Southern tubelip, Labropsis australis

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Matt Clarke on a rarely seen wrasse from the Great Barrier Reef and other parts of the Western Pacific.

Common name: Southern tubelip

Scientific name: Labropsis australis Randall, 1981

Origin: Found in the western Pacific around the Great Barrier Reef, New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Size: 10cm/4"

Diet: Juveniles feed on parasites and mucus on the flanks of other fishes, which has given the fish a similar reputation as the Cleaner wrasse. However, as adulthood approaches the diet changes to coral polyps, making this a potentially difficult species to keep, unless you have a very plentiful supply of fast-growing corals. Gut analyses have shown that australis also consumes small crustaceans, so if you're lucky you might be able to wean these onto other foods.

Aquarium: According to Allen, Randall and Steene (1990), perhaps unsurprisingly, the species is found on shallow reef areas with abundant coral growth. Given its diet as an adult, it's probably not a wise choice for the reef tank when adult, but juveniles should post little threat - if you can get the fish out later on. Most Labropsis I have seen have been relatively peaceful wrasses and mix OK with most other reef fishes, so these should go OK in a medium sized fish-only system containing similar sized fishes.

Water: Typical reef aquarium conditions.

Notes: Like many of the tubelip wrasses in the Labropsis genus, this fish undergoes a series of colour changes as it matures. The fish pictured is in the late juvenile phase. As it gets older it will start to get a darker head region and the stripes become browner. As an adult, the fish has a dark blue-black head and brownish flanks covered in yellow-marked scales. None of the genus are commonly seen in the trade, but all can be kept alongside other peaceful fishes in a fish-only aquarium.

Identification: There are currently five other tubelip wrasses: alleni; manabei; micronesica; polynesica and xanthonota. All are pretty unusual in the hobby. They're usually distinguished from each via colour differences, but according to Randall (1981) australis also has nine dorsal spines and 12 branched rays, and three anal spines and 11 branched rays.

Availability: These are rarely seen for sale in the UK marine trade. We found this one for sale on the East Yorkshire Shoptour.

Price: Expect to pay upwards of 20 for one of these.