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Bird Wrasse

Green Bird Wrasse, Brown Bird Wrasse, Birdnose Wrasse

Family: LabridaeGreen Bird Wrasse, male Bird Wrasse, Gomphosus varius, Greenbird WrasseGomphosus variusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
Latest Reader Comment - See More
I hate long bird nose, it is so annoying and always stealing some other fishes' foods. Does anyone know if long bird nose wrasse eat the shrimp cleaner? ... (more)  HG

The Bird Wrasse has a long, beak-like snout and a fluttery bird-like motion when swimming!

The Bird Wrasse Gomphosus varius is a beautiful emerald green fish in its male form, known as the Green Bird Wrasse. As a female it is white, sprinkled with tiny black spots in front that fades to a dark brown or black mid body to the tail, and is called the Brown Bird Wrasse or Black Bird Wrasse. They also reach an impressive size, up to 12 inches in length, though females are a bit smaller.

The unusual body shape of the Bird Wrasse with the long nose tells us a little about their feeding habits. They use their snout to reach between branches of coral to find crabs, crinoids, and mollusks. It also helps them to rout out food prey from among cracks and crevices rocks, among algae, and in the sand.

The Bird Wrasse is a great fish for a beginner, as long as it is provided with a large enough tank. They are very hardy and disease resistant. As An aquarium to comfortably house these fish needs to be 100 gallons or more. They are very energetic fish that are fast swimmers and always on the move. As many types of wrasse fish, they can jump out of the aquarium so you need to have a lid.

It's easy to tell the male (Greenbird Wrasse) and female (Blackbird Wrasse) apart. They do well if purchased as a pair and are both beautiful and interesting. They can be kept in a community tank with other similar sized and temperament fish, but are unfriendly towards smaller shy fish. They can also be kept in a reef, and are actually great in a predatory reef tank. The Bird Wrasse is semi-aggressive toward its food, but basically passive toward fish they don't view as lunch size. But beware, any and all small invertebrates will be snacked on.

For more Information on keeping saltwater fish see:
Marine Aquarium Basics: Guide to a Healthy Saltwater Aquarium


Geographic Distribution
Gomphosus varius
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Labridae
  • Genus: Gomphosus
  • Species: varius
Bird Wrasses, Green Bird Wrasse (male)

Report Broken Video
Green Bird Wrasse (Gomphosus varius) male chases his tail, just being himself!

Bird Wrasses are hyper fish, and the Green Bird Wrasse male reaches 12" in length! They will steal other fish's food and will eat any shrimp or crabs you have in your tank. They are absolutely beautiful, but need at least 100 gallons, with longer 6' tanks and taller 4' tanks being. The smaller females are brown and juveniles won't yet have the long beak which is their namesake.

Bird Wrasses - Greenbird - Blackbird - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Size of fish - inches: 12.0 inches (30.48 cm)
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 83.0° F (22.2 to 28.3° C)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Bird Wrasse Gomphosus varius was described by Lacepede in 1801. At one time, the species was called G. tricolor . It is found In the Indo-Pacific from the Cocos-Keeling Islands to the Hawaiian, Marquesan and Tuamoto Islands, then their range reaches northward to southern Japan. From there, the range extends southward to the Rowley Shoals in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean and Lord Howe and Rapa Islands. It is on the IUCN Red List for Least Concerned (LC).

There are many common names these fish are known by based on their color and distinct nose shape. These include Bird Wrasse, Green Bird Wrasse, Brown Bird Wrasse, Black Bird Wrasse, Birdnose Wrasse, Aquarium Bird Wrasse, Greenbird Wrasse, Bird Nose Wrasse, Blackbird Wrasse, Olive Club-Nosed Wrasse, and Purple Club-Nosed Wrasse.

Another bird wrasse species, the Green Birdmouth Wrasse, Blue Bird Wrasse, or Red Sea Bird Wrasse G. caeruleus , is found in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. They have a bit different coloring than the G. varius in both the male and female. Female G. caeruleus have yellow in the belly area that can extend through the tail fin, and they are a dark greenish blue on the top half. The males are much bluer bird wrasse, tending towards a dark azure blue. These wrasse fish are collected primarily for the European market and seldom seen in the United States.

The Bird Wrasses inhabit dense coral areas of lagoons and seaward reefs at depths of 6 to 98 feet (2-30 m). They use their bird beak-like snouts to feed on small benthic crustaceans found between coral branches, rock and sand, as well as small fish, brittle stars and mollusks. Although their mouths are small, they will grab their prey and then dash it on the substrate, breaking it up into bite-size pieces.

There have been hybrids reported between the Bird Wrasse and the Moon Wrasse or Lunar Wrasse  Thalassoma lunare in the Cassini Island, Western Australia, and Great Barrier Reef areas. There is also one report of the Bird Wrasse hybridizing with the Saddle Wrasse Thalassoma duperrey .

  • Scientific Name: Gomphosus varius
  • Social Grouping: Pairs - In the wild, they live in large harems consisting of a numerous females and a single male.
  • IUCN Red List: LC - Least Concern - It is common and widespread throughout a large geographical range in the Indo-Pacific.

Description

The Bird Wrasse has a very long body with a long beak like snout. Their pectoral fins are triangular and account for the odd fluttering up and down that these fish display. No doubt both this movement and their snouts account for their name. Bird Wrasses can grow to 12" (30 cm) but their lifespan is unknown. Females are typically smaller.

Bird Wrasses, like all wrasse species, are synchronous protogynous hermaphrodites. What this means is that they are all born female and then may change to male at a later time. This change will take place depending on social circumstances and food availability. In the home aquarium, unless you are keeping a pair or a male with several females in a harem, you can expect to have a single female specimen turn into a male in time.

Picture of a Blackbird Wrasse (female), Gomphosus varius Blackbird Wrasse
Female Bird Wrasse
  • Males
    The male, commonly called the Green Bird Wrasse, is generally an overall emerald green and at times can have a blue tipped nose. A translucent blue can also be seen on the very back of their tail fin, which has a moon shape to it.
     
  • Females
    Females, called Brown Bird Wrasses or Black Bird Wrasses, are generally brown to black with the top of the beak at times having an orange color that terminates before the eye area. The bottom of the beak and the chest and chin are white. The darker back half of the body fades into the front half with less and less dark scaling.
     
  • Juveniles
    Juveniles have not yet developed the elongated beak. They have a white belly with the top of the body being gray, with both those colors divided by a long horizontal black bar right through the middle of the body from nose to tail fin. The top of the head is a yellowish orange color.
  • Size of fish - inches: 12.0 inches (30.48 cm) - 12" (30 cm)
  • Lifespan: 0 years - Unknown

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Bird Wrasse is easy to care for and are for beginners that have a large enough system. At times, large males can be very shy and will not come out to eat for a few days. It is better to choose smaller individuals that will adapt better to captivity. When choosing your Bird Wrasse, keep in mind they are very smart and will have done everything they can to escape capture in the wild. Damaged fins or missing scales are easily healed, but a specimen with damage to the mouth or eyes will most likely perish with a short period of time, so should be avoided. Buying a juvenile or female is cheaper, and typically will turn into a male.

"If your heart is set on a large super male, I hope that my experience with such a fish at a LFS years ago may help yours to settle into it's new home. A super male was delivered and put into one of the many tanks that are all interconnected with the same filtration, but vary in size. I noticed this male green Bird Wrasse was labored in breathing, not moving, and by the end of the 2nd day still not eating. This is of concern for a fish that has such a high metabolism. I suggested we move him to a tank with no light, by himself, and with a big flat rock for him to hide behind. (same system, so the water was identical, just a different location) The only way he would start eating was offering live glass shrimp. By the 3rd day he would eat, but not come out, so any "wandering" shrimp were met with a swift fate. By the 4th day he decided "these humans" are not so bad! We put him in a larger tank within the system, and he was perfectly fine from that point on! At times the larger specimens almost seem the shyest, but a little effort on your part will ensure his recovery. Now obviously it will vary as to recovery rate for each individual Bird Wrasse, but having live glass shrimp or live mysis ready to go may be a wise choice." ... Carrie McBirney.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

These fish are very active carnivores and need to be fed several times a day. They will eat any brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, shaved fish or shrimp flesh, flake, squid and mussels. They will eat anything that moves that they can fit in their mouths. They do not eat algae but will rummage through it hunting down copepods living within.

  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet Pellet: Occasionally
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet - Good for new introductions to your tank.
  • Meaty Food: All of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

Provide basic marine aquarium care of a 20% to 30% depending on bio-load.

  • Water Changes: Monthly

Aquarium Setup

The Bird Wrasse is always on the go. A minimum 100 gallon aquarium is necessary to satisfy their need for constant movement. As adults they need at least 6 feet in length for their fast swimming nature and bursts of speed. Shorter tanks can result in injury to themselves. Longer tanks are always better than taller tanks and they will jump, so they need a lid that is secure.

They can be shy so provide hiding places in the form of rockwork and plants. Rockwork or live rock with plenty of hiding places is important, especially when first introduced. They need well oxygenated water that is brisk and aerated, which again, is a need they have due to their high energy.

They typically sleep under rock shelves, under corals, on the sand surface or in a crevice. Generally they do not bury themselves like the Halichoeres genus at night, but may hide in the sand if frightened. Having 3 or 4 inches of sand can be a good idea just incase they decide they need to burrow.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L) - 100 gallons (378 liters)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places
  • Substrate Type: Sand - Most do not bury themselves in the sand, but if this is a learned behavior they have gotten from a local Halichoeres, it may be a good idea to have sand just in case.
  • Lighting Needs: Any
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 83.0° F (22.2 to 28.3° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 0.0° F
  • Specific gravity: 1.020-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Strong
  • Water Region: Bottom - Will spend time in all parts of the aquarium, but mostly near the bottom.

Social Behaviors

House the Bird Wrasse with other fish of similar size and with similar outgoing natures. Fish that are similar in size, yet very shy, may waste away due to fear of eating because of constant seemingly aggressive movements of the Bird Wrasse. Be particularly careful to avoid keeping it with small elongate shaped species. The Bird Wrasse would not go after a peaceful large fish, but a fish of this type may be intimidated.

They are actually great in a predatory reef tank. The Bird Wrasse is semi-aggressive toward its food, but basically passive toward fish they don't view as lunch size. They will go after any long skinny fish like dart fish and small 2" wrasses, as well as any and all crustaceans, mollusks, clams, bivalves, feather dusters and the like. They will eat mantis shrimp and fireworms too, so they have a very useful side. They will not bother SPS, soft or LPS corals, but will go after any crabs or or other small invertebrates trying to hide behind or in between the branches. They are not safe with shrimp or starfish of any kind, and have been known to attack and eat clams.

You can keep a group of females in a very large system, but only one male per system.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes - One male to one female in tanks over 150 gallons. One male to 2 or more females in large tanks over 200 gallons.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Monitor - Larger fairy wrasses will be okay as long as they are full grown. Dartfish and small wrasses may be eaten.
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe
    • Aggressive (dottybacks, 6-line & 8-line wrasse, damselfish): Safe - As long as they are not under 3"
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Safe
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (seahorses, pipefish, mandarins): Threat
    • Anemones: Safe
    • Mushroom Anemones - Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Safe
    • SPS corals: Safe
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Safe
    • Leather Corals: Safe
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Safe
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Safe
    • Zoanthids - Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Safe
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat
    • Starfish: Threat
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Threat
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Greenbird Wrasse, the male Bird Wrasse, Gomphosus varius Greenbird Wrasse - Male Blackbird Wrasse, the female Bird Wrasse, Gomphosus varius Blackbird Wrasse - Female

The male, called a Green Bird Wrasse, is emerald green and larger. The smaller female, called the Black Bird Wrasse or Brown Bird Wrasse, is white with fine black spots, becoming darker brown or black from the front to back of the fish.

Breeding / Reproduction

Unknown in captivity as of yet. Quite possibly a large tank such as a 300 gallon may be needed for these fish to feel comfortable enough to spawn in captivity.

One aquarist observed their male and female Bird Wrasse in a possible mating display in their 300 gallon tank. The male and female were observed dashing in and out of rockwork with their top fin fully erected. Both stopped near the top of the tank, touched in some way, released gametes in the form of a little white cloud, then darted away.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown

Fish Diseases

These Bird Wrasses are very hardy and one of the most disease-resistant of fishes. The only diseases they fall victim to are parasites, that can easily be eradicated by typical aquarium medication, used in a quarantine tank. Also fresh water dips with adjusted PH to match current tank PH and same tank temperature (easily attained by floating the zip lock back of fresh water in the tank for 20 minutes before treatment). Treat for up to 15 minutes, but watch your fish to make sure he is not stressing, and if so, release back into the QT tank.

To learn all about fish problems and find specific answers, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

Availability

The male Green Bird Wrasse and the female Black Bird Wrasse or Brown Bird Wrasse are very common and easy to find in stores and online. They are in the low to moderate price, but being so hardy, it is money well spent.

References

Author: Carrie McBirney, Clarice Brough CAS
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Lastest Animal Stories on Bird Wrasses - Greenbird - Blackbird

HG - 2010-09-01
I hate long bird nose, it is so annoying and always stealing some other fishes' foods. Does anyone know if long bird nose wrasse eat the shrimp cleaner? Thanks for confirming me asap.

  • Wendy - 2011-06-07
    After adding 2 cleaner shrimp to my salt water aquarium, our lng nose bird wrasse snatched one of them and swam all over the tank with it before eating it!
    It then went after a newly added lemon chromis and ate it too. I thought it was supposed to get agae out of the rocks with it's long nose!
  • shane1080 - 2011-10-01
    Your not feeding him enough if he's going after other life in your tank. I had this issue as well and started feeding him 3 times a day...no issues and it's been almost a year without loosing a shrimp or smaller fish. He even comes up to the top when he sees me coming to the tank, for food. Great addition !!
Reply
Amy - 2006-09-15
I have been eyeing this fish for several months but all we owned was freshwater tanks. Finally we set up a saltwater tank and have got a good-sized lionfish, dog-face puffer, and a snowflake eel. Combined, these fish are awesome...until I finally talked my man into the greenbird wrasse. At first he was reluctant and wanted a Niger Trigger but now with our greenbird, our tank is much more alive than before! He adds color and activity since the other fish like to hide and mainly come out at night to hunt. Perfect decision if you ask me!

Reply
fred lowenberg - 2006-03-09
I have a male and female bird wrasse. They are very enjoyable to watch in my 125 gallon aquarium. They love to eat Krill, brine shrimp, mysid shrimp, and especially live grass shrimp.T hey are very intellegent having no problem adapting to my aquarium. Make sure you have plenty of hiding places for them. They are extremely fast swimmers.

Reply
Big Dave - 2005-04-07
I bought a "Green Wrasse" about 3 months ago. It has been a wonderful addition to the aquarium. I love active fish, and this fish is most active. As it swims it looks like a bird in flight. Gets along real well with the triggers and other hearty fish in the tank. If you like a fish that is active, easy on the eyes, and a good eater. I would highly recommend..

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