Christmas Wrasse

Christmas Wrasse
Christmas Wrasse, Hanauma Bay, Hawaii (photo cropped from original). randychiu/ Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Christmas wrasses were named for their green and red coloration. They are also called ladder wrasses, 'awela (Hawaiian), and green-barred wrasses. 

Description of Christmas Wrasses

Christmas wrasses can be up to about 11 inches in length.  Wrasses are a big-lipped, spindle-shaped fish that "flap" their pectoral fins up and down while swimming. They often fold their dorsal and anal fins close to their body, which increases their streamlined shape.

Males and females exhibit sexual dimorphism in color, and may change color, and even sex, during their lives.  Males in their terminal color phase are brightly-colored while females are green with black lines. The most brilliantly-colored male Christmas wrasses have reddish-pink background coloration on their body with ladder-like stripes that are bright blue and green in color. In its initial phase, a male has a diagonal dark red line below its eye. The head of the male is brown, orange or shaded with blue, while the head of females is spotted. Younger animals of both sexes are a more drab green and brown color.

The Christmas wrasse's ability to change colors and sex has caused confusion over the years over species identification. It also looks similar to another species in a similar habitat - the surge wrasse (Thalassoma purpureum), which is similar in color, although there is a v-shaped mark on their snout which is absent in the Christmas wrasse. 

Christmas Wrasse Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Labridae
  • Genus: Thalassoma 
  • Species: trilobatum

Habitat and Distribution

Christmas wrasses are found in tropical waters in the Indian and western Pacific Oceans. In U.S. waters, they may be seen off Hawaii. Christmas wrasses tend to frequent shallow waters and surf zones near reefs and rocks. They may be found singly or in groups. 

Christmas wrasses are most active during the day, and spend nights resting in crevices or in the sand. 

Christmas Wrasse  Feeding and Diet

Christmas wrasses feed during the day, and prey upon crustaceans, brittle stars, mollusks, and sometimes small fish, using canine teeth in their upper and lower jaws. Wrasses crush their prey using pharyngeal bones that are located near their gills. 

Christmas Wrasse Reproduction

Reproduction occurs sexually, with spawning occurring during the day. Males become more intense in color during spawning time, and their fins may be blue or blackish-blue in color. The males display by swimming back and forth and waving their pectoral fins. Males may form a harem with several females. If the primary male in a group dies, a female may change sex to replace him. 

Christmas Wrasse Conservation and Human Uses

Christmas wrasses are listed as of least concern on the IUCN Red List. They are widespread throughout their range. They are fished in limited numbers, but more important to humans for their use in the aquarium trade.

References and Further Information

  • Bailly, N. 2014. Thalassoma trilobatum (Lacepède, 1801). In: Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. (2014) FishBase. Accessed through: World Register of Marine Species, December 22, 2014.
  • Bray, D. J. 2011. Ladder Wrasse, Thalassoma trilobatum. Fishes of Australia. Accessed December 23, 2014.
  • Cabanban, A. & Pollard, D. 2010. Thalassoma trilobatum. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. Accessed December 23, 2014.
  • Hoover, J. P. 2003. Fish of the Month: Christmas Wrasse., Accessed December 23, 2014.
  • Randall, J.E., G.R. Allen and R.C. Steene, 1990. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, Hawaii. 506 pp., via FishBase, December 22, 2014.
  • Waikiki Aquarium. Christmas Wrasse. Accessed December 23, 2014.
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Your Citation
Kennedy, Jennifer. "Christmas Wrasse." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Kennedy, Jennifer. (2020, August 26). Christmas Wrasse. Retrieved from Kennedy, Jennifer. "Christmas Wrasse." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).