Leopard Wrasse

Blackspotted Wrasse ~ Guinea Fowl Wrasse

Family: Labridae Picture of a Leopard Wrasse, Blackspotted Wrasse or Guinea Fowl Wrasse, Macropharyngodon meleagrisMacropharyngodon meleagrisPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Greg Rothschild
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i just got this fish in London Ontario a few weeks ago- yesterday was the first day I saw him- and I gotta tell you I thought he was dead forever- never did any... (more)  Ashley

   Like all the leopard wrasses, this wrasse has a distinctive spotted 'leopard' patterning, giving rise to its descriptive names!

   This wrasse is not only known as the Leopard Wrasse, but also as the Blackspotted Wrasse and the Guinea Fowl Wrasse. Pictured above are female specimens of the Leopard Wrasse. Like all of the wrasses of the Macropharyngodon genera, the Leopard Wrasses are born as females. If there is no male present, one female will become male and the color pattern changes. Adult male patterning is more streamlined; having an orange-red body with dark green spots, lines on the head, and a dark 'ear' spot.

   Once adjusted to aquarium life the Leopard Wrasse, Blackspotted Wrasse or Guinea Fowl Wrasse is a wonderful peaceful community fish that can even be housed with others of the same genus. This is also one of the few wrasses that can be kept with its own species. In both cases however, they are harmonious as long the mix is all females with just one male.

   Though they do not bother corals or other fish, the Leopard Wrasse is not a fish for the inexperienced. Like all the wrasses of the genus Macropharyngodon, this wrasse can do quite well in a reef setting designed for them but they will fair poorly in all other types of marine environments. Due to their specialized eating habits and nature, these wrasses should only be attempted by advanced aquarists as they are very difficult to establish. They are not forgiving and can end up deceased in a short period of time after being added to your tank.

   In his article Fish Tales: The Leopards of the Reef, author Henry C. Schultz III advises that these wrasses be examined before purchase (see Availability below) and that specialized care is followed to
acclimate and ultimately keep these fish successfully, (see Maintenance difficulty below). He also says
they tend to have intestinal worms and are prone to typical marine fish illness.

   The Leopard Wrasses have a variety of curious behaviors. They are on Indo-Pacific time, so don't freak if their sleeping habits are a little odd at first. Also as a protection in their natural habitat, they perform a little dance that is really strange to a possible predator. Often this dance antic works to the point the predator basically thinks the fish is nuts and moves on. If that tactic doesn't work then the local sandbar will provide a perfect place for escape, and a puff of sand is the only indication the wrasse is "down under".

   Burrowing into the sand is their favorite sleeping arrangement. Some say you can set your watch by their bedtime! In the morning, they poke their head out to make sure the coast is clear and then they will fully emerge. When first emerging, they will be a little on the loopy side until they get their bearing, up to 10 minutes later. Throughout the day they are constantly foraging for food on live rock with their canine teeth.

For more Information on keeping this fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Marine Aquarium

Geographic Distribution
Macropharyngodon meleagris
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Labridae
  • Genus: Macropharyngodon
  • Species: meleagris
Leopard Wrasse male, Macropharyngodon meleagris
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The Male Leopard Wrasse in the wild

Leopard Wrasses are reef safe. They like a good sized tank with several inches of sand for retreat and for sleeping at night. Female groupings work well, and one will change to male! These are very peaceful fish and should not be kept aggressive or intimidating tankmates, or they will hide in the sand and not come out to feed. They are specialized eaters needing mature live rock with micro-invertebrate fauna like foraminiferans and amphipods. It is possible to get them weaned on to prepared frozen/thawed mysis, black worms and brine shrimp, but they need these other live foods in the mean time. Males look very different from females being a dark orangish with bright blue spotting and bands on the face.

Leopard Wrasse female, Macropharyngodon meleagris
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Female Leopard Wrasse in a dealer's holding tank.

Female Leopard Wrasses can be kept together in a group, and in the right conditions one may turn male! The food supply does need to be substantial and the tank very large, but if there is enough food one female should change to a male. Males on the other hand, cannot be kept together or they will fight. These wrasses are notoriously hard to keep and need a large tank. They also need lots of live foods to sustain them until it can be weaned onto prepared foods. Do not house them with any aggressive fish or intimidating fish or they will stay hidden and not come out to feed, resulting in starvation.

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Habitat: Natural geographic location:    The Leopard Wrasse, Blackspotted Wrasse, or Guinea Fowl Wrasse was described by Valenciennes in 1839. They are found in the West Pacific from Japan to Australia and northern Indonesia, from shallow coastal regions into the outer reefs at depths of down to 16 to 98 feet (5 - 30 meters). Enjoying the local sand bars for quick getaways, they are often found singly or in small groups consisting of females with one dominant male.

Status:    These fish are not listed on the IUCN Red List.

Description:    The young and the adult female Leopard Wrasse, Blackspotted Wrasse, or Guinea Fowl Wrasse have a whitish to light green background with numerous irregular brown to black spots. Adult male patterning is more streamlined; having an orange-red body with dark green spots, lines on the head, and a dark 'ear' spot.
   Leopard Wrasses have been known to live from 5 to 8 years in captivity.

Length/Diameter of fish:    Adults usually reach up to about 4.3 inches (11 cm), but males in the subtropic regions can reach up to 5.9 inches(15 cm).

Maintenance difficulty:    Due to their specialized eating habits and nature, the Leopard Wrasse, Blackspotted Wrasse, or Guinea Fowl Wrasse should only be attempted by advanced aquarists as they are very difficult to keep. The key to successfully keeping this wrasse is ultimately a well established reef tank, with lots of food (micro-crustaceans) flourishing in the environment. Do not put with other fish that will compete for food. Also, they tend not to tolerate copper.

   Some guidelines for establishing these fish:

  • Before purchasing this wrasse, it is recommended that you have an established quarantine tank (about 3 months is suggested). It needs to have live rock supporting micro-crustaceans such as copepods, and a 3" sand bed.
  • The quarantine period needs to be about 4 to 6 weeks.
  • They must be treated for worms, because as many as 75 to 85% of these wrasses arrive with intestinal worms. Treat with 250 mg (.0089 ounces) of Piperazine, praziquantel, or levamisole per 100g of food (3.5 ounces) each day for 10 days. Another option is niclosamide at 500 mg (.0176 ounces) per 100g of food (3.5 ounces) for 10 days. You may have to gut load live foods to administer the medication.
  • During this quarantine period, you can train the wrasse into accepting prepared foods.
  • After the quarantine period transfer the wrasse to its new aquarium. Do this at night using a couple nets to capture the wrasse. Do not use a a container for capturing as you do not want your just awoken wrasse darting into the sides and damaging it's mouth. It will be under the sand and generally they pick one favorite spot. Use one net to probe on one side of his spot and the other to catch the fish as It dashes out, away from the probing net in panic.
  • Once netted, transfer it to the main aquarium. If the two aquariums are not the same temperature, you may need to temperature acclimate the wrasse first. To do this, deposit the fish into a container or plastic bag. Float the container in the main aquarium for about 10 to 15 minutes, then release the wrasse into the aquarium.
  • The fish will dart straight down into the sand bed and may not be seen for several days.

Foods:    The Leopard Wrasse, Blackspotted Wrasse, or Guinea Fowl Wrasse are carnivorous. In the wild they mostly eat small invertebrates such as foraminiferans (small shelled protozoa) and snails, which they pick from the reef with their canine teeth, then use their pharyngeal teeth to pulverize. They also eat small amounts of copepods and amphipods.
   Provide your new wrasse with live foods such as feeder shrimp and live black worms. Slowly introduce them to mussel meat, mysis, krill and plankton. Feed several times a day. Try to gut load the live foods with vitamin preparations for marine fish, and soak prepared foods in the vitamins. An ongoing source of natural prey can be supplied with a productive refugium as well.

Maintenance:    Normal water changes at 10% biweekly or 20% monthly. During quarantine period, use the main tank water for water changes into the quarantine tank.
   For more information see, Marine Aquarium Basics: Maintenance

Aquarium Parameters:
   This fish needs to have lots live rock producing its natural habitat foods (micro-crustaceans) to ensure an easy transition to captive life. A minimum 2" sand bed is imperative, and more is even better. Using a tight fitting lid lid is a good idea as they may jump if semi-aggressive fish are in the tank.
Minimum Tank Length/Size:
   A minimum 50 gallon (189 liters) aquarium.
Light: Recommended light levels
   No special requirements.
   No special requirements. Normal temperatures for marine fish is between 74° and 79° Fahrenheit.
Water Movement: Weak, Moderate, Strong
   No special requirements.
Water Region: Top, Middle, Bottom
   They will spending in all parts of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors:    The Leopard Wrasse, Blackspotted Wrasse, or Guinea Fowl Wrasse is best in pairs or groups, though the tank must be larger to sustain more than one. It is one of the few wrasses that may be kept with their own genus (Macropharyngodon), and then only if one is fish male and the rest are female.
   They are reef safe, though the do eat tiny micro-crustaceans, they will not bother the corals. Compatible with all peaceful fish and some semi-aggressive fish like dottybacks, dwarf angels, jawfish, rabbitfish and the like. If semi-aggressive fish are in the plans, add the leopard wrasse first. Do not put with Puffers, scorpionfish, groupers or other fish large enough to eat them. Also avoid slow, methodical feeders such as seahorses or pipefish.

Sex: Sexual differences:    All are born female and change as the need arises. Adult male patterning is more streamlined; having an orange-red body with dark green spots, lines on the head, and a dark 'ear' spot.

Breeding/Reproduction:    They have not been bred in captivity. In their natural environment males and females will dart up into the water column 2 to 3 feet at a time and deposit sperm and eggs. The current then takes the fertilized eggs out to a safe area of the ocean.

Availability:    The Leopard Wrasse, Blackspotted Wrasse, or Guinea Fowl Wrasse is occasionally available. They are sometimes available on the internet or as a special ordered through a pet store.
   When special ordering, request 2" of sand for shipment and make sure you see the fish come out of the box with the sand in the bag. Put down a deposit and observe the fish for a few days before purchasing.

Some things to check for when obtaining these fish:

  1. How does the fish swim? If it is swimming aimlessly in circles its chance of survival is slim. Also, avoid any fish pacing in front of the dealers tank. The fish should be foraging, constantly and methodically examining each piece of live rock for food.
  2. How is the mouth and body? Due to the desire of this fish to dive into the sand when scared, the shipping bag should have 2" of sand. This will help minimize mouth damage from the fish diving. Examine the mouth for any abrasions or cuts or any damage at all. Excessive damaged mouth can prevent the poor fish from eating and possibly lead to starvation. Check the body for any ulcers, cuts, etc.
  3. Does it eat when fed? Have the dealer feed the fish, preferably with live mysis or black worms. More than likely it will not eat frozen food as of yet, due to its eating habits in the wild. If the fish eats the live food, and especially if it eats frozen, then take it home. If not eating, this doesn't mean to necessarily rule it out, it may be a result of the having just arrived. They often won't eat for up to a week after shipping.

   For success in keeping this wrasse, follow the methodical procedure described
in Maintenance difficulty above.

Author: Clarice Brough, CFS
Lastest Animal Stories on Leopard Wrasse

Ashley - 2017-02-03
i just got this fish in London Ontario a few weeks ago- yesterday was the first day I saw him- and I gotta tell you I thought he was dead forever- never did any research before buying- just a spur of a moment thing- but he is amazing- was hiding forever- I have a fully established 2 year old tank with peacefull fish- reef- lots of corals- and rocks- and fed live baby brine shrimp everyday- he is about 1-2 inched rn

  • Dani - 2017-03-24
    Cool Ashley..first time here and just started this hobby six months ago.. I also have a leopard, they very fussy from what I researched and one of the hard one's to eat, mine didn't show up for two weeks Also..wind the clock a month later no problem eating and always out and about..enjoy
Wesam Azmy - 2017-01-01
This is one of my lovely fish, very peaceful and you will face challenge when you add it to the tank, will keep hiding in the sand bed for days until to encourage it to go out and to start eating, once you success to geting it eating its easy to mantain. This is my fish: https://youtu.be/gno2HGnzAXE

Chuck - 2014-02-24
I have had my large Female Leopard wrasse for 2 days and she is hiding as normal. This is my 2nd go round with the LW. My first one died as my tank overheated. They are very hardy and beautiful fish. Good luck to everyone.

Tyler - 2008-12-21
Leoard Wrasses kick ***! I got mine 5 days ago and the first 2 days I could not find her, but now she is done hiding during the day in the sand and swims throughout my reef looking for food. Hard to find and I only got mine for 10 bucks. Hopefully she lives and adapts well to her new reef.

  • Ewan - 2010-03-21
    Mine went missing for a about a month. It had a regular pattern of coming out between 10 am and 5 pm, so i had to stay home from work to see it. Fantstic fish if you can get to keep them alive for more than 6 months.