Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse removing parasites from a Lamarck’s Angelfish.
The keeping of marine species is a relatively new hobby compared to keeping freshwater and avian species, even newer than keeping herptiles (reptiles and amphibians). And of course much newer than keeping warm blooded species such as dogs, cats, bunnies, horses, etc., some of which have been kept for hundreds of years.
Today, understanding the bio diversity of the vast oceans has become a very dynamic process. It involves discovery, interaction, and ultimately learning about an incredible large and diverse number of inhabitants. New information on the keeping of marine species is constantly evolving and becoming available as marine specialists, enthusiasts, and hobbyists learn more and more about the needs and requirements of individual species… and the marine environment as a whole.
The wrasse family “Labridae” is huge, with over 500 described species. The Cleaner Wrasses comprise just one of about 60 genera in this family. This is one of the most dynamic families, with new species of wrasse being discovered regularly and the habits and needs of many species being revised and revisited as more knowledge is gained.
The Cleaner Wrasses, of which there are five described species in the genus Labroides, are classified as obligatory feeders. This means they obtain all or virtually all of their nutrition by consuming parasites and other debris from the bodies, fins, and mouths of other fish. Just as their name describes, they are cleaner fish whose entire lifestyle consists of (and relies on) a symbiotic relationship with other fish.
The loss rate of captive specimens of Cleaner Wrasses has been astronomical with almost all cleaner wrasses dying within a few days to a few weeks, ultimately of starvation. Today, many marine biologists and other marine specialists study the cleaner wrasses intently, exploring their role in their environment and their impact on the marine ecosystem.
A few extremely dedicated enthusiasts have been willing to devote the time and means necessary to provide these fish with what they need to survive and thrive in captivity. However the success rate is minimal and such a specialized dedicated effort is beyond the interest and scope of the most marine hobbyists, even most advanced marine enthusiasts. Consequently, cleaner wrasses are generally considered not sustainable in the home marine aquarium.
- To learn more about the Labroides, See About Cleaner Wrasses:
|Cleaner Wrasses in Captivity
|Conservation and the Cleaner Wrasses
Should cleaner wrasses be kept in captivity?
Anyone considering keeping cleaner wrasses needs to consider their sustainability in a captive environment. The collective buying habits of hobbyist’s effect the market forces. This is a powerful voice that ultimately determines whether dealers stock a particular species or not.
In the marine home aquarium
Cleaner Wrasses have a poor history of sustainability in the marine aquarium. Tens of thousands of these little fish have been captured for the ornamental fish industry. Out of those, there is just a sprinkling of reports describing any sort of success in keeping this fish alive.
Today, due to the increased knowledge of their specialized requirements and the inability to sustain them in a captivity:
Many marine experts confirm these problems, and do not recommend cleaner wrasses for home marine aquariums.
In dedicated marine environments
On a brighter note, though these fish are extremely difficult to keep in the average marine aquarium there are scientists, public and commercial organizations, and a few individuals that have reportedly sustained these fish.
Is the collection of cleaner wrasses from the oceans a conservation concern?
With cleaner wrasses being removed from their natural environments, conservation concerns have arisen involving the impact on reefs and reef fishes, primarily in these two areas:
There have been various studies done in these areas,
Threatened or Endangered Status:
The Bicolor Cleaner Wrasse L. bicolor has been declared protected by IUNC Sri Lanka, which states “Populations of the Bicolor Cleaner Wrasse are naturally low in Sri Lankan waters, and are further threatened by degradation of reef habitats and collection for the ornamental fish trade. Therefore, it is now declared as a protected species under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance.”
Reef diversity and the health of reef fish:
Cleaners provide diversity and maintain the health of other fish
The current view is that the cleaner wrasses play a prime role in the reefs they occupy, effecting the diversity of other fish on the reef as well as the health of these fish. Thus removal of cleaner wrasses could have a negative effect.
Multiple variables come into play when studying these fish and their clients in their ocean environment. These variables contribute to disparate results between studies, as well as suggesting new results and more questions. Each study is focused on a particular aspect of the wrasse or its environment. From each study a variety of conclusions suggest themselves. They are often unrelated to the focus of the study itself, and often need a separate study to substantiate them.
The work of scientists researching ocean life is extremely complex. They are constantly uncovering unexpected results with a whole new set of variables that need to be addressed.
Although studies are not conclusive as to what the actual effect of the removal or addition of the cleaner wrasses on reefs will be, some suggest that the quantity and types of fish may vary depending upon how many cleaners are available. Some fish seem to migrate out of areas with fewer cleaner wrasses, and migrate into areas with more.
It is known that lots of cleaners = more fish and more diversity in types of fish. Scientists like to set up observation points where there are lots of cleaners as it gives them a greater diversity of fish to observe.
Featured Image Credit: Aleron Val, Shutterstock