The red coris wrasse (Coris gaimard) looks stunning – something you could probably guess with additional common names of rainbow wrasse and clown wrasse. But this popular saltwater species also provides a beneficial service of rooting out unwanted bristle worms. (Who doesn’t love form and function fish?) There are one or two little quirks to owning these colorful wrasses, though. And the problems start at the beginning!
Table of Contents: Red Coris Wrasse Care
Who doesn’t love a vibrant, energetic fish in their tank? A red coris wrasse will do the trick. You need to choose the proper specimen from your local fish store, though. If you don’t? Well, you may not get much time with your new wrasse. And the quirks pile up from there. Good thing the links below contain all the information you need to ensure a happy, healthy red coris wrasse!
- Common Names: Red coris wrasse, Red labrid, Yellow-tail coris wrasse, Gaimard’s wrasse, Rainbow wrasse, Clown wrasse, Sand wrasse, Tuskfish
- Scientific Names: Coris gaimard
- Size: Up to 12 inches (30.4cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 125 Gallons (473L)
- Reef Safe? With Caution
- Care or Experience Level: Moderate
- Preferred Diet: Carnivore
- Original Part of the World: Indo-Pacific
Picking out the red coris wrasse in a lineup requires a thorough understanding of their aging process. Juveniles and adults don’t wear the same color scales. The “red” part of the name belongs more to the youngsters than the mature members of the group. That’s when you see most of the reddish-orange background. And they sport several large white spots along the back, outlined in black. It’s a vivid pattern that’s easy to pick out.
As these saltwater fish age, the red scales fill in with a pattern of tiny blue or grey spots. Their faces also develop stripes of alternating green and orange. And – to add a final touch of flair – the fins take on streaks of blue, red, and yellow (with an emphasis of yellow on the tail). Those white and black spots fade away, leaving a completely different fish behind. (Confusing plenty of people, especially as several wrasse species share similar juvenile patterns!)
The long, narrow body of the red coris wrasse works perfectly for hunting down their favorite meals. These saltwater aquarium fish can squirm into tight spaces, wriggle through caverns, and dash down caves. And to latch onto shells, they possess two prominent “tusks” at the front of the jaw. (That’s where the tuskfish common name comes in) The teeth allow them to grab onto their favorite crustaceans and mollusks, plucking them from hiding. Not to mention giving them a nifty look any hobbyist would want to display.
Red Coris Wrasse Lifespan
Red coris wrasses don’t keep to a confined region. You’ll spot at least one age group of the species on reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific. They’re popular around Hawaii, and they’ve made their way into the Red Sea. Once you recognize the iconic black and white saddles of the juveniles (or the bright yellow tails of the adults), they’re easy to pick out.
Of course, trying to identify specific individuals out in the wild isn’t the most straightforward task. People often confuse the Coris genus juveniles, making later identification confusing. Once they take on their adult colorations, you see slight variations in the patterns along their bodies. That can help – but you end up missing the early years of the fish’s life.
As such, most of the lifespan data comes from hobbyists. And that averages out to five years – with ideal management.
Red coris wrasses enjoy a tropical reef existence. They inhabit the sandy interface of most reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific. They don’t stray far from the safety of an easy escape into the sand or down a rocky cavern. While those two front teeth jut out, they’re NOT useful for defense. And these wrasses aren’t known for their aggression. This is why you’re best bet of spotting them on a snorkel or dive is to look towards the bottom.
If you plan to incorporate a red coris wrasse into your reef tank, you’ll need a deep sand bed. A depth of 3-5 inches (7.6-12.7cm) will allow your wrasse to bury themselves comfortably. The fish use the sand to escape from potential threats AND to sleep at night. So even if you avoid aggressive tank mates, you need that soft substrate as a nightly retreat for your wrasse.
And SOFT is the critical description. Crushed coral and sharp substrates lead to injuries. Choosing those alternatives to sand won’t prevent your red coris wrasse from burying themselves (those tusks ARE strong), but they will shorten the fish’s lifespan. Stick to finer grains. And make sure you offer enough depth for your fish to bury themselves completely. Going too shallow will lead to stress and infections.
You’ll also want to offer other places to hide. Caves and crevices in your live rock will do the trick. Red coris wrasses are shy saltwater fish, and when they feel nervous, they need somewhere safe and secure to hide. The sand’s their preferred option, but they’ll look for alternatives, too. You want as much security as possible to keep stress levels down.
Once you have the biggest creature comfort sorted, you want to move on to stimulating their little fishy minds. Red coris wrasses hunt for food by turning over rocks and coral. This encourages activity (a positive bonus for you), and it helps unearth potential pests in the tank. Hitchhikers on your live rock may escape your notice, but your wrasse can bring them to light through that searching.
Just be mindful that your wrasse WILL move the rockwork in the aquarium. This could potentially cause problems for sessile tank mates. If you don’t want an avalanche to occur, secure pieces of live rock around your feather dusters, clams, and sponges. (And we’ll go over the concerns for corals in a moment)
Red Coris Wrasse Tank Size
In the wild, it’s common to see a red coris wrasse reach 12 inches (30.5cm) long. However, they usually top out around 6-8 inches (15.2-20.3cm) in captivity. That’s a relief for a hobbyist, right? Still, you need to provide room to explore and add a deep sand bed. So you’re looking at a minimum of 125 gallons (473L) for ONE wrasse.
You’ll also need a sturdy cover for your aquarium. These wrasses survive in the ocean, where they’re used to plenty of water over their heads. When caught away from the seafloor, they can easily bolt UP without a problem. That doesn’t work as well in a home aquarium. When they jump to escape, they end up carpet surfing. You don’t want that to happen. Get a lid and then check for any holes a slim-and-trim fish might fit through.
Are Red Coris Wrasses Reef-Safe?
In general, the red coris wrasse IS reef-safe. The fish don’t feed on coral polyps. And as they enjoy snapping up bristle worms, they provide a helpful service to the average reef tank. You need to keep an eye on your crustacean members of the aquarium (they can’t resist an ornamental shrimp or crab), but they’ll leave your SPS and LPS corals alone.
However, you want to think twice before adding this wrasse to your prize reef tank. While they won’t deliberately cause harm to the corals, their daily activities can damage the colonies. Remember that rock-turning behavior? Red coris wrasses don’t recognize the difference between a chunk of rock and a coral calcium carbonate skeleton. If they think a meal’s hiding somewhere, they’ll flip a bit of aquascaping over. And that can lead to damaged polyps.
Your corals may also suffer from rockwork getting tumbled on top of them. As your red coris wrasse chases down a meaty morsel, it won’t check the terrain below first. So while they don’t directly target corals, you may want to hold off on adding them to your reef tank.
Red Coris Wrasse Diet
Who doesn’t love a fish that eats pesky bristle worms? With prominent front teeth designed to root out small prey, red coris wrasses are clever little carnivores. They use their tube-like bodies to push through every crack and crevice on the reef, searching for mollusks, crustaceans, and even the odd sea urchin. Finding menu items to satisfy their hunger isn’t a difficult task:
The problem comes with the AGE of the wrasse you purchase. A red coris wrasse purchased under 2 inches (5cm) usually won’t survive. The stress levels following collection are too high, and the fish refuses to accept food. With no calories in, the wrasse can’t support its activity needs. In no time, it’ll starve.
You want to look for larger juveniles (the sub-adult range) who are already eating nicely for the fish store owner. Then you won’t need to go through the dance of trying to tempt your red coris wrasse with food options. The fish should accept meals without a problem. If the fish turns away from a morsel in the store, it’s not the choice for you. Once you have a healthy specimen, you won’t need to struggle. Stick to a variety of protein options, though. You’ll keep those colors looking their best.
Then all you need to do is meet the fish’s metabolic needs. Red coris wrasses are active fish. They spend their days on the hunt, searching for food. And the younger the fish? The higher their calorie needs. You’ll want to offer food three times a day.
Red coris wrasses make ideal saltwater fish choices due to their vibrant colors and their constant activity. From the moment they wake up and emerge from the sandy bed until they retreat to burrow in the evening, they’re exploring the environment. And if something startles them? You see the fish make a quick dash back into the sand. They huddle there until the coast is clear before emerging to continue their hunt for food.
You should expect that burying behavior. You don’t need to worry if you see it happen. At least, you don’t need to fret unless you see it ALL THE TIME. A wrasse that refuses to scour the aquascaping for snacks isn’t happy or healthy. Your red coris wrasse shouldn’t hide in the sand all the time. If your fish doesn’t make a regular appearance, you need to look for problems.
Shy – and nervous – by nature, these wrasses get along well with like-minded species. You won’t see them struggle with other fish. Well, as long as you don’t put them in a tank with fish that attempt to snack on them. (If your red coris wrasse doesn’t emerge from the sand? Consider their tank mates as a potential source of the issue) They do nicely with any of these groups, though:
However, there IS a mean streak to these wrasses. They don’t tolerate sharing space. If you attempt to keep more than one, you’ll see fighting over territory. And a red coris wrasse claims the ENTIRE TANK as their own. You can get away with a mated pair, but don’t push for more. They don’t play nicely together.
You also need to skip invertebrates when you decide you want a red coris wrasse. Crustaceans and mollusks make up their natural menu. They’ll snatch up your favorite shrimps and crabs in no time. And when you’re not looking, your feather dusters and tube worms will go missing. It’s best if you avoid the situation and stick with fish-only tanks.
Red coris wrasses don’t often breed in captivity. The specifics of their spawning behavior make it difficult to replicate in the home aquarium. Not to mention that creating a mated pair isn’t always successful. Still, if you want to make an attempt, you can give it a go.
Telling the sexes apart in this wrasse species is easy. Once the fish morph from their juvenile coloring, males take on a dark grey pattern over their orange scales. You’ll also see a distinct greenish-yellow bar behind the gills. In contrast, females turn dark blue. Behind their gills, you’ll see a red fringe. Or you may not notice anything. Either way, it’s easy to tell one from the other.
During the spawning season, males build nests to attract females. Once the female lays her eggs, the male fertilizes them and takes up a watch over the nest. He continues to guard the area until the eggs hatch. And he even defends the fry from predators until they’re able to survive on their own.
If you plan to breed your red coris wrasses, you’ll need space for the pair to feel comfortable. The proper sandy substrate is another crucial component. The male will handle the care of the eggs and fry, but you should limit any apparent threats to the nest. And understand that breeding isn’t a common occurrence in captivity. (Even when you do everything correctly)
No one’s going to deny red coris wrasses look stunning – whether you pick up a juvenile or an adult. But they’re not the easiest fish to manage and care for. If you’re considering adding one to your saltwater aquarium, make sure you’re looking at every aspect of this species FIRST.
- Red coris wrasses remain active throughout the day, offering a vibrant display within the aquarium.
- As carnivores, it’s easy to provide a healthy, varied menu to your wrasses – once you confirm your intended purchase is eating well.
- You can quickly tell male and female red coris wrasses apart by looking at the color of the bar behind their gills.
- Red coris wrasses don’t transport well; the stress often leads to an early death. You should purchase this species from local fish stores.
- You’ll need a deep sand bed in your tank to provide a hiding place and somewhere to sleep for this wrasse.
- Red coris wrasses kept on coral rubble or other unsuitable substrates develop bacterial infections and injuries that shorten their lifespans.
Who wouldn’t want a red coris wrasse in their tank? Those colors pop against any background. And the fish remains active and curious throughout the day. Plus, you get to see your wrasse emerge and shake off the sand every morning. They’re the perfect species – provided you understand what you’re getting yourself into. Good thing we have a few more parting bits of info to offer!
This YouTube video walks you through everything you need to know about red coris wrasses:
Want to know about some of the best red coris wrasse tank mates?
Maybe you’d rather consider a different wrasse species for your tank:
Everyone loves a fish species that combines the best of both worlds. Red coris wrasses look phenomenal. They also explore throughout the tank during the daylight hours. And as a bonus? They hunt down unwanted bristle worms in your aquarium.
Oh, sure, they’ll also eat all of the OTHER worms in your tank. (And your crustaceans. And your mollusks) Maybe that’s a small price to pay to have such a gorgeous fish rooting around in the rockwork.
You know, provided they’re not flipping rocks onto your corals.
It all depends on what’s the most important for your saltwater aquarium!
- Michael, S.W. 2001. Reef Fishes: Volume 1.
- Michael, S.W. 2009. Wrasses and Parrotfishes.
- Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R., and Steene, R.C. 1990. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea.
- Schultz, H.C. 2005. “Everybody Sing Together: The Genus Coris.” Reefkeeping Magazine.