Animal-World > Marine - Saltwater Fish > Wrasses > Black Leopard Wrasse

Black Leopard Wrasse

Yellowspotted Wrasse ~ Black Wrasse ~ Leopard Wrasse

PIcture of a Black Leopard Wrasse or Yellowspotted Wrasse, Macropharyngodon negrosensisMacropharyngodon negrosensisPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Greg Rothschild

   The gregarious nature of the Black Leopard Wrasse, along with its active daytime swimming habits are a joy to observe!

   The Black Leopard Wrasse or Yellowspotted Wrasse is occasionally seen in the aquarium trade but it is not a fish for the inexperienced. They are 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.

   Due to their specialized eating habits and nature, these wrasses should only be attempted by advanced aquarists as they are very difficult to keep. 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 they be examined before purchase (see Availability below) and that specialized care is followed to aclimate 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 marine fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Marine Aquarium

Black Leopard Wrasse - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Expert
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Difficult to Impossible
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L)
  • Size of fish - inches: 4.7 inches (11.94 cm)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Temperature: 74.0 to 83.0° F (23.3 to 28.3° C)
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Carnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

   The Black Leopard Wrasse or Yellowspotted Wrasse, Macropharyngodon negrosensis, was described by Herre in 1932.  Their names come from their "wild cat" patterning.  This is one of 10 species in this genus, Macropharyngoden which is Green for "great" (makros), "pharynx" (pharyngx) and "teeth (odous).  They only have a few common names which are:  Black Leopard Wrasse, Black Wrasse, Negros Wrasse, and Yellowspotted Wrasse.

   Black Leopard Wrasses are found throughout the Western Pacific and Eastern Indian Ocean, namely from Andaman Sea and Christmas Islands to Samoa and the Philippines then north to Ryukyu Islands and south northern Australia.  They enjoy lagoons and seaward reefs with sand and coral mixtures ranging at depths of 26 to 109 feet (9 - 33 meters) though usually below 49 feet (15 meters). Adults are found alone or in pairs.  Juveniles  form small groups and are often joined by other small wrasses.  Adults will form small groups and swim close to the bottom as they feed, and when they feel threatened the swim up and down in a strange way to deter the threat.  They feed on micro-inverts such as foraminiferans, small snales and tiny crustaceans like amphipods and copepods.

   These fish are on the IUCN Red List for Least Concerned due to their distribution within protected marine areas.

  • Scientific Name: Macropharyngodon negrosensis
  • Social Grouping: Varies - Adults solitary or in male female pairs. Comes together in groups to feed. Juveniles in small groups.
  • IUCN Red List: LC - Least Concern - Range is within protected marine areas.


   The Black Leopard Wrasse is very compressed laterally, with a deep yet elongated body and pointed nose and mouth.  This direction of the mouth aids in foraging for living food within the sand and rock.  They have very powerful canine teeth they use to extract and crush prey.  Both the male and the female have a black body. On the male, the spots are more like "diamond" shapes, in the sense that each scale is outlined in a blue-green coloring.  The male has a dark purple neck and chest with irregular bands on the face and a tail fin that turns black during courtship.  The females are similarly colored, though the spots are closer together as they get closer to the dorsal fin, with colors ranging between yellow to white near their upper back.  Females only have spotting on the face, not bands.  The juveniles are the ones with the yellow spots, thus the name Yellowspotted Wrasse. As this fish ages the spots may take on a blue-greenish color with yellow near the the top of the head.  All are born female and can change to male within 2 weeks. These fish will grow to 4.7" (12 cm) and reach maturity around 3.22" (8 cm).  Leopard Wrasses live to about 4.3 years in the wild due to predation, however they have been known to live from 5 to 8 years in captivity.  They are mature at 1.3 years.

  • Size of fish - inches: 4.7 inches (11.94 cm) - Maturity around 3.22" (8 cm)
  • Lifespan: 4 years - Lives roughly 4 years in the wild and maturity is reached by 1.3 years. May live from 5 to 8 years in captivity.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

  Due to their specialized eating habits and nature, the Black Leopard Wrasse or Yellowspotted 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 like Mandarinfish.  Resist the temptation to "show" off your newly acclimating wrasse by hunting for it in the sand or rock work as this will add to the stress.  They will stay hidden for a few days and should be left completely alone. Also, they tend not to tolerate copper.  On a positive note, they rarely contract dinoflagellate or protozoan infections.

   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.

   Some guidelines for establishing these fish once they pass the above criteria:

  • 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.
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Difficult to Impossible
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Expert

Foods and Feeding

  The Black Leopard Wrasses or Yellowspotted Wrasses 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. Providing a constant source of natural prey through a productive refugium will also help. A good commercial protein formula for wrasses is Pro-salt marine.

  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Flake Food: Occasionally
  • Tablet / Pellet: Occasionally
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Most of Diet - On live rock and from refugium. Also will eat live black worms and gut filled mysis shrimp.
  • Meaty Food: All of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily - Feed at least twice a day to supplement foods found in the reef tank.

Aquarium Care

  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

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

  House in a tank that is at least 50 gallons and 4 feet long.  Rock work is more important than tank size with this fish, similar to a Mandarinfish.  This fish needs to have lots live rock producing its natural habitat foods (micro-crustaceans) to ensure an easy transition to captive life.  Do not house in a nano tank.  While a 2" to 3" sand bed is will increase their chance for survival, a tank without sand can also work, and the Black Leopard Wrasse will just hide within the rock work at night instead.  Do not use crushed coral or any substrate with sharp objects or they can and will lacerate their mouth and body when diving in at night.   They are fine with any lighting and do best.  In both tanks, a very high output refugium is critical, especially if it is a bare bottom.  Using a tight fitting lid lid is a good idea as they may jump.  Black Leopard Wrasses, being so compressed and thin, have been known to weave in and out of overflow box teeth, only to get sucked in, so be sure to protect them by using plastic mesh over those openings.  The bottom of the tank is where they are usually found, however they are not adverse to occupying all levels of the aquarium.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L) - And 4 feet long.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: - Mature live rock with microfauna.
  • Substrate Type: Sand - Or bare. No crushed coral.
  • Lighting Needs: Any
  • Temperature: 74.0 to 83.0° F (23.3 to 28.3° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: - unknown
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any
  • Water Region: All - More often at the bottom.

Social Behaviors

  The Black Leopard Wrasse or Yellowspotted Wrasse can be kept alone, in male females pairs or groups, though the tank must be very large to sustain more than one.  They may be kept with their own genus (Macropharyngodon), and then only if one fish is male and the rest are female. Two males will kill each other.

  House only with peaceful fish.  Even semi-aggressive fish will harass them, such as dottybacks, wrasses from the Pseudchelinus, Halichoeres and Thalassoma genus, pygmy angelfish and hawkfish.  They should be added first and allowed to adjust for several months before adding semi-aggressive fish (aside from the ones listed above).  Do not house with puffers, scorpionfish, groupers or other fish large enough to eat them. Also avoid slow, methodical feeders such as seahorses or pipefish. Do not house with Mandarinfish unless the tank is very large and there is enough food to go around. 

   They are reef safe, and will not bother the corals.

  Small juvenile Black Leopard Wrasses may fall victim to large boxer shrimp, larger hermit crabs, arrow crabs and cancrid crabs.  They will eat copepods and amphipods which should be replenished regularly.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Sometimes - Only one male with 1 or more females.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor - Pygmy Angelfish are too aggressive. Add Black Leopard Wrasse before any semi-aggressive fish.
    • Aggressive (dottybacks, 6-line & 8-line wrasse, damselfish): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor - Less dominant tangs like the Convict and Kole Tangs should be okay yet added after.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (seahorses, pipefish, mandarins): Monitor - May be okay with Mandarinfish if there is plenty of natural foods.
    • 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: Monitor - Juvenile leopards may be eaten by larger crabs. They will eat very small snails.
    • Starfish: Safe
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Safe
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Safe
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Monitor - Will decimate copepods and amphipods if the supply is not maintained by a refugium.

Sex: Sexual differences

   All are born female and change as the need arises. Males have greenish-blue edged scales, with the face having more irregular lines instead of spots. They also have a metallic green color that is only displayed during courtship. Females have spots that get closer together and more numerous as they get closer to the dorsal. Interestingly, once this wrasse turns into a male, the change cannot be reversed.  If a female does need to change to a male, it will take about 2 weeks, yet can produce sperm with 8 days of starting to change.  A harem consists up to 10 females in the wild.

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. 

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown

Fish Diseases

   It is possible that these leopard wrasses may suffer from internal worms and it is common practice to de-worm them during quarantine.  The best medication for deworming is fenbendazole, which can be obtained by a veterinarian.  Another is Pipzine by Aquatronics.  Add this medication to their food.  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 with this medication mixed with food to get into the wrasse if they will not yet eat prepared foods.


  The Black Leopard Wrasse or Yellowspotted Wrasse is only occasionally available. They are sometimes available on the internet or as a special ordered through a pet store.  Internet prices are around $30.00 (USD) for a 1.5" to 2" and up to $50.00 (USD) for a 3" to 4" specimen.  (June, 2015)

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




By Scott W. Michael

Published by T.F.H. Publications

Co-Published by Microcosm Ltd.

Copyright © 2004 by T.F.H. Publications, Inc.

Illustrations copyright © Joshua Highter



IUCN Red List



Fish Tales by Hendry C. Schultz III

The Leopards of the Reef

Reefkeeping Magazine™ Reef Central, LLC-Copyright © 2008 All rights reserved



by Bob Goemans

© 2012 Bob Goemans. All rights reserved


Author: Carrie McBirney
Additional Information: Clarice Brough, CFS
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