Ornate Wrasse – Thalassoma pavo

The Ornate Wrasse is a species in the family of the Labridae and thus belongs to the superclass of the bony fish. It was first described in 1758 by Carl von Linné.

Ornate Wrasse -Thalassoma pavo Osteichthyes bony fish diving canary islands species atlantic ocean
Ornate Wrasse – Thalassoma pavo


The male and female Ornate Wrasse are distinctly distinguishable from each other. Both have an elongated, laterally compressed body. In addition, females are usually smaller than males. The maximum length of Thalassoma pavo is 25cm

The female

The head of the female is pink to red with a turquoise pattern. The body is greenish with red shimmer and vertical, turquoise stripes and has a black spot in the middle of the back. The tail fin is turquoise.

The male

The male also has a red head with a turquoise grain. From head to tail, it has several vertical strips. The first is turquoise followed by a black and a red one. Then the body is green to the turquoise tail fin.

Habitat and Distribution

One finds the Ornate Wrasse over rocky ground, to a depth of 150m.

When diving in the Canaries, it can be seen at every dive.

Thalassoma pavo is also spread from Portugal’s coasts to Cape Lopez in Gabon. This includes islands such as the Azores, Madeira, Savage Islands, Annobóns, São Tomé and Cape Verde. It is also distributed to almost the entire Mediterranean Sea.


The Ornate Wrasse is a dwarf sweater, which goes looking for food alone or in groups during the day. Thalassoma pavo feeds on small crustaceans, snails and mussels. Young fishes sometimes show the behaviour of cleansers by freeing other fish from parasites.

At dusk, they dug themselves into the sand for sleeping, with quick beats of the tail fin, or hide in small fissures and caves.


Thalassoma pavo is a protogyn hermaphrodite. This means that during their lifetime they experience a gender change from female to male. This seems only to happen when there are no males in a large group of females.

The reproductive behaviour of the Ornate Wrasse starts with the fact that the male occupies a territory. This happens from May to June. In this time it also courts females. When spawning, Thalassoma pavo swims into the open water, one male can mate with up to 30 females. Both sexes give their germ cells as close as possible to each other in the water, from where it lives pelagic until the larvae stage.

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