Exquisite Wrasse: Care Guide

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https://aqualifehub.com/best-sand-bed-depth-in-a-reef-tank/The Exquisite Wrasse, also known as the Exquisite Fairy Wrasse, is one of the most popular reef safe varieties of wrasses in the saltwater aquarium hobby.  These beautiful fish come in a wide variety of different shades and hues, and are an easy addition to any saltwater tank, with corals or without, that is large enough to hold them.  We've put together a quick Exquisite Fair Care Guide to get you started with your new fishy friend.

Exquisite Wrasse Quick Reference Chart

  • Scientific Name:  Cirrihilabrus exquisitus
  • Common Names: Exquisite Wrasse; Exquisite Fairy Wrasse
  • Care Level:  Easy
  • Size: Up to 5 inches 
  • Life Span:  Approximately 5 years
  • Origin/Habitat: Indo-Pacific: East Africa, South Africa
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Minimum Aquarium Size: 60 gallons
  • Reef Safe: Yes
  • Diet/Foods: Carnivore: Meaty foods
  • Tank Region: Generally spends time among the rocks, but will come up into the water column as well 
  • Gender Characteristics: Males have brighter coloration than the females.  However, when kept in captivity females will almost always turn into males.

Reference: Fishbase

The Exquisite Wrasse: High Color Variety; Low Risk of Aggression (for a wrasse)

Wrasse's are one of the most sought-after fish in the saltwater aquarium hobby.  This is for many good reasons.  First and foremost, they have some of the most stunning and eye-catching coloration of any fish in the hobby, which is, of course, what most people are looking for in their tank.  In addition, they stay small enough that most medium to large hobbyist aquariums are plenty big enough to accommodate these fish, although nano aquariums are not suitable to basically any member of the wrasse family.

The exquisite wrasse is one of the most common wrasses owned by fish tank owners throughout the world.  This is a combination of a couple of key characteristics that make them particularly suitable to the saltwater aquarium trade, including peaceful nature, reasonable size, disinterest in harassing corals and invertebrates, and (relative) low-cost.  


Exquisite Fairy Wrasse's have one of the widest varieties of colorations of any member of the wrasse family.  This mostly varies from location to location.  They generally have a pastel appearance, ranging from blue, yellow, orange, or even purple. The colors will rise and fall based on health, and whether they are trying to show off to other wrasses in the tank.  

Exquisite wrasse keep the normal slim appearance of all members of the wrasse family, and practically slide through the water as they hunt for food.  They do not have the huge raised fin of the "flasher" wrasse variety, but their fins still display an impressive array of colors when fanned out.

Their colors will shift as they age, so there is no telling exactly what your fish will look like when it becomes a terminal male.

These fish will reach up to about five inches in length.  As such, they need a decent size tank to be able to swim about freely: no smaller than 60 gallons will do for this breed.  You may be able to start with a smaller tank at first if you are getting into the hobby, but you will need to upgrade or re-home your fish within a year or so.

Gender: The Oddities of Wrasse

Exquisite Wrasse are what is known as protogynous hermaphrodites.  This means that all exquisite fairy's start as female when juvenile, and can change into males if and when the circumstances are right.

By "when the circumstances are right," I mean they will invariably become male in a home aquarium environment.  The only time you may possibly have adult females in a home aquarium is if you have a group of exquisite wrasses in the same tank, which is generally a terrible idea.  A home tank is not large enough to diffuse the aggression involved in determining a hierarchy, so you'll likely just end up with dead wrasse.  Instead, just be happy with a single male exquisite, which, quite frankly, have much better colors than the females do anyway.

Breeding exquisite wrasse in a home saltwater tank is basically impossible: just forget about it.


Exquisite wrasse display behavior typical of most wrase: they will spent their day actively swimming through the tank, hunting small critters to eat, such as copepods and small bristle worms and other tank pests. 

As with basically every other wrasse, the exquisite wrasse will JUMP OUT OF YOUR TANK if you do not keep a lid on your tank.  A lid is a requirement.  It is not a possibility, it is a just a question of when.  They are deep water fish, and not built to expect that there is a surface right above them.  If you do not want to keep a lid on your tank, do not keep these fish.

Do not allow even a gap in your lid, they will find a way out of your tank and it will be a very sad day indeed.


Melanurus Wrasse eat mostly meaty foods, which includes frozen mysis, reef frenzy, and some prepared foods.  They also eat many of the common pests that you find in saltwater reef tanks, including nudibranches, flatworms, and other small critters.  This is one of the primary reasons that people keep wrasses--to keep your fish tank clean.

Check out our full article on what Wrasses eat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will my Exquisite Wrasse eat my shrimp?

No, this type of wrasse will not eat your shrimp, including peppermint, fire, or cleaner shimp.  Exquisite wrasse show no interest in trying to eat your cleanup crew in your tank (unless you count worms as part of your crew).  

Do Exquisite Wrasse need a sand bed?

No, unlike the melanurus wrasse, they do not sleep in the sand bed.  Although, there have been some reports that they will try to hide in the sand if scared, keeping sand for this pariticular species of wasse is not necessary.  

My exquisite wrasse is lying on the bottom of the tank, what happened to him?

Exquisite wrasse's actually wrap themselves up in a mucus cacoon to sleep, which can be quite shocking when you first see it.  As long as they are up and about the next day, there is nothing to be worried about.

What is the Exquisite Wrasse's compatibility with other wrasse and other fish?

This is an extremely fact-intensive inquiry that deserves its own longer article, as to wrasse in general.  However, as a general rule, wrasse have latent aggression to basically every other wrasse.  The aggression is more pronouced with members of the same species, and less-so of the same genus.  For example, two exquisite in the same tank is almost always a terrible idea, while having two wrasse of the genus Cirrihilabrus carries some aggression concern, while having a exquisite with a wrasse from outside the Cirrihilabrus family will have the best results.

Exquisite wrasse rarely exhibit signs of aggression, at least compared to some of the more agressive wrasse like the six line wrasse.  You will more likely be worried about the aggression in the other wrasse.  For example, it is almost always a mistake to have a six line wrasse and any other wrasse, including a exquisite, in the same fish tank.  This is one of the reasons six line wrasse are a beginners trap, as they limit your ability to put other wasse in your tank.

You can almost always get a exquisite wrasse and a halichoeres or flasher wrasse, as long as you have enough space.  Lepeord wrasses are also generally fine as well, but carry their own concerns due to difficutly keeping them alive in the short and long-term.  

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