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Dragon Wrasse
(Novaculichthys taeniourus)

Dragon, Wrasse, Novaculichthys taeniourus,

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Dragon Wrasses or Novaculichthys taeniourus are members of the family Labridae. This is a large and diverse family comprised of over 500 species in 60 genera. The name wrasse is derived from the Welsh word, gwrach, which means old woman or hag. Dragons have a rather extensive habitat. Populations exist in the Red Sea as well as both the Indian and Pacific Oceans; throughout all of Micronesia along the entire east coast of Africa to Lord Howe Island south of Australia. They can also be found from the Hawaiian Islands to the eastern Pacific; from the Gulf of California down to Panama.

Dragons are a medium to large fish depending upon what species you keep as an aquarist. They can grow to a maximum adult length of 12 inches. Adults and juveniles not only look like two distinctly separate species, they look as if they originate from different planets. Adults have the elongated profile typical of a wrasse. Their heads are light grey with burgundy markings around their eyes. They have burgundy bodies covered with a grey spotting pattern. Their dorsal and anal fins are quite long and also display spotting. Fins are a combination of reddish brown, burgundy and a grayish green. The bases of their caudal fins are white with a brown and green fan-like appearance at the end. 

Juveniles are extremely exotic creatures. They exhibit features more typical of a species of lion fish than that of a wrasse. Their heads are crowned with two long dorsal spines that have the appearance of alien antennae or a pair of old rabbit ears from the airwave era of television.  Their fins consist of either individual spines or spines held together by a joining membrane. The assortment of spinal protrusion from their bodies contributes to their resemblance of a volitan. Primary colorations vary from peach, to burgundy, light blue or grey and can even be a radiant lime green. Regardless of primary coloration, they all have white zigzagged markings on their bodies outlined in black. Juveniles will often remain motionless, drifting back and forth in the current mimicking a piece of detached seaweed. When an unsuspecting passerby moves in for a quick nibble, they swallow it whole.

Dragons are sold under a variety of trade names by the aquarium industry, including; masked, Indian, or the olive-scribbled wrasse. Juveniles are frequently sold as reindeer wrasse because the elaborate dorsal spines on their heads resemble the antlers of a deer. In Japan they are known as Obi-tensumodoki.

Dragons are hardy fish with aggressive temperaments. They should only be housed with larger, similarly aggressive species. They are extremely territorial toward conspecifics and should only be kept as a solitary specimen.  These are not reef compatible fish. In nature the adults are continually over turning rocks in the hope of revealing mussels, snails, urchins, starfish, and crustaceans to consume. They are, in fact, often referred to as “rockmover wrasse” because of their knack for interior decorating. In additions to rocks, they will not hesitate in rearranging your coral collection. They can prove quite destructive in a reefs tank. As is a common trait among wrasse, dragons will bury themselves in the sand to sleep. You will require 2-4 inches of sand as a substrate if you intend to raise this species. A minimum tank size of 150 gallons is recommended. These fish are jumpers and should only be housed in an aquarium with a tightly fitted hood for their own protection.

Dragons are quite voracious carnivores. This species more often dies from malnutrition than all other factors combines. Their immense appetites earned them a moderate to advance care level rating.  Their diet can include brine or mysid shrimp and live worms in addition to whatever carnivore based food preparation you choose to use as a staple. They can be fed virtually any freshly chopped seafood with the exception of oily fish. Larges specimens can eat feeder shrimp and fish. This species has a very fast metabolism. They will starve to death quickly if underfed. Dragons should be fed a minimum of 2-3 times daily.

Environmental Parameters


pH Level Specific Gravity
72-78  °F 8.1-8.4 1.020-1.025

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