We believe the Cleaner Wrasse is a fantastic addition to any saltwater aquarium not only because it is a colorful little fish known for its vibrant patterns, but also for its helpful behavior.
These fish act as underwater “cleaning stations” for other fish, offering their services as a cleaning crew. It’s like having a personal spa in your tank!
The only challenge might be figuring out a feeding technique that works for your wrasse which we explain further down in this guide. So, let’s delve into the care and maintenance of these incredible creatures.
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Cleaner Wrasses are tropical saltwater fish that inhabit reefs and lagoons at depths ranging from three feet to almost 100 feet. Sometimes called Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasses or Common Cleaner Wrasses, these fish can be found in the Indo-Pacific, Red Sea and near Japan and Eastern Africa.
They tend to form symbiotic relationships with other reef fish by cleaning them of any dead scales, loose skin or debris. They’re generally docile and have even been seen inside larger fishes’ mouths cleaning and removing detritus.
Cleaner Wrasses, or Labroides dimidiatus (scientific name), are the best known in the Labroides family. While this species is considered to be one of the hardiest, it still has a difficult time surviving in captivity.
Author Note: These lovely fish are inexpensive and readily available in most pet stores. Meeting its specific tank and nutrition requirements can range from difficult to nearly impossible, making these fish ideal only for expert aquarists.
Cleaner Wrasses are small, slender fish with elongated bodies. They have a long, black band running the length of their flanks while their undersides are white. The top of the fish is often blue, but it can also be yellow if it was caught from deeper waters. There aren’t any distinguishing signs between the males and females.
With proper care, your Cleaner Wrasse can have a lifespan of up to 4 years. Be sure to factor in the age at which you purchased your wrasse. Successful reproduction in captivity is rare, making it necessary to buy more wrasse when your current population gets older.
Adult Cleaner Wrasse have an average size between 4 and 5 inches long. They often grow to be larger than the popular Yellowtail Cleaner Wrasse variety also known as the Red Coris Wrasse.
Cleaner Wrasse Care
Cleaner Wrasses are an excellent addition to home saltwater aquariums. These peaceful fish are great at making friends and keeping the tank clean. However, correctly managing their unique nutrition and environmental needs can be difficult for novice hobbyists.
The minimum recommended tank size for a single Cleaner Wrasse is 20 gallons. It’s important to keep in mind that even though these fish are small, they have voracious cleaning and activity needs. Bigger, fully-stocked tanks better suit their interests and provide improved enrichment opportunities.
Author Note: Your Cleaner Wrasse is more likely to live longer if you move them to a tank upwards of 55 gallons.
Water temperature: 72.0°F to 79.0°F
pH levels: 8.1 to 8.4
Water hardness: 8 to 12 dKH
Specific gravity: 1.020 to 1.025
After getting through the difficult acclimation process, you’ll find your Cleaner Wrasses will adapt to a variety of tank conditions. Several cover options like live rock overhangs, caves and hiding holes suit their passive nature.
They often quickly dart out of sight when feeling stressed or threatened. Your tank will need enough structures to provide every Cleaner Wrasse with a territory where they can establish their cleaning station.
Concerning substrate, it’s best to opt for a soft sandy bottom. Like other wrasses, these fish will occasionally burrow into the substrate to hide or destress. A layer of rock or gravel can be too rough on their delicate bodies, leading to fin damage.
Author Note: Don’t forget to install a tight-fitting lid to prevent any unfortunate jumping accidents. These wrasses are incredibly active and have a reputation for being in perpetual motion.
Cleaner Wrasses are most visible during the day and prefer moderate or normal lighting conditions. These fish like natural sunlight and are diurnal, meaning they’ll sleep once it gets dark.
Average aquarium filtration is perfect for Cleaner Wrasses. Too strong of a filter may remove valuable nutrients the wrasse can eat. A protein skimmer (see The Best Protein Skimmers) can help you keep the tank clean with minimal additional maintenance.
Properly acclimating your Cleaner Wrasse will boost their chances of long-term survival. The floating bag acclimation method requires you to place your bagged fish in your aquarium for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the water reaches the same temperature as your tank.
You’ll then pour out about 20% to 30% of the water in the bag and replace it with tank water. Do this every 10 minutes until the bag only has aquarium water. You’re then free to introduce the fish to the tank. It’s often safer to dump the bag water rather than pour it in the tank in case it’s of lower quality.
The drip acclimation method involves running a line of tubing from your aquarium to your new fish’s separate container. Adjust your restricted siphon line so that it’s dripping approximately five to 10 times per second. Once your container is almost full, you can dump some of it out and repeat the process.
Are Cleaner Wrasses Reef Safe?
Cleaner Wrasses are completely reef safe and will have no issue peacefully co-existing with your prized corals. These fish specifically target planktonic invertebrates and aren’t interested in other reef organisms.
Common Possible Diseases & Prevention
Some hobbyists consider investing in Cleaner Wrasse as an effective preventative measure against marine ich. However, wrasses are also susceptible to this common saltwater disease. Other potential illnesses to watch out for include black ich, bacterial infections, internal infections and marine velvet.
Author Note: Your new wrasse may be sick if it’s showing signs of erratic swimming, irregular feces, twitching, scale changes or new growths.
The best way to prevent the spread of common aquarium diseases is to routinely test and change your water. Always quarantine new fish, and don’t allow overcrowding or long-lasting territorial disputes. Prolonged stress can wreak havoc on your wrasse’s health, happiness and projected lifespan.
Food & Diet
Keeping these iconic fish fed is arguably the hardest part of their care. The catching and shipping process often leaves them so stressed they refuse to eat. Without enough nutrition, their active lifestyles will quickly cause them to starve.
A carnivore diet is great for Cleaner Wrasses since they are obligatory feeders that get most of their food from the bits they clean off other fish. They’ll eat dead tissue, mucus, parasites and other debris from the fins, bodies and mouths of their tank mates. Keeping these wrasses fed solely on their cleaning habits is often nearly impossible as your fish only have so much dead skin and there are likely very few parasites present.
Attempting to acclimate them to supplemental foods such as fresh fish eggs, copepods, brine shrimp or mysis shrimp can prevent them from starving to death. You should feed them frequently throughout the day to mimic their eating habits out in the wild.
Behavior & Temperament
Cleaner Wrasses can live alone or in groups. As adults, they’re often solitary and can be territorial. Out in the wild, cleaning stations can be set up by a mated pair of adults, a group of juveniles or a group of females with one dominant male.
Author Note: This species is mostly passive and will easily befriend fish that recognize their beneficial cleaning abilities. Cleaner Wrasses also have a special “dance” that can solicit and calm other fish.
Cleaner Wrasse Tank Mates & Predators
A variety of tank mates are a requirement for healthy wrasses. The more fish in your aquarium, the easier it will be to keep your cleaner wrasse happy. They can easily live peacefully with most other wrasses as well as semi-aggressive and aggressive fish like clownfish or damselfish (like the Blue Devil Damselfish). You’ll also have no problem introducing them to an aquarium with anemones or slow swimmers like seahorses or mandarins.
Careful monitoring is necessary if you’re adding your wrasse to a tank with large predators like tangs (the Sohal Tang is one of them), lionfish or groupers. Bigger morays and frogfish may only see your wrasse as a meal.
Author Note: Offset this potential conflict by introducing your well-fed predator fish at the same time as your wrasse. This can often encourage a healthy, beneficial relationship. You can also acclimate an aggressive fish to the tank as a juvenile to foster natural symbiosis.
Excellent tank mates for Cleaner Wrasses include:
- Fairy Wrasse
- Dartfish like the Fire Dartfish
- Dwarf Angelfish like the Bicolor Angel
- Picasso Triggerfish
Wrasse pairs are quite tricky although it is a common occurrence in home aquariums. The main challenge as explained before is feeling them well to keep them alive. This species is a sequential hermaphrodite, so every wrasse has both male and female reproductive organs.
Author Note: If your dominant male dies, the largest or most aggressive female will often take on his role in the group.
During the spawning process, the male Cleaner Wrasse will do a mating dance to attract and stimulate the female. It’s not uncommon for a single male to breed with several females at the same time. After the dance, the female lays eggs in the water column for the male to fertilize.
This process usually happens once per day in the afternoon. Cleaner Wrasse eggs are about the same size as Pygmy Angelfish eggs. While your wrasses may mate frequently, the chances of successful reproduction are relatively low. The eggs are often eaten by other fish and planktonic organisms.
We hope this guide has helped you gain a deeper understanding of the delightful Cleaner Wrasses. From their mesmerizing patterns to their selfless cleaning services, they truly bring life and vibrancy to any saltwater aquarium.
Fun Final Fact: These fish are not only helpful to other fish but also possess a unique ability to recognize their clients, remembering which fish they have previously cleaned. It’s like having a loyal friend who never forgets!
By providing the right habitat, maintaining water quality, and ensuring a varied diet, you can create a thriving environment for your Cleaner Wrasses. Remember, these little helpers deserve our utmost care and appreciation.
Thanks for stopping by and happy fishkeeping!