in male-female pairs or small social groups consisting of a single male, up to 7 smaller adults, and multiple juveniles. Adults swim across reefs during the day and rest in caves at night.


IUCN Status: Endangered

Although humphead wrasses are widely distributed, population densities rarely exceed 20 fish per hectare. When fished even moderately, densities can quickly drop to 5 fish per hectare. Destructive fishing practices, including the use of sodium cyanide (which also kills coral), have decreased humphead wrasse populations by at least 50 percent over the last 30 years. Without effective fishing management and habitat protection, this wrasse is likely to disappear.

Did you know?

  • Their teeth are fused into a parrot-like beak that allows them eat hard-shelled mollusks, echinoderms and crustaceans.
  • A second set of teeth in their throat is so strong that it can be used to break coral, helping them to reach small hiding prey.